A German general explains how to understand Donald Trump

Summary: Trump has been called an authoritarian, a fascist, and another Hitler. What is his true character? The question becomes more important as Trump approaches the White House. An interwar insight from a German general can help us evaluate him. The answer helps explain why Trump did so well on November 8, despite his many obvious faults.

President Donald Trump

“For all Trump’s bluster, missteps, foibles and crassness, nobody can question his astonishing energy.”
— An interesting comment posted by Bernie.

Is it good that Trump has “astonishing energy”? For a perspective on this we can turn to an insight attributed to a German General, Freiherr (baron) Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord.

“I divide my officers into four classes as follows: The clever, the industrious, the lazy, and the stupid. Each officer always possesses two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious I appoint to the General Staff. Use can under certain circumstances be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy qualifies for the highest leadership posts. He has the requisite nerves and the mental clarity for difficult decisions. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be got rid of, for he is too dangerous.”

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When will our military learn modern warfare, & overcome the attritionist tendency?

Summary: Captain Grazier (USMC) writes another chapter in our series explaining why we lose at modern warfare despite the training, size, and fantastic tech of our forces. Another post by a Marine officer explaining our military’s internal struggle to overcome its attritionist tendency (i.e., fighting 21st wars with WWI methods). He explains the complexities of our wars (debunking the “kill until we win” mindlessness that often dominates discussions of our wars). These insights come from someone who has fought our wars. We should listen when he says that learning is the key to future success.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Verdun: 2GW
Attritionists finest hour.

Contents

  1. Overcoming the attritionist tendency
  2. About the author
  3. What is attrition warfare?
  4. The Generations of War
  5. For More Infomration

 

A Manœuvre Renaissance: Overcoming the attritionist tendency

By Daniel R. Grazier (Captain, USMC)
Marine Corps Gazette, June 2015
Posted with their generous permission.

An eccentric retired Air Force colonel accepted an invitation to speak to the students of Amphibious Warfare School class of 1979 only after the staff grudgingly agreed to his demand for a five-hour block of time.1 From this slightly awkward beginning, the Marine Corps’ doctrine of manœuvre warfare sprouted and grew. The shift from attrition to manœuvre hardly occurred overnight. It took the efforts of many intelligent and dedicated officers and civilians years to create a critical mass of manœuvreists within the officer corps to bring about this momentous shift.

Now more than three decades later, almost everyone in the Marine Corps can identify that Air Force colonel as John Boyd and say he “invented” the OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) loop. But few people appear to understand the real significance of Col Boyd’s work anymore. This becomes readily apparent any time a staff creates a synchronization matrix or a battalion attacks straight into an enemy defense during an integrated training exercise. We are doomed to backslide completely into old attritionist habits without a reexamination of our way of doing business. To prevent this, a manœuvre renaissance is necessary to move forward as we transition away from the long war and prepare to confront a future fourth generation adversary.2

Several factors are to blame for the current lack of appreciation of John Boyd and manœuvre. First, the bulk of intellectual energy over the past decade plus has been expended studying counterinsurgency theory and practice. This, combined with constant deployment preparation and theater-specific training, hardly fosters the proper study and understanding of manœuvre. Secondly, we are now a generation removed from those early revolutionaries of the post-Vietnam military reform movement. Most people take manœuvre for granted now, not realizing just what an all-encompassing concept it really is.

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We worry about rule-breaking by the underclass, not the upper class

Summary: The daily press gives us lurid tales of the underclass breaking social norms, but seldom does so about the more serious lost professionalism that helps the upper class. Before we tinker with American society to reverse our rising inequality, we should understand the processes that created this problem. I believe we not only don’t understand the causes, we don’t even clearly see the deep changes in American society during the past few decades — during the Boomers’ years. This is another post about our poor vision of America.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Our Broken Society

Content

  1. Breaking social norms.
  2. Loss of professionalism.
  3. Rise of self-interest in other occupations.
  4. Conclusions.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  Breaking social norms

We talk a lot about underclass break society’s behavioral norms. In his 1986 book Beyond Entitlement Lawrence Mead (Prof Pol Sci, NY U) taught us to fear their increasingly “dysfunctional” behavior: criminality, drug use, promiscuity, out-of-wedlock births, excessive rates of divorce, etc. Sadly we seldom notice the breaking of norms occurring just as strongly in the upper classes — with greater effect on our social cohesion and level of inequality.

(2)  Loss of professionalism. Broken professions.

Like the word “gentleman”, the meaning of “professional” has eroded away to a bland sense of well-behaved. Managing conflicts of interests was a major factor distinguishing professionals from other trained people. For example, doctors, accountants, and attorneys balanced their clients’ interests vs. theirs as business people vs. those of society. Attorneys were expected to act as “officers of the court”. In an epidemic doctors were expected to place the public’s health above that of the patient’s and their own. Accountants were to maintain the integrity of the financial reporting system that guides the money flows of our society.

These standards were often honored in the breach — America was never Heaven — but during my lifetime they have collapsed. What’s happened in medicine and law clearly shows the problem and the result.

In the early 1980’s doctors realized they the controlled America’s health care checkbook, and could leap from affluent to wealth by “optimizing” their practice: bringing in-house diagnostic and out-patient services and then over-utilizing them, taking de facto bribes from drug and medical device companies, and in a hundred other ways. Conferences and articles gave step-by-step instructions, and their incomes rose — varying widely by specialty, skyrocketing for the most aggressive doctors (see this paper, and a later one).

Only slowly did the pushback arrive, the current push to disenfranchise them — turning decision-making over to the HMO’s, enmeshing doctors in paperwork, authorizing less-trained technicians to do aspects of their work, and eventually automating much of their work.

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Good news: our military sees that we face skillful foes!

Summary: The Wall Street Journal brings a rare bit of good news about our foreign wars, a story acknowledging our foe’s military skill. We should applaud recognition of reality, however belated, as a step forward. With luck next might come awareness that their skill results in part from our tactics.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“People, ideas and hardware, in that order!”
— the late John R. Boyd (Colonel, USAF), quoted in Chet Richard’s Certain to Win.

Advertisement by our foes

This week the Wall Street Journal published a rare perspective on our jihadist enemies: “How Islamic State’s Win in Ramadi Reveals New Weapons, Tactical Sophistication and Prowess” — “Examination of Ramadi’s downfall reflects complex plans and new weapons.”

U.S. defense chief Ash Carter has blamed Ramadi’s fall mainly on Iraqi forces’ lack of will to fight. But Islamic State’s battlefield performance suggests the terrorist group’s tactical sophistication is growing — a development the Iraqis and the U.S.-led coalition have so far failed to counter, said Iraqi officials, former U.S. officials and military analysts studying the organization.

An examination of how Ramadi fell indicates that Islamic State commanders executed a complex battle plan that outwitted a greater force of Iraqi troops as well as the much-lauded, U.S.-trained special-operations force known as the Golden Division, which had been fighting for months to defend the city. Islamic State commanders evaded surveillance and airstrikes to bring reinforcements to its front lines in western Iraq. The group displayed a high degree of operational security by silencing its social media and propaganda teams during the Ramadi surge.

The group also churned out dozens of formidable new weapons by converting captured U.S. military armored vehicles designed to be impervious to small-arms fire into megabombs with payloads equal to the force of the Oklahoma City bombing. Over the three-day surge in Ramadi, Islamic State fighters launched at least 27 such vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or Vbieds, that destroyed Iraq security forces’ defensive perimeters and crumbled multistory buildings.

Military analysts said the new formidable weapon was the latest development showing how the group appears to be learning from battlefield defeats like the one in Kobani, Syria, last summer in pursuit of its goal to control the Sunni-majority areas of Syria and Iraq.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Defense of Democracies think tank and managing editor of the Long War Journal, which chronicles the U.S. war on terror. “These guys are showing a good degree of tactical awareness.”

Our military and civilian experts attributed our foes’ victories to their evil tactics (terrorism), to their religion, to our allies’ weakness, and to our virtue (e.g., reluctance to kill civilians). They seldom gave much credit to our foes’ competence, adaptability, and ability to innovate — all supposed to be American’s advantages vs. foreigners.

This denigration of our foes has been a consistent aspect of our post-9/11 wars. They “are hard dead-enders” (SecDef Rumsfeld, March 2002). They are “criminals … who are willing to be guns for hire” and “foreigners who have come in small numbers”” (Major General David Petraeus of the 101st Airborne, November 2003).

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Reforming the US Army: can be done, must be done.

{Military reform} is not attacking the people in the Army, many of which sacrifice so much so many times. It is not the people, the vast majority which really adhere to the values of the services; it is the systems that manage them that are so bad and out of date. A lot of people succeed with selfless service despite the personnel system.

— From “Leading the Human Dimension Out of a Legacy of Failure” by G.I. Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired) and Donald Vandergriff, chapter 3 of America’s Defense Meltdown (2008).

Summary:  Yesterday’s post explained how the US Army’s leadership problem grow so bad. Today Don Vandergriff gives the good news, discussing reforms under way today — and more powerful reforms for the future. He concludes by asking why not take these steps now, rather than waiting until after a serious defeat.

Army Strong

What’s being done today?

We see what we call “beer can personnel management”: The operant idea is to reach into the stack (i.e. human resources) of cold beer sitting in the refrigerator, grab one, slam it down, crumple up the beer can (i.e. the individual), toss it out, and reach for another. The cycle is repeated over and over taking an irreparable toll on individuals, the personnel systems and operations.  {op. cit.}

The army has several experiments with reforms under way. But it’s only slow progress.

Even as late as 2011, Scott Halter (Lt. Colonel, Army), a successful Aviation Battalion Commander who practices Mission Command and Outcomes Based Training and Education (OBTE; details here), wrote “What is an Army but Soldiers: A Critical Assessment of the Army’s Human Capital Management System” (Military Review, Jan-Feb 2012) describing recommendations of the Secretary of the Army’s Human Dimension Task Force to reform the Army’s personnel system. Results of their work? Nothing!”

One promising tool is 360 degree assessments (aka multi source feedback). Used by the Wehrmacht in WWII, they’re based on work going back to the T-groups devised in 1914. Today the Army experiments with this on a small scale. Too many senior officers fear that the fastest “water walkers” would get exposed by it. I know guys that I commanded companies beside who were hated by their senior NCOs and Lieutenants, but did well — some making it through brigade command to general. Great politicians, but their soldiers knew the truth.

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How did the US Army’s leadership problem grow so bad?

Summary:  The US spends $600 billion on the US military (narrowly defined; almost a trillion broadly), yet repeatedly fails to defeat our poorly trained and equipped foes. In this chapter of our series asking “why”, Don Vandergriff points to ways the Army selects and promotes officers (its problems are usually about people; seldom about hardware).  Tomorrow he discusses solutions.

Vandergriff (Major, Army, retired) is a long-time co-author on the FM website and one of America’s foremost experts on ways to reform the military’s personnel systems. See his bio here.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Leadership as Chess
Seeing leadership as Chess: it’s a path to defeat.

The US military has a leadership problem. It’s visible in the deterioration of soldiers’ confidence in the leaders, shown by the 2014 Military Times survey asking 2,300 active-duty soldiers about their lives. Over only 5 years their answer grew much darker.

There is much more evidence. Such as “Pentagon investigations point to military system that promotes abusive leaders” (WaPo, 28 Jan 2014). This article in the Jan-Feb 2013 Military Review made waves: “Narcissism and Toxic Leaders“, Joe Doty (Lt. Colonel, US Army, Retired) and Jeff Fenlason (Master Sergeant, US Army). Also see these two posts about the recent scandals in the officer corps: looking at the scandals and asking why so many.

There is a lot happening in the Army’s culture below the visible surface.

A diagnosis of the problem

I have been writing since 1999 that the Army — in fact, all the services — has an antiquated personnel system, the deep cause of their many disparate problems.

Our military uses processes bred in the age of Frederick Taylor and adopted after WWII (circa 1947). Our military leaders built a force capable of rapid large-scale mobilization (as we did in WWII), broad in experiences but shallow in professionalism. To run it they created an officer corps of industrial-age managers. Leadership not required; the opposite what German’s leaders did in the 19th century after their defeat by Napoleon.

Since then these processes have become institutionalized. Today nobody in Human Resources Command or G1 (Personnel) knows their origin or purpose. It’s just the way they run.

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So many scandals in the US military: signs of rot or reform?

Summary: This morning’s post looked at the unprecedented number of scandals involving senior officers of the US military. Here we examine its significance and causes. Much depends on understanding what’s happening, and responding correctly. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Each of us must rededicate ourselves to upholding the principles of sound leadership… Our culture must exemplify both professional excellence and ethical judgment.”
— Letter from SecDef Hagel to US military’s senior leadership, 13 March 2013

Rotten Peach

 

Rot in the military

Surveys in the late 1990s confirmed that the military’s retention rates resulted from a kind of internal rot as troops lost confidence in their officers. The Chief of Staff of the Army’s Leadership Survey 2000 concluded (CAPs in the original):

Top-down loyalty DOES NOT EXIST. Senior leaders will throw subordinates under the bus in a heartbeat to protect or advance their career.

The wars after 9/11 — enemies to fight, higher pay, more deployments — masked these problems. Now they reappear as that pressure fades. To see the results, in December 2014 the Military Times published a survey of 2,300 active-duty troops asking them about their lives, and compared the results with their 2009 survey. Even over only 5 years the deterioration was rapid.

Overall officers in the military are:

  • 2009 – 78% good or excellent.
  • 2014 – 49% good or excellent.

The senior military leadership has my best interests at heart:

  • 2009 – 53% agreed.
  • 2014 – 27% agreed.

The flood of disciplinary actions against senior officers during the past 5 years shows the scale of the problem. Nobody seems to understand the underlying problem, and the military has not (publicly, at least) shown data explaining if this is a surge of enforcement (i.e., reform) or a surge of bad behavior (i.e., a rot grown so large it can no longer be hidden).

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