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Thread: Army Officer Accuses Generals of 'Intellectual and Moral Failures'

  1. #21
    Council Member RTK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by J Wolfsberger View Post
    RTK,



    They'll be receptive because of the opportunity to collect sound bites they can deploy in the War on Bush. Learning anything from what he has to say, now that's a different matter...
    They maybe receptive, but I doubt he'll be going to talk to them.
    Example is better than precept.

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    I read the interview and the 'General Failure' and found both to be very enlightning. The only point of contention for me is the emphasis that he places on congressional oversight of generals. I come from a state that just re-elected a congressman that was found with 90k dollars of bribe money in his freezer ( Rep. William Jefferson, D-LA). I agree that there should be more / better oversight, but laying the issue at congress' feet doesn't seem to be the correct solution.

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    I think the only way you could do it would be to have a small number of congressmen, probably ones on the Armed Services cmte's, focus on the generals as one of their issues alongside procurement, etc. The main body of congress is probably not qualified for sustained oversight, but a small, driven handful can open up some real possibilities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by goesh View Post
    I presume Yingling will be talking to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi who should be most receptive to him, and I'm not being sarcastic here either, just bitter.
    Should we be concerned about what members of Congress may or may not do?

    As a profession, who by definition should be a self-policing body, I think we shouldn't focus too much on what others may or may not do, and instead, concentrate on cleaning our own house. It is nearly four years since signs surfaced that maybe we were being handicapped by some of our own generalship in Iraq. If we had more of an ability for tough, but respectful discourse within the profession, where company and/or field grade officers could offer criticism of decisions made at the GO level, then maybe we might not be at this point where we're concerned about what members of Congress may or may not do.

    I think that it is important to note that this piece was published in one of our professional journals, and so my kudos to LTC Yingling for submitting it, and to AFJ for printing it. This wasn't a bitter pill "leaked" to a newspaper for publishing.

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    Council Member Ironhorse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    But this is the dichotomey of being an officer in a system of civilian control of the military. Even if the officer is objectively right, he or she is still subordinate to civilian authority under the constitution.

    <snip>

    But the civilian policymakers are still in charge. LTC Yingling arrived at the conclusion that the current crop of general officers was failing in their duty to advise the civilian policymakers and took it upon himself to correct the problem. From the snippets I've read so far, he's done a very good job. Now to see what comes of it.
    Many issues here. Policy & policy-making in, hopefully, the national interest -- politics and maneuvering for political power -- civilian control of the military.

    All different things. Unfortunately, not different enough these days. Much of our pain is based on the slippery slope of tolerance for their convergence, our short term itis, and machiavellian justifications for compromises in the interest of power in the short run that we never quite get back around to applying for the reason we could justify pursuing.

  6. #26
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    Default Putting it on the line

    Quote Originally Posted by Shek View Post
    ...was published in one of our professional journals, and so my kudos to LTC Yingling for submitting it, and to AFJ for printing it. This wasn't a bitter pill "leaked" to a newspaper for publishing.
    This is a big deal. There are several generals out there who've been very critical of current leadership. But they all waited to get their retirement papers in hand before they went public. Obviously I'm not privy to what goes on inside the Pentagon, but on the face of it a LTC has a whole lot more to lose at that stage in his career than a division commander about to retire. He could have chosen to do exactly what you are suggesting -- sat down with some reporter on an "off-the-record" basis and given his criticism anonymously. Then it would be worth little more than the ongoing partisan bickering in DC.

    As it is, there's no way it can't be taken seriously.

    LTC Yingling should be commended for putting his reputation and professional future on the line. That's geniune leadership.
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    Quote Originally Posted by milesce View Post
    LTC Yingling should be commended for putting his reputation and professional future on the line. That's geniune leadership.
    Agree completely. The points he's making about the personnel system have been made before by at least one officer. But that doesn't detract from the value or the courage it took for him to submit that article.

    And again, kudos to AFJ for running it. Seems like they're going back to their roots, and that is a good thing.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
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  8. #28
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    Why do I feel these bemusing rumblings of hackworth on 60 minutes so many years ago?
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    "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war"...
    I think the author has some gall. I actually know an enlisted Air Force Vietnam Vet that had to pay for a jeep he wrecked on some airbase in-country. I was shocked to say the least. I also used to know (now deceased) WWII highly decorated enlisted vet that served with the 82nd Airborne that complained bitterly about Patton making people wear ties on their shirts in the field. Nevertheless, I think it is a little unfair to hold generals to the same standards as a private losing his rifle. After all, all the private has to do is not lose his rifle, which is his own personal lifeline. A General losing a war is much more complicated with many aspects to review. With this in mind, a private publishing what this officer has published would be in a lot more trouble than the officer. So, would that make the enlisted man more courageous? I'm not impressed with officers and so-called experts and pundits venting their personal resentments. Truth be told, this officer probably saw some personal writing on the wall and this is his way of getting some payback. Revenge is a dish best served cold. So, if he gets disciplined than that is his own ass. What makes news are officers complaining. What doesn't make news are officers doing their duty, working around Catch-22 by improvising, and getting the job done in their immediate line of sight. Like the nameless C-123 pilot and crew that used chains tossed out the rear door to down a Soviet helicopter over Laos. The author's rant is nothing more than rancor that is getting attention. Very unprofessional and he deserves to get slapped no different than a private losing his rifle. I don't think he is very wise. For one thing the opportunity cost is too high and it is equivalent to some high school brat working at McDonald's and complaining at school about how inefficient the store is without even thinking that the corporation is one of the best in the world. The military is no place for quality circle management. Everybody wants to feel important. But that doesn't make it so.
    Last edited by Culpeper; 04-28-2007 at 04:37 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Culpeper View Post
    Truth be told, this officer probably saw some personal writing on the wall and this is his way of getting some payback. Revenge is a dish best served cold. So, if he gets disciplined than that is his own ass. What makes news are officers complaining. What doesn't make news are officers doing their duty, working around Catch-22 by improvising, and getting the job done in their immediate line of sight.
    This is an officer that is due to take battalion command in two months. While the article certainly anonymously implicates GOs that are currently currently service by association, it specifically talks about the GO corps in general terms so that people concentrate on the systemic failure of our personnel system, one that is based on equality and not talent and rewards officers who remain on a narrowly tactical path into positions where you must also understand the world and strategy. This is the skill mismatch that LTC Yingling is speaking of. So, you have an officer that has been deemed worthy by the very system that he is criticizing (EDIT: LTC Yingling does have a masters degree in Political Science from the University of Chicago, so he isn't the standard mold rewarded by the system).

    I'm finding it hard to believe where the implication that this is payback can be found, as well as the implication that he's not doing his duty given that he's already served on three operational deployments, with his last one being a major cog in the wheel of the most successful brigade to have conducted counterinsurgency operations in Iraq as deemed by the Army itself.
    Last edited by Shek; 04-28-2007 at 11:54 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Culpeper View Post
    Truth be told, this officer probably saw some personal writing on the wall and this is his way of getting some payback.
    I'd recommend reading the rest of this thread on his background...
    Example is better than precept.

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    I find it interesting that whenever an officer writes something like this that goes against the wisdom from higher, the immediate reaction is that he must have some personal ax to grind. We cannot in the same breath expect candor and honesty from our officers and then attack them when they provide what we expect. How can we on one hand look down on the commanders of Vietnam for not speaking out and then try to look down on another officer for speaking out?

    From everything I can see, LTC Yingling has a good record. Perhaps serving with COL McMaster opened his eyes and gave him the confidence to put into words what he and other officers are thinking.

    Sure, officers and enlisted men work around the "Catch 22s", but that doesn't address the major problem that Yingling and others have brought up: the failure of our personnel system (especially on the officer side) to produce the kind of officers we need to succeed in Small Wars. If those workarounds DID work, we wouldn't be seeing some of the same things we saw in Vietnam. If people aren't willing to put some things on the line when it needs to be done, you'll just waste more privates with rifles in the future. "Shut up and color" may work in some situations, but it sure as hell doesn't work when you're looking at a personnel system that has been broken for years.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
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    I respect his background as well as his education. I just don't think his story brings anything new to the table to solve. Just another negative story complaining about the same old tired problems. Only this time it is some officer with a line command. I'm not impressed. We discuss these very same problems all the time on the SWC. And I'm always suspect of any expert that wants to compare Iraq with Vietnam. Vietnam was a bitch. Iraq is a pain in the ass. I suspect some sort of hidden agenda with the author. I realize he is highly respected and I can see how someone would be impressed. But not me. How would this officer handle one of his enlisted men doing the same thing under his own command?

    Incidentally, laying his head on the Double E isn't going to solve anything. Getting promoted and changing the system as a career goal is a worthy endeavor. If this article happens to get him there than power to him. Other young officers commending him isn't going to put food on his soldiers' table. It's going to get him a job at CNN wearing a suit.
    Last edited by Culpeper; 04-28-2007 at 03:33 PM.

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    If they are the "same old tired problems" then why isn't anyone fixing them? Sorry, but I just don't buy that reasoning. If people have to keep bringing them forward, that means that nothing's being done to correct the problem.

    He's not alone, either. McMaster has mentioned this, as has Vandergriff and a whole series of officers from the Vietnam era. Still nothing's been done. "Self Destruction" was loaded with similar stories. Still nothing changes.

    This sounds like shooting the messenger because you don't like the message. Maybe his personal agenda is that he wants to see the system change for the better and got tired of waiting for it to do it on its own.

    I've compared Iraq to Vietnam before; not the ground war itself but the Army's response to the war. That is one comparison I think is valid. Granted the Army has done a MUCH better job adjusting to this war (but in all honesty it would be hard to do worse than it did adjusting to Vietnam), but many of the same institutional problems the Army faced during Vietnam are similar to what it faces in Iraq. The question of tour length, preparation before deployment, competency of the officer and NCO corps, troop levels, unit composition, and ROE all remain. Looking at the way the system responds to a conflict it wasn't prepared for is a valid process, and one that shouldn't be lost because the media wants to draw a direct comparison in all areas (which isn't possible).

    That's why I think LTC Yingling's article is both valid and necessary. We may just have to agree to disagree here.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
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    As a civilian I am not qualified to comment on the aspects of the article related to military personnel matters. But on larger strategy Lieutenant Colonel Yingling wrote the following:

    "An essential contribution to this strategy of denial was the publication of 'On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War,' by Col. Harry Summers. Summers, a faculty member of the U.S. Army War College, argued that the Army had erred by not focusing enough on conventional warfare in Vietnam, a lesson the Army was happy to hear. Despite having been recently defeated by an insurgency, the Army slashed training and resources devoted to counterinsurgency."

    The above excerpt is not what I recall the late Colonel Summers having written. What I believe he said was that the United States should have extended the DMZ to the Mekong river, fortified the line with five divisions, and waged a defensive war along this front. The result he argued would have been (1) to shorten the front and thereby fight the war with North Vietnam on terms more favorable to the United States and (2) to seal off South Vietnam from outside infiltration and sanctuary. This dual strategy may or may not have worked but I do not believe Colonel Summers argued that counterinsurgency and conventional war were mutually exclusive.

    In the 1980s, it was our side that was supporting insurgency and it was the other side trying to counter it. We need to study this period as well as the 1960s for guidance on what works and doesn't work.

    I can appreciate the dismay of younger officers if US civilian and military leaders have again committed to a war on terms unwinnable or have exhausted the patience of the American people with an ineffective strategy. But I hope Lieutenant Colonel Yingling's article contributes to a serious and open debate of larger strategic issues and the responsibilities of civilians as well as generals.

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    Council Member Culpeper's Avatar
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    Steve

    No problem. We just disagree on the major points. However, I don't disagree entirely with your arguments or anyone else's defense for this officer. If this officer is admired by his men, his commands have a good track record, and he is sticking his neck out for his men than what we have is a maverick. If the opposite is true and he turns out to be a shameful opportunist, as I have seen so often with officers that speak out, than what we have is a future pundit to be seen later during prime time on a regular basis. I hope I am wrong. I want to believe. Things are so convoluted these days that it is always the case that one man's optimism is another man's pessimism though each want to see the same goals accomplished.

    As an aside, I don't mean that Vietnam should not be compared to the situation in Iraq. But it should be itemized or put into perspective when done because the casualty rates and destruction in Vietnam far exceeded what is happening in the Middle East. What would make a headline today wouldn't even have been reported during Vietnam. And the military was much larger during Vietnam and the problems with upper level officers was worse than it is today. With the exception of the good officers that fought during the Vietnam Conflict I would have to say that the abuse by officers at all ranks was epidemic. I just don't think people should use the Vietnam bug-a-boo to avoid having to write out a valid argument. Like Mr. Ricks has decided to do by quoting the officer as such in the Washington Post article...

    "America's generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq," charges Lt. Col. Paul Yingling..."
    But when you read the actual article by the officer you see this is out of context. I may be guilty of contempt prior to investigation.
    Last edited by Culpeper; 04-28-2007 at 07:53 PM. Reason: Spelling

  17. #37
    Council Member TROUFION's Avatar
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    Default risk vs gain

    The LTC took a big risk writing this. I give him credit there.

    He has a lot of on the ground experience. His opinion is to be respected.

    However, in my opinion, he should not have stated his belief that the war is lost. This was a mistake on his part as it detracts from his message. This statement places his arguments of mis-managment and failure beyond just a critical analysis and into the realm of politics. As an officer he should have stated his facts, his critique and then offered his educated opinion on what the next steps should be. At which point, he like a Dr could have offered his prognosis in an objective manner.

    Further, while his commentary on personel assignment, evaluation and promotion is valid in many ways his assertion that congress should gain increased oversight is not. He claims that the GO selection and promotion process is tainted by what some call the 'good ol boy network' , well in some ways he may be right. But giving increased power to select to the Congress isn't the answer. Congress is a political organization we don't need to exchange one form of politics with another. I'll just leave it here.

    -T

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidPB4 View Post
    As a civilian I am not qualified to comment on the aspects of the article related to military personnel matters. But on larger strategy Lieutenant Colonel Yingling wrote the following:

    "An essential contribution to this strategy of denial was the publication of 'On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War,' by Col. Harry Summers. Summers, a faculty member of the U.S. Army War College, argued that the Army had erred by not focusing enough on conventional warfare in Vietnam, a lesson the Army was happy to hear. Despite having been recently defeated by an insurgency, the Army slashed training and resources devoted to counterinsurgency."

    The above excerpt is not what I recall the late Colonel Summers having written. What I believe he said was that the United States should have extended the DMZ to the Mekong river, fortified the line with five divisions, and waged a defensive war along this front. The result he argued would have been (1) to shorten the front and thereby fight the war with North Vietnam on terms more favorable to the United States and (2) to seal off South Vietnam from outside infiltration and sanctuary. This dual strategy may or may not have worked but I do not believe Colonel Summers argued that counterinsurgency and conventional war were mutually exclusive.
    Dave,

    COL Summers did argue that the Army failed to concentrate on conventional warfare enough. By concentrating on COIN (although COL Krepinevich's book The Army and Vietnam shows that this concentration on COIN was more lip service than substance), the Army and the nation was fatigued and therefore wasn't ready for the REAL threat, the NVA regiments that rolled south and seized Saigon in 1975. Given this, the appropriate action according to COL Summers was just as you described. In other words, COL Summers argued that COIN was irrelevant and actually harmful, and that the US should have pursued the conventional operations that you described from the start.

    Shek

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    The "real threat" that the Army had to be prepared for in the 1960's and 1970's were Warsaw Pact formations. Although, now in hindsight, its easy to fault the Army for not "getting it" in COIN, I think we to readily forget where the Army felt its primary duty to the nation (and the free world) lay.
    I don't believe that the army set out to merely put Vietnam out of its mind because it was uncomfortable with the type of warfare or the results. I think it emerged into the early 1970s fully realizing that it did not have the training or capability to fight on the European continent. To bend itself to fight another Vietnam would have been to prepare for the last war, not the next.
    I think that the Marine Corps faced a similar point in the early 1930s. After an internal power struggle, Marine leadership decided to put their eggs into the basket of amphibious operations, not Small Wars. One wonders what would have been the implications in WWII, and to the Marine Corps, if they had chosen otherwise. (I think its also worthwhile to state that the Marine Corps never went to a Small War with the Small Wars Manual in hand--it was written after the fact, and as Keith Bickel relates in his book, there were significant differences in the Corps about what would work).
    The doctrinal and training reforms that were instituted by the Army were initiated by very smart general officers. Starry knew what he was doing (by the way, his official lesson learned on armor in Vietnam is till relevant to what we face today). The turn away from Vietnam was deliberate to allow the Army to face the threat it could not afford to lose to.
    As to the general case of junior and mid-grade officers protesting, as a mid-grade officer (LtCol) I'm of two minds. Any criticism, if well founded and thought out, is valuable. Blaming a whole class of officers, however doesn't do much for me. The general officers he takes to task were the colonels and LtCols of the 1980s and 1990s. Maybe that's where the problem lay--in their inproper training and education by the previous set of leadership. I don't think his solution, Congress, will work. Huntington pointed out that one of the downsides of our constitutional seperation of powers is that we force military leadership to become political--they have to answer to both the executive and congress. While not good, Huntington also mentions that the overwhelming good to the society of this seperation probably outweighs the negatives in military matters. I think that getting Congress more into the nuts and bolts of selection would just further politicize the process. We're at war now and congress is starting to ask some of the correct questions. But when we're not at war, in the prep phases, they tend to focus on quality of life, and looking at the military's place in society, not as a warfighting entity.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    A pretty darn insightful post Phil.

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