Results 1 to 20 of 31

Thread: "Tarnished Brass" (new article by Dick Kohn)

Hybrid View

Previous Post Previous Post   Next Post Next Post
  1. #1
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    West Point New York
    Posts
    268

    Default "Tarnished Brass" (new article by Dick Kohn)

    Here is a link to a new essay by historian Dick Kohn in the journal World Affairs on senior American military leadership and what Kohn argues is a failure to be able to do strategy.

  2. #2
    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    Montana
    Posts
    3,195

    Default

    Thanks for the link! A very interesting essay.
    "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."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

  3. #3
    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    Posts
    1,127

    Default

    Not sure what to make of it - I agree with much but I think parts are stereotyped.

    I think the politicization worry is somewhat overblown, and am not sure that retired officers have an obligation to remain silent and neutral. I don't think his argument applies outside the GO corps.

    And frankly, it may be that the political "firewall" is part of what keeps us from developing effective comprehensive approaches to conflict. If war is ultimately political, we must be trained in that battlefield as well. Of course, partisanship by serving officers remains verboten.

    I do think we haven't had much strategic direction, because I think the military expects its civilians to do that for us. They decide, we execute has been the mantra of past years. Our strategic deficit may be because we outsourced our strategic planning to think tanks and politicians. Just off the cuff thoughts.

    I also know the professor was savaged by the salty majors in ILE when he visited a few weeks ago.
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
    Who is Cavguy?

  4. #4
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    8,060

    Default We-e-e-lll... Yes and No...

    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    I think the politicization worry is somewhat overblown, and am not sure that retired officers have an obligation to remain silent and neutral. I don't think his argument applies outside the GO corps.
    I think the professional requirement is what is said where and when rather than who. All ranks should remember that they are now retired and they should be circumspect in comments.

    Because they have no responsibility for the issues.
    Our strategic deficit may be because we outsourced our strategic planning to think tanks and politicians.
    Just so. They allow senior leaders to be lazy avoid responsibility, put their Staffs to work on pet projects -- and the Think Tanks do not do it well at all.

    Because they have no responsibility for the product...

  5. #5
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    8,060

    Default Thanks for posting that, Peacenik...



    Good article.

    Agree with his descriptions of failures with the caveat that he's being very polite...

    Don't agree with all his fixes -- though most would be an improvement. He makes the same mistake most outsiders (including some in uniform...) tend to make, reforming the Monster starting in high places. Won't work, all the Bull Elephants are too set in their ways. They aren't going to change and will not initiate meaningful improvement.

    We have created an institution that is risk averse and that stifles innovation. the only way to fix that in a large bureaucratic organization is start at the bottom. Educate the incoming kids, Enlisted and Officer, forcing them to exercise initiative, take risks and to plan things correctly and the system will improve.

    You can start that with your charges...

  6. #6
    Council Member J Wolfsberger's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Michigan
    Posts
    806

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    We have created an institution that is risk averse and that stifles innovation. the only way to fix that in a large bureaucratic organization is start at the bottom. Educate the incoming kids, Enlisted and Officer, forcing them to exercise initiative, take risks and to plan things correctly and the system will improve.
    You're right. But now you have to accomplish it while performing the trick of not getting trampled by the Bull Elephants.
    John Wolfsberger, Jr.

    An unruffled person with some useful skills.

  7. #7
    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Kansas
    Posts
    1,099

    Default Unfortunately

    Quote Originally Posted by J Wolfsberger View Post
    You're right. But now you have to accomplish it while performing the trick of not getting trampled by the Bull Elephants.
    Not always as easy as it might seem
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

    Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur

  8. #8
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    8,060

    Default Innovation and agility, My dear Friends

    The bulls don't move all that quick...

    On a serious note, I've never really had one give me static if I was right in what I wanted to do. I have occasionally had some ask (yes, ask; not tell) me not to do a certain thing to preclude an adverse reaction from on high (almost always correctly in hindsight). There are those that operate by trying to get what used to be called the Indian Sign by trying to bulldoze you and snarling a lot -- all you have to do is snap back at them (but be right when you do ).

    The key with all Bulls is finding a fence they can jump to get to the cows -- or cutting the top few strands of the fence so they can leap it. You can also politely show them a gate they weren't aware of and wait until it's their idea to use that gate.

    Do not tell them how great they are (they know that) or try to bring them a cow, both those things are sycophancy (to clean it up) and they'll spot it, use it, use you and then throw you away like an old washrag.

    Never ever try milking them. THAT is bad ju ju...

  9. #9
    Council Member Van's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Honolulu, Hawai'i
    Posts
    414

    Default Mixed messsages

    I got some very mixed messages from this piece, and they suggest shallow thinking.

    Re: politicization - "Officers now vote, in substantially higher percentages than the general population; they identify themselves as Republican or Democrat, and less as independent or non-partisan, much more than the American people as a whole."

    This guy needs to get over it. The irony of complaining that officers vote is that most vote by absentee ballots which frequently are not counted at all. Officers exercising civic responsibility. The shock and horror of it all, and to make it worse, they have the audacity to not be independents. If the issue is that officers vote "in substantially higher percentages than the general population", whose fault is this? Kohn should be kvetching about the lack of civilian voter turn out. This is the worst sort of inflammatory populist tripe.

    Re: retired officers speaking out - Retired officers should stop speaking out when retired academics and retired politicians stop speaking out. Is the problem that they speak out, or that they have more credibility than other retirees? Candidly, it sounds like retired military officers have opposed his interests and this is his petty way of getting back at them.

    Re:
    "Now there are many other factors in the Iraq War about which the American civilian leadership was even more derelict than the military"
    "(T)he Army War College, dedicated to the mission of educating “strategic leaders,” teaches “about strategy,” in the words of a faculty member there, but not “how to develop strategy.”"
    "(T)he navy seems actually to have subordinated strategy to the capabilities of its fleets rather than designing its fleets to fit the larger needs of American foreign policy and national security strategy."

    The first point is the key one. National strategy is set by civilian leaders. The AWC is doing exactly the right thing, as it is not a soldiers place in a democratic nation to set national strategy. The Navy is acquiring the fleet Congress approved, again as a reflection of Congress' national strategy. Does Kohn lack the fortitude to look our elected officials in the eye and tell them that they need the education in strategy? And for someone so upset of over the politicization of the officer corps, he is awfully quick to recommend that military leaders do civilian leaders' jobs.

    He complains about the politicization of the officer corps, but whines that officers aren't doing the civilian leadership's jobs for them.

    Re:"a growing careerism that has led to micro-management from above and a sense that any defect will derail a career, which in turn leads to risk aversion and sometimes to cover-ups, avoidance of responsibility"

    The Long War has taken the edge off this problem. Careerism appears to be a poison that enters the military in peacetime. Eight years of continuous conflict have reduced the damage inflicted by the early 1990s draw-downs where 'zero defects' was a survival trait.


    His recommendations:
    -1. choose a greater proportion of candidates with demonstrated intellectual as well as operational and command ability
    -2. undertake a systematic effort to eradicate the careerism, anti-intellectualism, and politicization of their officer corps
    -3. institute programs of continuing education to be pursued by officers on their own, separate from and in addition to intermediate and advanced professional military education in residence or by correspondence.
    -4. make certain that officers at commissioning are fluent in a foreign language and conversant with a foreign culture, and senior service schools should revise theirs so that strategy, leadership, and command are the focus of a war college education. are the focus of a war college education.

    1. The services basically require graduate education to go past O-4. Yes there are exceptions, but a masters is the norm (and minimum) for O-5 and up.
    2. "Anti-intellectualism"? Has he actually spoken with General Petraeus, Gen. Caldwell, or Gen Lorenz(USAF AETC cdr)? Politicization and careerism were previously addressed.
    3. Continuing education for officers outside PME? We're seeing officers get passed over for not completing PME, where do we find the time and resources to support this? Also, has he looked at the PME curriculum? What else are we supposed to study?
    4. I was under the impression that the foreign language requirement was already in place. Re:"strategy, leadership, and command " in war collges, again, has even made an effort to check his research? Has he spoken to anyone at a war college?

    These are some shockingly stale and sterotyped accusations that have made it to print with no fact checking and flawed internal consistency.

  10. #10
    Council Member
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Posts
    4,021

    Default Some expansion on this ...

    from Cav
    And frankly, it may be that the political "firewall" is part of what keeps us from developing effective comprehensive approaches to conflict. If war is ultimately political, we must be trained in that battlefield as well. Of course, partisanship by serving officers remains verboten.
    focusing on "trained in that battlefield" -

    Is "that battlefield" a political battlefied ?

    If so, what does it look like ?

    And, finally, what kind of training ?

    I'm not sure what idea you are floating here - or, whether the paragraph is not internally inconsistent. I.e., all politics (even politics solely issue-oriented and not tied to a political party) are inherently partisan - you have at least two sides hammering and yammering at each other.

Similar Threads

  1. Colin Gray's New Article in SSQ
    By Gian P Gentile in forum Catch-All, Military Art & Science
    Replies: 10
    Last Post: 12-16-2007, 05:43 AM

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •