Saturday, May 08, 2010


It’s a funny thing, but it’s the way it is. If you’re serving in the military or a veteran, you can criticize the military all you want. However, if someone who hasn’t “been there, done that” makes the same criticism, the soldier, Marine, or vet will feel the powerful justification and need to kick the critic’s ass. Hard. Especially the ultra-patriotic rah-rah bomb-‘em-back-to-the-Stone Age Chicken Hawks, who want to go in blasting…as long as they themselves don’t have to actually put on boots or carry a rifle.

People tend to think Ben and I are some kind of uber-hawks, but that ain’t really the case. We would support a necessary war, a Constitutional war, a declared war. We would support a fight to protect and defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. I still have damn little use for Communists and Islamists, but I guess that’s a personal problem. But no matter the conflict we still feel for and support the poor bloody grunt, pilot, tanker or cannon-cocker who is stuck in the middle of a horrible mess not of his making.

The first people who must receive the blame for the unnecessarily putting our men in harm’s way are, of course, the politicians. I deservedly beat on them regularly, and thus will mostly skip them this go round. The next folks in line are the senior military officers, especially the Joint Chiefs and the Perfumed Princes of the Pentagon. Oh, occasionally an actual warrior like USMC Commandant Charles Krulak or Col. David Hackworth will sneak into their ranks, but the politicians and their yes-men senior officers do their best to get rid of such people as quickly as possible.

A great leap towards better policy would be if the Perfumed Princes really do need to tap into a tiny reservoir of integrity and learn at least a few shreds of something resembling leadership. They could learn a lot from General George S. Patton, Jr, although I would have hated to serve under the SOB, and would have to agree with Bill “Willie & Joe” Mauldin’s assessment of him:

“If you're a leader, you don't push wet spaghetti, you pull it. The U.S. Army still has to learn that. The British understand it. Patton understood it. I always admired Patton. Oh, sure, the stupid bastard was crazy. He was insane. He thought he was living in the Dark Ages. Soldiers were peasants to him. I didn't like that attitude, but I certainly respected his theories and the techniques he used to get his men out of their foxholes.”

That Patton was an honest-to-God genius is easily proven by this single quote:

“Politicians are the lowest form of life on earth. Liberal Democrats are the lowest form of politician.”

Patton also had a great deal of advice to offer our current crop of high-ranking military officers in regards to the very neglected and almost unknown subject of real leadership.

"We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way."

“No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair."

“Do your duty as you see it, and damn the consequences."

“Always do everything you ask of those you command.”

“The more senior the officer, the more time he has to go to the front.”

The maverick creator of the elite WWII USMC Raiders, Evans Carlson, was one of those warriors who butted heads with the stultified Perfumed Princes on a regular basis. On the eve of war, as he strove to do what was right by his personal code, he wrote:

“I am tired of attempting to adjust my action to the arbitrary whims of a superior officer. Self-preservation seems to be the first thought of an officer of the U.S. Army or Navy. His whole training tends to accentuate that inclination. As a result he inevitably takes the short view of things, considering each problem in terms of his personal economic security. He will take no action which may jeopardize his career.”

Things have definitely not improved in the sixty-odd years since he wrote that.

In a completely unrealistic zero-defect environment, innovation is gone and over centralized control is in. You don’t train for war; you train to pass the choreographed text-book maneuvers at NTC. Experimentation, innovation, deviation, or learning in the way of tactics is strictly verboten. Mistakes are swept under the rug rather than identified and studied and corrected.

"It seems very queer that we invariably entrust the writing of our regulations for the next war to men totally devoid of anything but theoretical knowledge." Patton

After a real shooting war, military historians toot their favorite general’s horn, or the generals toot their own, crowing about brilliant plans and executions thereof, while the tactical war-fighting information learned with so much blood and pain at the grunt-level never gets recorded in the institution’s memory. The bloody street-fighting lessons of Metz had to be relearned in Seoul, again in Hue City, and yet again in Baghdad.

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” Patton

While Eastern armies have traditionally delegated decision-making authority to those making the tactical decisions at the sharp end of the spear, the men in direct contact with the enemy and with a direct view of the immediate surroundings and situation, the American second lieutenant or platoon sergeant may have to call a general half a world away on the sat phone to get permission to order a helicopter strike on a target that’s shooting the hell out of his unit.

“It may be of interest to future generals to realize that one makes plans to fit the circumstances, and does not try to create circumstances to fit the plans.” Patton

Eastern armies practice recon-pull; if a gap in the enemy’s defenses is found, even if by a single rifleman, it is immediately exploited and reinforced. We practice an over-controlled top-down command-push method. The PBI must not deviate from the grand master plan, even if that means trying to shove round pegs into square holes. Even if it means soldiers must rush across open ground straight into the muzzles of emplaced machine guns ala WWI. Cover and concealment for a bloodless advance may lie close by, but the troops cannot cross a phase line, boundary line, or fire zone, or whatever and mess up the general’s neat little grease pencil lines on the map overlay or, today, his computer graphics and Power Point presentations.

Outside-the-box military author H. John Poole, USMC, summarizes the realities of too much top-down control more eloquently than anyone else I’ve ever heard:

“U.S. privates have been traditionally encouraged to let their leaders do much of the thinking. In boot camp, their societal individuality has been largely replaced with a blind obedience to orders. Later, to keep from being punished in an error-free environment, most will do only what is minimally expected of them. They wouldn’t dream of telling a superior something he didn’t already know. If they are too closely supervised, many will lose any semblance of initiative. This problem may have grown worse since WWII. For the American private between the World Wars, a corporal was God and an officer even higher. Now, majors are doing things that any good corporal could do.”

All of this may be choreographed down to the over-burdened grunts taking fire at the squad level by a pompous guy with a lotta stars on his collar in an air-conditioned office in Flordia.

On innovation, General Ulysses S. Grant once noted: “If men make war in slavish obedience to rules, they will fail.” Patton said, “If everyone’s thinking the same, someone’s not thinking.”

Fast forward to the command innovation of the Vietnam: “I will be damned if I will permit the U.S. Army, its institutions, its doctrine, and its traditions to be destroyed just to win this lousy war.”

So the American method became, “Don’t send a man when you can send a bullet.” Then, later, “Don’t send a bullet if you can send a shell; don’t send a shell if you can send a bomb.” From the grunt’s eye view, I heartily approve. The grunt may be over-commanded by idiots, has no choice about being there, has no personal beef with the enemy, and would very much like to go home with life and limbs intact.

So we ignore and eventually lose on-the-ground close-range war-fighting tactical skills and over-compensate with firepower. As usual, these tactical skills had to be re-learned in blood all over again in the cities of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan.

Since 1941…our forces were not as well trained as those of the enemy, especially in the early stages of the fighting…when we went on the offensive, we did not defeat the enemy tactically. We overpowered and overwhelmed our enemies with equipment and fire power.”
Lt. Gen Arthur Collins, USA

“The North Koreans were like ghosts. They passed over the countryside and left no mark on it in many ways. But when you use the rock crusher techniques of an American army you hurt your friends. And that was true in Vietnam as well as in Korea.”
Maj. General Edwin Simmons, USMC

This method is, as it should be, not much fun for the enemy and, in traditional open battle, wins battles and wars hard and fast, ala Gulf War One. If engaged in a Constitutional and declared war against an identifiable enemy that is a clear and present danger, have at it. Blast ‘em. On the other hand, when guerilla war is conducted in urban areas, this method pretty much sucks for any non-combatants caught in the crossfire, whether “friendly” or “enemy”.

The military’s mission, as Rush likes to point out, is to kill people and break things; to win wars. I would like to add that this mission is to be in conducted in the defense of the United States. The military’s mission is not nation building, operations other than war, being the world’s international beat cop, meals-on-wheels, acting as the UN’s strongman, peace-keeping missions, peace-enforcement missions, refereeing domestic disputes between people who have been passionately killing each other for centuries, getting involved in other countries’ civil wars, or trying to fight undeclared kinda-sorta-but-not-really “wars” with no real identifiable goals under un-winnable rules and policies.

“Don't fight a battle if you don't gain anything by winning.” Patton

If you can’t even define the damn mission, don’t attempt it. If you can, go in, hit ‘em hard and heavy, and then get the hell back out instead of staying for years. A power vacuum will quickly be filled by some other group after you smash your enemy group, and you won’t face the animosity from the rest of the population as you would by staying indefinitely. If the new group in power gives you trouble and becomes a threat on down the line later, repeat the process, but otherwise stay out of other people’s business.

America at least really does try very hard to minimize “collateral damage”, but the longer you stay and fight the more likely it becomes, and having a bloodless name for it is small comfort to someone whose house and family has just been blown to bits. A video-taped apology from some American general, and maybe a wad of greenbacks, just doesn’t seem to make up for it. Afghanis especially believe in the blood feud and, if they have to, they’ll wait years to get revenge.

When the Soviets were in Afghanistan, they strove for collateral damage, so that the guerillas would lose their base of support and ability to live off the land. “The Soviets apparently showed little concern for the civilian population and started each sweep with an artillery bombardment. This did not win many hearts and minds for the Soviet forces. Often the Soviet effort seemed deliberately aimed at killing civilians and forcing them out of the rural areas.”

So, smartass, you ask, what’s the solution. There ain’t none, but using the military as intended by the Founding Fathers and the Constitution would be a great start. Wars need to be declared by Congress, not at the whim of Executive Orders, but congresscritters are too weasely and gutless to declare war for fear of having to answer for their actions later. Protecting and defending the Constitution is the sworn duty of every serviceman and woman, but don’t expect to see much of that these days, since much of what the civilian policy makers decree and do is unconstitutional.

One task specifically assigned to the military by the Constitution is to “repel Invasions”. Well, an invasion is exactly what we’re facing on the southern border. That would be a better place to deploy our troops rather than scattered all over the globe.

So, while I support our troops, their service and their suffering and their sacrifice, I don’t necessarily support the undeclared other-than-wars they’re shoved into or the jerk-off politicians who shove them there. The disingenuous dirt bags in Sodom on Potomac…and yes that includes previous administrations…and their fawning flag-rank yes-men, need to s**t or get off the pot. Lead, follow, or get the hell outta the way.