Infinity Journal Volume 2, Issue 2, Spring 2012 - page 33

Volume 2, Issue 2, Spring 2012
Infinity Journal
Page 31
Most military strategy discussions, devoted to choosing
actions meant to achieve ends efficiently, presuppose the
actors that undertake the actions.That the actor is a military
is taken for granted, and discussions are limited to whether
they should fight in this way or that, with these weapons or
those, here or there, or fight at all as opposed to not fighting;
at least not here and now. Thus the strategic aspect of the
military machine itself, namely the question of whether it
is well equipped to undertake any action at all effectively,
tends to be neglected.[i] This is conceptually wrong as well
as dangerous for strategy: it’s as if we spent all our time
mapping where the car was to go without considering the
strategic implications of keeping it low on oil.If the tank spews
oil or grinds to a halt, all subsequent questions of tactics are
moot.All strategy is compromised, or at least threatened.
The forms these strategic threats take in Western and
Western-allied militaries concern issues of military self-
definition: how do standing militaries designed to serve
democracies conceive themselves, or of their very nature? If
their conception is contradictory, as I argue it is, or ill thought
out, as I also argue it is, they build inefficiency and problems
into the very machinery itself. It is the equivalent of grit in the
gears. Military self-definition is as fundamental to strategy as
the equally nebulous but hyper-important notion of “morale”
is to battlefield action: how does the military understand
itself? Morale, the tactical cousin of strategy’s “self-definition,”
is notoriously hard to measure, yet we talk about it all the
time,and recognize its essential nature.A military that doesn’t
understand itself is a strategically impaired military, just as a
fighting force low on morale is unlikely to perform effectively.
Strategic inefficiency in military design
I will be focusing here on two sources of strategic inefficiency
within militaries: a sense of moral superiority and the “cult” of
leadership. This assessment acknowledges that the world’s
militaries of course vary to a great degree, but all are at least
generically militaries, and hence heir to the same ills of the
The first source of strategic inefficiency is the dangerous
notion, apparently the creation of the military itself, that the
military is morally superior to the citizens it is meant to defend.
This produces disdain of the military for the very civilians
for whom it exists. Such an effect firstly leads to uncertainty
about why they are fighting at all: why put your life at risk
to defend lesser mortals? That then in turn leads to a sense
of wounded defensiveness: why are they not acknowledging
our sacrifices?
This attitude was documented at length in a
Washington Post
article by Kristin Henderson from 2007, what was
arguably the nadir of the Iraq and Afghani wars for the U.S. It
begins with the realization that fewer than 1% of theAmerican
public is in uniform in this age of an all-volunteer force.[ii] I
have argued that this sense of distance from civilian society
on the part of the military has only gotten more pronounced
since then.[iii]
More importantly, the military’s notion that it is morally purer
than the civilians it serves sets up a situation where inevitable
moral or indeed even tactical lapses within the military tend
to be covered up for as long as possible. In effect, lying to its
civilian paymasters and those it is exists to protect. Numerous
ongoing problems created during my time at Annapolis by
the military’s ham-fisted treatment of women, whether too
harsh or too lenient, are vociferously denied until they are
uncovered by civilian Freedom of Information Act requests.
The same is true of the academies’ preferential treatment
of non-white applicants for admission, also documented
by civilian journalists in the face of military denials.[iv] And
consider the way the U.S. Army vociferously denied that the
death of the football star Pat Tillman was the result of “friendly
Bruce E. Fleming
United States Naval Academy
United States of America
Bruce Fleming has been a professor at the US Naval
Academy since 1987. He is the author of many books
and articles on military theory, literary Modernism, and
aesthetic and political theory, as well as being an award-
winning fiction writer. He writes regularly for periodicals
including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and
the Christian Science Monitor. His website, with a list of
works, is at
To cite this Article:
Fleming, Bruce E.,“Military Self-Definition as Strategy,”
Infinity Journal
,Volume 2, Issue No. 2, Spring 2012, pages
Military Self-Definition as Strategy
1...,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32 34,35,36,37,38
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