Infinity Journal Volume 2, Issue 2, Spring 2012 - page 34

Volume 2, Issue 2, Spring 2012
Infinity Journal
Page 32
Military Self-Definition as Strategy
Bruce E. Fleming
fire.”[v] This lying both to military and civilians is, I argue,
a fundamental breach of the contract between civilian
paymasters and the military that exists to serve them. It is
furthermore quite contradictory for a service that claims to
be morally pure must then lie to preserve this reputation.
Occupying themoral high ground has certain public relations
benefits. (Polls consistently suggest that the U.S. populace
has great faith in the military.)[vi] But it also has huge
disadvantages, especially if it’s difficult to actually occupy
this moral high ground, rather than merely claim it. Every
time a problem is discovered, the discovery doubly wounds
the military: first in the revelation itself, then by “counting
twice” for damage, given the assertion of the military that it’s
abnormally moral. Under the current situation, hearing about
problems in the military is like discovering that the preacher
has been guilty of impropriety, sexual or otherwise: if it hadn’t
been for his pretense of greater virtue, his actions wouldn’t
be so shocking. This damage is self-inflicted, and can be
minimized or eliminated by simply going back to the more
defensible (World War II era) notion of the military as effective
rather than virtuous.
The other source of fundamental strategic weakness in the
military is an emphasis on military decision-making through
what is called “leadership,” a notion popular in the Victorian
era and now largely replaced in the civilian world by less
mysterious concepts like reasoning and justification. The
military’s cult of “leadership,” decision making by gut intuition
and fiat, is related to the personal nature of command in the
military (and also to the military’s fetishization of the notion
of “character”). The military is one of the last bastions of the
attitude of Louis XIV, “l’état, c’est moi”: I am my command
and these are “my”people.A command“is” that of so-and-so
until (s)he is “relieved” of it.“Leadership” in the twentieth and
now twenty-first centuries, once the mainstay of pre-modern
societies based on hierarchical class notion (as expressed in
the emphasis on what “gentlemen” do) has been relegated
to niches like the military and business.In these niche callings
without clear technical capabilities,the notion of“leadership”
serves to give an aura of value to actions separated from
their basis in the objective world.
The military draws a certain number of people who think
that responsibility is power, and power is about aggrandizing
themselves. Such people tend to believe that anyone who
suggests changes or improvements to their view of mission
is inimical to the mission and must be annihilated. This is a
fundamental mistake, though one to which the military is
prone as a result of its personal nature and its belief that
“leadership” is a separable skill, an independent commodity
that can be taught; as all Western military academies claim
to do.
Of course, in the heat of battle it makes sense to stick to a
single course of action until it’s clear it’s the wrong one. But
in the planning stages, it makes sense to listen to as many
views as possible. Yet if decisions are reached not through
rationality but as the result of one person’s instinctive reaction
justified by the assertion that (s)he is exercising “leadership,”
dissent or questioning will be perceived as a personal affront
rather than an attempt to use rationality to look objectively
at options. Such a reaction makes certain that once a bad
path is embarked upon (the “leader” is “leading,”), it will be
relentlessly followed—something which is harmful to mission
and a major source of strategic folly in the military.
In the civilian world, the rule-by-personality paradigm of the
Victorians has been largely replaced with such things as
efficiency and technical expertise. Perhaps for this reason the
military frequently draws people nostalgic for the “good old
days” of a century ago when “father knows best”, and where
following authority was its own end. Victorian notions were
based on a class-based society where it was assumed that
certain groups of people, usually determined by birth, had
the qualities needed to tell others what to do just because
of who they were.This was “leadership” of “gentlemen” based
on “character” and “honor.”Now we have rejected the notion
that people are, have, or can exercise these things based
on who they are intrinsically.Yet the military insists that these
mysterious capabilities or qualities or entities are accrued
to those given a certain rank. Outmoded notions are thus
unsuccessfully retrofitted to a new purpose for which they are
ill suited. (Perhaps the military would say it intuits that those
promoted to these ranks possess these qualities and thus
that all those with rank are also “leaders.”This is both circular
reasoning, and belied by evidence.)
The civilian world in a democracy in the twenty-first century
contains many checks and balances that, while not making
wrong courses of action impossible, at least render them less
likely. The military isn’t self-correcting to any great degree, at
least not as it’s currently run, and it has to reach a major
crisis before outside correction intervenes.A
Washington Post
article about a U.S.Army survey from 2010 notes that:
80 percent of Army officers and sergeants had directly
observed a ‘toxic’ leader and that 20 percent of the
respondents said that they had worked directly for one.
. . .The Army defined toxic leaders as commanders who
put their own needs first, micro-managed subordinates,
behaved in a mean-spirited manner or displayed poor
decision making. About half of the soldiers who had
worked under toxic leaders expected that their selfish
and abusive commanders would be promoted to a
higher level of leadership.[vii]
A related article in the
notes that “the Navy has fired a
dozen commanding officers this year [2011], a near-record
rate, . . . which follows a similar spike in firings last year.”[viii]
Such a conception of decision making as a separable skill
called “leadership” that certain people can exercise and
others can’t encourages the formation of “toxic” “leaders”,
people who go by their gut instinct, need hear no opposing
views, and brook no opposition. Thus the specific tactics
that emanate from such a paradigm are highly likely to be
flawed, and cannot be addressed if we fail to consider their
source. At the Naval Academy, for example, I have seen
bad call after bad call from short-term commanding officer
Superintendents (whoareasked to“lead”acollegewhen they
have no experience doing so and usually no understanding
of what a college does), all rammed through with great
gusto on the grounds that they constitute “leadership.” Some
of these have been retired early: the last two Superintendents
have been terminated early for egregious misbehavior, one
after only a single year—the most “toxic” of all. However, most
serve out their time and pass the problems they have created
1...,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33 35,36,37,38
Powered by FlippingBook