Thursday, December 10, 2009

McNamara's Stepchildren: the New Hessians?

It is an intriguing thing to consider: does the highbrow community have anything to contribute to the understanding of warcraft, and could our contribution actually help to mitigate the tendency of Homo sapiens to engage in war?

As a point of departure, consider the following from Ralph Peters:

It is important to consider that American military has always fought "by the rules." When individual officers have decided to do things on their own things have usually gotten out of hand. Take, for example, Patton and MacArthur who were advocates of strict adherence to established policy. They recognized their role was to carry out national policy as established by the civilian leadership. With an appropriate sense of self-righteousness they believed they were fighting in the cause of liberal democracy, and that in their professional role they were the direct heirs to--indeed, the defenders of--the political legacy handed down by the American founders.

At the same time, Patton was on several occasions embarrassed for stepping out of line. And MacArthur was fired for exceeding his authority. Notwithstanding whether MacArthur was "right" in terms of policy, he was wrong in terms of his professional obligations, and Truman very properly relived him of command.

Nevertheless, we flatter ourselves that there is a
cultural distinction between, on one side, Patton and MacArthur, and, on the other, their German and Japanese counterparts. As the story goes, our flexibility in theatre allowed us to out-maneuver the Japanese and Germans, who were hampered by their "by-the-book" mentality.

Consider the reflections of the following Japanese and German officers. First, a Japanese destroyer commander in the Pacific:
It was clear that Hatta’s confusion was shared by many of his shipmates, so I replied, “That is a very good question. I will try to answer it. If our ship is stricken you are to abandon her immediately, without any qualms. This may seem contrary to what you have been taught in the past, but I will explain.

“We have reached a point of great adversity in this war. The material strength of the enemy is tremendous. But more crucial is our lack of skilled personnel, because of our many losses in battle. It takes five years to train an officer, so they cannot be replaced quickly. This ship may sink but there will be many more. Many fine Japanese sailors have died because they were too willing to give up their lives. If we are to win this war we must be tenacious.

“In feudal times, lives were wasted cheaply, but we are in the 20th century. The code of Bushido (the way of the samurai) says that a warrior lives in such a way that he is always prepared to die.

"Nothing has been so abused and misinterpreted as this adage. It does not mean that a warrior must commit suicide for some slight reason. It means that we live so that we shall have no regrets when we must die. Death may come to a man at any moment, no matter how he lives. We must not forfeit our lives meaninglessly.

“Bushido does call for atonement by suicide in case of gross negligence, and we can commit suicide at any time. But we are going on this mission not to commit suicide but to win, and turn the tide of war. We are to win this war and not think of dying. Does that answer your question, Hatta?”

“Yes, sir, it does,” he shouted. “And I share your views entirely. Thank you very much.” And he saluted.
Tameichi Hara, Japanese Destroyer Captain, Ballantine, pg 285

A German pilot on the Russian front:
He tells me that today all formations have clearly mapped low level approach routes. In the East we have long since ceased to develop practice from theory; we do just the opposite. One can do no more than give the formation leader his assignment; how he performs it is his affair, for it is he who has to carry it out. At the present time the war in the air has become so variable that one can no longer rely on theories; only formation leaders have the necessary experience at the critical moment and are likely to make the proper decisions. It was a good thing that we realised this in the East in time, otherwise it is a sure thing that none of us would be flying any more. Besides, have they not grasped the fact that we are helpless against the enemies mass of men and material?
Hans Ulrich Rudel, Stuka Pilot, Ballantine, 1958, pg. 186

In Going Downtown fighter-bomber commander Colonel Jack Broughton compares 1946 and 1966, and complains of a negative shift in military command culture, specifically the latitude afforded to commanding officers in theatre, which was sharply circumscribed by the Johnson/McNamara micromanagement system. Notwithstanding the question of Broughton's actions in the Turkestan Incident, don't we have to take this shift into consideration, and, if Broughton is correct in his criticisms, take into consideration the effect of this shift upon policy?

As in the armed forces, so in medicine and education: under the postmodern corporate-micromanagement system, the authority of the old time family doctor is a thing of the past. Similarly, it is true today in higher education that the professional liberty and latitude (and status) once enjoyed by professors has been "trimmed" by a comparatively lock-step ethos. In today's corporate education system, today's professors are, so to speak, "the new Hessians." Make of that what you will.

Finally, note how the lock-step attitude contributed to the recent tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas. Consider all the red flags, consider nobody did anything definitive to stop that problem--how did this happen? In this instance the officers ignored the evidence of their own eyes and bowed down to PC policy like Medieval Japanese, and without question did what they were told to do. Soldiers needlessly died as the result. I doubt this would--I doubt this could--have happened in my dad's Army.

Further insight might be had looking into the Shame-Culture/Guilt-Culture dichotomy.

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