Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Leadership: Corruption in the American Military"

That's the title of a thought-provoking article at StrategyPage.  Here's an excerpt.

The core problem is what the military calls micromanagement and it led to impossible and unreasonable demands on commanders and troops which then led to the troops rationalizing cutting corners and telling their bosses what they wanted to hear, whether it was true of not. The impact of this was first noted a few years after September 11, 2001 when the army found that an unusually high number of junior officers were leaving the army. When these officers were asked why, one reason that kept coming up was a loss of trust in their commanders and the belief that junior officers could not rely on honest answers from their bosses, who were often more concerned about the opinion of the media or politicians back home. Army researchers and analysts began to monitor this sort of thing and have been releasing more and more data on what they have found and a lot of that dirt is becoming public knowledge. The growing lack of trust led to more cheating and corruption in general as subordinates strived to meet the unreasonable (“zero tolerance”) demands made on them.

Those studying the current problem found that if they looked at the U.S. military during Vietnam, where there was a similar pattern of corruption. Micromanagement, first seen during the Vietnam War when advances in communications allowed someone in Washington to speak directly with commanders in combat, reached new heights during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and caused major headaches for another generation of battlefield commanders with serious micromanagement problems.

All this got really bad in 2004 when the U.S. Department of Defense decided to provide the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) with a real time combat command capability. This meant that the JCS, led by its chairman, now had a combat command center in the Pentagon where they use satellite communications to directly observe, and sometimes control, combat forces anywhere on the planet. Now all these senior officers learned, early on in their military training, the importance of giving subordinates their mission and leaving their subordinates to figure out a way to do it. But now, with a generation of senior commanders with no experience of being micromanaged platoon leaders in Vietnam, the insidious and crippling micromanagement disease crept back into the White House and Pentagon. Field commanders were being second guessed by nervous superiors half way around the world. These same superiors were now calling in lawyers to help them make the right (for the guy in Washington) decision while the troops were under fire and waiting for permission to proceed.

. . .

Micromanagement originally appeared because the technology was there to make it possible. New technology keeps showing up, making more mischief, or benefits, possible. As always, it's up to the people using the technology to make things happen or screw things up. All this is another example and unintended consequences, when something new is available and when it is used unexpected bad things result. It takes a while for people to sort out the cause and effect and even longer to decide on a cure. Meanwhile the problem continues to fester and create a corrupt atmosphere.

There's more at the link.  Disturbing reading, but all too familiar to all too many military veterans, I fear.

I had first-hand experience of this in military operations in southern Angola.  The local forces knew what to do and how to do it to achieve the best results.  However, whenever a major operation was planned an overall commander was all too often sent in from 'the States' (as we called South Africa).  He was often a Commandant (equivalent to Lieutenant-Colonel) or Colonel with little or no combat experience, sent to mark off the 'combat command' checkpoint on his resumé so that he could progress to General Officer rank in due course.  He'd often insist that operations be done 'by the book' - the rear-echelon book used in South Africa, that had little or no relevance to conditions on the ground a thousand miles away in a war zone.  Needless to say, this aroused enormous resentment among those subjected to such heavy-handed, ill-informed interference.

I recall one particular operation that came down from on high with the order - the order, mind you, stemming from the highest political echelons and endorsed by the highest military command - that no fatalities whatsoever were to be sustained.  How the hell anyone could possibly expect such an order to be obeyed, in the face of intensive enemy counter-action that was explicitly (and understandably) intended to kill as many of us as possible, was never explained to us.  Needless to say, within the first day of the operation that order was 'disobeyed' as we suffered our first casualties.  The Commanding Officer concerned was immediately threatened with court-martial by the top brass back in South Africa because he'd disobeyed orders - as if the enemy had nothing to do with it!  It took an awful lot of yelling and table-pounding by lower-level combat-veteran commanders before someone finally realized the complete and utter stupidity of that order, and rescinded it.

Funny:  for some reason, after that, a lot of us lost a lot of respect for REMF command and staff types . . .



John said...


George Patton said is this way,

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
- General George S. Patton, Jr

The concept of expecting your juniors to think and to act, is gone. Instead it is micromanaging and CYA.

John in Philly

Rolf said...

Bill Whittle covered part of this recently, too. A good video-blog post from him, as always.

Careerism, mission-creep, and the bureaucratic imperatives of turf-expansion and CYA eventually take over all large organizations.

Divemedic said...

You story reminds me of the Gunny Sergeant from "Full Metal Jacket":
"Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead Marines and then you will be in a world of shit because Marines are not allowed to die without permission. Do you maggots understand?"

My son was being approached by recruiters a few years ago, and at the time I had just read some stories of troops being put on trial for killing Iraqi insurgents. One in particular involved a Lt who shot two insurgents in the back who were running away after setting of a truck bomb at a US checkpoint. He was put on trial for two counts of murder, as the two combatants were no longer a threat, because they were running away. We are treating war as if it is a sporting event with rules and referees.

I told the recruiter that story, and told him to stay away from my kids.

Anonymous said...

Rules of engagement should never be written by someone who has never been shot at
Paul in Texas

Anonymous said...

The Austro-Hungarian high command used a similar philosophical approach in WWI. I think we all know how well that worked.


Anonymous said...

This isn't a military problem. Bad "leaders" in all walks of life play push my pull you with fake delegation of authority all the time. The military example is a strong one because half the world's seen Tom Clancy movies (or the like) where some blow dry in a comfy room drops in on a decision electronically. But... this is just your normal bad management in a lot of ways, just a bit larger now with bigger electronic tools
. -BoydK

Charles Pergiel said...

There is a scene in "Two Years Before the Mast" where the captain attempts to by-pass the first mate and give orders directly to the crew. The first mate objects, telling the captain that if he was going to continue like that, then he, the first mate, was going to return to forecastle and just be one of the crew, and the captain could have free rein to run the ship. The captain relented and returned to giving orders to the mate and left the running of the ship to him. I read that 10 or 20 years ago and it's still with me.