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Dec 07

Further to this post (which also makes comparisons with the USN), more on Tom Ricks‘ new book at the NY Times Book Review:

Bureaucrats in Uniform

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Gen. George C. Marshall, seated at center, with members of his general staff, November 1941.


American Military Command From World War II to Today

By Thomas E. Ricks

Generals still get relieved — the fate suffered by, among others, the commander of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the surgeon general of the Army after a scandal was uncovered in 2007 — but usually only when their political masters intervene. Seldom are Army officers cashiered anymore by their military superiors and especially not for mere failure to perform at the highest level in wartime. Normally it takes a sexual or other scandal to bring down a senior officer [cf. a certain Canadian general]…

The flip side of the current system is that promotion even for the most successful combat leaders occurs at a glacial pace: Just as there is scant penalty for failure, there is also little short-term promise of reward for outstanding leadership. No one rockets to the top the way Eisenhower did [during World War II].

How did the Army change so dramatically in the past 60-plus years and what are the consequences for the future of American military power? Those are the questions that Ricks sets out to answer. Readers of his 2006 best seller on the Iraq war, “Fiasco,” and of his blog, The Best Defense, know that he has strong opinions he does not try to hide. He also has a deep wellspring of knowledge about both military policy and military history. That combination of conviction and erudition allows him to deliver an entertaining and enlightening jeremiad that should — but, alas, most likely won’t — cause a rethinking of existing personnel policies…

…[There has been] a subtle but important change in military attitudes over the years. “While in World War II,” Ricks writes, “the firing of a general was seen as a sign that the system was working as planned, now, in the rare instances when it does occur, it tends to be seen, especially inside the Army, as a sign that the system somehow has failed.” Thus, rather than admit institutional failure, the Army hierarchy usually prefers to keep a manifestly mediocre or even incompetent commander in his or her post on the theory that the officer will rotate out anyway before long. (Command tours are normally two years, with no more than a year typically spent in combat.)

…To effect the kind of transformation Ricks would like to see would probably require a chief of staff with the stature and certitude of a George C. Marshall. Even that may not be enough. It may take a profound crisis like a world war to shake the military bureaucracy out of its torpor; smaller wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been pressing enough to transform ossified promotion and demotion practices. Needless to say, the toll exacted by any conflict, much less a major one, far outweighs any beneficial impact it might have on personnel policies.

Max Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of the forthcoming “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present.”


FDR: One Book to Read About the Second World War

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Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

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