Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 27 2014. Favorite dead generals. I have favorite live ones too.

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”


INTELLECTUALLY. Intellectually, I don’t think we should make as much of the military as we do. Currently, something like 75 percent of the American public have confidence in the military—whereas the figure for Congress is well under 10 percent (depending on the poll). That spread seems a little extreme to me.

Incidentally, artists—which I guess includes writers—come in at 30 percent. Frankly, I’m not quite sure whether that says more about artists or the American public.

Given the importance of artists in terms of our contribution to the quality of American life—we entertain, inform, distract, and comfort—it strikes me we are getting something of a raw deal.  But, I digress.

Here I am not suggesting we raise the number for Congress—I haven’t yet gone insane—more that I think the figure for the military is way too high.  I’d be happier to see the public supportive, but questioning. The issues involved, and the scale of money, require adult supervision. It is rarely in evidence.

THE MICC. Breaking things and killing people should not be held in such high regard—especially when you appreciate the level of corruption within the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex)—and the prevalence of careerism that is the curse of the officer corps.

CAREERISM. What is careerism? It is a culture of seeking personal advantage ahead of the mission. It is the practice of becoming a sycophant to some more senior officer with the notion that if you are amenable to his every whim, you too—in turn—will ride on his coat-tails and get promoted. It is the antithesis of what is needed—an independent and creative cast of mission oriented mind. It breeds bureaucratic mice, and not good generals. It foments indecisiveness because to make a decision is to run the risk of being wrong—with consequences to your career. It is one of the reasons why the procurement of new weapons and equipment takes so long and costs so much. It leads to micromanaging. It negatively affects our performance in the field. It is commonplace.

CLUBABLE BUT MEDIOCRE. A consequence of this is that a great many generals—scarcely a surprise given that they have primarily toadied themselves to a star—are mediocre. They are mostly agreeable, clubbable, people—but they suck. You don’t believe me? Consider what happened after we conquered Iraq in 2003 (after an armored invasion against a weak enemy conducted at the pace of a slow stroll).

It took us literally years—and  countless dead and injured—before we even understood the kind of war we were in, yet alone evolved a winning strategy—and even then—did we win? And at what cost? And last I checked the fat lady hasn’t finished singing. That increasingly well known aria—ISIS—seems likely to drag on a bit.

EMOTIONALLY. Emotionally, I am a lost cause. Having all kinds of military traditions and connections—ancestors, relations, training, and experience—and having read tales of high adventure from an early age, my heart—and my respect—will always be with the warrior. And I don’t think I will change in the time I have left. The warrior means the fighting soldier—regardless of rank.  It even includes a few generals—though not many. Do not confuse the fighting soldier—though most Americans do—with the massive overhead that is the Pentagon and the MICC. Fighting soldiers have to do with combat. The Pentagon and the MICC have to do with politics, money, and a great deal of corruption.

Army generals come in different shapes and sizes.

  • BG. One star – Brigadier General.
  • MG. Two Stars – Major General
  • LTG. Three Stars – Lieutenant General
  • GEN. Four Stars – General

When I talk about generals, I am generally (no pun intended) speaking about generals in command of something significant—and typically a combat command at that.. Typically, that will mean command of a division upwards. A division consists of 10,000-15,000 soldiers and is, effect, a self contained army in that it has all the components of a modern army within a single command. These include infantry, armor, artillery, air support, engineers, logistics, and so on. The nature of divisions vary. A heavy division is tank oriented. A light division is infantry oriented. Today a division is organized into brigade combat teams which are, in effect, miniature divisions.

Interestingly, A BCT is roughly the same size as a Roman legion—4,000 to 5,000 soldiers. The optimum size of a fighting unit has remained remarkably consistent over the millennia. A BCT is normally commanded by a colonel. It probably should a general’s command. Or a tribune’s.

WHAT CONSTUTES A GREAT GENERAL? A great  combat general is part thinker, part scholar, part visionary, part administrator, part logistician, part politician, part fighter, part intelligence operative, part combat commander—and all leader. Great generals are rare—and invaluable. It took Lincoln several years to come up with Grant.  The British suffered appallingly from a lack of good generals in WW I. We haven’t done so well since 2001 with Dave Petraeus being a notable exception. Both Stan McCrystal and  William H. McRaven were also exceptionally able. I’m sure I have missed a few others. HR McMaster certain comes to mind.

EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE. The one quality that seems to distinguish all great generals is what I tend to think of as ‘emotional resilience.’ Regardless of how bad things seem to look, they keep their cool. It’s an invaluable attribute—and one I admire greatly.

My favorite dead generals are:

  • Julius Caesar
  • The Duke of Wellington
  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • Major General Robert T.Frederick
  • General Elwood Qesada



 Julius Caesar was notoriously camera-shy.

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