Wednesday, October 31, 2012

GOFO, Accountability, & the Genesis of a Book

I haven't read it yet ... but T.E. Ricks book, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today , sounds like it needs to move up on my list.

Mark Thompson over at Battleland does a tight interview with the author, and this got my attention;
Why did you write The Generals? How much were you influenced by what you saw in Iraq and wrote about in Fiasco and The Gamble?

This book comes directly out of those two earlier ones. In 2005, while I was writing Fiasco, I went on a Johns Hopkins University staff ride study of the allied campaign in Sicily in 1943.

While we were standing on a hilltop in central Sicily, one of Professor Eliot Cohen’s students related the tale of Omar Bradley firing Terry de la Mesa Allen, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, after Allen won one of the toughest battles of the campaign.

I was stunned. Here I was coming out of Iraq, where generals were failing yet not being removed, and I was being told about the firing of one of the most successful American generals during our first year of World War II.

How could that be? Why had the Army’s approach to leadership and accountability changed so much? That was the beginning of this book.
We've discussed it here, we've touched on it repeatedly with multiple guests over at Midrats as well - as have others, but it remains a question unanswered; why do we hold our most senior officers to such a lower standard than we do for O5/6 in command?

Blow .001 over the limit - and you are fired. Run a multi-billion boondoggle of a program, and get another star. Fall in love with someone junior than you are, get NJP and the boot. Use unaccountable computer programs to make your decisions for you and kick thousands of people out of the service for no definable reason - get another star.  Screw up at war - go to a higher position in the Beltway.
Today being a general is like having tenure.
In World War II, it was expected that a certain percentage of generals would fail and be sacked, and so the occasional relief was seen as evidence that the system was working as expected.
By the Vietnam War, relief was seen as a kind of admission of failure. And so almost no one gets relieved anymore, at least for professional incompetence. (They still get fired for sleeping with subordinates and other moral lapses that embarrass the service.)
It brings me back to the most important word in the English language; "Why?"


Anonymous said...

During WWII you could also come back from a firing, Court Martial or some other administrative pencil whipping. Today, the slightest negative mark or defect is a one way trip down the short plank. We lose too many good people that way. Show me someone who has never made a mistake and I will show you a liar and sociopath.

Anonymous said...

That's a key difference, yes I was just thinking that (reading Patton's War As I Knew It) and it made me think about what the situation was like in the antebellum period...