Monday, September 16, 2013

Nice Salad Bar

Last week's pic of the 1st Sea Lord had me thinking about uniforms again. With perfect timing, the folks at GlobalSecurity put out a topical piece, The Sukhomlinov Effect.
"There is a curious, disturbingly regular, pattern apparent here. In war, victory goes to the side whose leaders appear the least prepossessing. The handsome dressers lose. This is particularly obvious for military field dress. ... It is not accidental, therefore, that the revolutionary's garb is puritanical, a symbol of renunciation of the old order. There is Mao Tse Tung's boiler suit. Ho Chi Minh's simple jacket. Fidel Castro's messy fatigues. It is the outlook which such renunciation garb represents that gives staying power to the Long March, single purpose to the revolution, and appeals so seductively to the jaded mentality of bourgeois intellectuals." [James, BJ; Beaumont, RA (1971) The Law of Military Plumage (Dressed Up to Kill). Transition [Magazine] 39: 24–27.]

In Dirty Little Secrets, James F. Dunnigan and Albert Nofi write [on page 283]: "Consider the lessons of history: the barbarian invasions, the Dutch War for Independence, the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, WWI, the Russian Revolution, WWII, the several Arab-Israeli Wars, the Vietnam War, and the Afghan War were all lost by the side that had the snappier uniforms. There is more than a coincidence here, though the suggestion of a "law" at work is perhaps a bit facetious. ... The Sukhomlinov Effect describes a common pathology of armies. Particularly in peacetime, armies tend to concern themselves more with appearances and style than with fighting skill, which cannot, after all, be demonstrated. Men who "look" like generals- tall, ruggedly handsome guys with broad shoulders and splendid posture who wear the uniform well- are more likely to be promoted than those who may have a real talent for war, since the latter may not meet the peacetime criteria. Although lots of fine commanders have been short, and fat, and slovenly, they had to wait around for a war before they could prove themselves. There is no known way to pick the able generals in peacetime. As a result, despite a few notable exceptions, the generals who command at the onset of a war are rarely still in charge by its conclusion."
We have all heard the arguments for the ribbon-for-not-getting-a-BCD-this-year and the you've-reached-your-PRD-medal - and I don't buy them. Never did, and still don't.

Besides how patronizing they are, think of the admin-overhead they cause. I don't know about you, but British, Canadian, and German military performance is quite fine with their few and far between awards.

How did all that work out for our friend Sukhomlinov?
Vladimir Aleksandrovich Sukhomlinov (1848-1926), the Russian general and war minister, was born in 16 August 1848. He passed through the cavalry school in St. Petersburg, and in 1867 was given a commission in the Guard Ulans. He graduated from the Academy of the General Staff in 1874. He took part in the war with Turkey in 1877-8 as an officer of the general staff, and was awarded the St. George Cross of the fourth degree.

From 1884 to 1886 he commanded a dragoon regiment and from 1886 to 1897 he was the head of the officers' cavalry school in St. Petersburg, having meantime in 1890 been promoted to the rank of general. His next appointment was as commander of the 10th Cavalry Division. In 1899, while commanding the troops of the Kiev military district, Gen. Dragomirov appointed him as his chiefof-staff and later as his assistant. His close connexion with Gen. Dragomirov, who enjoyed enormous prestige in the Russian army, ensured Sukhomlinov's future career. After the death of Dragomirov, he was appointed commander in Kiev.

In March 1909, Vladimir Sukhomlinov took over the post of Minister of War of the Russian Empire. He was a proponent of the development and use of new technologies; Thanks to him, the Russian army established automotive units and a naval air fleet. In 1911, the Russian army military counter-intelligence was established.

In the Council of Ministers at Suhomlinova had a difficult relationship with Minister of finance V.N. Kokovcovym, who sought to reduce military spending. In the midst of the first world war, when in the spring of 1915, the biggest disadvantage of shells and other military equipment, Suhomlinova became regarded as the main perpetrator of poor supply of the Russian army. In June 1915, he was dismissed from his post as Minister of war, and soon there began investigations of his activities at the ministerial post.

In March 1916, Vladimir Sukhomlinov was dismissed from military service in April was arrested and while the investigation continued, had been detained in Trubeckom bastion of the Peter and Paul Fortress. In October, he was transferred to house arrest. As co-defendants were also his wife E.B. Butovic.

The trial of Suhomlinovym lasted for months. He was charged with treason, idle power and bribery. The majority of the allegations had been substantiated, however, Vladimir Sukhomlinov was found guilty of unpreparedness of the army for war and sentenced to indefinite and deprivation of all rights. His wife was acquitted. Katorga was soon replaced by a term of imprisonment, and was placed in Sukhomlinov Trubetskoy bastion of the Peter and Paul Fortress.

After the October revolution, Vladimir Sukhomlinov was transferred to another prison. In May 1918, as a result of an amnesty, he was released and then travelled to Finland and from there to Germany. In exile, wrote memoirs, which tried to rehabilitate him. Vladimir Aleksandrovich Sukhomlinov February 2, 1926 died in Berlin.
But, he looked sharp, I guess.

Can you go back? How do you put the salad bar back in the tube? It would take one heck of a SECDEF and CJCS .... with a little zeitgeist at their back. 

No time soon, methinks - and that is sad. We are a better military than that; a better people than that. At least, I think we are. Am I wrong?

I don't think so. When did all this go south? It was before my time, probably dates - as many things which are bad - to the late '60s to early '70s.  

It really got bad in the 1990s though when they got rid of the UIC quota for NAMs. When was it? 1995?

The Army and USAF went off the deep end earlier than that methinks, and the USMC is the last one holding the line, but from what I have heard, they have picked up the other services' bad habits.

Does it matter? Of course it does. 

By diluting real achievement, it loses its significance and makes it hard to point your finger at what is really desired. You turn exemplary service in to a needle in a haystack. You make average to sub-par performance in to exceptional performance. When all is exceptional, then nothing is.

You sate the insecure at the expense of recognizing superior performance. That is not a formula to promote a culture of striving. That is the cost.

Hat tip MH.

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