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General Failure: How the American military rewards failure at the highest ranks (theatlantic.com)
131 points by jseliger 1819 days ago | hide | past | web | 51 comments | favorite

Very interesting perspective into the shortcomings of our military system. The article is worth reading through, but in summary: The author suggests that our drawn-out, meandering wars are the result of a perverse incentive system among the higher ranks of the military. Leaders are not rewarded for successes or, perhaps more importantly, punished for their shortcomings and failures. Instead, they are given short, time-limited appointments in leadership roles, which changes the goal from military success to simply ensuring that nothing too bad happens on their watch. Likewise, these time-limited roles result in a diffusion of success, where everyone can claim that progress was at least partially due to some of their own actions.

Perhaps the most succinct explanation from the article:

    But the Army continues to do too little to sort the average performers from the
    outstanding ones. That has long-term consequences for the caliber of military
    leaders. A recent survey by students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government
    found that good young officers have left the military in large part because of
    frustration with military bureaucracy and the sense that the armed forces do
    not have a performance-oriented system for managing personnel.
The author proposes that the military should more frequently relieve poor performers from their positions until they find the person with the right personality and intelligence for the position.

I've never been involved in the military, but I feel as though this perverse incentive structure is common among many businesses as well. Most big companies I've worked with have a few obviously incompetent employees in leadership positions, but harbor an unwillingness to demote or fire them because they've "earned" their position through hard work and loyalty to the company. Taken to the extreme, this is the famous "Peter Principle," which suggests that employees will continue to be promoted until they reach a position beyond their abilities, at which point they languish in mediocrity. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle )

Making sure that nothing bad happens under your watch may not be such a bad thing in the military. Most of the critiques in this tread sound like this comment by Davidson about the french change of leadership in Vietnam:

On arrival, Navarre was shocked by what he found. There had been no long-range plan since de Lattre's departure. Everything was conducted on a day-to-day, reactive basis. Combat operations were undertaken only in response to enemy moves or threats. There was no comprehensive plan to develop the organization and build up the equipment of the Expeditionary force. Finally, Navarre, the intellectual, the cold and professional soldier, was shocked by the "school's out" attitude of Salan and his senior commanders and staff officers. They were going home, not as victors or heroes, but then, not as clear losers either. To them the important thing was that they were getting out of Indochina with their reputations frayed, but intact. They gave little thought to, or concern for, the problems of their successors.

Just look at the ambition and creativity displayed by Navarre's "hedgehog" strategy, and the (spoiler alert: dismal) result it got for France in the Vietnam war:


Not losing may in fact be one of the requirements for winning :-)

In corporations, the consequences are not that bad - closing door is not a big tragedy. Ten of thousands dead on the other hand, and a war lost is a tragedy.

So please don't dismiss the military just because they work differently. They are on a different problem space. They need different solutions.

The hedgehog strategy there worked, brilliantly, but it is a strategy, a strategy designed around not losing. In the case of the American military, most of our missions now have specific aims that can't be accomplished by simply avoiding disasters.

The early decisions in the Iraq war like de-Ba'athification, dissolution of the military and not protecting vital government sites, could be seen as thinking to much about "winning the war" and not enough about not losing it.

On the other hand it was somewhat the tactic of the Iraqis, or even more so the Taliban. To not lose by disrupting society enough that their enemy can't "win".

> Relief of generals has become so rare that a private who loses his rifle is now punished more than a general who loses his part of the war.

This is a part of our society's disconnection from meritocracy and transition to a state where a privileged caste rules and extracts from society on the basis of arbitrary marks of differentiation.

> This is a part of our society's disconnection from meritocracy

I would argue the opposite, but that depends on the elusive definition of "meritocracy". When people use that term, they usually mean that people's status or influence is bestowed on them based on their past performance, or "merit" (whatever that means). That is, a person is given a position based on his earned "merit", and "merit" is like some general currency that can be accumulated.

The article argues that successful organizations behave differently. They assign, or remove, roles and influence not based on accumulated "merit", but based on performance at a very particular task. If you're not good at this specific task, you will be immediately given another, regardless of your past "merit". This is not meritocracy where those with much earned "merit" rise to the top, but rather an organization where the goals are more important than the current job holders. It is an organization that assigns importance to collective results over the importance of individuals. I think that such an organization is hard to maintain over time because, in the end, it, too, is composed of people, each with their private interests, that may sometimes clash with those of the collective. But it is a far cry from meritocracy, that is, in practice, little more than simply bestowing privilege on horders of "merit" rather than horders of money, noble blood, or other more quantifiable currencies. This may actually make meritocracies worse than other privileged-class structures, precisely because those at the top can easily change their definition, and exchange-rate, of "merit".

At no point does the article suggest that General Franks was promoted, say, because he was someone's relative, or a member of the right party; in fact, nowhere is it suggested that he was promoted for anything but merit. And that is why he wasn't relieved - precisely because he was a "holder of merit". This is how meritocracy works. In WWII, someone would possible have told him "we don't care what you did or can do. At this point, your particular actions are not helping our collective war effort, so you must step aside for a while".

But people like meritocracy, because, for some, "merit" isn't hard to achieve. You get the right credentials, put in some talent and a lot of effort, and presto, you're part of the elite. People don't like being judged over and over, be only as good as their last action. They want to rest without losing their status. Only an organization where people truly put aside their egos for the good of the public can function as the article claims the military used to function in WWII.

Well "merit" just means something that justifies a reward. So it is a bit of a circular definition and thus anyone can inject their own interpretation of it.

What I think think "meritocracy" means is that someone gets promoted because they deserve it based on some objective performance metric. I don't think it differentiates specifically whether this is a long streak of good performance or an immediate recent, single, success. You seem to argue between these two. While I think the most common interpretation is not immediate vs long term merit but the type of performance and degree of objectivity. If performance is just "being in the system for X numbers of years" then most would argue it is not meritocracy, which is what General Franks had. You argue that he was a holder of "merit", I say not. He was just one of the many similar available candidates in the bureaucratic system and one had to be promoted. So he was promoted. Often that also came as a function of number of years in the service or number of years in "action". So that is not "meritocracy".

> But people like meritocracy, because, for some, "merit" isn't hard to achieve.

People like meritocracy because it is inherently has a fuzzy definition and the term itself has a positive vibe as, by default, it stands against bureaucracy, nepotism, mediocrity, and corruption.

For example my beef with "meritocracy" is that it is actually a negative term, because metrics and "objectivity" criteria are defined by the current power systems. So their judgement and metrics are implicitly now "objective" and purely "performance based" just by being associated together in the phrase that also has the word "meritocracy" in it. (Say, "college admissions are purely merit based", stuff like that). Or, like the classic issue with IQ tests that used to test heavily culture-dependent things such that any non-(Western, white, middle class) would be disadvantaged. But this particular arguments is perhaps better saved for another discussion thread.

Yeah, that part doesn't seem that much different than a typical company. Some low-level employee coming in 30 minutes late for work is punished more than a CEO who loses huge amounts of money for the company.

All states reward failure. Program not working, it needs more money. It's exactly the opposite of a free market.

I've always assumed that the Military tended to function as a giant bureaucracy, which tends to discourage many from staying in. That seems to be the norm for Government institutions. I would blame politicians for the drawn out wars we are engaged in. I'm sure if we gave the military carte blanche command of the wars, they could end them. (We may not like the tactics, but that's another discussion)

Peacetime armies (ie. not WWII) end up with careerists on top, not warriors. So you get the same as any mediocre corporation. The immediate stakes to national security aren't high enough to demand results "or else".

Supposedly much the same happened to the North in the Civil War at least for the first few years. Lincoln had to keep on getting rid of his generals till he found one who was willing to fight (Grant). Same thing happened in World War I with the generals not adapting to trench warfare and just sending their men out to die again and again. Its human nature. Without a real way to measure performance, the people who get ahead are the ones who game the system.

>Peacetime armies (ie. not WWII) end up with careerists on top, not warriors. So you get the same as any mediocre corporation.

But armies don't have the pressure of potential bankruptcy that acts as a safety valve against poor performance.

Yes, good point. Although consider that many a corporate behemoth has been able to carry on for a long time with little competence at the top due to a large stable revenue stream from some product or other. It gets them in the end (probably), but for a long time they can coast on mediocrity. Example: GM.

De Tocqueville says something like this--no doubt thinking of the US performance in the War of 1812.

But the US Army of WW II was led at the highest levels by men who were careerists, graduates for the most part of West Point before WW I. (Marshall, ok, VMI, but the point holds.) Collins had held his commission for a quarter century before he was firing all those 90th Division commanders.

We've been at war for over a decade. That's 3X the length of WWII.

It's a matter of how much the civilian population is focused on the effort. WWII was a total war, everyone back home was involved in some way, usually through rationing, working a war-effort job, buying a war bond, paying increased taxes, and/or worrying about loved ones serving in the military (often though the draft).

Things like Iraq and Afghanistan are basically peacetime military actions. It's a war over there... but back home, not so much. That affects what kind of talent, attention, priority, etc. goes into it.

3x the length, but only 0.03% the number of coalition troops lost. More allied troops died on an average day in WWII than coalition troops died in the entire Iraq conflict.

You're comparing apples and hamburgers. Consider a single day in WWI. More casualties in <24 hours> than the <decade> you reference. The opening day of the battle saw the British Army suffer the worst day in its history, sustaining nearly 60,000 casualties. There would go on to be in excess of <1 million> casualties related to just this single battle, at Somme, western front.[1,2]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualti...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Somme

Depends which start date you take for WWII - The European one of 1939, the Russian 1941 (don't ask about 39 and 40!), or the American one of late 41. Or the Chinese view that it started in 1937.

Looks like a "General Failure" in statistics/randomness (oh no he didn't) and merely an example of the fundamental attribution error (the Generals - that's it! I mean what does the effectiveness of large hardware on underground entrenchments have to do with it! We just need better leadership - not more guns, grunts, bombs and money).

Battlefields are highly path dependent (lose 50 men on one hill - combined with unreplaced troops on the previous one - you've just lost 10km^2), chaotic (that shell just randomly took out your battleship during a beach rush - no more covering fire - you get slaughtered), subject to the influence of volatile human psychology (sounds and sights can decimate morale, focus and the ability to shoot people in the face at random times), resources (platoon 3 runs out of ammo, bogged down on critical hill - backup platoon can't get to them - out of range of covering shelling - lose the hill and the valley), weather (it's raining - they have tanks and relieved troops), positions (your hill just turned to mud and blood), communications (platoon 1 - decimated - incoherent babble and screaming, platoon 2 - nothing, platoon 3 - incomprehensible, platoon 4 faulty intel) and hell - wind direction (dust blows into your platoons' eyes - but not into the enemies).

None of that has much to do with the general on the ground - it's just shit that happens in highly chaotic, unpredictable, uncertain and resource constrained environments.

I see the same kind of criticism leveled at CEOs.

Granted, many of them are complete morons and can drive companies into the ground. However most are simply doing what appears reasonable at the time, and are just unlucky not to have the corporate/economic/technology winds (or dust) at their backs.

People overrate what people can honestly achieve in highly chaotic environments. 15% of corporate CEOs are replaced every year - notice how companies don't change much from year to year though - I have. However, changing often definitely let's us lionize the lucky ones (see hedge funds, startups, novels, movies, tv shows and any other at scale, highly path dependent, chaotic and random systems).

We failed in Iraq and Afghanistan because we needed 10x more troops on landing and about 15x more resources and a great deal more international support.

This is by far the most predictive of success on any battlefield (and business) - irrelevant as to who is actually running it.

"These corrosive tendencies were reinforced by a new policy of officer rotation after six months in command, which encouraged many leaders to simply keep their heads down until they could move on—and likewise encouraged superior officers to wait out the tours of bad officers serving beneath them. Instead of weeding out bad officers, senior leaders tended to closely supervise them, encouraging habits of micromanagement that plague the Army to this day."

Some companies have this policy and it seems to be at the root of their management trouble. It causes short-term thinking and what make me look good as opposed to what makes this place better.

I don't get how this article an on the one hand condemn rotations and on the other hand condemn keeping people in he or positions too long.

It does seem odd, but my explanation is the "I know I'm moving" problem. If you have mandatory rotations[1], then optimizing for a better next jump is just smart behavior. You know you're leaving so optimize for "flashy" improvements and curry favor with superiors. Its the known deadline that's the problem.

That being said, people should move on at some point. The US Navy before and after WWII rotated out its officers to Washington DC. It made sure operational experience was put into policy. Bringing someone home to teach is a smart move.

[1] a typical IT strategy for managers doing the rotation to "learn new areas" is to cut Q&A people. The effects of the cuts will be a lower budget in the near term with looks good. The next person will get to deal with the slipping quality since the down effects take a while as "professionals" work harder to keep the trains running. Burnout occurs during the next dudes shift.

I think there are two major factors leading to the promotion of incompetent personnel to leadership positions. The first one is the bureaucratic nature of personnel evaluation, the second being the lack of actual 'real' wars to train the leaders (as sadistic as it appears).

_Disclaimer_ : I only have an observer experience of the US Army (I went on tour in Afghanistan in a mixed US/Canada brigade), but my actual employment was in the Canadian Forces. I was on tour when Gen McChrystal was relieved and replaced by Gen Petraeus, and also when (CA) Gen Menard was relieved and replaced by Gen Vance.

1. In the early ranks of officers, promotions are very strongly linked to evaluation reports. Evaluation reports came to be very sanitize and politically corrected documents where you need a load of supporting documentation if you want to negatively score someone. If someone received an hypothetical score of 3 last year, you need very strong arguments if you want to reduce that score the year after. The system is somehow 'humanitarian' in that it believes that no one can become worse over time, and no one is incompetent. Also, there is a lot of 'political' pressure coming from relationships inside the military. I saw first hand some obviously incompetent Captain be promoted to the rank of Major, simply for political reasons. Somebody back in the country had plans back home for this officer, and this promotion was planned ahead of time (the officer had time in rank and was put in the position they were to give them some 'action' cred).

Put together with the fact that promotions are expected after certain specific check-in-the-boxes, this leads to the promotion of incompetent leaders on purely bureaucratic grounds. Eventually leading to a wider range of incompetent officers in the pool of Colonel in which Generals are chosen.

2. Recent wars are not related in 'danger factor' to what WWII has been. Nobody's in actual danger of having their family killed/their country harmed if they don't succeed in their missions oversea. Those missions are political disturbance of far away countries. They are, sadistically, good for the troops as they give them first hand experience with real combat - it's essential for an army to always have veterans in their ranks to train other members. If a generation of the army would go without seeing combat actions, the technical abilities of this army would quickly evaporate. In that regard, while recent conflicts provided combat experience to field personnel, they have not been of a large enough scale to train generals. Generals thus can't really become battle-hardened and provide hands-on experience while on tour.

Finally, the idea of doing a 'tour' when you're a general, like noted by the article. They come in theater with a vision (but often no general field experience, and sometimes even no field experience at all) and have only a few weeks/months to try out their vision and see what happens, and that's when they're actually on site and not back home dealing with politicians. Then regardless of the outcome, they are relieved and replaced by another general.

There is a big problem with generals with battlefield experience - they fail in the next war because they cannot break free of what worked in the previous war.

Technological progress is so rapid that doctrine has to be rewritten from the ground up for each conflict.

For example, we went into WW2 with heavy reliance on battleships. They were quickly discovered to be worse than useless, the aircraft carrier was far more effective.

The examples are endless, such as the disastrous misuse of cavalry in WW1, and Hitler using obsolete WW1 tactics.

There is a big problem with generals with battlefield experience

An interesting datapoint, historically is Churchill. If your read his history of the world wars, he was the 'sea lord' or somesuch and head of the royal navy. in advance of wwi, he actualy revolutionized the fate of the world in the 20th century, by preparing GB for the next war (WWI). In particular, the switch to the use of diesel vs coal, to increase the range of the Naval fleet. This is the source of the WWII battleships example. And also the origin of the politicization of the Middle east. This supports your notion (becaue he wasn't a general), but undermines the idea that you cannot act with foresight. He also had battlefield experience. [1]

[1] Also, your last sentence is curious, as I think you missed the example of Hitler conquering europe from russia to the english channel, inventing the Blitzcrieg, and the various dry-run live-fire experiments, eg Spanish Civil war.

Hitler made numerous serious errors from applying WW1 tactics, such as over-reliance on fixed fortifications.

> such as over-reliance on fixed fortifications.

Which "fixed fortifications" would those be? If you're talking about the Allies' final attack on Germany of late 1944-early 1945, then I'd say by that time Hitler had already lost the war. The two most crucial moments I can think about are the battle of Stalingrad which did not allow the German Army to lay its hands on the Caucasus and its oil resources, and then the battle of Kursk, which had nothing to do with WW1 tactics.

And to copy-paste Clausewitz's name in here (the article makes a passing reference to him when it talks about "Franks fundamentally misunderstood generalship, which at its topmost levels must link military action to political results"), I'd say Hitler's final chances were political in nature, more exactly I'm talking about his tries to intervene between Churchill and the US on the one hand and the USSR on the other, trying to convince the first bunch about the perils of letting the Soviets be on the victorious side. The Tehran Conference put an end to that. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tehran_Conference)

Hitler did fall into the battleship trap, grossly underestimated the value of long range aircraft and fighter aircraft, relied heavily on fixed fortifications like the Atlantic Wall and the Siegfried Line, both of which were easily bypassed, etc.

He squandered his men by not allowing them to retreat and regroup, again thinking like it was WW1.

Of course he would have lost anyway, but he could have made it much harder.

Against fixed targets battleships gave higher firepower. Aircraft cqrriers were the new technology for naval operations away from large land masses. The heavy fortification of the atlantic wall was only for first landing, the defence line was deep but it was annihilated with heavy bombardment from allied battleships. The Siegfried line was pretty much abandoned during the war and was hastily manned during the last defence. German efficiendy wasn't very good at this point since t was against the original planing and they had even lost their fortifications and underground plans in some places.

The doctrine after WW1 was not keeping an advanced position but moving forward with tanks and keeping the enemy of balance. That was an extarpolation of Rommels "Infantry attacks" book, who was succesful in the WW1 and was already famous and a teacher in the german military academy in the interwar period.

The problem with battleships is they were incredibly vulnerable to air attack.

Ambrose's book "Citizen Soldiers" details the failure of Hitler's fixed fortifications, and Galland's book "The First and the Last" details Hitler's failure to understand air power.

The texbook counter-example on circumvention of fixed fortifications was done by Hitler's army, at the start of the war. Viz:

The Manstein Plan is often seen as either the result of, or the cause of a mid-twentieth century Revolution in military affairs. In the former hypothesis, expounded by Fuller and Basil Liddell Hart immediately after the events, the Manstein Plan is presented as a natural outcome of deliberate changes in the German military doctrine during the twenties and thirties by men as Guderian or Hans von Seeckt implementing Fuller's or Liddell Hart's ideas.[1]

Diesel-electric Submarines were ultimately also vulnerable to air power. But not before their use in warfare was pioneered by the Germans, to devastating effect. And france was germany's "aircraft carrier", don't forget its less than 100 miles from the UK, couldn't be sunk, and didn't need a fleet-escort. (etc).

Further innovations:

- Jet fighters

- Cruise Missles

- Ballistic Missles

- Submarine Warfare

- Armored Calvary

It was a war, and 'improvisation' would be expected as losses mount and access to resources were curtailed. The general thesis that the Nazis were fighting "ww1" style is not really a teneble notion. At all.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manstein_Plan

1. Hitler basically stalled and wrecked the jet fighter development, diverting its resources to developing a fairly ineffective jet bomber. 2. The cruise missiles and ballistic missiles contributed essentially nothing to the war effort, while consuming vast resources. They simply weren't accurate enough, and were misused as well (London was a political target, not a military one). 3. You're right about that, but U-Boots were big in WW1, too. 4. Hitler still put his faith in fixed fortifications, despite the success of his generals with mobile warfare.

There's no doubt that the German army had many forward thinking ideas. But I'm talking about Hitler overriding them and refighting WW1.

I think it's sadly obvious at this point what is going to happen: the inherited technology is going to require expert knowledge, and being able to constantly learn different complicated technology is simply too much to expect of most soldiers, sadly.

I think there are people who do want to work in the military, but more than that they want to know that they can complain. If you can't complain about your commander being a terrible leader, how on earth is shit supposed to get fixed? If you can't report incompetency, and it's not being effectively measured, how are any warnings going to be listened to?

Ironically, the cure is also a big fear: wikileaks. There needs to be a way to complain about failures in people as well as mechanical in an anonymous manner. It can't be seen as ratting or it won't work.

It needs to go from being a boys club to being autonomous units with high transparency and measured expectations. No more excuses, no more delays: if you can't train yourself in competency on the job, you will most likely never excel in it.

If anybody knows the government's reaction to the Peter principle besides mercenaries I'd love to hear it.

I almost completely agree with your post except for one tidbit: "... the lack of actual 'real' wars to train the leaders ...".

The US is almost continuously involved in plenty of wars. Afghanistan and Iraq surely have been big enough to train generals (a WWI/II scale war is luckily the exception rather than the rule), but the generals have been slow to adapt to a new type of enemy (insurgency vs. straight up battle against a conventional army) and a new way of fighting a war.

The excellent article quite eloquently makes the point that this kind of big scale thinking and adaption is exactly what a general needs to be able to do, and which the current system fails to promote.

There is something I don't understand: The US (or at least certain agencies) have been involved in creating or supporting insurgencies in different scenarios (even Afghanistan itself) for most of the post-WWII era. There has to be an enormous amount of experience dealing with para-military groups and a lot of examples of how not to deal with one, e.g. the Soviets in Afghanistan.

I would have expected that experience to pay off in the current situation. Either supporting an insurgency is radically different from combating it or all that knowledge is lost in the cracks between the different agencies conducting those operations.

I don't think Afghanistan and Iraq have been big enough to train generals. In fact, its less about the size of the wars than their nature. They're just not the kind of wars that general will be trained for. There is no front in Afghanistan. The war out there are much less about the military application of force than about the political restoration of nations. But the military is given the control of what's going on because of the poor security conditions. The Afghan and Iraqi theaters are 'distractions' to what the military are prepared to do.

Generals are trained, like the rest of the army, for conventional warfare, to protect the sovereignty of their nations should a full scale war take place. We could shift the focus of the training on counter-insurgency, but that would effectively train the whole army to responds to a single kind of problems: insurgency. Then the country itself would be left with an army that is unable to defend its sovereignty, but that is very good at throwing down weak governments and shutting down rebellions.

Generals, along their careers, are not primarily trained for counter-insurgency. Counter-insurgency is a spin-off of recent conflicts, but it's not the main goal of the military. Because of that, there's no sentiment that generals should go on a theater and take care of it until it's over. They just go in and fill the seat. The Afghans are well aware of this and it removes much credibility from our military : "You say that you will change things, but the guy before you said that, and in 6 months the next guy will say the same thing. I will still be there, and you will be back home. I will still be stuck in this conflict, and you will watch TV with your children and talk strategy about an eventual clash with China."

In a 'real' war, there's a sentiment of urgency, there's an actual threat. The generals, the army, MUST defeat the enemy or a _real_ defeat will take place. In a war like Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam, if they win or lose will not change much to their lives, except for the price of gas and some more or less fear in the airports. It's more complex than the price of oil, but the end result is that recent conflicts are pawn-moves in the current state of the world.

It's in that sense that I say recent wars are not big enough. They are not engaging enough to justify a shift in training, and they are not the type of war generals are mainly prepared for (thus the lessons they will get out of them are of limited apparent usefulness - although everybody thinks counter-insurgency is the big thing.)

I can see your point, but disagree with it. I would say that, as the article also asserts, it is the job of generals to adapt to new kinds of warfare. Saying that these are not "real wars" or "conventional wars" is pointless. In the end the generals have to be able to lead the military in whatever situation the political leaders and the global geopolitics put them in.

The US military is facing these kinds of insurgencies, because the enemy has adapted it's strategy: The Taliban are not stupid enough to engage the US in full on frontal assaults, because they'd lose.

Assuming that generals would only have to face a specific kind of conflict ("conventional" warfare) is a losing proposition. In fact, if you examine conventional wars more closely, you'll find that the way these have been fought has changed drastically from one to the next, and a military leadership that is not able to adapt to new kinds of war has a huge drawback. (For example, WWI was a trench war, a few years later, in WWII the method of warfare has completely changed, towards fast tank assaults and air raids. During the cold war area, a large scale tank battle in Europe was still a realistic threat, nowadays it's unthinkable. During the later part of the 20th century the US has had great success by relying on an almost invincible air force to exhaustively bomb the enemy before sending in any troops, ...).

As the main task of the US military nowadays seems to be less in territorial defense and more in engaging in "messy" wars similar to Afghanistan and Iraq, I think the leadership needs to adapt accordingly instead of waiting for the next war that fits their preconceived notion of what a war should be.

In World War II, the firing of a general was seen as a sign that the system was working as planned. Yet now, in the rare instances when it does occur, relief tends to be seen, especially inside the Army, as a sign that the system has somehow failed.

Oh how I wish that governments would realise this. Making mistakes and then correcting the mistakes is the important thing. The whole phenomena of start-ups dominating over established companies is a guide to how you should be running the established businesses. Government departments hold onto their bad decisions, trying to justify them and hide the damning evidence when really they should be praised for acknowledging mistakes and changing their minds.

I totally agree. And there is also the fact that in a competitive environment, competiton is human. You can not folllow a strict procedure on paper, when the competition adapts, copies and even improves. Unfortunately the procedure is also the justification for any action, and it is easier to create metrics on how good the procedure was followed than creating metrics for the results of their actions.

The soldier who loses his rifle faces harsher punishment than the general who loses the war.

So, considering individuals as "human resources" instead of people (personnel) has consequences in the US Military as well as in corporate life. Who would have thought that change in how people are considered would have such an impact?

Before we go too far down this road, what about Douglas MacArthur? He pushed the government to defend the Philippines, he lost most of his air in the first 24 hours--after the news from Pearl Harbor was known--and he returned home as a hero. And yes, he did have his moments, in WW II, and Korea, but some of his decisions in the latter war lead to a barely-contained fiasco.

This was ever the way. The needs (and goals) of a peacetime armed forces (which is what the US still has, despite meandering wars in the Middle East still running) are different to those of a wartime armed forces. The only question is how quickly, given the shift to wartime footing, one can replace the peacetime command with that needed to win wars.

I don't think this is an exclusively American problem. There's an eye-opening book called 'On the psychology of military incompetence' which ought to be required reading for anyone in a leadership position.

Sorry but what does this have to do with IT or HN in general ?

"[...] anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity" is equal to "anything" given enough users.

I think we got some good discussion out of this one, though.

That's Fox News quality quoting there. How about not taking it out of context.

Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. Pretty sure the US military counts as political.

I don't think so. This isn't a right/left piece where everyone is going to come and comment based on their views and their opposition to the opposing viewpoint and be unswayed at all based on the discussion.

This is more about organization theory than politics

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