- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Why Soldiers Lie

Since the year began I have had opportunities to visit several American military units and schools. What I found was encouraging. A growing number of officers and staff NCOs accept the painful fact that we have lost two wars. They know we need to change if we are not to lose more. Finally, they have come to understand that their services’ senior leaders, their top generals, do not much care about winning or losing. To them, military defeat is irrelevant because the money keeps flowing. The only war the generals care about is the budget war.

The senior military leadership is facing a crisis of legitimacy and does not know it. As one Marine officer put it to me, the generals seem divorced from reality, powerless, and risk-averse. The problem is less what they do than what they do not do, namely address the reasons for our defeats. The dissatisfaction with the senior leadership is coming not only from junior officers. I found it now goes up to the ranks of lieutenant colonel and even colonel.

Nor is the evidence merely anecdotal. The U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute in February published a study by two of its faculty members, Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras, Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession [1]. Its conclusion, that many Army officers routinely lie to “the system,” is no surprise to anyone who knows our military. (The phenomenon runs across service lines.) What is more interesting is the study’s finding as to the cause of institutionalized lying: “the suffocating amount of mandatory requirements imposed upon units and commanders.”

Who imposes this burden? Mostly the generals, who appear neither to know nor to care that they are laying on more training and reporting requirements than there is time to meet. Their only concern is covering their own rears. Unable to do as ordered and unwilling to risk their careers by telling their superiors the truth, officers deal with the problem by lying.

The study’s authors do not mince words:

The Army as a profession speaks of values, integrity, and honor. The Army as an organization practices zero defects, pencil-whipping, and checking the box. Army leaders are situated between the two identities—parroting the talking points of the latest Army Profession Campaign while placating the Army bureaucracy or civilian overseers by telling them what they want to hear. As a result, Army leaders learn to talk of one world while living in another. A major described the current trend:

‘It’s getting to the point where you’re almost rewarded for being somebody you’re not. That’s a dangerous situation especially now as we downsize. We’re creating an environment where everything is too rosy because everyone is afraid to paint the true picture. You just wonder when it will break, when it will fall apart.’

The larger problem, again, is less what the generals do than what they do not do. They preside smugly over a cluster of institutional disasters, like so many Soviet industrial managers—which is what most of them are.

Angry officers demanding change provide one wing of a potential new military-reform movement, one that might succeed where that of the 1970s and ’80s failed. But success requires tying demands for reform to the services’ budgets, which is all the senior generals care about. The earlier reform movement got generals interested in Third Generation maneuver warfare because senators and congressmen who voted on the defense budget were talking about it on the House and Senate floors. Whence might come this second arm of a political pincer movement under today’s conditions?

Far more than was true 35 years ago, legislation is now for sale, for the legalized bribes we call “campaign contributions.” Business as usual in defense has vast amounts of money to give to members of Congress. Military reform can offer none. That usually means “end of story” on Capitol Hill. thisissueappears [2]

But there is one possibility. The House now has a number of members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Having seen today’s military from the inside, some of them will know its weaknesses. They might put loyalty to their former comrades above payoffs. If they were to reach out to those still serving who are tired of losing, they could create the “inside/outside” nexus that made the earlier reform movement powerful for a time.

Money may still win in the end. If so, our problem will be larger than more lost cabinet wars. A republic whose government is for sale will not be a republic much longer. Or, perhaps, a state.

William S. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook [3] and director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation.

27 Comments (Open | Close)

27 Comments To "Why Soldiers Lie"

#1 Comment By Junior On May 18, 2015 @ 1:52 am

“The problem is less what they do than what they do not do, namely address the reasons for our defeats.”

I agree with the sentiment that we are in trouble until we fix our campaign financing, but I STRONGLY disagree with the notion of the military being the reason for the defeats. It was our political leaders that failed us, NOT the military’s carrying out of a so-called “strategy” that was doomed from the beginning.

#2 Comment By Junior On May 18, 2015 @ 2:09 am

Unless this article is some type of veiled reference to a military coup, I don’t understand it. I fail to see what an “inside/outside” nexus’s other aims would be unless they’re discussing the best way to go about downsizing.

#3 Comment By Philip Giraldi On May 18, 2015 @ 7:38 am

The top of the military is divorced from the lower echelons where the actual warfighting and lessons-learned takes place. The generals are only answerable to their peers and the civilian managers by way of power points which are themselves driven by numbers, which means that demanding testing, training and report writing, which can be quantified, becomes the standard to indicate a unit’s readiness and combat efficiency.

When I was in Army intelligence during the 1970s the only measure the Brigade commander had to judge our detachment’s performance was the slide presentation that we used to do for him every month. It showed increases in reporting and the number of meetings but made no attempt to assess whether we were actually doing anything useful or not.

The by the numbers promotion standard is not unique to the military. The intelligence community works the same way.

#4 Comment By Uncle Billy On May 18, 2015 @ 7:41 am

The brass does not care how things really are, they care how things look on paper. The entire “zero defects” military is a fraud. We have generals who could not effectively lead a squad, much less a division, but who are artists, skilled at making things look good on paper and passing the buck. Yes, being risk adverse is the way to go. Don’t make decisions, as they might be wrong and it would kill your career. Patton would never make general in today’s risk adverse, make it look good on paper army.

#5 Comment By John On May 18, 2015 @ 7:43 am

Everything that was militarily possible to accomplish in Iraq or Afghanistan, we accomplished. The part where we were supposed to turn a poor, deeply divided and politically unsophisticated society into America circa 1789 was not in that category.

The only means that generals have to “win” those wars is to become their service’s chief of staff and to resign rather than give the order to fight a stupid war that the civilians want.

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 18, 2015 @ 9:46 am

William S. Lind writes that “a growing number of officers and staff NCOs accept the painful fact that we have lost two wars” and “they know we need to change if we are not to lose more.”

“We” need to change? Who needs to change if we are not to lose more wars?

Lind writes: “As one Marine officer put it to me, the generals seem divorced from reality, powerless, and risk-averse. The problem is less what they do than what they do not do, namely address the reasons for our defeats.”

But what are the reasons for our defeats and are were they fundamentally military in nature?

Lind’s essay is an important essay, but I wish he had made clear that the reason we lost two wars (or three?) is that politicians asked the military to fight wars that were unwinnable.

No amount of reform within the military – or teaching the lessons of guerrilla warfare to US troops – would have enabled the US military to accomplish the goals given it in Vietnam and Iraq.

For example, if the US had doubled the peak of 700,000 US troops Vietnam to 1.4 million US troops, and doubled the number of years the US troops fought in large numbers from 10 to 20, and doubled the total Vietnam bombing tonnage from 3 times the tonnage dropped in all theaters of World War II to 6 times the tonnage – the end would have been the same, but it might have come in 1985 instead of 1975, and cost more lives and cost more money.

William Lind is right that the military desperately needs reform, but “the reasons for our defeats” in Vietnam, Iraq (and Afghanistan?) were not so much failures of our military as they were failures of the American political system for fighting wars that were not only in our national interest to fight, but were unwinnable from the start.

#7 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 18, 2015 @ 10:17 am

Sorry. Correction: “Wars that were not only NOT in our national interest to fight, but were unwinnable from the start.”

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 18, 2015 @ 10:39 am

There is a good deal to chew on here. But I am need to make a right turn on point. While it is convenient and approprot to shift responsibility upward, it stops too short where the ultimate crisis pointreally is.

Look at the field of candidates, most of whom democrat or republican still advocate for both invasions: Iraq and Afghanistan as though, they were justified and effective. And more than that they are advocating for more of the same. That anyone involved in the last two invasions and the debacle of the current theaters is actually running for office — says something about where the real culprits are.

Our military leadership is being held accountable by those who demand that they fulfill the orders about which this article finds indictment. CYA in the US military is is as old as the military itself and its borne out of the leadership of those elected to lead them. If I recall, just last year there was an article written by a Sr. Staff Officer on integrity and the Officer Corps. I think it woud be valuable to review.

Absolutely, military leaders should be “telling the hard truth(s)” about what they can and cannot do. The number of resignations as the result of losing two theaters simultaneously is reflected by the number of politicians who have resigned via poor leadership or at the very least have admitted error.

As for money — all officers should be prevented from any civilian defense projects (MIC) for no less than five – seven years, might be a start.

Appreciate all who serve or have served.

#9 Comment By Passing By On May 18, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

Let’s assume that Mr. Lind is right — that the U.S. has “lost two wars” [presumably Afghanistan and Iraq, he doesn’t say] and our military’s “senior leaders, their top generals, do not much care about winning or losing” those wars or others like them.

The reality is–they’re right not to care. America is as safe after “losing” those wars as it would be after “winning” them. The same was true of similar wars in earlier decades … Vietnam being the clearest case. And it will be true after whatever squalid little conflict in a third-world country comes next.

The difference between Mr. Lind and the military’s senior leaders is that they know all this and apparently he doesn’t. They’re focused on (what they see as) the real long-term threat to the U.S.–possible conflict with some other great power, likely nuclear-armed.

Preparing for full-on conflict with another great power requires advanced technology, reservoirs of heavy equipment, and skilled cadres. All of those translate into “budget” … year after year, for decades. And that seems a more-likely explanation for our generals’ and admirals’ priorities than does Mr. Lind’s apparent notion that they’re somehow a bunch of power-hungry greed heads.

#10 Comment By ThePanzer On May 18, 2015 @ 3:35 pm

“the generals seem divorced from reality, powerless, and risk-averse”

Similar to our current generation of CEOs, politicians, and intellectuals of all stripes…

#11 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 18, 2015 @ 3:58 pm

An obvious way not to lose wars of choice is not to wage them.

But – the generals are doing exactly the job their government that is controlled through donorism wants them to. The aim is to generate profit and power for that claque. They are also mindful that post retirement the same donorists have lucrative positions waiting for them in the military-industrialist-surveillance complex. This is not conducive to developing the critical faculties of a General Smedley Butler. As a bureaucratic relative justified to me, “corruption is the price we pay for the game we play.”

#12 Comment By Uncle Billy On May 18, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

Old soldiers never die; they just become consultants to Defense Contractors.

#13 Comment By Philip Giraldi On May 18, 2015 @ 5:12 pm

Wow “Passing by” you say of the generals that “they’re right not to care.” Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have killed sixty thousand American soldiers and a conservatively estimated four million foreigners. If the generals truly have their eyes on the big war to keep the cash flowing and the little wars don’t count this something very wrong in their thinking (and yours). Sick, sick, sick.

#14 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 18, 2015 @ 5:12 pm

“The reality is–they’re right not to care. America is as safe after “losing” those wars as it would be after “winning” them.”

Hmmmm,

I had an abrupt response to this. While in the immediate it rings accurate. But we don’t live in a vaccuum of self. From a strategic stabilization perspective, which is one of the main goals of the conservative use of force – not merely democratization – pur actions have resulted in just the opposite.

And instability is a threat to the US. Just because it is not existential at the moment, does not equal more safety. Less safe is what must be measured. And the data sets, would suggest, we are less safe

And that matters. Those failures, which contnue to counter our goals in that region of the globe are expanding. If not for the scale, I would gloat.

They matter.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 18, 2015 @ 5:18 pm

” America is as safe after ‘losing’ those wars as it would be after ‘winning’ them.”

How wrong that is, for most of us. The secret national security state we now live under, divorced from democratic accountability, with the evisceration of our civil liberties amidst fear of blowback from foreign interventions, follows as surely as night does day. It is true that the elites are safer than ever, along with their foreign investments.

#16 Comment By Junior On May 18, 2015 @ 5:42 pm

@Passing By

“They’re focused on (what they see as) the real long-term threat to the U.S.–possible conflict with some other great power, likely nuclear-armed.”

The days of direct conflict between great powers is long gone ever since nuclear proliferation. The only wars that are left for the military are these “squalid little conflict in a third-world country”. The only wars that great powers wage against each other now are subversive financial wars.

“Preparing for full-on conflict with another great power requires advanced technology, reservoirs of heavy equipment, and skilled cadres. All of those translate into “budget” … year after year, for decades.”

Everyone knows that direct conflict would UNDOUBTEDLY lead to a nuclear armageddon and so therefore this “budget” and preparation for a non-existent threat is all a charade put on by war profiteers. They have either fooled the generals and admirals, or forced collusion with threats, or they are in on the war racket scam as well.

#17 Comment By Johann On May 18, 2015 @ 7:10 pm

Nothing’s changed. 45 years ago, when i was in, officer evaluation reports were ridiculous. If your OER said you walked on water, it was a poor evaluation. The report had to say you walked three feet above water.

#18 Comment By Jeff On May 18, 2015 @ 8:02 pm

I think it should also be recognized that the military has become an important political/social tool for Congress and the Executive Branch. It is the largest organ of the federal government and that which has the most power to carry out social experiments within its ranks. Military strategy is also largely driven by procurement, which is almost entirely dictated by Congress. Quality to command is measured by your willingness and ability to carry out political aims rather than military ability. You can blame military leadership for the current command climate, but they are simply moving along the currents dictated by civilian leadership. Unfortunately, I do not know that there is a solution to this problem without giving the military complete control over GO/FO promotions, which is highly unlikely.

#19 Comment By channelclemente On May 18, 2015 @ 8:50 pm

A skilled, efficient, command leadership function among senior officers has been a nagging problem for the US military almost since its inception.

#20 Comment By Andrew Nichols On May 19, 2015 @ 1:03 am

Why the surprise when the military is treated as an infallible faith an object of worship with its soldiers as little gods to be venerated at every opportunity in the indispensable Exceptional Shining City on the Hill. Support the Troops! Support the Troops! Military cults have proliferated in the decline of every empire.

#21 Comment By Uncle Billy On May 19, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

We have too many generals today. Now, we have something like 39 four star generals and admirals, with about 1.4 million uniformed personnel, which is way more than we had during WWII with 12 million uniformed personnel. Plus all the 1, 2 and 3 star generals and admirals who have pretend jobs in the various commands. If we were to eliminate half of our flag officers in one stroke, it would save huge amounts of money. DoD is way too top heavy.

#22 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 20, 2015 @ 6:32 pm

“If we were to eliminate half of our flag officers in one stroke, it would save huge amounts of money. DoD is way too top heavy.”

That is a drop in drum as to where the expense is located.

Further the armed forces is far more departmentally specific than during the second world war. I don’t what the nymbers are or were then, but that isn’t going to push the veracity of the services to any greater front.

A political leadership that engages in is self protection is not oing to breed a class of staff officers willing to end their carreers: feeding family, opportunities for children, financial success or access to influence, when the leadership model encourages and promotes the same.

Our staff officers are not bread in vaccuum tubes devoid of real life concerns.

I still contend the place to start is terminating any relationship between the finacial and industrial organizations of wall street by ending stock ownership of anyone elected or appointed to office.

Period. They are public servants, and the conflict of interest is obvious and definitve. The publc pays the a salary, if that is insufficent, perhaps political service is not for them.

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 20, 2015 @ 6:35 pm

I am supposed to get bent because general so and so rmains in his or her post (mostly his) when those that commissioned their service remain —

It lacks integrity.

If we want to breed something different. We need to start at the bottom among the junior officers and NCO’s. And casting political leadership as something not to be aspired to —

Because their integrity is more valuable than the power of the political class.

#24 Comment By bacon On May 21, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

“Why Soldiers Lie” – for the same reason anyone lies, to influence the thinking of those being lied to. Or a shorter answer – self interest. As the saying goes, this isn’t rocket science.

#25 Comment By Trutheful James On May 22, 2015 @ 1:35 pm

Army, you are not alone. In fact your wastage is well below that of the Air Force and the Navy. Take the F-35 Program…Please. And so many others.

We have run decades on an ad hoc basis instead of determining National Objectives and the parallel National Security, Economic and Political Objectives and the Strategies we must execute given the true nature of the Threats existing now and over a time horizon, spent trillions to be paid not by anybody now alive.

It is not an internal single service problem. We have a cadre of legislators, a bevy of lobbyists, a squadron of defense contractors as well as the seniors about whom you write. All suck on the teat of our economy which has been mismanaged as well,

Consider this. In 1945 with an unparalleled manufacturing base we were able to demobilize to a great extent, send some to GI Bill schools, others to work. What happens if we do that today?

Don’t worry about the seniors, they will cross over to the defense industry, get contract paid at think tanks or just plain lobby their former juniors for new projects.

#26 Comment By Barry On May 22, 2015 @ 4:01 pm

EliteCommInc. says:

“Look at the field of candidates, most of whom democrat or republican still advocate for both invasions: Iraq and Afghanistan as though, they were justified and effective. ”

Wrong. The Democratic candidates don’t advocate for the invasion of Iraq.

#27 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 24, 2015 @ 8:30 am

“The same was true of similar wars in earlier decades … Vietnam being the clearest case. And it will be true after whatever squalid little conflict in a third-world country comes next.”

I am not sure this is accurate. The Vietnam and Korean conflicts were hamtrung politically.

Korea as a UN conflict with no intention of owning North Korea and Vietnam’s political mandates about where, when, how the military could confront eemy forces.

The nature of those two conflicts were vastly different than the concerted efforts during WWII.

I am not sure I am completely bought into the general don’t want to win as much the generals have limitations with ever more complex political objectives. .

In WWII they owned the territory of the defeated. In these cases the defeated were one day their freinds and the next their enemies. They were expected to adjudicate vie their commands, all manner of local issues among people were not only fighting them, but each other and keep the politicians happy.

Who was going to be the command officer to walk into the oval office and decalare,

“Unless you untie my hands to completely destroy and and all opposition, forget it.”

This not WWII, Korea or even Viethan where at least there is some demarkation lined objectives. In Miss Coulter’s article in Human Events. She refernces Dr. Daniel Ellsberg. In short the Pentgon papers were an attempt at good press.

When I was in the Marine Corps, bad news was akin, to failure, and that is just not really anything a Marine is programmed to convey —

“I’ll make it happen sir.”

There are issues in the command, no doubt. But I sm not prpared to accept that 40 years of “I’ll make it happen.” has been siphoned out of the blood of even generals.