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05 February 2008


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--"- Forgotten after Vietnam everything that we had learned the hard way about irregular/counterinsurgency warfare.

- Justified to itself its extremely slow adaptive process to the evident phenomenon of massive insurgencies employing asymmetric tactics."

I believe it had everything to do with $$$.


Could the engineering angle be caused by the fact that the majority of service academy graduates end up? I don;t suppose anything can be done about that.


It begs the question(s), how long before those running the show are replaced by those performing in it now, and is the culture such that it requires one to adapt to them as opposed to reality on the ground?

Its relevant to me because my younger brother just graduated an MP over at Ft Leonard Wood. (more relevant to him, I would guess)

Many of the BN DS's had combat pins. They taught the Army way, of course, but often accompanied it with, "but here's what you're gonna see, and what works," type of instruction.

Will Iraq and Afghanistan enter the institutional memory? Or are too many leaving this time as well?


Geez Col. Lang, you are leading with your chin on this one, and I'm going to take a swipe.

I guess its a pity that the Army forgot about Vietnam, but its not surprising, given American national character as well as the organisational realities of four services.

American character is far from subtle, believes that bigger is better, and that if one drop of oil on a machinegun is good then two must be better. You prefer confrontation to negotiation and are cursed with a wealth of resources.

Is it any wonder then that the humility and deviousness necessary to fight an insurgency passes you by? Nope.

This is not to say that Americans aren't intelligent and courageaous, it's just that since the revolutionary war, you have lost the mindset necessary to understand the underdog.

It's too easy for troops to ride when they should be walking.

It's easier to listen to an Ipod than learn Arabic.

Its easier to listen to a radio or watch a video link rather than sit and discuss whats going on with the locals over a coffee.

It's easier to bomb, than set an ambush.

It's easier to play with net centric, fourth generation, stealth bullshit technology than to learn about what makes your foes tick and neutralise them economically as a result.

I could go on.....but thats why you forgot about Vietnam, the lessons it taught were lessons you didn't want to learn.

When America someday becomes a second rate military power, and your forces have to work out how to fight against overwhelming odds, then I predict you will get good at dealing with insurgency, but not before.

Brian Hart

At this glacial pace of change the current Army leadership would have lost WWII.

Mad Dogs

One factor that also seems applicable, is the "You are what you do" factor.

The folks that managed to survive in the Army and scale its corporate ladder have much in common with their civilian corporate counterparts.

Many senior Army folks spent between 1 to 3 years "experiencing" the insurgency of war in SE Asia.

After that, many of these same Army managers, spent the next 25-30 years honing their "management" skills enveloped in the never-ending paper-shuffling, political one-ups-manship and corrosive corporate diktat to become that round peg fitting into round hole that advancement demands.

3 years vs 30 years. The math alone tells us what their "experiences" really consist of, and where both their "skill" and "attention" wandered off to.

And it wasn't towards the most difficult type of warfare to counter, the Insurgency.

Insurgencies just don't fit into the corporate ones' ideas of traditional warfare.

And yet, it is in fact the most traditional of types of warfare in all our long history.

Plus, fighting insurgencies is just too damn hard! Give us a stand-up army and we're ready to rock and roll.

Pat said: "Their system is now producing change at a rate they are comfortable with."

These folks must look fondly back at the longevity of the War of the Roses.

Why there was time enough then to pace oneself and eventually get the damn strategy and tactics right.

Batman, another round of tea and crumpets, if you please? And then I'll be taking my nap.

Cold War Zoomie

Most folks here probably already know what I'm going to say...but since when has that ever stopped me from rattling on before?

You need the engineering/problem solver types to implement change, not manage it. Managing it involves getting people to see the light and getting motivated. That means leaders should be mostly visionary.

That's also why I'm especially confused about people declaring that Obama would be terrible because he's all about "vision" and doesn't have the "experience" to back it up. Leaders need to be visionary and people like me will work out the details and deliver the bad news if something is completely pie-in-the-sky ridiculous.

As an enlisted guy turned Highway Helper (we're not Beltway Bandits anymore!), I don't think it's perplexing at all why the Army, and DoD in general, is slow to change. It's a rigid hierarchy where conformance is expected. Individualism is drilled out of you the first day you arrive from the MEPS. It is highly regulated. It is steeped in tradition and "conservative" values. It's not a hotbed of creativity. That's my view having never been an officer in the Army.

Organizations with "good" people can still fail for three main reasons. First, they are lopsided with too many visionaries or too many pragmatic folks. It would be interesting to determine what the perfect ratio of visionaries versus pragmatic worker bees would be. Second, the pragmatic worker bees are not being honest with themselves about why they do, or do not, agree with any ideas cooked up by the visionaries. Personally, I do not care what motivates the visionary as much as trying to honestly determine whether their "visions" can actually work in the real world. It's not always easy, but I try to force myself to always ask if something can be done rather than whether or not it should it be done. This rests a lot on my view of the visionary's integrity. Finally, implementers must have the balls to tell the visionaries the truth, good or bad, and the visionaries need to have the balls to listen and change their mind accordingly.

I'm just an outsider looking in. To me, the Army has no "vision" and nobody's going to say much of anything that can be construed as a "bad attitude."

During my illustrious service in the Air Farce many years ago, we had a response to anyone who told us we had a "bad attitude." Well, at least I've got an attitude. That meant, deep down, we still cared.

William R. Cumming

Actually, I think the US Army lives in hope rather than experience. The training for my Artillery OCS class of July 68 was modified from the plains of Poland and north German emphasis to that of the actual war in Vietnam about March of 1968. Post-TET. Events finally determined emphasis. It seems that the real world and the construct world of military schools are often difficult to reconcile. We may be in the last hurrahs of nation-states believing that military solutions by the big divisions is likely to be the pressing need. Let's just see how the next 50 years plays out. A single rogue WMD deployed in a the right way may result in diplomatic and political upheaval reminiescent of the explosions in August 1945. The real test of that next 50 years is whether organized violence will be the perogative of nation-states, international institutions, or rogue groups of sub-state individuals, religiously motivated or otherwise. The military-industrial-academic block by its choices may determine the outcome and by its choices determine the possible outcomes. Again, ostrich-like it may not. History has definitely not ended. It takes intelligent, competent, and ruthless leadership, even in peace-time to lead in the right directions. Again as recently stated leadership not command is not always available.


Col. Lang:

Who would have thought that Gideon would have won a battle with recruits selected because they lapped water like a dog? Maybe that happened (aside from Divine inspiration) because Gideon wasn't confronted with the need to keep his vendors comfortable who were providing him with weapons and armour.

Like any organization, the military is not a closed system although your description might lead the reader to think so. Thus, the military's behavioral reinforcers both positive and negative are not solely a product of how best to conform to the expectations of the chain of command especially when the command structure is heavily influence by economic and political considerations. Think of the controversy that preceded the demise of the Paladin weapon system or the problems associated with the development, implementation and utilization of the A-10 Warthog. On a more positive note, how was Gordon Sullivan able to do it?

To what extent are you really talking about how best to manage (order, control) the increase in personal discomfort in all its manifestations that is an inevitable part of changing how things are done regardless of the fact that there is no tougher population to work with than engineers.


"My assumption about the first subject has been that the Army's well established predilection for attritional tactics and heavy maneuver forces caused it to return to that model of warfare as soon as it could after VN. "

Money seems to have an important role in this. Tanks and high tech planes are more profitable than stuff needed for counter insurgency.

Generals want to make money when they retire. Up to 2001 Powell had amassed $28 million.

The other issue is institutional. One doesn't become General for being imaginative but by kissing up and kicking down.


Hey Pat –

I’m guessing the governmental bureaucracy you cite is a huge factor in resistance to change – even in the face of such traumatic educational events as VN and the like. How much of the institutional inertia would you place on the industrial side of the Military Industrial complex? I’ve often thought that if Boeing and Lockheed Martin could profit as much from training a division of interpreters (or other specialists useful in counter insurgency) as from the manufacture of F-22’s, we might be better positioned for asymmetrical wars. Aside from the obvious profit motive on the industrial side, the career path for a lot of officers post retirement is into those same industries. Seems we wind up with the most expensive hammers half a trillion dollar a year can buy, but not a suitable nail in sight.

(new handle...)

Duncan Kinder

The military's dysfunctional response to the Iraq insurgency challenge is analogous to; and, I submit, rooted in the same cultural biases as the American medical system's dysfunctional response to soaring costs and uninsured patients.

Both place a premium on technological sophistication over actual results. Both reward high levels of expertise while the big drug companies play a comparable role to the big defense contractors.

This places would-be reformers of either system in the position of going after the status quo with a wrecking ball just to effect commonsense reforms. The problem with this wrecking ball approach are obvious.

One solution might be to build up a parallel system correctly conceived. As applied to the military take some organization - the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, or the National Guard, for example, and develop a proper system. After having achieved that, then go to the Pentagon, wrecking ball in hand, and swing away.


i recently watched brian mcalister linn on c-span doing a book reading for
- The Echo of Battle: The Army's Way of War -


his book is a history of how the army thinks about war

he identifies three major streams of thought that influence and shape how the army thinks:

the guardians, the warriors, and the managers

he illustrates how reprentatives of these three ways of thinking have influenced strategies

he addresses the questions you are raising

he stresses the long history of the US Army in fighting unconventional wars

a review from army magazine

LT. COL. MIKE BURKE, USA Ret., taught English at the U.S. Military Academy for eight years. He served with the 1st Armored Division during the Persian Gulf War.

A History of U.S. Army Thought

The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War. Brian McAllister Linn. Harvard University Press. 312 pages; index; $27.95.

By James Jay Carafano

Few books could be more timely than Brian Linn’s The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War. Linn, a professor of history at Texas A&M University, has written a serious and comprehensive intellectual history of the U.S. Army. He traces Army thought from the American Revolution to the war on terrorism. It is hard to imagine a scholar more suited to take on the task.

Linn starts by defining what he considers the three intellectual schools that habitually debate the meaning, purpose and result of employing landpower. He sees these as three distinct “martial philosophies.”

The first is espoused by the “Guardians,” who dominated discourse on military affairs in the 19th century. They envisioned warfare as more a science than an art and constantly proposed systematic solutions to national security challenges.

In contrast, “Heroes” focused on the human element of military affairs, emphasizing the intangible factors that influence war like morale, discipline and leadership. Rather than imposing solutions, Heroes saw war as a competition between two thinking, determined foes.

Linn’s third category—the “Managers”—is an intellectual school that came of age over the course of the 20th century. Managers focus on the challenge of mobilizing national power for major wars.

Linn argues that the three groups (Guardians, Heroes and Managers) faced off regarding the mind and soul of the military; their clashes produced the policies, programs, doctrine and force structure that shaped the Army over the course of American history. This is a history, Linn argues, of “what military intellectuals believed they had learned … after the shooting stopped.” These were the echoes of battle that shaped the Army’s various visions of the future.

If nothing else, Linn’s proposed categorization of intellectual ideas ought to generate lively debate in staff and war college papers for the next quarter-century.

While much of this history has been studied before, the chapters on the post-Cold War cover fairly new territory for historians. They should attract the particular interest of both scholars and practicing warriors. Linn’s overview of the Army’s efforts to deal with the new world disorder is unparalleled. These chapters alone justify a read.

The Echo of Battle does such an excellent job of surveying what the Army thought over the history of the republic that the book ought to prompt more research on the intellectual component of service life. One study clearly called for is an examination of how the Army gained knowledge. Knowing what Army intellectuals thought is only part of the story; tracing the ontology of these ideas is vital as well. Armies need to know where their ideas come from. Part of a complete intellectual history is knowing how thinkers think.

In crafting new visions of the future, it is also important that the Army think about where to look for ideas. Perhaps The Echo of Battle will stimulate Army intellectuals to strive to do better in the future.

It remains to be seen if Linn’s divisions will stand up under scrutiny and if they serve to stimulate creative thinking about how to ponder the military of the future. It is certainly a subject worth a good deal more thought.


I suspect you are correct about the snail's pace of change in DoDs bureaucracy. Didn't it take 12 to 15 years for TRADOC to adopt the AirLandBattle theory and turn it into doctrine back in the 70s and 80s?? However, in the 21st century, with the internet and computers giving us the benefit of near-instantaneous coordination, I would expect better.



Is there not deep in the mind of every soldier who has been lured by the promise of military glory and has volunteered to wear the uniform of his country and follow the flag, that an army is for fighting real wars involving the clash of massed regiments on the field of battle, not the dreary and squalid reality of the the police work involved in counterisurgency fighting? War, real war, is seen as a glorious and noble thing, the heroic charge of cavalry or tanks against the defended positions of a valiant armed foe, the manly and stiff-lipped resistance of infantry, bayonets fixed, facing the relentless advance of the enemy's regiments, the terrible sound of battle, the blast of artillery, the screaming trajectories of of falling shells, the defiant yells from the pale lips of the dying; and then the long triumphant march down the avenues of the conquered nation, or the flowers cast before the feet of the liberators by a grateful people now freed, and the ticker tape reception back home. War is Marathon and Trasimene and Caesar leading the captive Gauls through the cheering streets of the Eternal City; it is Agincourt and Austerlitz and Waterloo, Stalingrad and Alamein and Bastogne, and the proud and arrogant Nazi legions goose stepping down the Champs Elysee.

There is no glory in manning checkpoints ever fearful of the sudden unannounced death brought by the suicide bomber, nor in patrolling urban streets knowing the hidden sniper or booby trap may at any time maim or slay, nor in kicking down doors and searching the households of a cowed and resentful alien population. Counterisurgency is a miserable, inglorious squalid business that demands of its practioners a dogged, patient readiness to endure the hatred of the host population and face the constant present possibility of losing a limb or eye or mental health all without the final reward of triumphant marches and medals and bugles and the flag fluttering ahead of the massed victorious ranks of triumphabnt battalions.

Armies, therefore, will always train and prepare for real wars, because that is what armies are perceived to be for. And this mindset is reinforced by the arms suppliers who offer up their insidious temptations to the generals the big fast powerful howitzers and tanks and missiles and all the other macho manly hardware needed for fighting real wars against a mighty enemy similarly armed. So of course the American Army will continue to train and equip for the massed clash of mobile forces on the field of battle against other powerful nations. Nasty sqalid dreary police work is for dull plodding policemen, not armies lusting for glory.



I think this problem of change management and attritional tactics have roots in another personality issue.

It appears that the Army is not comfortable with the "distributed operations" and decentralized small units that they saw in Vietnam and are seeing again today.

On the conventional battlefield and in wargames, the norm is the BN attack. So they are conditioned, over the past 30 years of NTC, to have centralized decisionmaking. In Iraq and VN, they had to depend on the squads and platoons going out and make the difference. They could not stand the control they are giving up.

That's one reason there was a big push toward "Land Warrior" technology. With the land warrior cameras, the O5s and O6s can re-assert control of the situation.

There are some officers who are good at delegating control, but the 90s drawdown have conditioned all of the field grades to be micro-managers. It's a problem that the Naval Institute have written about for years during the 90s.


i beleive it was called the 'Powell Doctrine'. Overwhelming force. No?


This may be one of those frightening posts you have ever put up here, Pat. That it would take 5 years for the army to change its methodology (especially after VN) is unbelievable.

I'm glad that they're "comfortable" with this rate of change. I doubt the nearly 4000 dead and 10's of thousands of wounded are equally comfortable.

Old Bogus

The military is and commonly has been for centuries, a lethargic, lumbering bureaucracy. Leaders get promoted based how those choosing them perceive their "orthodoxy" to current paradigms. Without some wholesale sacking of the leadership, this can lead to a self-perpetuating mentality. Even more so in a peacetime military.

With no reason to actually reevaluate how combat is conducted, why should they make any fundamental change? I guess it all boils down to inertia; "this is the way we've always done it" and [most of the time] it works.

Losing one war (more or less)(if we really lost them/it) is a "blip"; we need to wait to see if this is a real trend. Never mind those kids at the war college.


If I recall, the "Powell Doctrine" was put in place in the expectation that the US would not fight any more wars like VN, only wars that would involve overwhelming force, a quick victory, and a quick exit. Iraq I was a good example. Nobody expected that the luminaries inside the beltway wanted an eternal occupation.


It wasn't as if the knowledge was not there. It clearly was present at all levels when the war started. A very deliberate decision was made right from the beginning to ignore all of these soldiers who specialized in assymetric warfare. Instead they imposed the Rumsfeld doctrine of "firstist with the leastest" against all rational advice.

After all, we have an entire Spec Ops Command. Surely someone in that part of the armed forces had a clue. It appears that the most effecient way to wage assymetric war in Iraq has been started finally, six years too late, and is succeeding in achieving all the internal goals. Too bad that the political aspect of this war is failing.


I amazed that no one has commented on this interesting post... As I read it I was reminded of my three years working for a very large manufacturing company based in Michigan. Everyone of the senior management had a personality that was exactly what the conventional wisdom said their MBTI type should be...it was a really strange experience because everyone was able to finish each others' sentences, they all related to each other in a very similiar manner, no one ever, ever said (or probably even thought) anything unexpected. I would sit in meetings and silently imagine what each manager was about to say before they spoke - I was right about 70 % of the time.. It became kind of creepy and stifling to me. Suffice it to say I wasn't happy there and left after three years. I now teach high school where my colleagues are totally crazy, unpredictable, frustrating,and annoying in more ways than I can count. No two days are the same, though.

john in the boro

I agree that the military has a preference for big formations and heavy equipment due to number of reasons such as the worse-case-opponent scenario and the iron triangle. Which is more important, the potential or fantasized threat or the district-by-district distribution of defense money? The second point about the military’s ability or inability to adapt is puzzling to me as well. Could it be the “hands on” approach which the military uses for teaching? In this approach doing is more valued than theoretical knowledge. We can know and understand only what we do ourselves: experience is the best teacher. Perhaps the Army’s leadership did not forget everything it learned about insurgency warfare in Vietnam because most of the current leaders never experienced it the “hard way.” However, a new cadre of experienced personnel is in the making ready to fight this war when the next war comes. Of course, the next war would have to be an insurgency and must fall quickly on the heels of the current one for the newly experienced leaders to be of practical use. Otherwise, the military will fall back to its default heavy position until, as Walrus observes, the United States “becomes a second rate military power.”


I gotta agree with (and extend) CWZ's comment:

You need the engineering/problem solver types to implement change, not manage it. Managing it involves getting people to see the light and getting motivated. That means leaders should be mostly visionary.

Successful realization of any goal requires dealing with the two fundamental aspects of problem solving:

(1) solving the problem right, and
(2) solving the right problem.

Education and training generally improve one's abilities for performing the first task (i.e., the deployment of best-practices methods), but the second is infinitely more difficult, and requires a good supply of visionary thinking.

It's that essential combination of vision and leadership that is in short supply, not just in the DoD, but in virtually all components of the US government.


I guess I had thought the answer was rather simple: The Army never intended to fight that kind of war again and, judging from the declassified OIF planning documents, there wasn't the intention to fight an insurgency this time around either. Additionally, the Congress and by extension the American people showed little interest in fighting insurgencies, particularly large-scale ones, and so did not fund and organize the Army with that goal in mind.

So COIN was relegated, for the most part, to the specialists in the Army Special Forces and a few other oases in the military structure.

As for why it's taking so long it really comes down to the difficulty of changing any large, entrenched bureaucracy. The Army was the last service to organize for so-called "expeditionary" warfare - a transition they haven't completed yet even though it began in the 1990's. Additionally, I think Jimmy's point is a very good one, but then again, I speak as an outsider having never been in the Army.

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