Words for War: Seven Unknown Quotes on War

Ray Kimball is an Army Strategist with a home library that is completely out of control and getting worse. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the Obsidian Order.

Prisoners of War

 “The released prisoners came up the Via Umberto the First in a body…They did not march. They had had enough of lining up for inspection and lining up for chow and lining up to shoot and be shot at…The war aim of most men is to go home. And so for these Italian boys the hateful war was fulfilled, and they were incredibly happy as they walked up the street.” – John Hersey, A Bell for Adano.

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Korengal and What I Wish I Knew: From Cadet to Lieutenant in Afghanistan

**Editor’s Note: Last Monday, 22 September, Author/Director Sebastian Junger, along with Major Dan Kearney and Producer Nick Quested of Goldcrest Films, visited West Point to screen their film, Korengal.  In one of the question and answer sessions, Kearney mentioned how difficult the terrain was in Afghanistan – in specific, that his unit had a number of rolled/broken ankles in the Korengal Valley.  This comment reminded me of First Lieutenant Scott Ginther’s excellent post in describing his experience thus far as a junior officer.  The film, I think, does well explaining Afghanistan’s tough geography. More importantly, it describes the moral and human terrain of solders that have served in combat.  For soon to be second lieutenants: you will lead in an organization comprised of men and women with these experiences.  You will soon perform a “movement to contact” to them in the Army – learning about them and what combat was like for them – is a great piece of intelligence about, perhaps, your future squad leaders and platoon sergeants.  

What follows is a (powerful) clip from the film, as well as First Lieutenant Ginther’s original post.

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Genesis of the Army Green Tab

Image courtesy of Military Uniform Supply. By Major Matt Cavanaugh As I write my dissertation, I’ve spent an awfully long time in General Eisenhower’s papers (emphasis on awful).  Though the spade work can get...

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Sports and Military Leadership: Are the fields of friendly strife built on a foundation of sand?

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

Very famously, General Douglas MacArthur once said, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory.”  But is this true?  Does sport participation really produce better military leaders?

I spend a good deal of time running and love exercise.  I grew up playing hockey, soccer, and a little rugby, some of which extended into college.  I’m the Officer in Charge of the Marathon Team at West Point – so I still maintain a strong connection with organized sports.  But long-held, standing assumptions about the way the world works can be wrong.  Recent academic studies have debunked the importance of breakfast in weight loss, the necessity of post-run cool downs, and the value of stretching for (running) injury prevention. As Mark Twain put it, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

From what I can tell there is absolutely no scholarship on the link between sports and military leadership.  Granted, there is likely a fair amount about the general connections between leadership and sports.  But these would represent generic studies inapplicable to a military audience.  For example, though an ex-quarterback may develop skills suitable for running a moderate-sized used car dealership – these ought not to be assumed sufficient for the chaotic violence of battlefield leadership. Consider the cases of two high performing former Army quarterbacks, Trent Steelman (West Point Class of 2012) and Nathan Sassaman (West Point Class of 1985).  As athletes these two may have been successful on the football field – while with respect to war, one failed outright while the other showed deep flaws that signaled he was not prepared for the rigors of combat.  The two contests are simply not the same: on the battlefield, there is no referee to appeal to, no clock to run out, and no meaningful scoreboard as the perpetual threat of violent veto exists to cancel any “results.” Yet we still persist in this sort of metaphorical military-football echo chamber.  

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Epic Landpower Fail: Lack of Strategic Understanding

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

The US Army will not be very successful in the coming operating environment unless it develops a sense of strategic understanding in its officers (and senior noncommissioned officers).  For the purposes of this essay, strategic understanding is defined here as: awareness, comprehension, and ability to communicate broad purpose for the use of force and the relationship between tactical action and national policy.  Trends tell us two things that demand this characteristic: first, landpower is inherently attributional; second, the Regionally Aligned Forces model ensures that the American Army will go to more places, faster, in smaller numbers, than ever before.  Inadequately preparing for these landpower trends will lead to both institutional and individual epic fail.  

The Problem

Rosa Brooks recently conducted interviews at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait for the latest edition of Foreign Policy magazine (May/June 2014, p. 44).  Ironically, it was raining at the time, but that wasn’t the only striking thing about the discussions. Here’s a short selection from her experience:

“So what are you guys doing here?” I [Rosa Brooks] ask the young private next to me in line at the camp’s spacious Starbucks.  “I mean, in Kuwait. What’s your mission here?”

He offers a sheepish shrug.  “Got me, ma’am. That’s above my pay grade. I’m just trying to stay dry.”

“Ours not to wonder why, ours but to try and stay dry,” quips the lieutenant standing nearby, carefully maneuvering a lid onto his overflowing caramel latte.

This lieutenant’s response is a favorite in the officer corps, most likely due to its use by the infamous Corporal Oppum in Saving Private Ryan.  I’ve actually heard it several times from cadets in the Military Strategy class I teach. In this case, the paraphrase of Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” was just a bit off – a more exact quotation would have been: “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” Unfortunately, this line is often employed to propagate a great lie – that “the reason why” does not (or should not) matter to the uniformed military.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Situationally Aware or Just Overwhelmed?

By Major Carl “Skin” Forsling, USMC

As military leaders, we like to believe that we have a core set of values, beliefs, and leadership practices that transcend the day-to-day workings of society.  Our services have slogans such as “Semper Fidelis,” “This We’ll Defend,” or “Honor, Courage, Commitment.”  Some even joke that we have over two centuries of tradition unhindered by progress. That isn’t true.  We are a product of the society from which we are drawn, for better or worse.           

The military takes American society and amplifies it.  Usually, this is a good thing.  Today, in one important way, it’s not.

Information is the modern world’s stock in trade.  It’s often said that we’re moving towards an information-based economy, even an information-based society.  Cell phones, e-mail, satellite communication, and the like have changed our lives.

The overloading effect of information has been picked to death.  In this sense, the military is only a reflection of society.  Every office worker in America hates his e-mail inbox, as do most military leaders, both enlisted and officer. 

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Reader Riposte on Mission Command

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. An Interesting comment from reader Michael Krogh worth considering – in response to the recent short essay, “Mission Command is Not Enough.” “But isn’t Mission Command...

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Counseling: An Overlooked Tool

By Major Carl “Skin” Forsling, USMC 

In the 1960s, Douglas McGregor of MIT identified the Theory X and Theory Y of management.  Theory X posited that management assumes employees are inherently lazy and intentionally avoid work.  Theory X managers believe that employees require threats and coercion to align their efforts with the company’s goals.

Theory Y managers believe that workers want to do well at work.  They believe that if the conditions are right, workers will be self-motivated and exercise self-control, that job satisfaction is a key to motivation.

Guess which theory is easier to implement? 

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