- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other day I said that Lightning Joe Collins, one of the best corps commanders of World War II, would have fired Col. Mike Steele, who commanded a brigade of the 101st Airborne in Iraq that committed some war crimes, in a heartbeat, long before the abuses occurred. An early firing would have served everyone better, I argued, especially the soldiers involved and the Iraqis who were killed.
I found an article yesterday in which then-Maj. Daniel Bolger sharply disapproves of Collins’ swift ax. This is especially interesting to me because Bolger now is in Baghdad, commanding the 1st Cavalry Division. Back in 1991, Bolger critiqued for Military Review the swift relief of generals in World War II. He begins by quoting Patton: “Collins and Bradley are too prone to cut off heads.”
Bolger detects in Gen. Omar Bradley and his mentor, Gen. George Marshall, the origins of the “zero defects” Army of the late 20th century — and perhaps even of today. He judges Bradley to have been risk-averse and unimaginative. “One avoids losing, but one can also avoid winning by playing it safe,” Bolger writes, in a sentence that seems to me also to apply to the conduct of the Iraq war from 2003 to 2006.