- 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.
There was a timea couple of decades ago when theArmy’s Training and DoctrineCommand was an intellectual powerhouse, leading the way in rebuilding thepost-Vietnam Army. But in recent years, it hasn’t been clear to me what it isdoing down there on Ft. Monroe. I mean, in interviews I did for The Gambleabout how the counterinsurgency manual was written, TRADOC didn’t come upmuch — and when it did, it was portrayed as a minor obstacle.
I was thinking about this because I was just reading thetext of a speech Gen. Martin Dempsey, current commander of TRADOC, gave at ameeting of the Army association in DC in October. His bottom line is fine withme — yes, got it, adaptability is key for the future of the service — but thepoints he makes getting there are just intellectually sloppy.
Two assertions leapt out at me:
- “[S]ome have looked back and said they saw the Soviet collapse coming. Frankly, I don’t think anyone saw it coming.” Oh yeah? I remember a dissident named Andrei Amalrik who in 1969 wrote a book, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? I also remember my friend Murray Feshbach making the prediction inside the U.S. government in the late 1970s that the Soviet Union would collapse if only because it was demographically unsustainable. There was a good piece by Cullen Murphy exploring Murray’s views, which proved correct, in The Atlantic Monthly back in February 1983, when General Dempsey was a grad student at Duke, and had time to read.
- More significantly, Dempsey asserts that “the pace of change” is accelerating nowadays. He points to the amount of information that can be transferred every second. This is a commonplace view these days, but I think it is in error. Rather, there is strong evidence that the 19th century experienced an era of far greater change. You had the advent of the mass army. You had the industrialization of society, with consequent population shifts from the country to the city. You also had railroads moving people — which means that for the first time in history, they and a great deal of their goods could travel across land faster than a horse. And you had the telegraph transmitting information great distances at high speed, another dizzying first. These were qualitative breaks. In its essence, the internet is simply a faster, snazzier version of the telegraph. All it does is moves more information great distances. In other words, it is a quantitative change, and so less significant than the original dislocative change.
Look, I know Dempsey was orating to his Army brothers, notdefending a dissertation. But this isn’t just any general, this is supposed tobe the guy leading the charge in thinking about the future of the Army. Hisconclusion is that change is needed andthat “TRADOC is out in front and meeting this challenge head-on.” Hmmm.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images