Best Defense

Dempsey’s not so smart — and he may be wrong about the utility of mass formations

Dempsey’s not so smart — and he may be wrong about the utility of mass formations

By Robert Goldich

Best Defense guest respondent

I’ve gone in the other direction regarding Gen. Dempsey.

A bit to my surprise, given how much he was praised before he became the CSA by people who I really respect and admire, I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with him.  

I see official remarks and documents that seem to me to be nothing more than a stringing together of contemporary pop phrases in military-strategic affairs, dispensing conventional wisdom. There seems to me to be a lack of intellectual rigor in his published statements of policy. I found his first CJCS reading list to be amazingly puerile, filled with that most suspicious of categories of written material, best sellers on general booklists. And while as an historian I’m suspicious of excessively precise historical analogies, I’m also concerned that excessive soft-peddling of rising Chinese truculence and expansionist probing will encourage a Chinese Sparta to indeed threaten us Americo-Athenians. Gen. Dempsey should recall that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you, or at least willing to try in times of crisis.

Unlike Tom, I’m very concerned that by incessant remarks about how "mass formations" won’t be necessary. We’ll play into the hands of adversaries who decide that they aren’t equally dubious about their utility.  

Perhaps we can modify the alleged statement of Trotsky to read: "You may not be interested in conventional war, but conventional war may be interested in you." I don’t think we’re as bad off as the British Army in 1914, because we have a very large reserve force by comparison and a much greater diffusion of fairly recent military service within the general male population (and, of course, a growing number of younger women). But there’s no question that for a prolonged conventional conflict beyond a certain unpredictable level, an AVF is always going to have less trained mobilization potential than  larger draft-fed force that generates a lot of recently-trained individual reservists. There are always tradeoffs.

And this doesn’t even touch on industrial mobilization. As far as I can tell, nobody but nobody in officialdom is thinking about this (if they are, they’re quiet about it). Trained manpower can always be generated a lot faster than the material to equip it. If we had had to put the very large ground forces we had in action from mid-1944 to mid-1945 into the field in 1942 and even 1943, as well as being much more poorly trained, they would have had a lot of inferior weapons.  

Robert L. Goldich retired from the Congressional Research Service in 2005 as its senior military manpower analyst. Currently he is consulting and drafting an A-1 book on the history of conscription.