Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

‘The Darker Side of Cohesion’: A military problem I’d like to read more about

You don’t see much discussion of the downside of cohesion, so I was interested to see this comment by Pete Kilner on page 70 of the April issue of ARMY: A team is too cohesive if its Soldiers prioritize their loyalty to each other above their loyalty to Army values. Such a team risks covering ...

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You don't see much discussion of the downside of cohesion, so I was interested to see this comment by Pete Kilner on page 70 of the April issue of ARMY:

A team is too cohesive if its Soldiers prioritize their loyalty to each other above their loyalty to Army values. Such a team risks covering up unethical behavior and dealing with it solely ‘in house.' Leaders must ensure that cohesive teams are as loyal to our professional values as they are to each other.

Tom again: This made me wonder. We had very cohesive small units in Iraq and Afghanistan. How did this change the conduct of the war? Has anyone examined abuses in the context of high- and low-cohesion units? I know, it might be impossible, because if Kilner is correct, then abuse by high-cohesion units disproportionately won't be reported.

You don’t see much discussion of the downside of cohesion, so I was interested to see this comment by Pete Kilner on page 70 of the April issue of ARMY:

A team is too cohesive if its Soldiers prioritize their loyalty to each other above their loyalty to Army values. Such a team risks covering up unethical behavior and dealing with it solely ‘in house.’ Leaders must ensure that cohesive teams are as loyal to our professional values as they are to each other.

Tom again: This made me wonder. We had very cohesive small units in Iraq and Afghanistan. How did this change the conduct of the war? Has anyone examined abuses in the context of high- and low-cohesion units? I know, it might be impossible, because if Kilner is correct, then abuse by high-cohesion units disproportionately won’t be reported.

My bet is that one of the signs of real trouble is when the cohesion is at odds with the chain of command. I remember seeing a Marine platoon in Somalia where the platoon leader was out of it, almost shoved aside by a charismatic NCO — who turned out to be a natural-born criminal.   

Thomas 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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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