Best Defense

A powerful article in ‘Parameters’ questions the direction and leadership of the Army

After years of sleepy indirection, 'Parameters' magazine has roared back to life. This is good news for the Army and for the nation.


After years of sleepy indirection, Parameters  magazine has roared back to life. This is good news for the Army and for the nation.

Army Maj. Jason Warren argues in the new issue of magazine that the Army’s leadership for decades has been excessively tactical, led all too often by what he calls “centurions.” This has carried a cost, he continues. “In some ways, the battlefield-dominant US Army created by these men has become a more ethical version of the Wehrmacht, which the institution intentionally sought to emulate in the years after WWII. The Army has developed a force capable of winning nearly every firefight, while simultaneously blunting its development of strategic leaders.”

He doesn’t stop there. More specifically, he writes that, “the Army’s painfully obvious inability to achieve national objectives since the Korean War against the likes of the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL), the Taliban, Iraqi and Somali insurgents, and the North Vietnamese Army, reveals an institution in need of reform.”

He offers a particularly pointed epitaph for the American war in Iraq: “Petraeus’ surge of forces was but a current of success upon an ocean of failure.”

He also makes a worrisome point about the Army’s current top leadership. “The Army’s anti-intellectual bent also suggests advanced degrees are irrelevant to warfare; no current four-star generals have doctorate degrees, only one maintains a masters from a top-tier civilian university, and only one serving lieutenant general holds a PhD.” I hadn’t realized that.

Some of this is similar to arguments that I made in The Generals, but Warren makes them more concisely than I did. I agree with him that the sharp break in Army leadership came between the pre-World War II officers, who went through rigorous educations, and the chiefs of the 1950s and after, who earned their spurs during World War II, and tended to spurn education. William Westmoreland, for example, once boasted that he only attended two Army schools — paratrooping, and cooks & bakers.

He takes a whack at me for suggesting that ineffective generals be relieved, saying that successors would only come from the same culture. But I think that would not happen if reliefs of incompetents were part of a larger reform that also emphasized rigorous education and accountability for performance generally.

I am not sure, but he also seems to suggest that I contradict myself by criticizing William DePuy for being excessively tactical while praising him for playing a key role in the post-Vietnam rebuilding of the Army. If he is saying that, I’d respond that Maj. Warren needs to be more attuned to complexity. My point (on page 361 of The Generals)  was that what DePuy did was necessary but insufficient, and DePuy should not have suppressed the efforts of Lt. Gen. Jack Cushman and others to rebuild the Army intellectually.

To conclude, a really interesting article that should be read by anyone interesting in the themes of this blog. Plus, several other good articles in this issue. A keeper.

As long as we are on the Army, here’s another interesting article.

And a question: Why do I associate this song, and this video, with the Army? I don’t know.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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 Twitter: @tomricks1

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