Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Hey MC Gazette! Pointing out a problem is a different exercise than fixing a problem — but still a valuable contribution

The people who run the organization may be in a position to fix problems — but first they need to know there is a problem.

31st MEU Recon Marines Rappel for Practice
31st MEU Recon Marines Rappel for Practice

Pointing out a problem is a different task than solving a problem, but it is still a valuable contribution.

I mention this because I often seen an ad hominem response to critics in the U.S. military: Hey, don’t just gripe, tell us how to solve it.

What that retort ignores is that the two things are very different. The people who run the organization may be in a position to fix problems — but first they need to know there is a problem. And the people who see the problem may be junior people out in the field. Consider, for example, the problem the Navy had with its torpedoes early in World War II.

Pointing out a problem is a different task than solving a problem, but it is still a valuable contribution.

I mention this because I often seen an ad hominem response to critics in the U.S. military: Hey, don’t just gripe, tell us how to solve it.

What that retort ignores is that the two things are very different. The people who run the organization may be in a position to fix problems — but first they need to know there is a problem. And the people who see the problem may be junior people out in the field. Consider, for example, the problem the Navy had with its torpedoes early in World War II.

I mention all this because Capt. Joshua Waddell gets spanked in the April issue of the Marine Corps Gazette for the criticism he directed at the Corps’ leaders in an earlier article. In that cri de coeur, he charged that the Corps isn’t as good as it should be, that its leaders haven’t faced some strategic realities, that its expeditionary communications aren’t as good as the Army’s, and that it gives lip service to innovation but often stifles it.

In the Gazette’s April issue, there is a screedy article in response. I didn’t think much of it and will let it be, except to point out that JAGs seem to have led the way in telling Waddell, a infantry commander, to STFU. A letter to the editor also takes him to task. More significantly, there also is an editorial stating that, “Capt. Waddell’s article could have provided additional recommendations to solve the problems he identifies.”

I disagree, strongly. If he has solutions, make that a separate exercise. First, figure out if there really is a problem. A thorough diagnosis should precede prescription of remedies. Otherwise the posse may be galloping down the wrong trail.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense 

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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