8 March 2016

* The other side of the CGSC story: Some of our Army officers are functionally illiterate

By “Flash Override”
I would like to take the discussion regarding CGSC even further. Yesterday you heard from the top of the class. But there is another side to this story. Unlike the other armed services, who only send 25 percent or fewer members of each year group to resident staff college, the Army sends almost 50 percent of each year group. This results in functionally illiterate Army majors coming to CGSC.
Think I’m exaggerating? Then you need to see the test scores from the Nelson-Denny Reading Exam. The Nelson-Denny, which has been around since 1929, measures the reading and comprehension ability of students. Approximately five percent of incoming U.S. Army students at CGSC each year score so low on the Nelson-Denny that they could fairly be classified as functionally illiterate.

We need to change that. We also need to have smaller student staff groups. Other staff colleges, as well as programs such as the School for Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), operate with 12-person student groups — what we term “staff groups” here at CGSC. More than 20 years ago, CGSC decided to have 16-person staff groups because that would save money on faculty and classroom design. However, all of the research in higher education regarding optimal class size suggests that 12 students is the upper limit of acceptable class size for adult learners. CGSC even built Eisenhower Hall (aka the General Instructional Facility) in the early 1990s with 12-person classrooms before abandoning that concept. With more selectivity of the student body and reduced staff group size, the total class size would be 1,152 — that is, 12 students per staff group times 96 classrooms. Each staff group would then have nine U.S. Army officers, one Air Force officer, one sea service officer (Navy or Marine), and one international officer.

I also want to address the issue of faculty job security that several other commentators have mentioned. Some sort of tenure or guaranteed contracts (currently our contracts can be terminated at any time and for any reason, even in the middle of the term) have to be instituted if we want to recruit and retain quality faculty. If tenure doesn’t happen until you’re a full professor then so be it, but I know something like tenure exists at other U.S. military schools and it needs to happen here.

I realize that these proposals may seem radical, but I feel the time has come for radical action. Currently, our students are being ill prepared, our faculty are being ill used, and our nation is being ill served.
“Flash Override” has taught at CGSC for more than a decade.

JANUARY 4, 2016
By MAJ John Q. Bolton
Best Defense guest respondent

In a recent post, Foreign Policy’s Tom Ricks accuses the Army’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC) of treating its faculty in a “knuckle-headed way.” Using an internal staffing document Ricks proceeds to make broad generalizations about the College’s education priorities, staff, and, by implication, its raison d’etre.
Feeling the need to write a rebuttal to Ricks came as a surprise to me. He is one of my favorite authors; indeed, reading Fiasco during my first deployment in 2006 brought me some needed perspective as we cleared IEDs daily around Baqubah, Iraq. Moreover, in The Generals, Ricks taught me to question the military’s professional education paradigm along with the Army personnel system.
But his perennial criticism of CGSC is, at least in this case, off-base and borders on hyperbole. This article examines Ricks’ criticism before moving on to a general assessment of CGSC. The memo Ricks uses as evidence that, “the inmates are running the asylum,” is, in fact, a planning document that simply acknowledges that the CGSC curriculum, like many educational and governmental programs, has become too bloated.

In effect, this actually acknowledges previous criticism by Ricks, who has consistently called for more graduate-level education at military schools. Reducing student contact time is a first step toward this goal. Combined with its under-appreciated faculty — especially the Joint Interagency and Multi-National Operations (DIJMO) and History Departments — CGSC has the potential to meet the goals outlined in the Army Operating Concept (AOC); that is, to create “agile, adaptive leaders to win in a complex world.” Last year’s change to a single, yearlong CGSOC class, competitively selected, will also help focus resources toward this goal. 
Acknowledging that sister-service instructors are limited, the memo requires an instructor from the DJIMO when a sister-service student teaches a class. This may seem some type of parochial micromanagement, but it is simply good pedagogy when having a non-qualified teacher instruct. Oversight helps ensure the program goals are met; furthermore, this so-called nefarious requirement does not exist when a sister-service officer or civilian faculty member instructs. Lastly, the memo instructs departments to monitor faculty attendance. I simply find no fault in this general guidance. I will admit however, that words can mean many things to many people. The culture is what matters, after all.

As a recent CGSC graduate, I’d like to make an assessment of the program. Although the CGSC offers several courses, this article and the majority of external debate concern only the Command and General Staff Officers’ Course (CGSOC), the Army version of Intermediate Level Education (ILE). Since CGSC and CGSOC are used interchangeably, this article does so as well.
Holistically, CGSOC meets its tactical goals, training Army Officers for battalion and brigade-level staffing positions for the next 3-5 years of their career. The course begins with online prerequisites and introductory courses for select officers (foreign exchange, sister-service, and several Army branches). After in-processing, the college places officers into staff groups of 16 including a representative from each service, and a foreign exchange officer. The staff groups also have a member from each Army branch and, generally, a functional area such as acquisitions. The vast majority of coursework occurs within the staff groups with the exceptions of group lectures and electives (mentioned later).

The prerequisite online courses were essentially slide decks about Army Doctrine, organization, and military graphics. They also included several short writing assignments, though I don’t recall actually submitting them. Additionally, though students take reading and writing assessments, these are not incorporated into the curriculum and seem to be only useful for those applying to follow-on schools such as the School of Advanced Military Studies. (The College does officer writing improvement classes based on Nelson-Denny Reading Test scores, but these are relatively limited and not mandatory).
CGSOC begins with a fairly intense core curriculum. The core includes ethics, history, logistics, tactics (MDMP) and leadership classes, as well as the operational art, taught by DJIMO. However, seeking to do everything, the CGSOC core curriculum is too much and leaves little time for nuanced, graduate-level discussion or reflection. Accordingly, the memo Ricks cited calls for a reduction.

If anything, the history and writing portions of the core curriculum should be enhanced. One two-hour history class per week for 12 weeks is hardly sufficient, especially in light of the lack of general historical education pervasive in American education and, consequently, amongst the officer corps. The same could be said about the inability of the modern military professional to write. CGSC does not create these problems, it inherits them. However, the college recognized this fact and assigned a faculty team to redesign this year’s C100 course to include more writing exercises.
Interspersed with the core is a series of lectures. Though commonly complained about by the students as distracting from coursework, the lectures, to me, were a highlight of the CGSOC. In the course of 6 months, we heard from the Army G-3/5/7, the Chief of Staff, national non-profit and Fortune 1000 CEOs, leadership author Ori Brafman, and former Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Each was a worthwhile experience. Brafman’s visit was noteworthy as he demonstrated a collaborative technique that resulted an immediate change to the student accountability process. Whereas students previously had to check-in online daily, their collective input brought about the end of that system. Though these lectures do take time, a slight reduction in contact time, not coursework, could alleviate the time spent in lectures.

Following the core curriculum is two months of division, component, and Joint Task Force exercises. Staff groups operate independently and also combined with other groups working various potential problems such as logistics and overflight permissions all within the context of a realistic scenario. While valuable, these exercises are, arguably, too long and take time away from potential history, writing, or other classes as well as the electives period at the end of the CGSC year. They also excessively focus on the use of simulation and Mission Command software like CPOF, rather than the Operational Art. This is a fact of modern military operations, but computers are far too user-centric and individualized to facilitate group staff work, which should be collaborative.

The electives portion of CGSC occupy the final two months. Electives are varied, covering everything from history to cybersecurity. Some courses are staff rides while others offer additional skill identifiers. This allows students to tailor their coursework to their personal and professional interests. On the whole the electives are the most enjoyable portion of the course for most students. Additionally, the college runs two international exchanges with the British and French Staff Colleges, each lasting over a week. CGSC also hosts more than 60 British officers each spring.

If CGSC has failings, they echo criticism that has been leveled since the 1950s: that it focuses too heavily on tactics at the expense of joint and inter-agency education and broader education; that it creates centurions instead of strategists. During my year, two full weeks of the core curriculum consisted of a brigade-level operation using MDMP, an exercise little different from those executed by maneuver officers at each branch’s Career Course. Ironically, officers experienced in irregular, non-linear warfare — at least by proxy — and receiving an introduction to Clausewitz, are thrown into a fictitious scenario replete with self-imposed linearity more reminiscent of Desert Storm — or the National Training Center — than contemporary conflicts.

Time taken away by tactics and some other pedestrian topics comes at the cost of more nuanced, graduate-level discussion. For example, the leadership course uses Twelve O’clock High to highlight techniques in organizational-level leadership. The film, about a B-17 wing during WWII, is great but no commensurate effort is made to dovetail the experience into a strategic-level discussion about the efficacy of the Combined Bomber Offensive. This discussion could take many forms such as the accuracy of estimates, how the enemy operates as a system, and the validity of Air Power Doctrine itself.

However, this does not occur; nor do other serious discussions of strategy. Since the Tactics and History departments do not teach joint classes, students do not explicitly discover the importance of historical perspectives or how assumptions can doom operations. The college attempts shove aspects of both military and classical education into a single year, resulting in a facsimile of both. For example, the rapid pace of the core curriculum reduces the American Civil War to a single, two-hour lesson. In another example, while a DJIMO exam focuses on Center of Gravity analysis using the background of Operation Torch, the students do not have an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of that early part of WWII, making analysis fairly superficial. In other words, students are trained in processes rather than educated in broader, more complicated areas of military thinking.

This lack of rudimentary military history education as well as professional skills such as writing — not PowerPointing — are hardly the fault of the college. Yet, its graduates are judged on these skills as representative of the single year of education they receive at Leavenworth. If this is to be the case, the curriculum — and structure — of the college must evolve.

An exception to this criticism is the Art of War Scholars (AoW) program, which takes a small cohort of 10 to 14 officers and exposes them to a comprehensive history-focused curriculum. Designed to expose students to a variety of sources, the AoW program “uses a graduate level seminar format as the venue for in-depth analysis of historical monographs, current doctrine, staff rides focused on command decisions and frequent dialogue with topical experts and practitioners of the art of war.” The program holistically attempts to understand the “width, depth, and context” of relevant military history in order to prepare graduates for the future.
I had the great fortune to participate in the AoW program last year. After a ten-year career including three deployments as both an Aviator and Combat Engineer, brigade and battalion staff positions, and company command, the AoW program remains my toughest, most mentally challenging — and rewarding — experience. Each day students read approximately 100-200 pages of reading before conducting a graduate seminar with a staff or guest Ph.D., including military historians such as Williamson Murray and Brian McAllister Linn.

Echoing General George Marshall’s observation on how to discuss strategy, the first reading of the AoW program is from Thucydides. Seminar guests also included senior leaders such as LTG H. R. McMaster and GEN (ret.) B.B Bell. LTG (ret) Stephen Holder accompanied us on a four-day Vicksburg Campaign staff ride highlighting the Operational Art as employed by Grant. This trip was our third staff and we also received funds for thesis research. I was able to visit the National Archives and Library of Congress, as well as both the Air Force and Marine Weapons Schools. CGSC paid for all of this. Therefore, to say that the college does not value graduate-level education and experiences is not true. Clearly, with the AoW program the college puts money where its mouth is.

Lastly, I must admit I agree with many Ricks’ ideas on improving CGSC such as publishing “class rankings, top to bottom.” The history curriculum is lacking, especially in light of the caliber of the history faculty. Due to the prevalence of tactics instruction, Masters of Military Art and Science (MMAS) is only available with substantial work outside the classroom. In addition, assignment to the college as military faculty remains undesirable, a trend since the 1950s. There are exceptions to this rule, but cultures are nothing if not persistent. As a result, the college fails to recruit officers to the History, DJIMO, and Leadership faculties, areas where contemporary and relevant experience is most needed.

From my experience, the college should realign its curriculum to include broader and more in-depth history classes, including more guest speakers and brown-bag style lectures. The seminar classes are great, but the limited duration (two hours per week) and small group setting combine to rush the program. The tactics courses should be removed entirely from the core curriculum and given as a stand-alone MDMP refresher. This would allow for operational and strategic-level exercises while also increasing the time available for both reflection and longer electives, perhaps three terms instead of just two.

Secondly, the amount of writing should increase and also include both contemporary and historical topics. This could be under the auspice of the MMAS degree or simply additional coursework. Third, the course prerequisites should be more substantive than reviewing slides and completing a quiz. They should include historical readings, writing, and the completion of a personal development plan for each student. Fourth, the college should focus resources into specialized programs like the AoW Scholars program. Creating two such seminars would be a positive step. Lastly, the seminars need to be broken apart more frequently to prevent complacency, perhaps by having electives throughout the year. CGSC already has a great faculty, the students should see more than their specific teaching team.
Many of these steps are not new recommendations; indeed, a major re-write of the first portion of the core already occurred. Nevertheless, CGSOC, like all institutions, must endeavor to continually evolve. It must do so in a manner that places long-term education ahead of contemporary tactics so that its graduates meet the intent laid out in the college’s mission and the AOC. Publishing these changes and making better use of its excellent faculty — particularly the underutilized history department — would go a long way toward answering some of CGSOC’s critics, even Tom Ricks.

Ricks is cutting — and accurate — in much of his criticism of CGSC. But his fundamental assertion that the program lacks intellectual rigor and is not a worthwhile experience is not only inaccurate, it flies in the face of recent changes described above.
Furthermore, his claim that CGSC has “lost its currency — no one particularly cares if you went there,” is incorrect and directly contradicts Army personnel changes made over the last few years such as board selection to attend the resident course and differentiating resident and non-resident graduates on Officer Record Briefs. For the last few years the refrain throughout the Army has been “resident matters again.”

Like most military experiences (both training and educational), CGSC rewards officers proportionate to effort expended. Yes, there are officers who fail to take advantage of the excellent faculty, particularly the History and DJIMO departments; yes, there are officers who view Leavenworth as a time to “take a knee” and don’t value the educational experience. However, these are largely cultural — and limited — problems within the officer cohort, not systemic problems with CGSC itself. A mature response from the college would be to accept that this happens as a matter of course while continuing to focus its attention toward enabling graduate-level student experiences. Doing so would help encourage an attitude of education as opposed to training at Leavenworth.

MAJ John Q. Bolton is a student at the Defense Language Institute-Monterey (Chinese) as an Olmsted Scholar. His previous assignment was as a student at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth where he received the George C. Marshall Award. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the United States Military Academy, an MBA from American Military University, and a Master of Military Arts and Sciences from the Command and General Staff College. An Army Aviator (AH-64D/E), his assignments include Fort Riley, KS with multiple deployments to OIF and OEF. This article represents his personnal views, which are not necessarily those of the U.S. Army, the Defense Language Institute, the Defense Department, nor the U.S. government.

Clausewitz Out, Computer In: Military Culture and Technological Hubris


Summer 1997 [3]

One of the great understudied aspects of military history concerns the institutional cultures through which officer corps come to grips with the dynamic and ambiguous problems of war and peace. That institutional culture shapes the understanding of the strategic, operational, and tactical choices before the professional soldier, and it implants as well broader assumptions concerning the historical framework in which those choices find their meaning. It is a process that proceeds by means of formal education, informal acculturation, and practical experience.

Actual events on the battlefield have traditionally exercised the principal reality check on the understandings and assumptions of any institutional military culture, this despite ample evidence that military institutions sometimes prove astonishingly resistant to learning from their experiences. And as difficult as they are to learn in combat, how much harder must it be to learn the lessons of war in peace, absent the harsh, unpredictable, and unforgiving world of death and destruction. Consequently, it is doubly important that in peacetime military professionals work hard to frame the right kind of questions and to generate realistic assumptions.

For the most part, however, the historical record suggests that peacetime military institutions postulate answers rather than questions, and adopt assumptions that speak more to their own intellectual comfort zones than to reality. American military culture has generated exceptions to this rule during the past century, in some cases dramatically so. But a major cultural shift now appears to be underway that does not bode well for the future, one that is liable to return us to a part of our past experience that is better discarded.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the American military reflected the peculiar insularities of the great republic it served. The nation had fought two great wars to that point in its history; the first, the Revolutionary War, hardly represented a standard of military professionalism, and the second, the Civil War, involved considerable tension between the nascent professional services and the novel demands of massive mobilizations of citizen soldiers and economic power. Otherwise, the American military had for the most part chased Indians and sailed on lonely stations as an annex to the Royal Navy.

But following the Philippines War the American military entered into a period of resolute professionalization. Serious institutions, such as the staff college at Fort Leavenworth and the Army and Navy War Colleges, were founded for the education as opposed to the training of officers. How those institutions functioned in peacetime explains a great deal about the successful adaptation of the American military to the challenges of the First World War. (West Point, meanwhile, was not an institution of professional military education in the nineteenth century--and many would argue that it still is not. It was an engineering and training school to turn young men into officers. Giving virtually no attention to military history, the conduct of operations, or strategy, it was in the business of turning out lieutenants.)

By the 1920s the American military services were firmly established with cultures that identified their officers as professionals, possessing a body of significant knowledge that could only be gained through systematic training, experience, and education. In that period the services received minimal funding from their civilian masters--to the extent that when war broke out in Europe in 1939, the army of the United States ranked in capabilities with the South American republics rather than with its future opponents and allies. And yet, in less than three years the U.S. Navy's carrier aviation had destroyed much of the Japanese navy's carrier force, U.S. Marines had executed an amphibious landing on Guadalcanal, and the army was preparing for landings in North Africa. Within another two years American military might would bestride the world, from the ravaged cities of Germany to the battlefields of Normandy and the Pacific.

How to explain this extraordinary transformation? Undoubtedly the massive arsenal of American industry was a crucial factor. But of great importance also was the cultural and intellectual verve of the U.S. officer corps that had been nurtured in the war colleges and staff colleges during the interwar period. The institutional ethos established there not only insisted that it was important for officers to go to school, but that many of them should serve on the faculties of those institutions as well. The future Admiral Raymond Spruance attended the Naval War College as a student, and then went on to serve two separate tours on the faculty. Ernest King was promoted to rear admiral while at the war college. A substantial number of the air leaders in the Second World War not only attended the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell, but served on that school's faculty; the army's colleges and schools developed a generation of sophisticated leaders for the future. Across all the services, too, a broader cultural framework of serious professional reading and thinking encouraged the careers of the best officers. When General George Marshall commented that one could not understand strategy unless one had read Thucydides, he reflected the educational ethos of an entire generation of American military professionals.

And these educational institutions were not just repositories for book learning. The Naval War College played a crucial role in the development of carrier aviation. The Infantry School at Fort Benning, under Marshall's leadership, identified many of the best in the army and attracted them to its faculty. The marine schools at Quantico helped to develop the amphibious concepts and doctrine without which the Pacific campaigns would have been impossible.

When the Second World War was over, this educated military elite returned home filled with praise for the part that their education had played in preparing them for the trials of war. Admiral Chester William Nimitz wrote: "I credit the Naval War College for such success [as] I achieved in strategy and tactics during the war." For his last assignment before retirement, Spruance returned by choice to become president of the Naval War College, while Dwight D. Eisenhower founded the National War College, which began its life with luminaries like George Kennan on its faculty and brigadier generals among its student body.

By the early 1960s, however, that cultural framework had dramatically changed. The faculties of the war and staff colleges had become repositories for officers whose careers were over. It was now the kiss of death for an officer to receive an assignment to teach on the faculty of any school. In the U.S. Navy, it had become fashionable for officers to be selected for senior service school but not to attend. In fact, the service cultures have retained a solid belief, through to the present day, that assignment to teach in any senior school is anything but career enhancing.

It was not just in their attitude toward professional military education that service cultures changed so radically in the early part of the Cold War. There was also a decline of intellectual seriousness. General William Westmoreland's memoirs reflect well this latter shift: "Beside my bed I kept . . . several books: a bible; a French Grammar; Mao Tse-tung's little red book on guerrilla warfare; The Centurions, a novel about the French fight with the Vietminh; and several works by Dr. Bernard Fall, who wrote authoritatively on the French experience in Indochina. . . . I was usually too tired in late evening to give the books more than occasional attention." The general was, of course, a man of his word: The Centurions is, after its first chapters, about the war in Algeria.

How had this change come about? Largely it was the result of the emerging leadership in the 1950s and early 1960s having gone to war in 1941 as first lieutenants and junior captains with no exposure to professional military education. By 1945 these officers were colonels (or navy captains) and in some cases brigadier generals (or rear admirals). Their attitude seems to have been that since they had not needed professional military education to be successful both on the battlefield and in their careers, such an education could not be all that important.

The results of this cultural change show clearly in a comparison of the 1954 and 1965 decisions concerning whether to intervene in Indochina. In the earlier case, the thoughtful warnings of Generals Matthew Ridgway and James Gavin--that the political and strategic gains of intervention, as well as the uncertainties of the situation, were not worth the costs that the United States would incur--persuaded President Eisenhower not to take the dangerous path of supporting the French as they went down to defeat at Dien Bien Phu. And, of course, Eisenhower himself was a well educated military professional who knew how to listen to Ridgway and Gavin. Barely a decade later, however, the leadership of the American military--now a different generation--discussed the question of intervention in Southeast Asia exclusively in operational and tactical terms. The larger political and strategic framework, which a real education would have supplied, had simply disappeared from sight.

By the mid-1960s, too, the American military culture had been fundamentally corrupted by the dominating personality of Robert Strange McNamara and his approach to national security policy as Secretary of Defense. McNamara's expertise as a number cruncher had pushed him to the presidency of Ford Motor Company, and he brought the current methods of American business, a cost-accounting mentality and a rigid engineering view of the world, to the business of managing the Defense Department. In his astonishing memoirs--astonishing in that they display virtually no understanding of what their author had done to the American military in the 1960s--McNamara claims that "the military tried to gauge its progress [in Vietnam] with quantitative measurements such as enemy casualties (which became infamous as body counts), weapons seized, prisoners taken, sorties flown, and so on." But, of course, it was precisely such statistical, quantitative measures of efficiency that McNamara himself had demanded that the military use to judge every situation from weapons procurement to the face of battle. And without an educational and cultural compass to guide their response, the professional American military cloned themselves on the Secretary of Defense. By the mid-1960s, on the cusp of the Vietnam intervention, they were out-McNamaring McNamara.

The U.S. military thus addressed the strategic and operational questions raised by Vietnam in terms of quantitative and technological measures: How many weapons captured, how many villages pacified, how many enemies killed, how many ton miles of cargo flown, how many bombs dropped. Nothing else mattered. Both history to the one side and the uncertainties and ambiguities of the battlefield to the other disappeared into a set of technological and game-theoretical assumptions. Thus did the United States march into the Vietnam War with what was, in retrospect, an incredible ignorance. Americans had scant knowledge of the language, culture, traditions, and history of the people on whose behalf the United States was intervening, and, what was worse, neither the civilian leadership at the Pentagon nor the professional military even desired such knowledge. Clearly, the key purposes and functions of professional military education had been essentially abandoned in a cloud of mechanistic hubris.

Underlying this hubris was the general cultural enthusiasm for "modern technology" that characterized the period and that was assumed to be the source of an unprecedented U.S. economic superiority. It followed that technological sophistication spelled superiority in the military sphere as well. And here the American academic community played a role in making the mess in Vietnam. Academic spinnings of game and deterrence theories proliferated like mutant Ebola viruses as prominent professors flocked to Washington in the early 1960s to remake not only American society but its foreign policy as well. The "decisive" technology was the computer, whose application to the social sciences only reinforced the predilection among academics to believe they were fast on the trail of quantitatively guaranteed predictive capabilities with respect to human affairs. Between the Secretary of Defense, his whiz kids, and the supportive academic environment around them, a common theme developed in American defense policymaking that saw American technology and the coming of the computer age as rendering factors such as history, culture, and the traditional understanding of war irrelevant. Never before had Henry Ford's unfortunate remark that "history is bunk" been so popular, or so devastating.

The American military came back deeply scarred from its Vietnam experience. The army and marine officers who had survived two or three tours in Southeast Asia returned deeply suspicious of the predictive universe that Robert McNamara and his senior officers had imposed on the war's conduct. Drugs, indiscipline, and bad morale all exacerbated the feeling of malaise that drove a re-examination of the military's culture and values among mid-level and junior officers. From that re-examination the American military managed to overcome the collapse that followed the war. The intellectual ferment that marked the post-Vietnam War period represented a substantial departure from the attitudes that had characterized much of the 1960s. There was an instinctive revulsion against quantitative measurements of efficiency--exchange ratios, body counts, the mechanistic tabulation of data for its own sake. But there was more than that, too.

The changes in America's military culture after Vietnam took time to develop. The army's first cut in 1976 at a new edition of its basic operations manual, FM 100-5, was a regurgitation of the mechanistic, firepower-intensive approach that had dominated the army in Vietnam. But while the senior leadership stuck with the old, the culture of the emerging leaders was embracing a new edition of Clausewitz's On War, edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret in 1975. That translation made Clausewitz accessible for the first time to the generation of officers returning from the wreckage of Vietnam, and they found in his writings an intellectual statement for their deepest belief that war was inherently unpredictable, uncertain, and ambiguous at every level. Indeed, as Alan Beyerchen has emphasized, Clausewitz's continuing relevance is largely due to the fact that he is a profoundly non-linear thinker in a world that is widely, but wrongly, thought to be linear.

It was the Clausewitzian understanding of friction, uncertainty, and chance--gained at such cost in Vietnam--that dominated American military thought in the last decade and a half of the Cold War. American grand strategy sought to turn the competition with the Soviets onto grounds that represented our strengths, not those of our opponents. The "competitive strategies" approach of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment found an audience among the services. And in choosing whether to use military force--that most crucial of political decisions--the Weinberger and Powell doctrines appeared. Many have argued that those doctrines were so restrictive that the United States would not have fought the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the First World War, or even the Second World War according to their lights. Yet, whatever their problems, they reflected a Clausewitzian belief in the primacy of politics in the fighting of a war.

It was not that the emerging leadership rejected technology, computers, or science. Rather, they subordinated those factors to an appreciation of the centrality of the human factor in war. The most impressive monuments to this Clausewitzian project were the basic doctrinal manuals that came out of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps in the 1980s. The army's 100-5 operational doctrinal manual of 1986 represented a fundamental revolt against the mechanistic, predictive, and top-down approach of the 1970s iteration. As the manual warns its readers: "Friction--the accumulation of chance errors, unexpected difficulties, and the confusion of battle--will impede both sides. To overcome it, leaders . . . must be prepared to risk commitment without complete information, recognizing that waiting for such information will invariably forfeit the opportunity to act [emphasis added]." General Al Gray, commandant of the Marine Corps, then drew heavily from the army's approach in casting a new basic doctrinal statement, FM-1, for the marines. In a similar vein the various training centers led by the army's National Training Center, but also including the marines' Twenty-Nine Palms, the air force's Red Flag, and the navy's Top Gun programs, represented a substantial and successful effort to grapple with a world in which friction, fog, and chance are dominant factors.

The Gulf War represented the culmination of the Clausewitzian era. In every respect American forces had trained and prepared themselves over the previous decade and a half within a Clausewitzian approach; the army's second-year course at Leavenworth, the School of Advanced Military Science (SAMS), created in 1983 with the enthusiastic support of the army leadership, rested entirely on a Clausewitzian conception of the study of war. The success in the Gulf represented the fundamental payoff for an officer corps that had learned at great cost that the world offers little of the predictive, mechanistic philosophy that so enamored their superiors, political and military, in Vietnam.

In the glow of American success in the Gulf, one heard many echoes of President George Bush's famous comment that "The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula." Certainly in terms of time we are indeed putting Vietnam behind us. We are now thirty-two years past the escalation of 1965; those standing at the outset of the Second World War were only twenty-five years away from the beginning of the Great War, while the U.S. Marines coming ashore at Danang in 1965 were only twenty years distant from the end of the Second World War. By the turn of the century, time will have washed virtually all of the Vietnam experience out of the officer corps of the various services; only very senior generals will have had that experience.

With the passing of the Vietnam War generation, another major shift in the cultural and intellectual framework of the American military is occurring. The Clausewitzian universe is under attack by a new generation with no experience in Vietnam. A leader in this attack is Admiral William Owens, recently the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Owens has made extraordinary claims that: "Technology could enable U.S. military forces in the future to lift the 'fog of war'. . . . Battlefield dominant awareness--the ability to see and understand everything on the battlefield--might be possible.

When you look at areas such as information warfare, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and command and control, you see a system of systems coming together that will allow us to dominate battlefield awareness for years to come. . . . And while some people say there will always be a 'fog of war', I know quite a lot about these programs.

The emerging system of systems promises the capacity to use military force without the same risks as before--it suggests we will dissipate the 'fog of war.'"

Owens is not alone; his views represent a major trend in the culture of the American military. This new Weltanschauung represents in essence a return to the McNamara paradigm, a belief that American technological superiority will allow U.S. forces to achieve quick, easy victories over their opponents with relatively few casualties. The air force is leading the charge toward the technological utopia of "battlespace dominance"; its New World Vistas suggests: "The power of the new information systems will lie in their ability to correlate data automatically and rapidly from many sources to form a complete picture of the operational area, whether it be a battlefield or the site of a mobility operation." But the air force is not alone. In 1995 a senior army general announced to a group of marine officers that "the digitization of the battlefield means the end of Clausewitz." And just recently the army chief of staff has commented that if the U.S. Army had possessed the information technologies available today, the United States might well have prevailed in Vietnam.

These trends have again found a receptive echo in the academic world, not surprisingly among political scientists. This past April the recently retired Admiral Owens collaborated with the dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., on an article that transferred Owens' arguments about battlespace dominance to the world of international affairs: "This information advantage can help deter or defeat traditional military threats at relatively low cost. . . . [It] can strengthen the intellectual link between U.S. foreign policy and military power and offer new ways of maintaining leadership in alliances and ad hoc coalitions. . . . America's emerging military capabilities . . . offer, for example, far greater pre-crisis transparency. If the United States is willing to share this transparency, it will be better able to build opposing coalitions before aggression has occurred. But the effect may be more general, for all nations now operate in an ambiguous world, a context that is not entirely benign or soothing."

The danger in the belief that technology will offer us total battlespace and foreign policy dominance in the next century does not lie in the technology itself. Technology can indeed offer us substantial leverage against future opponents. What is dangerous about the new technocratic view is the same thing that was dangerous about the older version: It is wholly disconnected from what others think, want, and can do. Precisely because we Americans have a long track record of overestimating our technological superiority and underestimating the ability of our opponents to short-circuit our advantages, this is a form of hubris we cannot afford to indulge again. This is also why many of the overtones we hear today about the coming "revolution in military affairs" are so disheartening.
Much of the literature on the "system of systems" as a revolutionary military event emphasizes the removal of friction and ambiguity from the battlespace. At its heart is the presumption that the future revolution in military affairs will be largely technological in nature. History suggests, however, that the three most important elements in virtually all past revolutions in military affairs were not technological in nature, but rather conceptual, doctrinal, and intellectual. Those military institutions in the 1920s and 1930s (the RAF, the U.S. Army Air Corps, and the innovators in the British army) that attempted to leap into the future without reference to what had happened in the past ended up making mistakes that killed thousands of young men to no purpose. The succession of new gadgets notwithstanding, successful innovation in the past worked when it was tied in to a realistic appreciation of what was humanly possible.

Inherent, too, in the anti-Clausewitzian approach is the belief that what military organizations need is more quantifiable data, more "information." A vast array of sensors and computers all tied together will supposedly reduce friction from the military equation to manageable and controllable levels. But the processing of ever more information may as easily clog up military organizations with a flood of indigestible data. Worse, current claims about information dominance miss the essential difference between information and knowledge. We did not need more information at Pearl Harbor, and it is doubtful that we will need more information in the future. What we will need in the next century is a deeper understanding of the political context of war and the very different set of assumptions that our opponents may bring to it. We will require knowledge of foreign languages, cultures, religious beliefs, and above all history--precisely what technocrats ignore because such knowledge cannot be quantified and measured. What matters most in war is what is in the mind of one's adversary, from command post to battlefield point-of-contact. This is a truth well illustrated by a scene from the Gulf War: As a number of U.S. Marine generals stood over a relatively undamaged and well-stocked Iraqi bunker complex that coalition forces had captured with minimum casualties and a large haul of prisoners, one quietly commented: "Thank God the North Vietnamese weren't here."

How can it be that the emerging American military culture is throwing history and all its associated intangibles overboard not thirty years after we paid such a high price for our appreciation of them? The great tragedy of the post-Vietnam War experience of the American military is that its deeper understanding of war was never institutionalized. Despite the instinctive attraction of the Clausewitzian approach for American officers in the post-Vietnam period, there has been no abiding change in the military's cultural attitudes toward education. Teaching duty on the faculties of professional military schools is still not "career enhancing"; the navy still refuses to send a substantial number of its best officers to any school of professional military education; the Army War College, despite an impressive faculty, is an institution where war rarely appears in the curriculum; the army has turned one of its few truly innovative educational experiments of the 1980s, SAMS, into a humdrum planning exercise; the Air War College, after a short period of professional military education, has returned to the golf course; and finally, the National War College remains buried within the army's budget, where it simply fails to get the support it needs.

Thus, it is not surprising that we are seeing such a significant change in the military culture away from the Clausewitzian form of the last two decades. What we learned the hard way in Vietnam is being thrown away, with barely a thought for the consequences. Current trends suggest that the new military culture is already preparing our officer corps to repeat the Vietnam War, except that this time, at some point in the twenty-first century, we may lose even more disastrously.

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