Small Wars Journal

Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession

Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession by Dr. Leonard Wong and Dr. Stephen J. Gerras, U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute

Untruthfulness is surprisingly common in the U.S. military even though members of the profession are loath to admit it. Further, much of the deception and dishonesty that occurs in the profession of arms is actually encouraged and sanctioned by the military institution. The end result is a profession whose members often hold and propagate a false sense of integrity that prevents the profession from addressing—or even acknowledging—the duplicity and deceit throughout the formation. It takes remarkable courage and candor for leaders to admit the gritty shortcomings and embarrassing frailties of the military as an organization in order to better the military as a profession. Such a discussion, however, is both essential and necessary for the health of the military profession…

Read on.


Thomas Doherty

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 2:54pm

In reply to by cammo99

I make my students read this after they watch the Army's morality videos. They all tell me they read it so I am sure they do.

Thomas Doherty

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 2:54pm

In reply to by cammo99

I make my students read this after they watch the Army's morality videos. They all tell me they read it so I am sure they do.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 06/14/2016 - 8:27am

In reply to by mred know one is in trouble when IS and the rebuilt/retrained Russian GRU Spetsnaz use it .....exactly as Casey envisioned and if one looks hard at the rebuilding of the Russian army around their full time VDV army units they are pushing hard to adapt to a form of it.


Mon, 06/13/2016 - 9:59pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw, it seems that our enemies understand MC. More practical understanding than our institutions and leaders.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 06/07/2016 - 6:55am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

mred...BTW this "counter cultural revolution" goes back to at least the 80s around say the 1988 timeframe.

I had come on in 87 for a four year volunteer tour with the CBTI 10th SFGA at Ft. Devens and the Active Duty SF officers and WOs let me know that as a "Reservist" I was not viewed as equal to the Active Duty officers.

Comments can you be a direct commissioned WO, how can you be a Strategic Debriefer when other Active Duty WOs could not get the school or how can you be so highly decorated and they actually would make verbal comments about the awards ie you could not have possibly earned that (would come often from my Company Commander a SIGINT CPT during formations and in front of all to hear) during say a end of month pay day Class A formation. How come you have to have an unlisted number and cannot be on any publicized alert roosters, and why does the 901st MI Bde stay in close contact to you more so than even SF.

When I was selected for the DLAST (Defense Language Area Studies Training Program) program...again the questions and open comments came hard and heavy... the comments came from officers and they were meant to let you know you were not part of the "Active Duty club" even if you were SF and wearing Army green as they thought I was receiving special preferences and as a "Reservist" I should not be getting those preferences.

So really when discussing the current "cultural environment" one really has to go back and seriously take a look at where and when it actually started expressing itself.

IMHO this is what Casey missed.....

Outlaw 09

Tue, 06/07/2016 - 4:27am

In reply to by mred many current Army officers know that the D-Day invasion plan was drawn up by the Brit General Monty on a single sheet of plain paper in pencil?

One of the biggest problems I had when working with Commanders and Staffs ....was when I asked the question..."how many in this room fully understand just how your Commander makes his decisions"...utter crickets and a lot of people looking at the floor was the usual experience.....

I had only one Commander who was trying but asked me in the end to come in and assist...that unit Staff went from a stumbling bumbling Staff on their first qualifying exercise to one of the smoothest functioning Staff run Commander led units inside six months but as always then the Commanders changed and one had to start all over again.

Even my own MC training team was in the end torn apart by the "counter cultural revolution" by the team officers' (LTC driving for promotion) drive to hire retired LTCs and COLs because he felt as did the retired officers we hired as GS types that Commanders and Staffs would listen to them over a "lonely civilian"...what they failed to realize is that these retired LTCs/COLs were out of the exact same culture one was trying to change so in the end they/the team failed as well and these retired officers used this first GS position to jump to other more secure GS positions when the program failed and had no further funding which was tied to three years. Actually these retired O5/6s did not realize that actually Commanders and Staffs would listen to "civilians" if they felt that the "civilian" was sincere and was trying to assist them.

Maybe they sensed that after 41 BCT rotations largely at the NTC and in Europe I might have picked up some tips along the way...something my own LTC led MC team and the retired O5/6s refused to accept until the day I left...tells you something about the "culture".

Double dipping has become since Iraq a "cultural way of life" and actually drove this "counter cultural revolution". was largely legally forbidden before Iraq and then "quietly" changed in a Defense Spending Bill in 2003 to "allow" that point the "culture" became firmly entrenched. Notice that while discussions to end "double dipping" comes up from Congress on occasions the entire "culture" cries foul and then the drive to change it dies.

Actually since 2012 "double dipping" has become "triple dipping"....O5/6 retiree pay, VA disability pay and then GS13-15 pay...not bad at all for someone in their early 40s...MOST so called middle class Americans dream of this "lottery win". All funded actually by this "middle class group of Americans".

I was only hired initially as a quick fix to get the team going because the two star that setup the MC program was a BCT Commander who I had worked closely with in Baqubah in 2005/2006 and who I had worked with in changing the entire NTC training program to replicate Baqubah in the deserts of CA. That is the reason I use Outlaw 09....was the only civilian to every carry the NTC COG Outlaw call sign and he often was amazed that I could drive "change" if "change" was needed.

BUT even then the "culture" 2006 did not like it and did they let me know when they felt they could and the COL was not in the area DOWN to the G2 of the Army who did not like that a "civilian" was driven military intel changes into Iraq deploying BCTs as he felt it had to be again a LTC type to "change" things.

A highly decorated combat veteran with a massive success rate on the HUMINT side in both the strategic and tactical side from deep in the Cold War days and who had major successes in Iraq did not seem to interest the then G2 of the Army..he just "saw" civilian.

In Iraq when I was asked as the first ever civilian interrogator in Abu G if I wanted to work at the BCT level... I jumped on it and BCT Commander was the one that met me at the copter pad which said something.

When I got there the BCT has been largely drifting and was not doing much CUW wise in the Baqubah area and I knew immediately that their All Source side was not functioning. I spoke with him and asked for 30 minutes to talk to all of them ....I explained what an interrogator did and what they needed to do to support me and make both of us successful..something clicked and they really rolled after that. Their response after the meeting..."no one ever told us that before"......this was 2005.

Ten years later I am still in causal touch with this Commander who went on to two star and who retired because he wanted to do something different and is now a SrVP in the corporate world.

I never looked back as this "team failure" allowed me to finally move on and finally get away from the military in order to do my "civilian thing".

At some point one has to simply "walk away" the culture always "wins" if the will for "change" is not driven down from the top especially in the Army.

Casey had hoped change would have come from the bottom up and supported from the top down...that never did occur as the "counter cultural revolution" was far stronger that Casey had ever assumed.


Mon, 06/06/2016 - 6:58pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw, sort of goes along with the old saying (Plato? Or maybe just the internets?): a wise man speaks because he has something to say; a fool speaks because he has to say something. You're right, simplicity and concision are not easy. They both take time and our culture is always in a rush. More is better...more words...more slides (but less true discussion and debate). Stray thought: I think I read somewhere that Ben Franklin used to practice writing by rewording works of others, and then work to shorten his own creations. Sorry. It helps, I think, when there is a more rich understanding between individuals (leader/follower) of each other (eg, Lee/Jackson or Grant/Sherman). That relationship depth is what I've seen wane since I came in (and got out). Reminds me of what is possible in tight teams that know each other well; tendencies, strengths, patterns, vulnerabilities, etc. Leaders don't know their people, and their people don't know them. Another saying I heard or read recently: if you don't know people, you don't know business. Isn't business just an extension of war in Asian philosophy?

I've had the fun of being involved in training design and leader development initiatives that go hand-in-glove with MC and consistent observables are the rush to find a cookie-cutter solutions based upon past experience (or doctrine; see Infantry in Battle, Chap 1? "Rules", from 1939), and a lack of trust in the ability and aptitude of followers (projection maybe? lack of trust really), and a reluctance/lack of confidence/understanding of how to explain the reasons for taking a different approach to a potential zero defects boss (which again goes back to an absence of trust that Wong wrote about last year and back in 2002).

Wasn't it Wellington who was known for his clear and concise orders during a fight? I guess that is what hurts my head with the lack of practice of MC (as opposed to only lips service and buzz words)...its not new...and it is supported by doctrine (and I'm no doctrine guru). I always thought of it as commander's intent, but I'm a simple thinker who likes simple concepts (lazy, too). In my experience it boils down to trust (and a shared understanding), or lack of it, and it seems that trust is sparse all over the place at the moment.

I've really enjoyed this discussion, and I appreciate the example you and your generation set for me and mine (I read your story about Polk and the SF recruiter a few months ago on a different thread). On the shoulders of giants. DOL.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 06/06/2016 - 8:14am

mred.....there is a side effect that former JCoS Casey missed...if MC is thoroughly instituted and run correctly as he envisioned you will get an interesting development.

The commander, leader, business boss will get simpler with his comments and thoughts and he will get clearer with his statements as will the rest of the group.

It is really hard to be simple and way to many people think you are a plain simpleton so many shy away from trying when the opposite is demanded in MC either the military brand or the business brand.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 06/01/2016 - 2:58am

In reply to by mred bring up some really interesting points...yes business is driven by the bottom line meaning I have to meet payroll every swinging month or we are all out of work even myself...BUT is that not the job of a commander....while he meets no payroll...the battlespace determines his success or failure counted in numbers of bodies in some aspects his "business" is far more brutal than mine....if I lose to a hacker...I lick my wounds discuss the issue with a customer and rethink my TTPs and LL'd but I do not have to replace people.

Right now I work right next to my people doing the grunt work at times simply because I have the experience, but moreover I really do like gives me insight into a new generation that has to carry us through the 21st century and if I can invest into them all of my years of experience maybe they will in the future "get it right" or at least better than we have done.

It might sound altruistic but it allows me to think that maybe all my mistakes and failures were not so bad in the end if they can avoid the pitfalls I had along the way and that I motivated some really smart young people to take chances using risk analysis and move forward.

I am smart enough to recognize my experience is based on years of "hands on" not the "book"...theirs is the "book' and they need the "hands on" that is also the view a Commander must take in MC....that is why the term "leader exists"......

Your point about failure is critical....failures are seen in the Army as a black mark on your promotion my business I and my people learn from them and if there is a fear free zone...the discussions over that failure are intense and thorough because all know no one in the room will be "hurt" by them...everyone has both a voice and an opinion and they need to be heard and believe me even and I and my team do on occasions get it wrong while the world of IT is suppose to be a "science" it still today is a "black art" the military your career is hurt badly and you are passed over and are pushed out.

The military does not view "failure" as a part of MC....MC is
about people and all people are human thus capable of making mistakes...we are not robots...robots never have a "bad day"......

I am so comfortable with MC because in 1966 I was approached by the US SF and "asked" to join them...not picked by myself to join as they do today.

The entire training then was actually when I think back all around MC...simply because the means of commo to a forward based ODA was not what it is today thus the "system" had to "trust" that the team fully understood the mission and would carry it out if all comms failed to them.

I was trained to the point that as a SP4 advisor I commanded and led first a "local" Recon company in VN and then on to BN Recon command as a SGT and by the end of my 18 months a SGT who had led three Regt sized ops.

Tell that to the current BCT commanders... a SGT leading a Regimental combat operation.

The "trust" by the then US SF Command that was placed on me was massive and it was there I learned quickly "failure" also meant bodies just as even "success" meant bodies.

BUT "failures must be allowed" as war is complicated and it always entails the old saying goes..."no plan holds up when the first bullet is fired in anger".....

THEN when at Cisco Systems they as a business made it their mantra in the late 90s and early 2000s...."you are allowed one mistake...but never make the same mistake twice" 2001 a Sales Engineer in a major Telco business deal made a math mistake in his calculations that actually cost Cisco 373M USDs....

Was he Cisco held to the deal and then at the end of the business year pulled the entire UK office into a major three day analysis of the failure and changed a ton of internal mechanisms.

Did he make the same mistake again...never...and he went to complete deals in the Billion ranges.

Here is why I am so into MC.....I have the years of experience and have seen all the Army cultural sides since 1966 and I know MC is the only way forward for the 21st century...BUT you are totally correct in the observation that "middle management" ie LTC/COLs/DACs are the problem and they are into massive "micromanagement" in order to protect themselves so there are no "failures" that would prohibit them "potentially" making General or that GS14/15 position or that SES position.

During Iraq and AFG you might be surprised just how often the advice we "grey beards" provided was largely ignored but later proven to be totally correct but was swept under the rug in order to avoid embarrassing those officers that did not take the advice.....

That is the bottleneck to a successful MC and you are totally correct...the senior leadership of the Army is not prepared to strangle that chokepoint as it is exactly how they made their promotions into the positions they are in today.

In my business I am doing MC as it is the only way for 29 people to bubble up a leader from inside that will step in behind me in two years and who the group feels comfortable going forward with when I an no longer around so they continue as a group to be successful.

It might sound crazy but I am holding to MC the business form of MC as it works....and fits perfectly the 21st century.

Nice conversation by the way.....


Tue, 05/31/2016 - 4:37pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Business certainly does seem to grasp the concept more readily. I suppose because businesses have a bottom line to meet, or they go away. What you described, your example and encouragement, is precisely what we see missing the most in leaders. Personally, I think that the current culture is too ingrained in the Army for MC to work. Even where there are those who understand it and try to implement MC there are layers above them that snuff it out by reinforcing the opposite. A shame really because the Army and DoD are loaded with young ones like you describe in your company. I know I try to apply MC principles daily with my own kids. Leaders I have seen and worked with, I believe, are simply afraid of failure, so they try to retain control. MC is counter-intuitive to current military culture. I'm sure trust, or lack of it, is at the core. Think about it: how often to you see leaders spending time with their people? How can you trust someone that you don't really know?

Leadership has been voicing concerns that formations aren't trained or that training and readiness have been hurt by continuous deployments. The Army doesn't know how to train itself anymore. Dr. Wong has an earlier article "Stifling Innovation" (2002) which attributes, via hindsight, today's training deficiencies to yesterday's lack of white space for junior leaders to experiment, train, fail, learn, etc. We are reaping what was and is being sown.

On the closing day at the Maneuver Warfare conference a young MCCC student asked one the the presenting Division CGs how he (the student) and his peers would be able to accomplish everything with so little time. The CG deferred to his CSM, who said that everyone would have to do better at managing their time. The CSM didn't mean it maliciously, or sarcastically. He was being honest. That to me pointed out the real issue. What leaders are standing up and saying "no" in order to create the white space that Wong determined to be missing? Abdication of responsibility on multiple levels all in the name of giving subordinates the opportunity to decide for themselves. How easy is that to interpret as an ethical trap?

Outlaw 09

Tue, 05/31/2016 - 1:41pm

In reply to by mred

mred--thanks for the comments.....I use to constantly rant here at SWJ and on FP on the MC concepts when they first came out in 2012 and I have since then used the exact same Casey principles in my company of first four and now 25 (specialized IT security here in Berlin) largely built around young aggressive university trained IT personnel both men and women AND it works great.

The first group of four had a hard time adjusting to a fear free open dialogue built on trust even through former students and I spent a lot of time mentoring it but now we discuss everything and I listen and even sometimes get overridden and they make the decisions needed when they are needed and I simply glide through the day.

How else can a 70 year old keep up with a group of 24 year olds with extremely agile minds.....

We are now expanding to 25 and the four are my lead managers two years out of the university and I know they can handle it...they live the concept of a fear free trust zone daily at work and are looking forward to molding the new 25 in the same manner.

Even when we have to work long hours....all know what is expected and deliver without a single grumble...the Army would seriously do well to get back to the core principles preached by former JCoS Casey....

This 21st century is not going to be an easy one...

A former Army officer who I have a lot of respect for... once told me while I was in the trenches trying to get Commanders and their staffs to understand true MC not C2......"when you feed the bear marshmallows do not feed it with you lips" or it will "kill you"...meaning your career....the then current officer environment did not like the boat being rocked.....

I once watched a BN commander openly tell his staff officers their NCO subordinates and fellow officers must fear them and that is how he ran his BN.....he went on to command a BCT......

Regardless...the Casey principles work and I am grateful for having the opportunity to have learned them and now practice environment and decision making is so much easier....

I hope that the 25 plus 4 when they move on ...and they will at some point ......take what they learned with them where ever they go and continue to practice it.

That is my contribution to the 21st century in the "battlespace of IT security"....

Casey may have hit on something but is not often talked abut.....if MC becomes deeply ingrained it almost becomes a way of life effecting everything from thinking clearly, to critical thinking and on to clear and concise decision making and then on to interrelationships with your fellow officers and my case my employees...

Afraid though the current Army/DAC cultural environment has "won" and nothing will change and then the Army will be really surprised one day in the coming years....and ask why did we not change?

Heck in the recent NATO tank competition the US came in fourth....fourth behind Poland and that says everything about this current Army....and they have no earthly idea of EW nor of Russian non linear warfare......and they certainly do not rule the cyber warfare world...that is now controlled by others which I can certify are really really really good at what they do and they are not Americans......


Tue, 05/31/2016 - 9:55am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw, I think you've read a lot of minds. I've observed similar issues. I was able to sit in on the MC working group during the last Maneuver Warfare conference and the core discussions revolved around C2 systems. Ironic.

Your description and my observations while working under TRADOC are very similar. Some senior leaders say the right things, but blame middle management for "not getting it". Middle management (LTCs/COLs/DACs) are not interested in change. All seem to be victims of "middle-status conformity" that Adam Grant writes about in his book, "Originals". Young ones see opportunities, but are not encouraged. They either run into active discouragement, or at best a lack of either which is probably worse. Smart folks get frustrated and go somewhere else, and the Army is left with those who are successful as defined by the system that is geared for stability. Catch-22.

Until someone at the top is willing to sacrifice their career to clean house I don't see much changing. Personnel systems and DoD structure, as you pointed out, are not going to change. Actually, both are designed to do exactly what they are doing...promote stability/rigidity/conformity, etc...most things that are exactly opposite of what we currently need.

Thanks for posting. I rarely make comments, but know that your insight is read by others and appreciated.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 05/29/2016 - 5:58am

Former JCoS Casey foresaw "mission command" to encompass...."a dialogue in a fear free environment designed to foster being the cornerstone of MC"......fostered by the commander and his staff......

A lot of hype the first year and then utter silence when he left......

And today....MC has totally failed to achieve what Casey envisioned as the way forward in the coming years and so urgently needed to counter UW and non linear warfare....

Anyone who states otherwise is "dishonest" in this business.....

The current "culture" in the US Army and the rest of DoD is simply designed to protect those in command and their ability to get promoted...nothing more nothing less......AND this extends even worse into the civilian DAC structure where over the last five years a large number of positions were "handed off underhandedly to former LTCs and COLs and anyone who doubts that this was the case is also being "dishonest".....if not basically lying about the current "cultural environments" of both the military and their civilian component environments....


Thu, 09/24/2015 - 11:24am

In reply to by Morgan

A clear example of this being far more than an Army problem: “Military Analyst Again Raises Red Flags on Progress in Iraq” - SWJ, 24 Sep 2015.

Is this an Army problem or national problem? Of our many leaders / managers in government or private industry, how many have "mis-spoken"? Isn't mis-speaking a lie, like when one says "You can keep your doctor..." or "there was sniper fire when we got off of our helicopter in Bosnia"..? Not justifying what happens among Army leaders and the reports they submit but I don't think it is just "Army culture" that allows this.

Perhaps if we, as a culture, were less focused on avoiding hurt feelings and more on telling it like it is, we'd stop lying to ourselves and everyone else. This might allow for actual progress on the projects, programs, endeavors, and/ or operations we embark on.

I thought this was a very brave subject to choose. Although I don't feel qualified to comment on the text, it's a question people in general should consider more often.


A. Scott Crawford

G Martin

Sat, 02/21/2015 - 10:28pm

Reflection of our culture? Ends justifies means?

Only our ends haven't looked really neat lately...

Truly a problem, but one I doubt anyone will do anything about. Senior leaders will, with furrowed brows and serious expressions, say we need to "get after this," but the root causes will not go away.

The sad truth is it happens all the time:

Unit Status Reporting (USR) - Due on the 15th of the month, but everyone wants a "pre-brief" at every level. Your average company commander has to put his stuff together two weeks early and "make assumptions" about what things will look like as of the 15th.

Additional Training - Endless required additional training, and no time to do it. Print out the slides, set them on a table with a sign in roster, and tell Soldiers to look at them and sign off. Or, gather them at the end of the day formation and tell them "This is your SHARP/EO/Whatever training: Don't be an a**hole and treat others how you would want to be treated. What are your questions?"

Maintenance - You know if that a tank/vehicle/aircraft will break or come into a service if you use it, so you just park it. It's not available for training, but it's counted as "up" so you can boost your Operational Readiness (OR) rate.

Sad really.