Small Wars Journal

Gardening in a “Barren” Officer Corps

Gardening in a “Barren” Officer Corps by B.J. Armstrong, War on the Rocks

A recent opinion piece at The American Conservative had a number of military officers scratching their heads. In “An Officer Corps that Can’t Score,” William Lind purports to discuss how careerism in the military breeds “habits of defeat.”  He tells us that:

"Defeat in Vietnam bred a generation of military reformers, men such as Col. John Boyd USAF, Col. Mike Wyly USMC, and Col. Huba Wass de Czege USA, each of whom led a major effort to reorient his service. Today, the landscape is barren. Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change."

This is quite a claim, and rather damning of today’s officer corps with a very broad brushstroke. But is it true? Based on my personal and professional experiences in the U.S. Navy, I would say no. Lind errs on the side of being insulting to some of the dedicated men and women in uniform, but that does not really worry me. They have thick skin. More seriously, he leads his civilian readers astray, leaving them with an inaccurate depiction of a military completely unused to debate…

Read on.



Tue, 04/22/2014 - 1:00pm

In reply to by Dayuhan


Yes I realize that it is only my opinion and it may be wrong. My Mom, Dad, Father Gallagher, Sister Mary Loretta and numerous others taught me that. However the failure of the American civilian and uniformed elites to address the problem of the Pak Army/ISI isn't objectionable because it ran counter to my opinion, it is objectionable because it has gotten a whole lot of people killed and the dying isn't over yet.


Tue, 04/22/2014 - 10:44am

In reply to by carl

<i>The multi-stars could have said we can't win in Afghanistan if the Pak Army/ISI isn't taken care of and they never did.</i>

I would have said the multi-stars might have told the politicians that we weren't going to "win" in Afghanistan because objectives like "nation building" and "installing democracy" were unrealistic and unsuited to achievement by military force.

Both of us might consider that while we have our opinions, they are only our opinions, and that failure to share or advance your opinion or mine does not necessarily make anyone inept or irresponsible.

To get the discussion going, I'll put something I posted at the Council here.

Lind is far more right than he is wrong, especially when he speak about the Boyd's highest plane, the moral.

Lind talks about the officer corps telling each other they are part of the best military ever and get upset if they are disagreed with. There is much disagreement with that but to me a lot of that is based on nit picking definitions and talk about being "insulting". Those counterarguments are basically saying no we didn't lose and stop being mean to me.

Another counter argument is 'it was those civilians' who lost, not us (shades post WWI Germany). That kind of argument even more clearly throws light on the moral failings not of the officer corps as a whole, but of the multi-star officer corps, and this failing is serious, loss of the country serious. All those civilian actions and ideas didn't arise in a vacuum. They came in an atmosphere where the multi-stars had had much influence over decades and where they could have told the emperor he had no clothes. They never did. The multi-stars could have said we can't win in Afghanistan if the Pak Army/ISI isn't taken care of and they never did.

This hasn't stopped and may not stop until we lose a major war. We see it every day from things like the little, reflective belts, to the big, the F-35 and women in combat roles. The terrifying problem is, for all the debate articles like Lind's will stir, the only real way that things can change is for the officer corps, especially the multi-stars to be thoroughly discredited. That can probably only happen if we are badly beaten in a big war which will mean thousands and thousands of dead and the country defeated.

(Now don't let my comment be read as a bash at individual good officers in the US military, of which there are multitudes. It is a bash at the officer corps as an institution, an institution that all those good officers can't seem to fundamentally change. They can only work miracles at a low levels if the big green machine doesn't notice them. The machine grinds on.)