Small Wars Journal

Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession

Sat, 10/31/2015 - 8:51am

Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession by Dr. Leonard Wong and Dr. Stephen J. Gerras, 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.



Wed, 11/04/2015 - 9:42pm

Like the authors, I believe this discussion is essential and necessary. The authors may speak about adherence to a foundational ethos, however, if the study does not begin with our common Christian heritage, they are starting at the wrong foundational place. I like the term "ethical fading", where people often fail to recognize the moral component. It allows officers to transform morally wrong behavior into socially acceptable conduct. There are in excess of 240 million people in the country who profess a Christian Religious preference. Yet, our leadership appears to ignore the Christian traditions, practices, and values of this majority. That is not smart. Problems are more basic than even the authors suggest. If Christians (70%) determine that their God-Given freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are being threatened and criminalized by 3.8% of the population, do the math. An additional issue is that I have concerns any time an appointment to Secretary of The Army appears to be motivated by a political agenda rather than the health of the force. I believe that anyone in service who takes a position against the LGBT types is labelled, shut down and terminated. Please realistically study this situation and publish an honest report, unless you too fear termination.


Fri, 11/20/2015 - 7:58pm

In reply to by Hector_Paris


Having been the CO of a mid-sized combat unit, I believe that I know as much as you about what, exactly, combat readiness is and is not.

Paperwork does not ensure combat readiness, COs ensure it; at best paperwork is a useful tool to help a CO address equipment or personnel shortages. In any case, it must be done.

Your dismay and disgust with current Army leadership is obvious. What isn't clear is why you believe the US military is at some sort of moral tipping point, based solely on paperwork which is not submitted according to your ideas.

BTW: I've never read a sillier statement than, "Unfortunately, we have a generation of officers who view "combat readiness" as being able to do 12 months of COIN in Iraq and Afghanistan." How do YOU define combat readiness?


Tue, 11/03/2015 - 4:52am

In reply to by TRD

TRD, the paperwork is almost entirely about readiness. Maintenance and training records of various kinds are used for managing and reporting readiness. To suggest that we can maintain combat readiness without the basic records management shows a lack of understanding of what true combat readiness is. The reports from the CTCs validate what I'm saying. Our lack understanding and practice of traditional garrison systems has led to poor home station training which has led to poor performance at the CTCs. (Unfortunately we have a generation of officers who view "combat readiness" as being able to do 12 months of COIN in Iraq or Afghanistan.)

There's a larger issue of Trust. If there is so much lying going on between commands, is there truly Trust there? Our whole mission command philosophy centers on this question. Mutual Trust is the cornerstone of the mission command philosophy. Ultimately, together with shared understanding, clear intent, accepting prudent risk, Trust enables the disciplined initiative that is at the heart of "combat readiness".

This whole debate is very serious for our Army. It's all the more serious because our senior leaders do not get it. GEN Odierno had a strange view of this. And it's one that you echo, TRD. GEN O put character and competence in almost false opposition to each other. He would say that the Army focused too much on competence these last decade+ of years, leading to (I guess) highly competenent, but character deficient, leaders. And then he'd take this strange position further and say as we attempt to right this error, we have to make sure that we don't put too much emphasis on character to the detriment of competence. I frankly have never heard a senior leader make such a morally and intellectually confused statement. Character is the bedrock of competence. What is character, if not: fortitude, courage, temperance, commitment, integrity... Can you have true competence without those things? Would you want competence without those things? I'd suggest any officer who is "competent" that has not character is a hollow man and a charade, and not really competent at all, but a great deceiver of men.

Ready, FIRE.....aim.

The authors appear to be traumatized by their administrative hassles while on active duty, and have confused battlefield integrity with a scrivener's attention to precise paperwork.

There IS too damn much paperwork; it's just a tool.

If a CO's unit is ready for combat today, the paperwork merely has to be done. Doing the paperwork isn't, and shouldn't, be considered some cosmic check of the CO's ---or the Army's---integrity.

Combat readiness is THE thing, not the reports and paperwork. A good CO will explain this to his troop.


Sun, 11/01/2015 - 7:40am

Who among us know a senior Army leader who treated the Wong/Gerras report as a true clarion call?

The Army has many serious problems. Failures abound across the entire DOTMLPF. But these are small potatoes compared to the issues at hand in the Wong/Gerras report: this is institutional collapse type stuff. Don't be fooled by the edifice still standing there. We can still procure weapons. We can still build huge buildings and update major installations. We can still even pull off glossy JVB-centered training exercises. But it's all hollow. No amount of chest-thumping and well-rehearsed misty eyed speeches can repair this type of damage. Until I hear a senior leader say something like "Integrity comes before all else. Stop training our officers to use speech to sell something, and train them to communicate truth clearly and simply...."

I don't see that happening anytime in the near future. Too many people instead focusing on "the real national security issues."

From Lewis Sorley:
"General Abrams succeeded to the top command in Vietnam in June 1968. Even before taking formal command he had issued some important instructions: “Effective now,” he stated, “the overall public affairs policy of this command will be to let results speak for themselves. We will not deal in propaganda exercises in any way, but will play all of our activities at low key.”

"In another revealing message Abrams told his commanders that “if an investigation results in ‘bad news,’ no attempt will be made to dodge the issue. If an error has been made, it will be admitted as soon as possible.”