Small Wars Journal

The Warrior Ethos at Risk: H.R. McMaster’s Remarkable Veterans Day Speech

The Warrior Ethos at Risk: H.R. McMaster’s Remarkable Veterans Day Speech posted by Janine Davidson, Defense in Depth

On November 11, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, gave the keynote address at Georgetown University’s Veterans Day ceremony. His message was simple and powerful: the study of war should not be confused with its advocacy; today’s stakes are higher than ever; the warrior ethos is threatened by both tech evangelists (who believe all conflict might be resolved at a safe distance) and a growing gap between the U.S. military and civil society. It’s a remarkably lucid speech by one of the Army’s most energetic leaders.

Read the whole text here.



Wed, 11/19/2014 - 3:04pm

This is an appropriate issue, however, the General remains Politically Correct and can't identify the enemy. He uses terms like: "enemies who cynically use a perverted interpretation of religion" and "modern day barbarians". He mentions Al Qaeda and ISIL. We will make no real headway until we can identify the threat. Stop talking around or just hinting that our enemy is radical Islam or that ISIL stands for Islamic State, which is the face of Islam, etc. etc.
There are also other issues that place the Warrior Ethos at risk. One only need to read the COIN manual. Here are just a few statements from the manual. "The primary objective is to foster effective governance." "The cornerstone of COIN efforts is security of the populace." "The first rule of COIN is to establish presence." Be cautious and proportional. The more force applied, the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes. Leaders exercise responsibility on behalf of the American people they serve but indirectly inflict suffering on their Soldiers and Marines. Education should prepare Soldiers and Marines for the unknown and unexpected. Senior commanders should ensure that small unit leaders are inculcated with tactical cunning, shrewd and crafty ways to out-think and out-adapt the enemy. "MOVEMENT ON FOOT, SLEEPING IN VILLAGES, AND NIGHT PATROLLING ALL SEEM MORE DANGEROUS THAN THEY ARE. DON'T TRY TO CRACK THE HARDEST NUT FIRST. DO NOT GO FOR THE MAIN INSURGENT STRONGHOLD. INSTEAD START FROM SECURE AREAS AND WORK GRADUALLY OUTWARDS. ATTACK THE ENEMY ONLY IF HE GETS IN THE WAY. REMEMBER SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL.
I am not taking things out of context, because there is no context. These statements make no warrior sense. We have a primary objective, but it is neither the first rule nor the cornerstone. We create soldiers more afraid of going to jail than an enemy in pick-up trucks.
There is another cultural issue that puts the warrior ethos at risk that no one of any stature wants to touch. That issue revolves around the concept of Women in Combat units and their ability to accomplish the requirements associated with those MOSs. Additionally, the majority of the country holds Christian ideals which would not embrace male on male sex as a common core value. Christian parents and older veterans think twice before encouraging their sons and daughters to volunteer for a service that forces them to tolerate a behavior that they object to. There is a separation between our military and the society that would provide the volunteers for the force.
My neighbor, a WW11 Navy veteran, saw 29 aircraft carriers, 23 cruisers, and 106 destroyers leave Ulithi for the battle of Okinawa. He also pointed out to me that suicide bombers did not originate with Al Qaeda! Age has a lot to do with one's perspective of war and warrior ethos!

Michael C.

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 3:03pm

Great talk, very relevant! A thought in which the US Armed Forces can help with "fewer and fewer Americans being connected to our professional military" is through ROTC and the reserve components. Recommend all who read this, share this insightful speech with ROTC, university faculty and both our National Guard as well as USAR folks. Help get the word out!

Good content, good ideas. I admire Gen McMaster greatly.

Not sure it's a good speech - I've seen before this trend to where every paragraph must have a footnoted idea and it detracts in writing and in speech. Yet I see it more and more often.

Can we express ideas without continual reference and attribution? Are we that concerned about plagiarism charges? Or is there something else that I'm missing?

Bill C.

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 12:41pm

"The orthodoxy of the Revolution in Military Affairs aimed to make war more explicable and calculable. This fundamentally flawed thinking about future war set us up for many of the difficulties we would encounter in the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."

LTG McMaster (in my humble, much less educated and much less experienced opinion) misses the point completely. He (McMaster) places the blame for our current difficulties on RMA.

But RMA, it would seem, did its job. The Iraqi and Afghan regimes, and their military forces, were defeated in short order.

What failed us -- and what causes our continuing difficulties not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in Syria, Egypt, Libya, etc. -- was/is our amazingly imprudent belief in the "universal appeal" of our western ideas and our western political, economic and social examples. These, not RMA, were to make war (as it relates to the general population) not necessary, less necessary and/or easier.

Thus, it is this irrational belief (in the war-stopping/war-lessening power of western ideas and examples), not RMA, that has failed us miserably post-the Cold War.

Accordingly, what would seem to threaten our "warrior ethos" is:

a. Not so much "tech evangelists" or the gap between military and civil society.

b. But, rather, "universal values" evangelists, and the gap between these such irrational beliefs and reality.

Once our politicians, our public and our warriors come to understand that the transformation of other states and societies (more along modern western lines) will now -- as in days past -- be an uphill, lengthy and contested battle; only then, I suggest, will the appropriate "warrior ethos" (and the need thereof/therefore) be, once again, fully and properly realized.

The speech reminds me of a quote that I believe is from Thucydides: "The nation that will insist on drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards."

Excellent speech.

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 10:15pm

Yes this was a remarkable speech. One of the best I have ever heard. We were very fortunate to have LTG McMaster give this speech at Georgetown on Veteran's Day. I have to add that both Joel Meredith's (President of the Georgetown Student Veterans of America) and President DeGioia's speeches were excellent and complementary to the General's as well. I am glad that Janine Davidson was able to get this and publish it because this needs to have wide distribution. This is a foundational speech for anyone who studies war.