Small Wars Journal

The Koepenick Syndrome: Is the United States the new Prussia?

Sun, 03/06/2011 - 10:16am
The Koepenick Syndrome: Is the United States the new Prussia?

by Franz-Stefan Gady

Download The Full Article: The Koepenick Syndrome: Is the United States the new Prussia?

January 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address. In it, he warned the American people of the growing influence of the "military industrial complex" . An outgrowth of this "total influence", as Eisenhower put it, is the United States' reverence for its armed services and the men commanding it. While it is unlikely that the United States will ever take the path of Prussia, the dangers of the Koepenick syndrome are real—a disproportionate admiration for leadership and innovation in men and women wearing uniforms and minimizing civilian influence over tough policy decisions.

Download The Full Article: The Koepenick Syndrome: Is the United States the new Prussia?

Franz-Stefan Gady is a foreign policy analyst at the EastWest Institute. He served in the Austrian Army.

About the Author(s)


LPierson (not verified)

Tue, 03/08/2011 - 9:28pm

I chuckled a bit as I read this paper when the author used GEN Petreaus' name specifically. I wonder why....??? (Doesn't, or didn't GEN James Jones USMC (Retired), occupy some "seat" at the East-West Center?)

To contrast, I really chuckled when SecDef Rumsfeld re-activated Peter Schoomaker and he showed up for duty in his old pick-up truck with Wyoming plates...

The premise to the paper written by our honorable Austrian compatriot was just wrong. I do, however, have empathy for some of our European comrades-in-arms. A goodly number of their forebearers left them with a legacy of ashes. And that bit of history, especially post-WWI/WWII and the Cold War, has not been soon forgotten. We on the other hand, have not had a marauding military occupying the school yard nor confiscating the dairy farm since the Civil War.

Our neighbors, brothers, sisters et. al. rub, or have rubbed, shoulders every day with former or current military members. And those same people with an armed services background teach school, swing hammers, turn wrenches, manage banks, etc. Most would like nothing more to stay out of the morass we call the DC beltway.

Does DOD need to find efficiency and economy in expeditures, ABSOLUTELY. Cutting the budget intelligently, with a balanced reliance on personnel and THEN material, YES. Keeping congress honest and away from DOD as a haven for porky earmarks (new AF tanker to Boeing, or an extra engine for an airplane we may not use anyone...)? A MUST.

Yup I agree, and Madhu is all over it. Brezinsky's book "Between Two Ages, America in the Technetronic Era" advocates precisely for a technocracy. Stabilty you know...

So why again is this think tank piece important?

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Tue, 03/08/2011 - 7:06pm

Madhu is all over it... what is the academic equivalency of the Koepenick syndrome?

There is some potential here for muckracking, especially in the original and idealistic definition of the word. The topic of military-industrial complex and think-tankery has got everything... Politically ambitious military officers and businessmen as well as influential philanthropists, idealists, and think-tankists conceptualizing when, where, and how to manage social change along the frontier.

Maybe even indicators of things to come... reduction in military spending translates into "not supporting the troops" and the next thing you know (if Koepenick syndrome applies to the U.S.) we will watch reports on the BBC that one of our division commanders is marching on the capital. Most military interventions in the polity has to do with pay ... correct?

Very good discussion indeed...


Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 03/08/2011 - 5:50am

Interesting and thoughtful paper. The points are well-taken, however, I tend to disagree a bit with the main premise.

We are ever centralized in ALL areas of American society and this has an affect on the military, too.

<em>However, there will be always lots of weapons and material expenditures through congressional largess. And as there is discussion regard the complex that Ike warned us there is a component of said complex that never gets talked about, discussed or examined: the Think-Tanks.</em>

Good point, <strong>LPierson.</strong>

In that famous address, Eisenhower talked about the potentially negative effects of a "pseudo-scientific" <strong>technocratic elite</strong> that might capture or hijack the decision making process away from the general public. That point always seems to get less attention for some reason....

Procurement-driven expenditures are partially related to this phenomenon, in my opinion. Credentialed experts, whether civilian or military, may serve as justifiers for the policy prescription du jour....even when the justifiers are entirely sincere and do good work.

The doctrine of pre-emption and pop-COIN are intellectual conceptualizations about when, and how, to wage war and have a complicated intellectual forensics. So why aren't the two featured outcomes of our intellectual technocracy as opposed to the outcome of a militarized society?

Good discussion at any rate....

LPierson (not verified)

Mon, 03/07/2011 - 11:40pm

The economizing and innovative Prussians wound up doing their soldiering on someone else's dime and logistics.

A provocative piece of writing. However, I have to ask why it was written?

The parallels the author attempts to use to compare the US military with the "Koepenik" Prussian military just do not exist. The US citizenry has never tolerated a "Junkers" class military elite.

There are, however, SIGNIFICANT contrasts.

The most glaring contrast that is obvious to most: the US military is made up of the general citizenry, not of guilded families or free company recruits. The current ROTC haggle at Havard and Colombia reminds most of us of that fact. (John Kerry's ill-timed 2004 campaign remarks aside...)

Most of the uniform wearers being treated to gratutities (drinks and meals...) are junior soldiers both enlisted and officer. We have an adoring public (in most places) because there is, to an extent, some sense of shared sacrifice. In most locales there is a feeling regarding "the kid down street", or that "so-and-so's son/daughter, are serving." Not like WWII of course, AND certainly not like the shameful period of ill-treatment post-Vietnam. (Kipling's "Tommy" anyone...?)

Cutting the defense budget may do something, but likely not have the effect that is articulated in the paper. Every time the US defense budget has been axed, it did little to reduce the effects of the "military industrial complex" about which Ike rightly warned us. Rather those cuts effected the people, the uniform wearers and their families directly. And the bureaucracy that follows is generally always VERY onerous. In 1999, the US Army was losing more captains than it could produce. (I am old/young enough to remember when most of our enlisted troopers qualified for food stamps, and battle veteran officers being relieved over the lack of bumper numbers on some of their inoperable vehicles, inoperable because there was no money to maintain them.)

However, there will be always lots of weapons and material expenditures through congressional largess. And as there is discussion regard the complex that Ike warned us there is a component of said complex that never gets talked about, discussed or examined: the Think-Tanks.

Frankly, I don't think this article is about an overly adoring public at all, but rather about keeping some people in their place. People such as a potentially politically ambitious retired military officers.

This article is contradictory. If the purpose of this piece is to be part of a concerted effort to shape an environment for slashing DOD in order to drive away talent, leadership and innovation, it is a very poor trial balloon.

An aside. I agree with Mac in regards to Holbrooke (may he rest in peace); I am not sure who Holbrooke was serving while in AF/PAK. I am equally loathe to use him as a shining example of civil-military relations.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 03/06/2011 - 6:36pm


Arguing Koepenick syndrome as Prussian only is problematic for a couple of reasons.

Perception management is a business... Everyone exploits sentimentalities (the good, the bad and the ugly) when it comes to the American soldiery. I actually believe that most folks who buy a drink, meet our service men and women at the gateways all hours of the day and night, serve coffee and provide lickey chewies while they wait for a connecting flight actually like these kids...

Secondly, if we are indeed suffering from a form of Koepenick syndrome then I propose we look for the symptoms in a traditional Bavarian Bauernstueck... you know the plays... irreverent and a healthy disrespect for authority. The authoritarian mentality we might associate with Prussia just doesn't fit with American reality.

Don't get me wrong... We love to tell other people what to do and one of our most favorite political slogans is "There ought to be a law against this"... Meddlesome locally and internationally, yes... but not Prussian.

Maybe check out the historical relationship between an educated, enlightened and progressive officer corps (circa 1880s and beyond) and wealthy philanthropists who felt a need to get right with God, or actually believed in the promises of the Gilded Age...

What is the alternative to the "why produce innovative and entrepreneurial leaders, then waste the talent in a risk-averse bureaucracy"... a bunch of innovative and entrepreneurial leaders all commanding divisions of trigger-pullers running around seeking to change the world for the better? How else are we to keep them in line if not keeping them mired in bureaucratic chains of trust? There is a reason why certain bureaucracies exist. Teach, train, mentor and in case of emergency break glass and not sooner... Slow early on (risk-averse) is usually faster in the long-run. Some Zen-master said that a couple of hundred years ago...

Supporting - supported relationships are often contentious... but do change when required. Mr. Holbrooke's question as to when he became the general's wingman might say more about Mr. Holbrooke the man than a given political - military approach.


Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 03/06/2011 - 4:32pm

The high regard for the military in the US has been, and can be, a problem in some cases. It's very easy to spin any sort of proposal for reduction in military spending, for instance, as "not supporting the troops".