Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Degree and $1.47 Will Get You a Cup of Coffee

This notable article in the Small Wars Journal, Courageous Colonels, prompted this blog post, Warrior Intellectuals, by a young Air Force Captain.
A couple of quick thoughts on both.
First, leave it to an Air Force guy to 'gin up a blog called "Building Peace." Curtis LeMay is rolling over in his grave right now. Peace is having your enemies capitulate to your will and your competitors prudently avoiding confrontations.
Second, I would be very, very careful in proclaiming that the Army (or really any of our military departments) is now a learning organization. It's not; it's a bureaucracy. And like any bureaucracy, it's hallmarks are stratification, ossification, resistance to change, and risk aversion. Anyone thinking that we've reached an age of enlightened reason and intellectual exchange is in for a harsh awakening. We in the Army are, at best, a marginally effective bureaucracy.
The reason we are effective is because we train young officers for the first two to four years of their budding careers that mission failure is unacceptable because their nation's defense and interests, and their soldier's lives, are at stake. Then we pull them away from troops and have them toil for years as "staff officers"--i.e., mid-level bureaucrats. They bring this sense of mission with them when they are sent to the salt mines.
Few people are more pro-Army than I, and here is my considered opinion:
Our Army doesn't win because we are so great, our Army wins because it is less fucked up than everybody else's.
The fact that the Army adapted its strategy is as much a product of successful bureaucratic infighting and luck as it is the intellectual prowess of the officers who identified and matriculated the new strategy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way downplaying the importance of nor denigrating the need for their intellectual firepower. I'm just saying that in a bureaucracy, talent and ability are just one (small) component of success.

Finally, I'm a little ambivalent about the whole "warrior intellectual" meme. I think that we need to discriminate first between intellectuals and Soldiers holding advanced degrees. [NOTE: I'm speaking in general here, and I'm definitely NOT decrying the cerebral proficiency of any of the "Courageous Colonels." Case in point: John Nagl is a true blue fifty-pound brain. In a battle of brains he'd have me tapping fast and hard. Battle of brawn, not so much. Heh] Most professional military officers have the grey-matter wherewithal to earn an advanced degree, it's the opportunity to do so that is elusive.
I think that the most valuable facet of an advanced degree (read PhD) is that it credentials one for partaking in the dialogue outside of the Army. Oh, he's got a PhD? He must know what he's talking about. That other schmuck over there? Knuckledragger. If there is a delinquency that time provided for the acquisition of an advanced degree ameliorates, it's the use of the time to slow down, read, and then to kick back in the chair, feet on the desk & hands behind the head, and actually think. Process rather than product. I've had a couple of academic types tell me that the importance of the PhD is not that the knowledge gained is exclusive to a doctorate, but because getting the doctorate shows the discipline to apply the knowledge to a process that leads to the degree. Really? Y'know what active duty officers sent exclusively to study for a degree call the process? Down time.

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