Vandergriff: Selfless vs. Selfish Service

Here’s a guest editorial by my friend and colleague, Don Vandergriff. Consider it my Christmas present to you all.


I read MG Bob Scales’s piece on Anton Myrer’s wonderful novel Once an Eagle in Tom Ricks blog “The Best Defense.” I wholeheartily disagree with his assessment. Despite his recommendation to do away with it, it is necessary and should be a mandatory book for all cadets to read regardless of commissioning source! In sum, Scales (and Ricks) interprets the whole book as a command-vs-staff conflict. It is not, as I point out in the review below. The first thing someone has to do to understand this, though, is to read Myrer’s 1200 pages (I have done it twice in 13 years). Then, they must understand the evils of self-serving careerism pitted against the honorable selfless service that the services all claim they promote Their incentives, however, all work the other way.

While it is a nice fantasy to believe that MG Bob Scales (ret.) has had such an impact on COLs and LTCs at the War College, the Army culture from the time right after WWII, but institutionalized in Vietnam, had already set a course of self-serving careerism (Once an Eagle was published in 1969). It is a route toward rampant careerism based on out-of-date assumptions on ambition and talent management drawn from new Human Resource theories developed in the Progressive age, codified in the wave of emerging theories written in the 20s and 30s, and later taught in the leading business schools to the new captains serving in HR (now AG) after WWII. Anton Myrer’s insights toward this trend are remarkable given the time he was writing this and based on his own service in WWII; but he also saw the reflecting trends in American society going this way (and unfortunately continuing today).

Again, why I laugh at all the people that say there is such a cultural gap between US society and the military — there is not one. We are reflective of the emerging values of today’s society’s focus on the new values system of money, things, and time. Anton Myrer points out in vivid detail in many of the non-military scenes that he puts Sam Damon through in the interwar years and his conflict of getting out, at the constant demand of his wife Tommy Damon, in order to ride the wave of greed in the 20s! Damon (Myrer) sees the shallowness in this trend, which by the way is appearing again today, but even worse as the kings of the big banks and Wall Street (while using their political cronies to pave the way) simply rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic (to buy an additional 7th home at the expense of everyone else). They know it, the data is there, and they are still doing it, while using our own elective officials to do it (and I am a libertarian, hating both parties). Despite countless opportunities to ride this way, Damon refuses, because the honor of leading soldiers and serving them and the nation he believes in always draws him back.

Additionally, the book’s focus is at the heart of selfless-serving versus selfish-serving. It has little to do with command vs staff, except only as a vehicle to demonstrate the former conflict. Courtney Massingale seeks the most prominent staff and command positions, always on someone’s coat tails, to avoid the responsibility of having to make the risky decisions when leading and commanding soldiers (regardless of branch type) at any level unless and until it only serves him (Corps Command in the Pacific in late 44 when the war is already decided and the ability to gain all the glory while avoiding the hazards of the frontlines).

In reverse, Sam Damon always does seek these tough assignments, but as you read the bylines, the system is not rewarding of this (so the lesson taken away can have the opposite effect that he, Scales, claims it has). Damon is constantly viewed by the Army establishment as a maverick and is only put in regimental and division command in the worse place possible, New Guinea northern coast in late 42/43 (Read the book America’s First Battles on the disastrous campaign there) out of desperation and because no one else of prominence wanted it. The chosen ones are all trying to go to Europe to serve in the real war with Nazi Germany. Also, Courtney serves in many aide-de-camp and executive officer for GO positions as well. Another prominent step to the top today.

No, data and research have shown that the value sets of most officers toward service or selfish service are set in stone by the time they reach the War College. This book will have little or no impact on anyone other than confirm their own deep seated feelings on who they really are or have become. When asked about this book in 2012 by the CG of Cadet Command for continual reading by cadets, I said “YES!” it needs to be, there is still a chance to mold these aspiring leaders before being corrupted by our own personnel system.

As with so much of Don’s work, these comments apply not just to the military but to any large bureaucratic organization.

Bill Lind: 4GW is Alive and Well

4GW is Alive and Well

William S. Lind
Special to Slightly East of New

25 May 2013

So “the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it (4GW) proposed”? How do you say that in Syriac?

The basic error in Chet Richards’ piece of April 19, “Is 4GW dead?” is confusing the external and internal worlds. Internally, in the U.S. military and the larger defense and foreign policy establishment, 4GW is dead, as is maneuver warfare and increasingly any connection to the external world. The foreign policy types can only perceive a world of states, in which their job is to promote the Wilsonian nee Jacobin, follies of “democracy” and “universal human rights.” They are in fact, 4GW’s allies, in that their demand for “democracy” undermines states, opening the door for more 4GW. Continue reading

Safety in spirals

“The safety of the enterprise lay in its novelty.”  Confederate Col John Singleton Mosby, commenting on his successful nabbing (NY Times) of Union Gen Edwin Stoughton well behind Union lines. A nifty example of a special operation.

Of course, the safety of the enterprise also lay in Mosby’s ability to do the daring deed and get his rear end out of Dodge before the enormous blue army all round him noticed his presence. Which required generating a continuous stream of quick-witted novelty. Where does all this novelty come from? Continue reading

Desperate times

call for desperate measures. Actually, desperate times — and which times aren’t, even though the participants may not realize them as such — call for new options, or as Boyd said, the ability to shift from one pattern of actions and ideas to another.

Great example of this in the Marine Corps Gazette, “F–35B Needs a Plan B,”–35b-needs-plan-b

Back in 2010, when the then-commandant proclaimed that there was no plan B to the F-35B, you knew that the Corps was setting itself up for a fall. Interesting for a service espousing the doctrine of maneuver warfare, with its emphasis on multiple thrusts. Well, now, what with the rises in costs of the program and impending cuts in the DoD budget, guess what? However, the Corps still has original thinkers, and whether you agree with the major on this particular option or not, the fact that he has written and the Gazette has published this article is a very good sign. The comments are well worth reading, particularly the replies to “Major Cannon, I certainly hope the monitors at HQMC get a whiff of this nonsense and you are never selected for Lieutenant Colonel.”

My first job at Lockheed, back in the early 1980s, was to find something new to broaden the company’s dependence on airlifters (C-130s and C-5Bs). The need we found was close air support and close-in interdiction, and for the low end of that mission, our proposal wasn’t too terribly different from Maj. Cannon’s proposal. Our favored platform, though, was a small, twin-engined jet to replace the A-10. The USSR was still around and so tank killing was a primary mission.


Table I

It has come to my attention …

that some of the e-book versions of Certain to Win, well at least one of them, is missing Table I, What Wins, from page 43.

Sorry about that. Here it is:

Table I—What Wins

Things We Want To Have On Our Side:

  • Sense of Mission
  • Morale
  • Leadership
  • Harmony
  • Teamwork

Which Allow Us To:

  • Appear Ambiguous
  • Be Deceptive
  • Generate Surprise & Panic
  • Seize & Keep The Initiative
  • Create & Exploit Opportunities

Which Cause These In The Enemy:

  • Bickering
  • Scapegoating
  • Confusion
  • Panic
  • Rout
  • Mass Defections & Surrender

Tom Barnett endorses Romney

Unexpected, to say the least, because Tom usually describes himself as a Democrat. His reasoning is interesting:

The sad truth about a second Obama presidency

Tom is quite familiar with Boyd’s work, and I admit to being a big fan of what he’s trying to achieve. Where we differ is on method: He still supports large armies, talks about power projection, solves the problem of terrorism by “killing bad guys,” and thinks that economics is driven by how many sub-minimum wage workers you have.

On the other hand, he considers our level of strategic thinking as “pathetic.” Here’s a briefing that he gave last year.  Pay close attention to his strategy for dealing with Afghanistan and South Asia. You may not agree with it, but it is refreshingly out of the box.

All in all, we have much more in common than any points of disagreement, and I consider him as one of our best geopolitical strategists. I think that after watching this, you’ll understand why he isn’t a senior figure in the administration, the more the loss for the rest of us.



Feral Jundi on Balck

Feral Jundi [Arabic: draftee or private], who has commented on posts here from time to time, has a great piece on Hermann Balck.

Balck was undoubtedly Boyd’s favorite among the field commanders of WWII, ranking this relatively junior commander in such company as Stonewall Jackson, U.S. Grant, Field Marshals von Manstein and Rommel, and the US Generals Patton and MacArthur (Patterns 111).

For more information on the Truppenführung and the “Prussian” system generally, I strongly recommend Fighting Power by the Israeli historian Martin van Creveld (Greenwood Press, 1982).

Kudos to Boyd, Vandergriff, and Dempsey

In a speech to the recent Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach, Army GEN Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reached a conclusion that could have come straight out of Boyd:

In the end, said Dempsey, “our best hedge against degraded environments is mission command and adaptive leadership” — the ability of leaders at all levels to think for themselves and find a new way to achieve the objective without waiting for orders. That’s a cultural challenge for the military given a long-established preference for detailed, centralized planning, and modern networks that give top commanders constant computer connectivity to their subordinates only makes micromanagement easier. [From: “Humans, Not Hardware, Will Get Military Through Tough Budget Times: Dempsey,” By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., AOL Defense, Strategy & Policy, May 17, 2012]

“Mission command” is a common translation of Auftragstaktik, and some of you may recall “adaptive leadership” from Don Vandergriff’s book Raising the Bar.

One way to think of it is that Auftragstaktik makes strong use of the implicit guidance and control feed from orientation directly to action. If you become too explicit, you’ll defeat the entire idea.

On the other hand, adaptive leadership requires the ability to rapidly size up the unfolding situation and get the organization going in a way to influence it.  The fact that it is “adaptive” means that you aren’t just using pre-programmed responses but have gray matter engaged. If you think about it, that’s the classic observe-orient-decide-act pattern, employed to quickly come up with and test new actions on the fly (that is, while under fire), as Boyd described in Conceptual Spiral.

Put them together, you have Boyd’s OODA “loop” sketch from The Essence of Winning and Losing.

The concept of mission control + adaptive leadership harmonizes well with Boyd’s idea of leadership: “implies the art of inspiring people to enthusiastically take action toward the achievement of uncommon goals.” [Organic Design, 37]

Van Creveld redux

If you don’t usually peruse The National out of Abu Dhabi, you might have missed this story about the creation of a “private navy” to counter piracy along the shipping corridor between the Red and Arabian Seas:

Private navy planned to counter pirate raids

Can you believe that it’s been 21 years since Martin van Creveld published The Transformation of War? My.

Once the legal monopoly of armed force, long claimed by the state, is wrested out of its hands, existing distinctions between war and crime will break down (204)

Much of the day-to-day burden of defending society against the threat of low-intensity conflict will be transferred to the booming security business (207 — remember, this was 1991!)

He made several predictions about the future of the state, none of them encouraging. Here are a couple:

Any community able and, more importantly, willing to exert itself to protect its members will be able to call on those members’ loyalty (198)

Armies will be replaced by police-like security forces on the one hand and bands of ruffians on the other, not that the difference is always clear even today (225).

Perhaps most discouraging:

America’s current (1991) economic decline must be halted; or else one day the crime that is rampant in the streets of New York and Washington, D.C., may develop into low-intensity conflict by coalescing along racial, religious, social, and political lines, and run completely out of control (196).