Should We Fire All the Generals?
By Mr. Twisted
A couple of recent articles have addressed a problem that many have spoken of—that general officers in the military are possibly just politicians in uniform and that we may be better off scrapping everyone with a star and starting over. Are they really that bad and, more to the point, would the military as a whole benefit from a purging of high ranks?
The arguments presented in places like The Danger Room at Wired.com, Armed Forces Journal, and The Atlantic are not without valid points, to be sure. LTC Davis highlights in his article the complete lack of accountability in the higher ranks and how it is nearly impossible to be considered a failure at the general officer level. The more detailed analysis in The Atlantic notes how privates who lose their weapons receive stiffer punishments for their failure than do generals who lose their portion of the war.
While certainly there is substance to these claims, I’m not sure the authors of any of these pieces are approaching this from the correct angle. Though the politics of big brass has created a bureaucracy of redundant uselessness more times than we can mention here, I think there is more to this than simply “firing” people of a certain rank and replacing them.
Ours is a military that lives and operates under civilian control. Like it or not, the founders of this country and the framers of the Constitution intended the armed forces to always have elected leadership.
As such, the United States Armed Forces does not exist in a vacuum. A lot of what transpires in the military—and, perhaps more importantly, who makes up their ranks—is a reflection of our society as a whole. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard may very well be the best and brightest our nation has to offer, but it is still a conglomerate of who we are as a country.
The military is not a rogue entity that autonomously conducts kinetic action wholly separate from America as both a social and political construct.
This is both good and bad, of course, and the merits and detriments of this concept can be—and have been—debated until we are all blue in the face. But relevant to this discussion, it is important to recognize what is—and not just how we want it to be at any given time.
The point being that if we were to fire all the general officers—a daunting task in and of itself—we would have to replace them with people who come from the same system and, more to the point, from the same society. Those occupying the second tier of leadership, whether they like to admit it or not, came to be who they are through similar backgrounds and out of the same culture.
Criticism of general officers who prefer stalemate to victory due to risk aversion ignores the fact that this attitude is not held solely by high ranking military personnel—it is one latched on to by an entire country who would rather injury-proof our playgrounds than let our kids get a few bumps and bruises.
Desiring to fire leadership who would rather play it safe than risk their career disregards the reality that we as a society suffer from a malaise of indifference that only seems affected if our cable stops working or gas prices get a little high. The workplace in America celebrates mediocrity on a daily basis—why on earth would our military’s officer corps be any different?
Yes, there are some monumentally stupid decisions made in the upper echelons of the Pentagon by people with stars on their uniform (reflective belts in combat zones, sensitivity training, and black berets for everyone certainly all come to mind). And yes, many of these decisions are clearly a result of a leadership system that rewards the wrong thing and disciplines only for the very worst of crimes.
But sacking those leaders does not address the real problem. As one of our newest writers said in a discussion on this very subject, “an apathetic and brain-dead nation is going to produce apathetic and brain-dead leaders. It’s only statistically probable.” I wish he weren’t so spot on, but we all know that he is—the issue does not start at the top, but rather at the core of our society.
Don’t misunderstand me; I believe there is a large amount of the system that can be changed. I personally have three fairly detailed plans that could change the Army for the better while simultaneously making it more efficient and saving tens of millions of dollars out of their annual budget. And I’m quite sure there are others out there with similar ideas which, if implemented, would address a great number of these issues.
The point still remains, however, that these problems don’t exist in the military alone, so fixing only what comes out of the Department of Defense will not cure the disease. Axing a few risk-averse officers does not magically transform a society into one that produces risk takers and creative thinkers who are then rewarded for their non-conformity.
At no point should this be taken as an excuse to throw up our hands and blame society for producing this mess—that’s not how we roll. Society is not a faceless thing that aimlessly ruins the world we live in. It is a social construct made up of you, me, and a ton of individuals who do care and can affect the situation. It may be slow and incremental, but that change can be very real, indeed.
So before we go hacking apart the officer corps of the United States Armed Forces, let us take a minute to remember who they are, where they came from, and why the system is the way it is to begin with. The problem goes much deeper than who wears a certain rank and what they do with it.