13 May 2012

The Sage of Brigade-Based Ops, Douglas MacGregor, Weighs In On Reforming the US Army

How'd we get here? and how do we get back to where we want to be?

In the United States, it’s popular to focus on technology to the exclusion of all else. The Service bureaucracies are comfortable with this approach because it models “gadgets against gadgets” in simulation. This approach treats the anachronistic organizational status quo as irrelevant and unchangeable. The possibility that command structures, organization for combat and human understanding could be at least if not more decisive is not even considered.

It’s the victory of what Don Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired) attributes to the destructive impact of Frederick Taylor’s industrial age model. Those who dismiss criticality of how we organize our forces and equipment, how we train and educate to fight miss the point that organization in particular reflects cultural patterns that shape thinking and behavior or how we interact with the technology of war and events in action, (an argument Delbrueck made). Ultimately, organization tells you how we think about warfare. If the organizational paradigm never changes, it tells you the thinking, policies and culture have not changed either.

These points notwithstanding, change is not always possible. In 1973, the Egyptian Army’s rigid, top-heavy command structure stifled fresh ideas, tactical flexibility, and honest communication from lower levels. After successfully crossing the Suez in a carefully planned and well-rehearsed operation this military culture contributed decisively to Egypt’s defeat at the hands of the Israel Defense Force. However, in practice, Egypt’s leaders knew Arab culture demanded that every action be scripted from the top down to the individual soldier. The point is: Egyptian national military and political leadership had little choice in the matters of organization, leadership and tactics, let alone operational art. What they did was all that they could do.

A similar dilemma confronted the Soviet military leadership during WW II. The Stavka had to organize and move tens of millions of illiterate, and largely unwilling Slavic and Mongol-Turkic soldiers into battle against a highly educated, competently led German Army. (Ivan’s War is a recent work informed by the NKVD archives now closed, and worth reading on this point). As I was told during an official visit to the Russian General Staff Academy in November 2001, unavoidable tactical rigidity together with the brutal subjugation of millions who did not want to defend Stalin’s Russia produced at least 40 million Soviet dead, twice what the Soviets publicly admitted, but the communists were always great liars.

By: Brant

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