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e_moon60

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Military Discipline [Jun. 23rd, 2010|01:49 pm]
e_moon60
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There's a good Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by Stanley A. Cohen about why Gen. McChrystal needed to be removed

From my perspective as a former junior officer in the Marine Corps, and my husband's experience as a former junior officer in the Army (including, in his case, service with the 101st Airborne in 'Nam),  I have a few things to add to Cohen's analysis.  The difference between a military unit and a bunch of armed thugs who happen to be wearing similar clothing is discipline.  That discipline includes--has always included--standards of behavior towards both superiors and subordinates.   We were taught in OCS and Basic School--and it became obvious later on various assignments--that the higher the rank, the more need to maintain those standards of behavior, including military courtesy.  

When a senior (whether NCO or officer) does not adhere to those standards, the effect on the unit is swift and dire.  Standards fall not only in the specific area where the leader failed, but in other areas as well.  Disrespect of seniors goes right down the chain of command--and spread sidewise to disrespect of other regulations.  Leaders must model correct conduct...period.  Correct conduct in danger, certainly, but there are other dangers than lead in the air.   When personal feelings and opinions are allowed to subvert standards of behavior, the ability of that unit to function--both within itself and in cooperation with other units--suffers.  

Whether in time or war or in peace, military personnel are largely young, high-spirited (or they wouldn't be there) and motivated to action, not reflection.   They are not, as someone once said, "choir-boys" (or girls)  and when you add to their innate characteristics training that makes them mission-oriented, and weaponry that makes them lethal, you have created either the best protectors of the civilian population--or the worst danger to it, as well as a potential danger to one another.  Discipline, including military courtesy, is all that stands between a functioning military obeying lawful orders and chaos.  This is precisely why standards exist, and why it is so important for seniors to model correct behavior for juniors.  .

It is clear that Gen.  McChrystal's own disregard of standards affected his staff, and that this (inevitably) affected how that staff interacted with those other civilian and military organizations it was tasked to work with.  Whatever the deficiencies of the other people involved, his behavior, and the attitudes and behavior he tolerated in his staff, made things worse.  His lapses of judgment have not been minor, but serious.  Different forms of lax discipline create slightly different cascades of bad behavior, but they all end in chaos.  It is unfortunate that at some earlier point in Gen. McChrystal's career, his gaps in understanding were not addressed by a commander, but given his age and the state of the military post-'Nam, I have some pretty clear ideas how it slipped by.  The post-Nam decades were a time of intense politicization of the military (something already beginning during 'Nam, but moving much faster after the change to an all-volunteer force.)   He probably had commanders who felt perfectly comfortable openly criticizing seniors, including the President, and learned from them that such criticism gained approval with peers and immediate seniors.  It's a hard lesson to unlearn.   A naturally aggressive personality coupled with great intellectual gifts and an innate talent for military science would be the last to understand the need and develop judgment.  In an ideal world, people with his talent and his weakness would be caught somewhere in field grade and would not be promoted to flag rank without  some serious work on their attitude (command and staff college is supposed to accomplish some of this.)   If he could not be trusted to show the judgment a commanding general needs, he could have been diverted to some post in which his talents could be used and his weakness avoided.

And now his lack of judgment--which has spread to his staff--has influenced and damaged his subordinates, and will no doubt affect the ability of his former command to adjust to, and perform well under, a new commander.  One can hope (but does not expect, given his personality as demonstrated thus far) that he would admit his errors and take the time to understand what in himself led to them.   Such individuals find self-examination hard--but if he could bring himself, or some friend could bring him, to the right sources of counseling, he might be able to grow into someone still of great use this country.  Only more harm could come from leaving him in command now.      


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From: 6_penny
2010-06-23 06:58 pm (UTC)
I posed a question to a formerly military friend as to the probable reaction of the general (or any general) if a Colonel had made similar remarks about him.
Answer - out so fast you wouldn't have seen the officer move.
I also wonder how Chaney say would have reacted of similar remarks had been made about him that were made about Vice President Biden?
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-06-23 07:08 pm (UTC)
Cheney has a temper...might have been interesting. But the political setup was such that generals weren't sniping at Cheney. They damn well should have been, on the issue of torture, but they'd been pruned for political views in the preceding decades.
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[User Picture]From: wcg
2010-06-23 07:05 pm (UTC)
I figured Gates was going to request McChrystal's resignation if Obama didn't. Gates has no patience with that kind of crap.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-06-23 07:10 pm (UTC)
Needed to come from the top, as it did, though I also see an alternate line of reasoning that such things aren't even worth CINC's attention--you just remove the bur from the saddle blanket quietly.

I understand that he's brilliant and talented and all that, but a loose cannon is a loose cannon and they damage more than themselves.
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[User Picture]From: jon_d_r
2010-06-23 07:24 pm (UTC)
Well said. Also the WSJ article. The original Rolling Stone article astounded me. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/17390/119236

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[User Picture]From: jon_d_r
2010-06-23 09:07 pm (UTC)
Uniform Code of Military Justice; Article 88:

"Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."

He was lucky simply to have been asked to be relieved of duty.
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[User Picture]From: ladymurmur
2010-06-23 07:26 pm (UTC)
You may disagree privately, but publicly you support the chain of command. Never undermine the authority of the command structure.

Really, it is no different from a corporate setting - can you imagine what would happen if an executive VP went around saying such things about the Board of Directors?
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-06-23 07:48 pm (UTC)
My husband, then a 2Lt, corrected a three star General at a public briefing. His C.O. explained the hierarchy (and consequences) afterward; my husband did not make the same mistake again. Excellent life lesson and one which has stayed with him.

Sari
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[User Picture]From: martianmooncrab
2010-06-23 07:46 pm (UTC)
I once had my niece in law question why the military would support a certain President, and I looked at her and quoted the oath of enlistment to her. First and foremost, it states to defend and uphold the Constitution, not an individual by name.
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[User Picture]From: cmdr_zoom
2010-06-23 08:02 pm (UTC)
"Salute the rank, not the man."
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[User Picture]From: hugh_mannity
2010-06-23 08:07 pm (UTC)
Public criticism of one's boss is what they call a "career-limiting move". Civilian or military, one keeps one's opinions on some things to oneself.
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[User Picture]From: rwglaub
2010-06-23 09:27 pm (UTC)
I'm old enough to remember the relief of Edwin Walker for much different reasons. He was a fine combat command, but when in command of the 24th Infantry Division in Germany in 1962 he revealed himself to be a racist extreme right-winger. He set up an indoctrination program for his troops in right-wing ideology and tried to influence them to vote for ultra-right-wing candidates in the 1962 elections. He resigned from the Army when relieved, and led racists in a riot against James Meredith's admission at the University of Mississippi, where he was arrested for sedition and insurrection. The charges were later dropped.

In the seventies he was arrested twice for making homosexual advances to men at the Dallas Airport.
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[User Picture]From: jon_d_r
2010-06-24 05:54 am (UTC)
What is it with right-wing zealots that so often leads them into these compromising positions? Nowadays, the more they emphasize some aspect of their agenda, the less likely I am to believe that they, themselves, actually subscribe to that tenet.
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[User Picture]From: mecurtin
2010-06-23 09:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for writing this. FYI, I have quoted you in the comments of Marc Ambinder's post at The Atlantic.
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[User Picture]From: ann_mcn
2010-06-23 10:25 pm (UTC)
I'm on page 4 now of the Rolling Stone article, and it repeatedly says that the General had learned exactly how to game the system back at West Point, that he knew just how far to be a bad boy without getting into serious trouble.

He reminds me more and more of Colonel Flagg, in MASH. Everyone says McChrystal is brilliant, but he sounds like an action movie hero in his own mind.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-06-24 01:26 pm (UTC)
"Brilliant" and "narcissist viewing himself as smarter, tougher, braver, etc. than others" are not mutually exclusive.

I've already heard "But he's a smart man; he wouldn't have done this unless he had a plan..." Maybe. But brilliant (in IQ terms) and talented (in some field or other) people who are also immature and self-centered do make exactly the kinds of mistakes he made. Maybe he had a plan; maybe he just had such arrogance that he thought he was above discipline and no one would dare slap him down.

Charismatic and brilliant men of this type are extremely dangerous. Their strong personalities attract followers; they can't stand restraint or opposition; they will rise quickly in organizations that prize their undeniable talents, but will run into trouble when expected to cooperate with others and compromise their ideas to find solutions that work for everyone. They are drawn to situations where they alone are in charge, or where they can overwhelm opposition.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-06-24 05:05 am (UTC)
Be my guest.
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[User Picture]From: masgramondou
2010-06-24 05:57 am (UTC)
Interesting to note that one of McChrystal's senior underlings - Canadian Gen Menard was relieved of his command recently for having an affair with a subordinate (Oh and he also accidentally fired his rifle while exiting(?) a helicopter).

I suspect that if McC had been more fir for command himself he wouldn't have tolerated Menard's behaviour which must have been pretty sloppy for a while.
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[User Picture]From: matociquala
2010-06-24 02:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this post.
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[User Picture]From: autopope
2010-06-24 02:36 pm (UTC)
Let me echo that.
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[User Picture]From: jonquil
2010-06-24 02:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this post.
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[User Picture]From: birdhousefrog
2010-06-24 03:10 pm (UTC)
Ex-military officer's wife. I had this discussion with my husband just last night. Inappropriate behavior that had to be addressed. This is a great writeup and some great comments on the thread.

Oz
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[User Picture]From: dr_phil_physics
2010-06-24 04:35 pm (UTC)
Excellent post and comments. You might be interested in my friend Retired Navy Chief Warrant Officer Jim Wright's take on this -- as usual, he shoots straight and doesn't pull punches.

Dr. Phil
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-06-24 05:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link--yup, right down the line.

I do think it's worth a look into our education path for officers, esp. in the O-3 through O-5 section. Bold, eager, hotshot loudmouth juniors can be easily reamed out when it's called for, but if they're very capable, and fairly charismatic, they may slide through. A mistake of their COs, but mistakes happen, and it can be hard to savage a likeable, hardworking, intelligent, bold young officer who keeps pushing the limits. However, if they last past O-3, and look like having a future, they need (and we need) a careful look for flaws less obvious in juniors because the skillset isn't called on. Not many juniors are called on to work with high-level and multi-national civilians where they have substantial power.

I like to think (I could be mistaken) that early intervention works on more than autistic toddlers, and recognition of a problem and intervention could then prevent this and similar unfortunate events...or, if the junior proved impossible to retrain, that officer could be shunted into tasks where a high level of behavioral skills wasn't called on. People with character flaws do get into the military and sometimes aren't recognized for years. (A recent example from Fort Hood being the Army psychiatrist now in a nearby jail...another being that idiot woman in the Air Force, some years back, who not only started an affair with a married man, but lied about having ended it, apparently thinking lust conquers all. Not the UCMJ it doesn't.) For the good of the service, and the country, it's important to recognize when a simple mistake is symptomatic of a deeper flaw.




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