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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Viet-nam War Revisited

Over at The Wall Street Journal is a book review written by Max Boot, on a new book on the Viet-nam War and General William Westmoreland, Westmoreland:  The General Who Lost Viet-nam, by author Lewis Sorley.

I haven't read the book.  I have read the review and then about a dozen EMails commenting on the review.

My take is that General Westmoreland didn't do it alone.  He had help.  But, he was a major player.

That said, there is always a tension in our nation—and it is a good and healthy tension—between our civilian and military leadership about how to run a war.  At the end of the day it is the civilian leadership that is responsible for a loss, but sometimes they are helped by the military, as with Viet-nam.  The flip side is that our military wins our wars, but they do it with the help of the civilian leadership, who sometimes even help by firing generals and admirals.  It is a terrible system, but when properly applied it works for us.

Regards  —  Cliff


Anonymous said...

While I don't disagree with your posit, I think ultimately it is too simplistic. Yes, the civilians manage the wars and the generals run them, and if by a bad stroke of luck you get two idiots paired up, you have a real mess on your hands. LBJ performed the role of Target Selection and what is now known as the JPTL emanated from the Oval Office. That was what HE cared about. Westy on the other hand was content with big unit board moves. As history now reveals, both were acting with their heads in the sand.

Making the problem more acute is IMHO how we "train" our senior officers. The way astray begins when they are still Lieutenants and learn that forgiveness of sins is not military policy and that they are simply food for the senior cadre. For those who survive the journey to Colonel, life becomes decidedly more pleasant....until they are selected for BG.....and then they are quite literally thrust back into the role of the noon meal. I have been told privately by several general officers that as a one button, they were hand maidens for the 2 button who was fully engaged in trying valiantly to not be perceived as a screw up and therefore, ineligible for the third twinky. Achieving the lofty, nosebleed level of 4 woo woos requires an amalgam of defensive action (elimination of competition), political acumen, deft personal staff selection/retention, and last...and I think maybe least....technical competence.

Thus, the few who achieve the stratospheric rank of General become a distillation of the bruises and scars gained along the way to the top. A few, like the hero in Once an Eagle, retain full integrity and are true leaders, while, sadly, many if not most become American Caesars in charge of their realm, infallible and absolute in their rule. Subordinates might challenge their pronouncements, but most will demure...fearful for their own careers and climb to their hoped for pinnacle.

I have often mused about how many 3 or 4 stars would have achieved that rank had it been up to the enlisted men who were called to die for them. I think that the list shrinks rapidly to only a handful.....true leaders.

C R Krieger said...

I think there is some truth to what you say—well a good measure of truth.  My line has been that you make colonel on what you know and general on who you know.  But, I also tempered it by reflecting that I might just be bitter.

I am told they take the baby one-stars in and tell them that anyone else that went before the final board would have been just as good as they are.  And, don't call us about assignments.  We will call you.

It is interesting that the US Army is introducing 360 degree evaluations for its officers.  Once every three years.  The Army has adopted the term "Toxic Leaders" and is trying to root them out.

Regards  —  Cliff