Is the Profession of Arms Decaying?

From the new

The Profession of Arms is decaying (weakening or fraying – as opposed to a relative decline), and the primary causes are neglect, anti-intellectual bias, and a creeping, cancerous bureaucracy.  Permit me to explain, to diagnose the patient’s condition, in order to arrive at a common understanding of the illness.  Let’s begin with the Profession of Arms: this is society’s armed wing, principally charged with guarding the safety and interests of that society.  In some way, every political entity must use force or at least threaten to use force for it to survive in the international system. The members of the Profession of Arms are the custodians of the specific military knowledge that enables national survival.  As Don Snider has put it, these commissioned members have one critical function, which is to successfully provide “the repetitive exercise of discretionary judgment[s]…of high moral content.”  In essence this is military judgment, which today is decaying and being compromised through apathy, disregard for intellect, and a mammoth bureaucracy. 

Read the whole thing.

I tend to quibble with the argument that the Army is anti-intellectual. The Army places a huge emphasis on education and professional military education through its school system. Every career officer is expected to both attend graduate level military specific courses, and earn a Masters Degree. But the argument that many officers don’t devote enough thought to the subject of military history, strategy, world affairs and similar topics is likely quite true.

As for bureaucracy, I think his argument is far more valid. The stunning amount of time officers devote to issues not directly related to warfighting is appalling. Some level of bureaucracy is needed, of course, to form an organization instead of a mob. But the ossification caused by so much organization stifles creativity and initiative.

What does a “charlatan” in military clothing look like?  Consider, for example, this Pentagon doctrine gem, written in 2004 and unearthed by historian Brian Linn in his excellent book The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War (p. 3): “Joint Adaptive Expeditionary Warfare requires capabilities organized cross-enterprise, adapting dynamically to uncertainty and turbulence in a multi-dimensional, nonlinear, competitive environment.”  It’s fair to assume that you just read that statement three or four times, to really take in the enormity of its absurdity.  It may be that the lead author was engaged in the world’s lamest drinking game, or a new form of Scrabble, but clearly such writing is distracting at best – “charlatanesqe” at worst.

That underlined bit bit in the middle is one of my pet peeves, needlessly obtuse jargon. Jargon isn’t inherently evil. Every profession uses its own specialized vocabulary to quickly and accurately share information specific to that profession. But that wordsalad up there shares no information, quickly or otherwise. It reads like the author received a bad business thesaurus for Christmas.

Seemingly every time the Army (or any other service) makes even the most minor change to doctrine, the authors toss out virtually all the previously used terminology in favor of new buzzwords, every more disconnected from plain English, and more and more an exercise in trying to distance the words of warfare from the reality of war.

In Rules of Combat, the side with the simplest uniform wins can reasonably be interpreted to cover “the side with the simplest writing or doctrine wins.”



13 responses to “Is the Profession of Arms Decaying?

  1. Richard M Nixon (Deceased)

    Reblogged this on Dead Citizen's Rights Society.


  2. Pingback: The Old Dog Barks » Better Writers Than I!

  3. NaCly Dog

    The author has some valid concerns. Imagine our current leadership fighting WWII.

    Political leadership can kneecap the best tactical and strategic thinkers. Selecting for pliant, political senior officers can also set up failure at the sharp end of the military. Focusing on diversity and non-military training at the expense of well-maintained and well-trained fighting units is a real risk. Plus, with the degredation of our military construction industry, replacing losses would take a very long time. Time is also needed to weed out poor war-fighters.

    We have to assume that the USN, JMSDF, ROKN, ROCN, and RAN simultaneously have a precipitous decay in their practice of the profession of Arms. And that there are not areas of tactical expertise to overcome poor senior leadership. So this may not hurt the West as deeply with a near-peer competitor like China. China may believe their own press clippings, and have similar or worse failings.

    The West has a predominance in platforms and strategic space. In battle, tonnage does matter. Unconventional attacks may succeed, however. Are we too wedded to GPS and other space-based systems? Going back to sextants and HF radio is reaching too far into the past for today’s warriors. We should train for such eventualities.

    Given the stovepiping of the USN, aviators and submariners are a bit more insulated from degradation that the surface community, if only because they operate in a more unforgiving environment. And a distant blockade is easy to set up outside the range of Chinese missles.

    I will also assume that the USAF has a few surviving warriors, doesn’t loose everything on Guam, and has planners smarter than the Linebacker II planners. Long range cruise missles can help a lot.

    The final assumption is no nuclear exchanges.

    Just being good enough for deterrence, and affecting the mind of the opposing ruler is a big help in big power wars only hypothetical.
    So we’re good. No worries, mate.


  4. ultimaratioregis

    Consider this: At the tactical level of warfare, the blocking and tackling if you will, we have little emphasis on learning our craft. When was the last time an effective battle study was done by anybody? Could a group of battalion officers speak intelligently about the respective courses of action and provide analysis of decision-making at St Privat, or Singapore, or Blenheim or Van Tuong (Starlite)?

    The Wehrmacht, even in the late days of the war, had the tactical ability to form ad hoc Kampfgruppe with infantry, armor, and artillery units who had never worked together before, make decisions on maneuver and FS coordination measures, and conduct successful complex operations as a matter of course. This included issuing orders in stride, often at night, and in contact with the enemy. Roll that one around in your head.


    • I think we are placing too much of an emphasis on technology. Technology is very important, but the basics can not be neglected because technology can let you down.

      One example is GPS. I have been told the Navy does not teach celestial navigation anymore. If true, this is asking for trouble. We have placed our eggs in the GPS basket, taken down Omega and LORAN, so if GPS goes down, the Navy is screwed, not to mention a good number of our basic munitions which are lost as well. And, GPS is vulnerable and will, in my opinion, be one of the first things taken out by a near peer opponent. China is the most likely, and they have already demonstrated an ASat capability. The ephemerides are easily available and the technical aspects of interception is, therefore, merely a mathematical problem once you have the weapons to do the job.

      Ironically, The Coast Guard still requires celestial navigation training for Merchant Officers.

      The German system required mental flexibility and selected for it. Their training system was hard and for many began with secondary school years. Guderian is a good example. While we theoretically train for such as well, the bureaucratic system in the services does all it can to squeeze that out of an officer. While things improved during the Reagan years, it was a mere interruption of the post-Vietnam deterioration in the military. Bush set the direction for the continued deterioration with the restarting of social engineering in the services, accelerated by Clinton, and Obama. Bush II was an interregnum and he did nothing to fix any of the problems he inherited.

      I don’t know about the Army, but the Air Force accepts an MBA for the Master’s requirement. I think the Master’s requirement is idiotic, and accepting an MBA even more so. Getting a Master’s in the C&GS College or one of the War Colleges makes great sense, but an MBA is one of the most worthless degrees one can get for military service. The business environment is utterly foreign to the services.


    • ultimaratioregis

      I would consider the US Army of 1944 to have done superbly in a crash course in learning the craft of war. Massive advantages in firepower and air power didn’t hurt.

      But more than just the waxing and waning of readiness is a dissolution of the focus on the important skill sets. The phrase “amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics” makes the very large assumption that tactics have been MASTERED and ingrained, and therefore are not items that require outsized emphasis. Everyone had a common understanding of what to do, and at the battalion level and below certainly, how to do it.

      Absent that understanding and ingrained mastery, EVERYbody will have to talk tactics. Wars are lost that way, and technological advantages squandered along the way.


    • NaCly Dog

      URR, point taken. One item underpinning the Wehrmacht was the length of NCO training. Even into 1944, the NCOs were given extensive training. Yes, the officers had very good training, with robust operational doctrine. The Wehrmacht officers also had an ethos of strong and deep people management skills at the company level. But the NCOs made it all work.

      I always felt that the US Marines of WWII could take on the Wehrmact and win. The US Army of 1944, with plenty more flaws than the Marines, did win against the Wehrmacht. Part of it was our excellence in using artillery, and our abundent supplies and equipment. I’d take our approach over the Soviet Red Army one. They smashed all Nazi forces with overwhelming force and a willingness to take massive casualties.

      My focus was on Navies. In my experience, admittedly from back in the day, the JMSDF rivals the UK RN for operational excellence at all levels. The USN aviators and submariners, using our spaceborne communications, intel and GPS are our key forces for war winning.

      We are returning to the curse of democratic militaries. Readiness for conflict waxes and wanes a great deal. Traditionally, this means democratic militaries lose the first few battles in a war. After poor doctrine, bad leaders, and outmoded platforms are replaced, the democratic military gains power until reaching a maximum at the war-winning moment.

      Then budgets are cut, garrison rules reappear, national leaders neglect the military, and the decay escalates. Until the next war.


  5. Esli

    In a word: yes. If I was on my computer, I would expound…. too much to say for tapping out one letter at a time, while contending with auto-correct.


  6. timactual

    The military may put great emphasis on education, but education does not make an intellectual, or even confer competence in the field of the education. For most officers, an advanced degree is a waste of time and money. Sorry, but being a competent, or even great, military leader is not a matter of great intelligence or intellectual attainment.

    This is not a new problem, nor did the rot start AFTER Vietnam. I can remember reading an official US Army handbook on enemy forces written in 1942 that talked about German rigidity and inability to improvise due to their totalitarian society. As opposed, of course, to the US soldier’s native ability to improvise and think for himself (which seems to have been used to justify the lack of battle drills, etc.) due to his having been raised in an open, Democratic society. Much the same has been written about the US vs. Russia/China.


    • ” I can remember reading an official US Army handbook on enemy forces written in 1942 that talked about German rigidity and inability to improvise due to their totalitarian society.” Then the U.S. Army woke up and met the Germans.

      I can remember some saying the Japs were nothing but a bunch of far eastern rubes that simply copied everything. Had that been the case, they would not have run wild up until Midway, and even for awhile after it was hammer and tongs.

      The Germans were very good improvisers, and it showed by what they accomplished with few resources. Ad hoc groups were often thrown together and worked well with little experience with each other. Hitler, on the other hand, like so many amateurs, was rigid and, in the end, cost Germany the war. Guderian was within site of Moscow and Stalin had said he wasn’t leaving. Hitler did not allow Guderian his head. If he had, he could have paraded Stalin through Berlin in chains in a good old fashioned Roman Triumph.

      Instead, Hitler was a legend in his own mind and wouldn’t listen to anyone else.


  7. Esli

    From my perspective, many of our mid-grade officers, certainly majors and below, while not on-board with the “political” kool-aide are utterly lacking in the science of their craft. Particularly in the sphere of maneuver warfare. Now our LT population has largely not deployed into a COIN / stability environment, and also serve under CPTs that did deploy but are unable to train their LTs to maneuver. Sadly, after 19 months in my Bn I am still the repository of maneuver knowledge, due to high officer turnover and an NCO corps that has been promoted rapidly and has essentially no memory of pre-war maneuver warfare either. On top of that, the junior officers lack writing skills, investigatory skills, and in many cases, simple intestinal fortitude. We are not getting to the field nearly enough to keep proficient. As a LT and CPT, I spent 100-150 days a year in the field, training with focused individuals that knew their job. Now, we are lucky to get even half of that in the field, and the team has been training for a different game for the last ten years. I am about to spend a week training JOs in JO business in a classroom so that, in MAR, we can get out to the field and they can train on basics that the Basic Officer Leader’s Courses should have taught them. Over and above lacking skills and experience in maneuver, most of them also fail to understand simple army garrison systems such as maintenance, supply discipline, etc. Frustrating sometimes, even though I should point out that I really do have some good ones, too.


    • NaCly Dog

      Col Esli, Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to elaborate. We seem to have some problems getting time for relevant training and practice. For all the attention to getting what works from combat recorded, it seems we are already in a garrison, non-combat mindset.

      Looking for that pony under the pile, I would note that our potential advesaries have their own problems, most likely greater than our own. And we do have good people with experience in the right spots. Most of the rest are under-trained, a fixable condition. When challenged, the US Army, Marine Corps, Navy and even Air Force have done amazing things in the last 10 years.

      My saying, going back to my early service years, was “Even in the most elite outfit there is a finite amount ot stupidity. The 10% who never get the word will be with us always. But the other 90% can succeed at amazing the world.

      Think of taking a small corps up one supply line and defeating an entire military, overthrowing their government. With outnumbered forces and no tactical or strategic surprise. Iraq was not your grandfathers Market Garden.


  8. timactual

    .” Iraq was not your grandfathers Market Garden.”

    Just to keep things in perspective, Iraq was not Germany, either.