Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Generals by Thomas Ricks

Interesting book. Mr. Ricks, with fairly good credentials to do so, studies American Generals since the Korean War. He compares their successes and failures to his opinion of what General George Marshall would have done in similar circumstances. He then proceeds to extrapolate why our military forces win, and why they lose. I don't agree with several of Mr. Ricks conclusions. He blames the declining quality of 'generalship' has resulted in lost wars. Isn't that an over simplification? 

Ricks contends that from the Korean war forward America's ability to counter a military threat has become dangerously inept. He points to war with  Korea, Viet Nam, and Iraq and judges each as a failure. Ricks has determined that the losses are the result of poor leadership. Or is that just one of several reasons? He does make a good argument that failing to remove weak and unsuccessful general officers is the overwhelming cause. General George Marshall set the standard back in WWII. Since then our  political and military establishment has failed to remove unsuccessful general officers fast enough. Instead, in combat situations particularly, it became normal to leave a failing officer to continue for months or (even years).  And this is the real problem: 

On removal, general officers have often been promoted, received a pay raise, and a transfer to a prestigious (non-combat) responsibility. 

This systemic change has resulted in the United States having a combat leadership of mediocre general officers who produce unsuccessful results.  Not applying stiff negative
consequences for failure has produced a steadily less effective leadership.                       

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