Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Where the Hell are all the Smart Guys going?

The U.S. Army is in a jam. Not the good kind that is sticky and fun to smear on toast or significant others.

No, it is suffering from a wound. That wound isn't Iraq. Iraq was the bullet that hit the body. No, it is bleeding intelligence out like a 21st Level Paladin does on his first date with the Prom Queen.

Over the past year, many of the intellectual elite of the U.S. Army have been quietly leaving, finding fresher fields in the DC defense establishment, in government service, and in the Think Tanks. Where money flows freely, where human beings work normal days, and where people only shoot at you if you "give them lip" or are hunting with the VP.

The opening began when Colonel H.R. McMaster, the spearpoint of officership for his generation (men and women who became officers in the mid-years of the Reagan Administration, who served as lieutenants and captains in Panama and Desert Storm, as majors in the Balkans, and as warplanners and battalion commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq), was passed over for Brigadier General.

So what, you say.

McMaster's first, and then second, bypassing for the coveted star of a general was a sign and a warning from the Organization Men who run the military. "Don't color outside the lines." "Don't be too famous, or smart, or original, or too ANYTHING." "It is ok to think outside the box (insert small box here) but not outside the box around the box."

Suddenly, when McMaster, holder of the Silver Star for his decisive leadership at the Battle of 73 Easting in 1991, bestselling historian for his Dereliction of Duty (the best single work on the failure of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to fulfill their duty by stopping the esculation of the Vietnam War), and one of the most highly respected officers (by his men and his peers) in uniform, was passed over for promotion, a chill spread throughout the intellectual core of the U.S. Army.

If McMaster was shunned, what hope is there for me?

The answer is that there was no hope. The Organization Men had won. Officers who sold the company product, who towed the company barge, who mindlessly repeated the company line, would be rewarded. Those who could do 100 pushups in 2 minutes...those were officers who should be generals! Graduate degrees? Boy, you tryin' to git smart on us? We'uns don't cotton to no brain-ifying in this here Army.

I walked. I walked in at 18, a day before I graduated high school in rural Arkansas. I wanted to "shoot guns and jump out of airplanes." And I walked out at 43. Private to Lieutenant Colonel. The Army was good to me, I had no complaints.

But there was a limit. McMaster found it. Others discovered it as well. As did I.


Admin said...

Pic looks like some deserter from the Barbary Pirates.

Just sayin. Good luck with it.

-- Miracle Max

Spencer Ackerman said...

Too Hot For DOD.

Chris said...

Welcome to the interwebs.

I gotta stupid question that's been bugging me for a couple of years: Can sane folks who've left the military return, say in 2009? Or are we stuck with dead-enders from the Bush years? I suppose the President and Congress can do anything they want, but how precedented or unprecedented is that? What's the best-case scenario for fixing the defense establishment? Thanks.

Pierce said...

On the one hand, the military has never been the friendliest place for intellectuals to be, and even in better times the Organization Men usually find ways to appear to be competent leaders, when that's what's required of them.
On the other, what exactly did you expect from a Geo. W. Bush administration? The man and many of his underlings nearly drip derision of intelligence, intellectualism, science, independence, etc. Their priorities are loyalty to the president, adherence to today's talking points (we have always been at war with Eurasia) and an absolute refusal to admit that the administration can err.

Also, great first post, and I hope to see many more. There can't be enough smart, articulate Arkansawyers in the blogosphere, says I.

Donna McMaster said...

sorry to hear about HR ... been following his career and not just because I'm a McMaster (no known connection) ... he has struck me as remarkably sensible and open-minded in his approach to the challenges in Iraq ... thanks for sharing and hope we'll see more from you in the future

LT Nixon said...

I'm getting out because we do so much in the military that looks good on paper (e.g. sexual harrassment training powerpoints), but in reality is a complete waste of time and money, and makes people's lives miserable in its implementation. That and I want to grow my hair up like some hippie.

Robert Mackey said...

Thanks all for the comments.
@chris: Nope. Once out, always out. Except if they need you back. Had a whole slew of retired military types who were reactivated after 9/11. Like anything else, you don't get that money for free--there are strings attached.

Robert Mackey said...

@lt nixon: Brother, you said it. People in the military know almost nothing of international relations, politics or even military history. But we can brief the fuck out of EEO, "bad touch," and other CYA charts. And the sad part is, it isn't about protecting anyone's rights or protecting them from harrassment. It is about covering your ass.

"We are all safety officers"
"We are all range officers"
"Practice safe sex, don't drink and drive, swim with a buddy" (as to the last, I've always wondered if it was physically possible to do all three at once, but I digress).

Robert Mackey said...

@max: Arrggh!

Honestly, the uniform came from Algeria/Morocco; the French stole the idea in the 1830's and was borrowed by the Americans in the 1850's-60's.

Robert Mackey said...

@pierce: whooo doggie! ;)
Thanks for the comment(s). I figure a few hillbillies around to mess up this fancy Internetes makes it a might less elitist.

Brandon Friedman said...

It doesn't bother me so much that the smart guys are leaving. That's pretty natural given the circumstances. What bothers me is all the smart guys leaving the Army who don't speak out. That drives me insane. I feel like guys who leave the Army out of frustration have a responsibility to say something--on a blog, in an op-ed, to a reporter, to your Congressperson, or anywhere. Like a public AAR. Otherwise nothing is ever going to change.

Most of the JMOs I know who've gotten out (many of whom are COIN experts) just go to law school or business school and don't say a word publicly about why they left.

Nice blog, btw. I, too, found it through the Attackerman.