The Uniformed Intellectual And His Place in American Arms Part II
Part II: The Effects of Anti-intellectualism On the Army Profession Today
The article titled “The Uniformed Intellectual and His Place in American Arms” in the July issue was the first in a twopart series addressing the origins and persistency of anti-intellectualism within the Army. In the present article, which concludes the series, we examine today’s muddy-boots syndrome and discuss ways it might be moderated in order to arrest the Army profession’s intellectual decline.
We now return to the question broached in Part I concerning whether in the information-worshipping age of today, anti-intellectualism in our military has at last made its grudging exit. The answer, sadly, is no—overt manifestations of anti-intellectualism still come right out and slap us in the face. One of my favorite examples appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph a few years back:
After a recent afternoon in the Pentagon’s super-secret chamber called “the tank,” Gen. Alfred M. Gray, the … commandant of the Marine Corps, complained about “too many intellectuals” at the top of the armed services. Naming no names, the 59-year-old Marine general said that what is needed is not intellectuals but “oldfashioned gunslingers” who like a good fight and don’t spend their time with politicians.
This sort of reflexive, unmeditated bashing of intellectuals fits perfectly into the traditional pattern of attitudes traced so exhaustively by Richard Hofstadter in his book Anti-intellectualism in American Life, mentioned in Part I. Such bashing is unbecoming, just as it would be to slur any group of citizens on the basis of ignorant stereotyping. I say “ignorant” in reference to the quotation above because the familiar sentiments expressed there again assume that an intellectual soldier can’t fight and lead. As we saw at length earlier, nothing could be more wrong.
There are other examples of contemporary anti-intellectualism. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf in his post-Gulf War autobiography It Doesn’t Take a Hero (1992) casts in a condescending light the fact that his predecessor in brigade command “was an ex-White
House fellow [and] a prolific contributor to military journals.” Gen. Schwarzkopf will doubtless march into the history books as one of the ablest senior combat commanders this nation has ever produced—certainly he’ll get my vote—and it is thus disappointing to read his assessment of a colleague that gives voice and weight to anti-intellectual considerations.
An irony here is that Gen. Schwarzkopf, despite his public image as the quintessential muddy-boots soldier, is a man of no inconsiderable intellectual, philosophical and cultural accomplishments himself. He is fluent in French and German. His musical tastes run from folk to opera. He is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. He earned a master’s degree in guided missile engineering at the University of Southern California and followed it with a teaching tour in the Department of Mechanics at West Point. While earning his degree at Southern Cal, he moonlighted by teaching calculus and basic engineering at
Northrop Institute and accounting at South Bay Women’s College. Classmates at West Point often referred to him as “Einstein.”
To the extent that raw intelligence may facilitate intellectual accomplishment, Gen. Schwarzkopf is prodigiously well equipped. His IQ, as measured on the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale, has been publicly reported in several sources as 170, which puts him well up into the genius category. In fact, as shown in Catherine Morris Cox’s pioneering study The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses (1926), not a single one of history’s great military leaders for which data could be adduced possessed an IQ remotely rivaling that of Gen. Schwarzkopf. Consider:
Napoleon Bonaparte 135, Robert E. Lee 130, William Tecumseh Sherman 125, George Washington 125, Horatio Nelson 125, David Farragut 120, Hermán Cortés 115, Joachim Murat 115, Nicolas-Jean Soult 115, Ulysses S. Grant 110, Philip Sheridan 110 and Gebhard Blücher 110. While attending the infantry officers’ advanced course at Fort Benning, Ga., then-Capt. Schwarzkopf won the George C. Marshall Award for Excellence in Military Writing. Moreover, his autobiography It Doesn’t Take a Hero, already mentioned, has taken its place as an important addition to the soldier’s professional literature.
This tension between the active and contemplative selves that we observe in Gen. Schwarzkopf is by no means uncommon. Dwight Eisenhower, a crypto-intellectual himself, was as a young officer the victim of a crassly anti-intellectual assault by Maj. Gen. Charles Farnsworth, Chief of Infantry, after Ike had published an article on the promising future of tanks in the November 1920 issue of Infantry Journal: “I was told that my ideas were not only wrong but dangerous and that henceforth I would keep them to myself. Particularly, I was not to publish anything incompatible with solid infantry doctrine. If I did, I would be hauled before a court-martial.” Yet, despite this searing lesson on the primitive smugness of the closed mind, we find Ike himself as President in 1954 pandering to the same type of anti-intellectual mentality that had victimized him 34 years before: “We had so many wisecracking so-called intellectuals going around and showing how wrong everybody was who didn’t happen to agree with them. By the way, [an intellectual is] a man who takes more words than are necessary to tell more than he knows.”
Over 30 years ago, Ward Just wrote, “There has never been a Clausewitz in the American Army because the writing of [On War] took time and serious thought. An Army officer has no time to think, and imaginative reflection is discouraged.” These words could as well have been written today. Col. Douglas Macgregor in 1997 managed to publish a seminal book called Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century, which presciently declared among other things that to escape the curse of irrelevance, the Army must reconfigure its gargantuan divisions into smaller, more agile, rapidly deployable combat groups whose anti-armor capability would derive partially from inclusion of the armored gun system and light armored vehicles. According to an article by Richard Newman in U.S. News & World Report (July 28, 1997), Macgregor’s ideas didn’t sit well with much of the Army brass. But today, five years later, the same brass, prodded originally by civilians within Defense and the Department of the Army, are falling all over themselves in a mad rush to “transform” the Army into something suspiciously resembling the model sketched earlier by Douglas Macgregor, who remains a prophet without honor in his own time.
President George Bush, during a speech to graduating Annapolis midshipmen on May 25, 2001, outlined his vision of a military that rewards imaginative thinking: the President sought “a renewed spirit of innovation in our officer corps” and decried the “old bureaucratic mind-set that frustrates the creativity and entrepreneurship that a 21st century military will need.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, describing on July 22, 2001, the traits of an ideal Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, declared that the person must have “the ability to lead, intellectually as well as personally.” Were the admirals and generals listening? Very possibly they were, because on the same day that the President spoke, the Army released a “brutally self-critical” study on Army officer training and leader development by a 37-member panel convened in June 2000 by Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki. Among the findings, Army officers suffer from stifling micromanagement—a fact long known and broadly acknowledged—and a promotion system driven by bureaucratic needs—also long known and broadly acknowledged.
Let us therefore turn our focus more specifically on the Army’s present promotion and personnel management system because it is here that we discover a form of anti-intellectualism more subtle than that discussed earlier, but no less virulent. This form manifests itself as an overpoweringly pro-muddy boots bias. Briefly stated, the present promotion and advancement system is rigged to favor those who have served the most time with troops. All other factors being equal, advancement to the highest grades goes to those with the most time in the field (with occasional detours to especially selected grooming slots in the Pentagon). This means that officers who spend significant time in mind-expanding positions developing
To put this reality in broader context, consider the more capacious assignment philosophy that governed the careers of the great combat commanders of an earlier day. From the summer of 1875 to the fall of 1876, Emory Upton was sent by the Army on an overseas tour—Japan, China, India, Russia, Europe—to study the world’s major armies.
In Stephen Ambrose’s words, Upton “returned home filled with new ideas and a new purpose.”
Omar Bradley guarded copper mines in Montana during World War I, missing the war completely, and then spent most of the interwar years attending or teaching school. Dwight Eisenhower missed World War I, too. Like George Marshall, he became known as an outstanding staff officer, and served such details as football coach at Fort Benning, Ga., and working for the American Battlefield Monuments Commission. In addition to a steady diet of staff assignments, George Marshall served on a mapping expedition in Texas, held a command in the state of Washington devoted mainly to running Civilian Conservation Corps camps, and toured the Manchurian battlefields of the Russo-Japanese War in a quasi-official status. Matthew Ridgway spent six years at West Point as a French and Spanish instructor, tactical officer, and faculty director of athletics. James Van Fleet spent nearly 13 years in ROTC assignments, including two winning seasons as coach of the University of Florida football team, directed Civilian Conservation Corps camps, and served as a trainer of reserve component forces. J. Lawton Collins, prior to World War II, served as an instructor at Leavenworth and on the faculty of the Army War College. Admiral Raymond Spruance, one of our finest World War II naval commanders, served two tours on the faculty of the Naval War College. We’ve already noted that Maxwell Taylor spent 13 of the interwar years attending school or teaching it. Far from seeing their careers killed or stunted, each of their intellectual skills are pro forma noncompetitive for advancement to the higher rungs.
But such assignments would be career-stoppers today. Theodore Crackel says that “if Clausewitz and Jomini had served in the American military, they would have been counseled to serve no more than a single three-year teaching assignment and to escape sooner if possible.” Similarly, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs David Jones complained that “we’ve never sired a Clausewitz. In our system Clausewitz would probably make full colonel, retire at 20 years, and go to work for a think tank.” I was told recently by department professors at West Point that Pentagon assignment officers are discouraging the best and brightest from accepting West Point’s graduate schoolteaching tour package because they then won’t have time to touch the remaining mandatory career bases. Ralph Peters weighs in with the observation that few of those “who won our wars would have made it in today’s Army of nondescript careerists. Increasingly, our successful officers have identical career paths [and] interchangeable experiences and views of the world.” So what is this magical insight that today’s personnel handlers and promotion boards apparently think they possess that those of Marshall, Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, Ridgway, Van Fleet, Collins and Taylor’s generation lacked?
Col. Michael Cody in a study on selecting and developing the best leaders, conducted while he was a student at the U.S. Army War College in 19992000 and published by the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management, reaches the following disturbing conclusion:
Had George C. Marshall begun his Army career in the late 20th century Army, it is arguable whether he would have survived long enough and risen high enough to develop into perhaps the greatest soldier-statesman who ever donned the uniform. Early on, he demonstrated transcendent skills as a staff officer, and it was essentially these skills that propelled him upward through the ranks to that point in 1939 when he became Army Chief of Staff, only 3 years after gaining his first star. But today’s promotion and assignment system, with its inflexible insistence upon visits to each of several ceremoniously delineated stations of the cross as preconditions for further advancement, would have made it extremely difficult for Marshall to continue to progress in rank while cultivating the broad politico-military competencies that were to equip him uniquely to build America’s World War II Army, organize the allied victory, and conceive the nation’s successful early Cold War strategy.
For today, as earlier noted, time with troops has become the ultimate measure of worthiness for promotion to the highest ranks. Many of today’s generals are thus very good with troops, but, lacking a broader repertoire, they often find it difficult to adapt at the higher staff and ancillary positions. Retired Lt. Gen. Walter Ulmer, our most insightful thinker on contemporary military leadership, put it this way: “Research shows convincingly how strengths that served well to accomplish the tactical tasks of early managerial years can become dysfunctional when individuals move to the strategic level.”
Gen. Ulmer is taking note of the fact that the Army’s system for advancing officers is designed to reward those who extrapolate lower-level command skills rather than those who develop and demonstrate skills fitted to the new duties and responsibilities associated with higher rank. In Col. Cody’s words, “The embedded assumption is that if officers were paragons at lower levels, they will automatically be able to meet the demands of higher levels—no matter how different such demands might be from those encountered earlier.”
But such an assumption flies in the face of theory, experience and common sense. Our World War II sergeants commissioned on the battlefield performed superbly as platoon and company commanders for the most part, but many later began to falter when faced with the more cerebral demands of staff work at battalion level. War is full of examples of brilliant tacticians who were dismal failures at the operational and strategic levels, and of peerless brigade and division commanders who blew it on assuming corps command. Witness Lee’s problems with his corps and division commanders at Gettysburg.
The reasons are clear: as the officer ascends from lower levels of command requiring direct modes of leadership to higher levels of command requiring successively greater applications of indirect leadership, or as he ascends from positions that are purely military in character to those with increasingly political, diplomatic, economic, cultural and legal dimensions, the prerequisite skills, aptitudes, personality traits and experience will change dramatically. The object of the general officer promotion and assignment system should not be simply to select the fastest “gunslingers,” to use Gen. Gray’s colorful term, but rather to achieve the appropriate aptitude mix among its general officer pool so as to be able to fit round-pegged generals in round holes, square-pegged generals in square holes, and fits-any-shape generals in those holes requiring a stalwart fighter capable of reflecting wisely and deeply on how he must adapt in order to win a particular war.
Indeed, a RAND study conducted in 1994 concluded that the pronounced “action bias” among the Army’s top uniformed leaders, resulting in an impoverishment of essential skills in resource allocation, policy development, and programming, was a serious disadvantage to the Army in its competition for budgetary dollars with the other services, which expressly sought leaders with such relevant experience. Ironically, for the overwhelming majority of our senior warriors, their most difficult and important wars will be fought not on the crimson fields of military battle, but rather within the genteel suites of bureaucratic strife.
In a detailed analysis of actual general officer positions conducted by John Masland and Laurence Radway in 1953, it was shown that only about a third of the 500 generals were serving with armies, corps, divisions and brigadelevel commands, that is, with operating units in the field (and this was during the Korean War). The remaining twothirds were scattered among a mixed agglomeration of staff, administrative, technical and training positions. Since that time, the relatively small proportion of generals assigned to field duty has declined even further because, while force structure has been greatly reduced, the number of generals authorized has not been reduced correspondingly.
Moreover, the increased complexity of military missions today, along with increased reliance on information and advanced technology, has tended to place greater reliance on intellectual skills among senior leaders. Those intellectual skills now required among general officers in addition to field competence are reflected mainly under such duty categories as technical, policy, conceptual, doctrinal, educational, humanitarian, planning, futures, strategic, grand strategic and political-military interface. For a general who is contending in these arenas, victory and defeat will have nothing to do with the mud on his boots, but everything to do with the ideas in his head. Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, for example, recapitulated his duties in the early 1990s as follows:
I have trained and established police forces, judiciary committees and judges, and prison systems; I have resettled refugees in massive numbers twice; I’ve negotiated with warlords, tribal leaders, and clan elders; I have distributed food, provided medical assistance, worried about well-baby care, and put in place obstetrical clinics; I’ve run refugee camps, and I’ve managed newspapers and run radio stations to counter misinformation attempts.
It is now commonplace to note that today’s regional combatant commanders, preoccupied as they are with the highest matters of state, more nearly resemble proconsuls than military commanders: “[The regional combatant commander] has plainly become something more than a mere soldier. He straddles the worlds of politics, diplomacy, and military affairs, and moves easily among them.” Sorry, but just being an “old-fashioned gunslinger” isn’t enough.
Today, the Army has 330 general officers, enough to form a small battalion, but with only 10 or 11 division equivalents we don’t need 330 general officer gunslingers. We can never find 330 gunslinger positions for them, meaning they’ll often be slotted where they lack the intellectual horsepower to perform the duties required. The Army will have to assign gunslingers to inappropriate positions because the intellectual officers with high potential for senior command will already have been eliminated under our formulaic promotion system, a system almost theological in its unwavering insistence that every single muddy-boots base be touched.
The intellectual who aspires to apply his competency at high levels of responsibility thus faces an impossible dilemma: on one hand, if he hews to the muddy-boots straight and narrow he can never exercise his intellectual capacities and develop them to the fullest; on the other hand, if he accepts some intellectually developmental assignments along with as many of the familiar operational qualifiers as he can, he will likely be a non-select for battalion and brigade command, meaning he’ll never receive a star. We shouldn’t quarrel with this result on grounds of equity, though certainly that is important, but rather on purely pragmatic grounds: the Army shoots itself in the foot by effectively exclud ing intellectual officers from its highest rungs, thus depriving itself of those equipped to do the Army’s intellectual heavy lifting. Many operators also face a dilemma: to express their professional ambition, they feel constrained to suppress, disguise or ignore their intellectual side. My beef isn’t with ambitious operators—professional ambition can be a healthy, positive force—but rather with the system that forces many such officers to deny their intellectuality as the price of career success.
The present Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki spent two years at Duke University earning his master’s degree, followed by three years at West Point teaching literature and philosophy. It was a marvelously seminal intellectual and cultural experience for him, to which I’m sure he’d be the first to attest. But it is problematic in the extreme whether under the promotion and assignment system that Gen. Shinseki inherited as Chief and which still largely prevails today, similarly talented young captains can successfully risk a five-year detour from the anointed path.
This system is a perfect manifestation of what outsiders have long associated with the so-called “military mind,” the tendency for the military to take a basically sound idea and then press it so literally and woodenly that they eventually arrive at an unwitting reductio ad absurdum. In this case, the Army has taken a laudable principle—getting officers off their duffs, out of their offices and down with troops where they can master their branch skills and learn to operate in the field—and implemented it with such compulsive zeal that those officers now arriving at the top know nothing but the field.
An exaggeration? Yes, but there is no question that the present system has produced a lopsided general officer corps infinitely more comfortable with practice than with reflecting on practice. As a result, this group has turned its thinking over to Pentagon civilians, discardable field grade staffers and outsiders. “We don’t have to think,” they are in effect saying, “we just run things.” Whatever happened to the high premium formerly placed on officer assignment patterns that engender such professional qualifications as balance, roundedness and versatility? We desperately need to alter our robotic assembly line for promotion and assignment. Its cookie-cutter uniformity and rigidity—lacking nuance, discretion and latitude for genuine consideration of all the variable factors that coalesce in producing the enlightened senior leader—continue to work against us.
The virulent effects of the muddy-boots syndrome long afflicting the Army’s senior leadership have now been documented in convincing detail in a landmark study project at West Point directed by Don Snider and Gayle Watkins. Based on investigations conducted by 39 uniformed and civilian experts on various aspects of organizing for land warfare, the results are reported in an anthology titled The Future of the Army Profession published in April 2002 by McGraw-Hill.
In a bare nutshell, this study concludes that despite recent Army successes on the battlefield, the Army profession is rapidly degrading because it is succumbing to bureaucratization and deprofessionalization, and because it is losing in the competitive sweepstakes for legitimacy and control of its core jurisdictions. Dr. James Blackwell, of Science Applications International Corporation, for example, explains, “The Army claims primacy over the use of lethal force in land warfare. It is losing that claim in the current competition for jurisdiction over land warfare largely because its doctrine and doctrine process do not provide sufficient cognitive power in ongoing jurisdictional disputes with rival professions.”
The problem is not a shortage of doctrine, Dr. Blackwell emphasizes, but rather the Army’s inability to supply the theoretical underpinnings for future land warfare founded on a modern general theory of war that is persuasive to the nation’s civilian leaders. In short, he says, “It is time for the institution to reestablish its intellectual curriculum vitae.” Over and over in reading this book, one encounters similar indications that the profession is in disarray because its alpha males are by and large such creatures of operating that they lack the time, interest and capacity even to detect, much less reverse, the profession’s declining intellectual fortunes.
Snider and Watkins here add an apt commentary on whence might come the talent to generate the future military-technical expert knowledge essential for a thriving Army profession—but they are not optimistic:
A very sobering theme centered on the questions of whether Army officers were cleaving into two types, perceived as either “thinkers” or “doers,” and, if so, whether the professional future for each was equally bright. Since knowledge is the foundation of professions—expansion of that knowledge being fundamental to a profession’s evolutionary success—it is essential to have valued members whose role is to create and develop expert knowledge in addition to those who apply professional expertise. If the Army is to flourish as a profession, both types of Army professionals need to be equally esteemed, and to have equally bright futures. Unfortunately, this is not the case today, nor without deep cultural change is it likely to be so in the future.
Following immediately on the heels of the SniderWatkins book was a shocking public testament to the growing impatience of political leaders with the “knuckledragging image” that so many of the nation’s senior military leaders like to cultivate. In a front-page story in the Washington Post (April 11, 2002) by Thomas Ricks titled “Bush Backs Overhaul of Military’s Top Ranks,” it was announced that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will nominate Marine Gen. James Jones as the next Supreme Allied Commander in Europe in lieu of an expected Army general. According to Ricks, “Rumsfeld is selecting a cohort of leaders who stand out among the current top brass as unconventional thinkers … Picking Jones to be the top U.S. military officer in Europe may be a way for Rumsfeld to signal to the Army that he wants it to be more innovative … Rumsfeld aides have privately expressed surprise at what they say is a lack of fresh thinking in the Army.”
There have been some positive notes in recent years, and we would be remiss in failing to acknowledge them. Among the last six commandants of the Army War College, for example, there have been a Rhodes Scholar, a published historian, a published military educator and two Ph.D.s who have also published. Among the last five Superintendents at the U.S. Military Academy, there have been a Rhodes Scholar, a widely published historian, two Ph.D.s and a J. D. (law degree). At the Center for Military History in Washington, D.C., the practice seems to have taken hold of selecting Chiefs with Ph.D.s in history. Intellectuals, often tenured Ph.D.s, are also put to good use on the faculties of the War College, the Command and General Staff College and the Military Academy. Yes, Army intellectuals are establishing a niche in the academic side of the house, but they remain conspicuously absent in highlevel command and policy positions.
One of the Army’s best and most articulate soldierthinkers appeared on the year 2001 brigadier generals promotion list. He’ll be left nameless here for fear of embarrassing or stigmatizing him, but we can hope his selection was a straw in the wind. As a general rule, however, military intellectuals tend to face mandatory retirement as lieutenant colonels or colonels, just as they are achieving full intellectual maturity.
To elaborate on this point, during a productive conference on Army professionalism at West Point during the period June 14-16, 2001, Gen. William R. Richardson, U.S. Army retired, a former Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Commanding General of Training and Doctrine Command, complained that “there is a separation of theorists and operators in the Army.” He was right, of course, and I was disappointed that his observation evoked little discussion in plenary session. There is indeed a separation of theorists and operators, but the separation isn’t simply between the two functions, it’s also between the ranks associated with the two functions.
As we’ve seen, with few exceptions these theorists—that is, the intellectuals—culminate their careers as field graders, while the operators, who run the Army, move on to monopolize the general officer ranks. This rank discrepancy between the two types has far-reaching adverse consequences, for it guarantees that the services’ major decisions will be made by officers for whom the process of productive contemplation is alien. John Hillen, a veteran of the Gulf War, a writer on military professionalism and culture, and formerly a member of the bipartisan government National Security Study Group, commented as follows:
The four-stars get to choose the next crop of four-stars, so they perpetuate themselves as a group. They’re good fellows, they’re fine fellows, they’re heroic fellows, but I honestly think they’d be more comfortable with a copy of Bass Fishing magazine than with a book on military theory … They’re not bold thinkers, and they can’t pretend to be.
In my estimation, this is an overly harsh estimate, but it does capture an important kernel of truth: our seniors today are highly conventional operators, an operator being one who has single-mindedly pursued command or command-qualifying assignments to the exclusion of all others. While they are superb at organizing and running things in the traditional mold, they are lamentably unequipped to conceptualize newly superior solutions themselves or even to recognize the arrival of a new idea whose time has come. In short, they are poor at achieving that delicate, ceaselessly dynamic balance between cycling out yesterday’s tried and true, and welcoming in what will become today’s and tomorrow’s tried and true. For this task, we need the influential presence of minds at the highest grades who are comfortable in the cosmos of ideas. Of course, it’s wrong to claim that a muddy-boots operator could never generate a momentous conceptual breakthrough, but to actually assign him responsibility for doing so would be like straining for plankton from the back of a whale: while it may be theoretically possible, it is certainly dangerous and inefficient, and one is entitled to suspect that precious little plankton would be harvested.
Nor are most senior operators good at eliciting big ideas from even the most talented staffs. A four-star operator milking a subject with an 0-6 intellectual can remain imperiously closedminded, but a four-star operator consulting with a four-star intellectual will attend very carefully to what has been proposed. That is the nature of the beast. We need to propel more officers to the topmost rungs of rank who are truly capable of conceiving and defending an innovative approach. Even in the darkest hours of service anti-intellectualism, the Army always mustered the will to send three or four thinkers to the top—the Charles Bonesteels, Andrew Goodpasters, William DePuys, Maxwell Thurmans, John Galvins, and Gordon Sullivans—the latter of whom, above all others, taught the Army that change is not a dirty word and that professional disagreement with one’s superiors is not disrespect. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the present Chief, shows every promise of proceeding along the same path. But the chances of that continuing to happen diminish steadily with each day’s prolongation of the present system of professional advancement.
My complaint here isn’t that our muddy-boots operators necessarily lack intellectual potential. Many of them obviously do have such potential, but most have chosen to concentrate so narrowly on erecting their house of stars that they have neglected to build their mansion of the mind. Intellectual competence does not, like Athena from Zeus’ brow, spring full-blown into being at the stroke of the oath-taking on commissioning day. Rather, like other competencies, its development requires time, practice and focused effort. A distinguished Army fourstar, now retired, once boasted(!) to me that he never read anything but the contents of his in-box. The Army culture that produced this sort of swaggering, know-nothing complacency simply has to give way to a tough insistence that our senior leaders be whole men and women, which is to say that they unapologetically and without career penalty give reasonable attention to developing their contemplative selves as well as the active.
Some argue that Officer Personnel Management System XXI, still in the process of implementation, will eventually accomplish the goal of moderating the Army’s pro-operator bias. It may very well level the playing field somewhat between operators and specialists in promotions up to 0-6, but I see nothing in the new system that will weaken the operators’ stranglehold on flag-level positions.
Several of the Army’s brightest and most articulate captains and majors of the early 1990s survived their outspoken forays into the world of contending ideas and are doing well in their careers as they climb toward their first star. Unfortunately, however, they read the career tea leaves and have now clammed up. Their lately developed reticence recalls to mind Liddell Hart’s observation concerning young British uniformed intellectuals:
Ambitious officers, when they came in sight of promotion to the generals’ list, would decide that they would bottle up their thoughts and ideas as a safety precaution until they reached the top and could put these ideas into practice. Unfortunately, the usual result, after years of repression for the sake of their ambition, was that when the bottle was eventually uncorked the contents had evaporated.
A welcome exception is Robert Leonhard, who in his frequent articles continues to stir the intellectual pot, provoking discussion of pressing professional issues that cry to be aired.
The Army is doubtless correct in insisting on the man of action as the predominant model for the combat commander—let there be no mistake about that. But it is dead wrong in assuming that uniformed intellectuals— simply because they have not negotiated every wicket in a general officer qualification course that could only have been devised by Genghis Khan’s G3—cannot be men and women of action and hence are unqualified to command the higher line echelons. Moreover, the Army is on questionable ground in assuming that those who have been anointed by a zero-defects performance at each of the stations of the cross are thereby fit to serve in every general officer slot, even those for which they obviously lack the necessary intellectual qualifications. Rather than denigrating and marginalizing the uniformed intellectual, the Army should hearken to President Bush’s call for a “renewed spirit of innovation in our officer corps.” It should implement the necessary promotion and assignment adjustments to assure that the intellectual potential of the officers’ corps is identified, cultivated and exploited in optimal ways, which would include service at the highest echelons.
It is time finally to acknowledge that the Active Man and Contemplative Man do merge in many versatile people, and that the Army has as much need for the qualities of the latter as for the former. The intellectual man—and woman—have a vital role to play in all professional endeavor, not least military endeavor, and it is thus a fool’s game to squander precious intellectual capital on the basis of a historical anti-highbrow shibboleth. The army that rejects seminal thinkers, thereby depriving itself of innovative ideas and the instruments for continuous intellectual self-renewal, will ultimately be a defeated army, vanquished in the wake of foes who adapt more wisely and quickly to the ever-evolving art and science of war.