Outside the beltway and military circles, the theses [Link] of LTC Paul Yingling seem to have received scant attention.[Link] I know I only saw one brief consideration of it on the news channels this weekend, but this was the weekend of, among other things, Talladega, and hence may be little more that the general civilian apathy for things military that is the complement to the military dislike, often blending into hatred, of things civilian.
The first things that occur when one examines the situation, its coverage, and the article are the religious aspects. Certainly, the publication of the article has a parallel to the posting of the 95 theses on the door of Castle Church.[Link] If nothing else, the charges of ineptitude leveled at the army’s general officer corps are parallel analogs of the charges of simony leveled at the Catholic church. Even the man’s name is noteworthy, Yingling being an anglicized spelling of Ynglng,[Link] itself a derivative of Yngvi, [Link] an older form of the name Freyr (Frey) who owned a sword that fights by itself.[Link]
Having read LTC Yingling’s article, I find little to criticize here other than a few technical points and neglected contradictions. Interestingly, like COL Harry Summers, who he criticizes as an apologist, Yingling is a Clausewitzian, at least to some degree, and misses the point that war is prosecuted not just by nation-states but by any organization willing and able to make and pursue war policy. This distinction may seem hair splitting but it has impact at the crux of his argument that the general officer corps has selected out qualities of adaptability and creativity in a Darwinian fashion. That this is the case is evident not just to the military, but to any observer who has cared to look. The general officer corps since the end of Containment has been steadily dumbed down and rendered reactionary not as any special characteristic of that pinnacle but as an overall trend in the Yankee army. Creativity and adaptability, as opposed to silence and apathy, have not been survival characteristics in the post-wall army. The reason that LTC Yingling may be in service to observe what he has only because of the greater demands of the very conflict whose senior leadership he decries.
There are gaps, of course. He misses a key difference between the end of the Vietnam era and the end of Containment in the presence in the former and the absence in the latter of a spirited junior officer dialog in the military journals on the army’s future that preceded the decisive leadership of post Vietnam generals. This debate was absent after Containment, and the pronouncements of senior leadership were unilateral and untempered by the debate of questioning and innovative juniors. Given that those who were lieutenants in Vietnam are now retired or very senior generals, this oversight is forgivable.
We have to also fear his proposed system of correction. It seems destined to failure in its complexity and its susceptibility to misuse. The problems that the army currently has with unadaptable and uncreative generals result from an existing complex system that selects for those characteristics and not for their opposites. Intended to assure excellence and competence, as with most such systems it generates the opposite. If we want a general officer corps, indeed, an army that is creative and adaptable, we need to find ways for the expression of those qualities to excel and develop as a matter of course, not as a matter of pruning and grafting.
Even then, there is no assurance of success. If there is anything that American history teaches us it is that peacetime, regular army generals are seldom good war generals. Further, as much as the military tries to hide, even ignore, the impact of society as a whole on its nature, this is a period when society stresses sociability and conformance and penalizes creativity and adaptability. Even with its increasing ghettoization, the army cannot completely escape the influence of the civilian side of society.