wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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Too simple by half

Jules Crittenden links to a post by George Packer in the New Yorker blog about the divide between the Ivy League intellectuals and the Army, and it's one of those things that makes you go "Hmmm," as Arsenio Hall used to say.

Packer admits that he's making a crude generalization in his assertion that in the wake of the Sixties, intellect and patriotism went separate ways, but I don't think he realizes just how crude that assertion is and how dangerous it is to simplify the discussionj in that way. It is accurate to say that the coastal intellectual elites turned against the military, and it is accurate to say that the Southern-based military culture of the Army has never cared much for the airs of superiority exhibited by Ivy League graduates - a distaste that sharpened in the wake of Vietnam. However, to characterize what went on the Army between 1973 and 2003 as a lack of intellect in the Army is to exhibit some pretty shocking ignorance about what was going on between the generals' ears.

Even a cursory reading of the relevant publications (Military Review and Parameters, to name only the two most common) reveals that Vietnam was always considered an unwelcome distraction from the real war that everyone expected to be fought between the Soviet Army and its Warsaw Pact vassals on the one side and NATO on the other. This war would be fought primarily in Germany as a clash of armor, artillery, and mechanized infantry, and it was the war the Army had been training for since 1951. This was why SecDef Rumsfeld was so widely disliked in the Pentagon: he was trying to get the Army to quit thinking about that war and start thinking about counterinsurgency wars, police actions, and less conventional operations where Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles would be less important than a highly-trained infantryman. This was a very unpopular change, and the generals (with plenty of help from their pork-fed Congressional allies) fought it tooth and nail. It was only with great difficulty that Rumsfeld and his staff managed to kill the Crusader artillery system, which to me read like a low-tech version of the highly automated artillery pieces from David Drake's "Hammer's Slammers" stories, and about as useful in the kind of wars Rumsfeld expected the Army to be fighting.

Packer's error is to assume that without the (always minimal) leavening of Ivy League officers, the Army became a crowd of Colonel Blimps, incapable of adjusting to the police war in Iraq. This is rubbish. The intellectual tradition in the Army goes back to before the Mexican War; it is instructive to recall that the best and brightest of West Point's graduates have been commissioned in the Corps of Engineers, a profession not noted for its tolerance of unimaginative morons. The study of history and its lessons has always been stressed in the Army, and even during Vietnam the lessons of Malaya, the Hukbalahap War in the Philippines, and our own experience in the Philippine Insurrection were studied and debated extensively. This continued after Vietnam -I particularly commend Dunnigan and Macedonia's Getting It Right as a hstory of this period- and led to a rapid annihilation of the Iraqi Army in the first and second Gulf Wars, contrary to the predictions of the intelligentsia.

There was also no volte-face transition from unsuccessful flailing about to successful crushing of opposition in Iraq, coincident with the advent of Ivy League humanities types. (The hostility of Middle East Studies departments to the current administration has been well documented, as has their crippling adherence to the political line of Edward Said rather than to a disinterested pursuit of truth.) What has happened is an adaptive process as an army primarily trained for conventional warfare shifts to a police war, which demands different skills from the officer corps and a lot more troops than a stand-up, set-piece battle with conventional forces. Unsurprisingly, now that we have an additional three divisions' worth of US troops to work with (to say nothing of the additional Iraqi Army and police units that have been training all along) we're having more of an impact.

So, yeah...Packer may be top-hole when it comes to foreign policy, but when it comes to recent Army history he doesn't know wtf.

Speaking of Colonel Blimp, there's a nice collection of David Low cartoons here, many featuring the Colonel. Enjoy.
Tags: culture & politics, military stuff
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