NO RIGHT ANSWER GAME

By Jeff Edwards, former Navy Chief Petty Officer
Forwarded via Koenig/Clements

America's military can win wars. We've done it in the past, and I have absolute confidence that we'll continue to do it in the future. We've won fights in which we possessed overwhelming technological superiority (Desert Storm), as well as conflicts in which we were the technical underdogs (the American Revolution). We've crossed swords with numerically superior foes, and with militaries a fraction of the size of our own. We've battled on our own soil, and on the soil of foreign lands — on the sea, under the sea, and in the skies. We've even engaged in a bit of cyber-combat, way out there on the electronic frontier. At one time or another, we've done battle under just about every circumstance imaginable, armed with everything from muskets to cruise missiles.

And, somehow, we've managed to do it all with the wrong Army.

That's right, America has the wrong Army. I don't know how it happened, but it did. We have the wrong Army. It's too small; it's not deployed properly; it's inadequately trained, and it doesn't have the right sort of logistical support. It's a shambles. I have no idea how those guys even manage to fight.

Now, before my brothers and sisters of the OD green persuasion get their fur up, I have another revelation for you. We also have the wrong Navy. And if you want to get down to brass tacks, we've got the wrong Air Force, the wrong Marine Corps, and the wrong Coast Guard.

Don't believe me? Pick up a newspaper or turn on your television.

In the past week, I've watched or read at least a dozen commentaries on the strength, size, and deployment of our military forces. All of our uniform services get called on the carpet for different reasons, but our critics unanimously agree that we're doing pretty much everything wrong. I think it's sort of a game.

The critics won't tell you what the game is called, so I've taken the liberty of naming it myself. I call it the NO RIGHT ANSWER GAME. It's easy to play, and it must be a lot of fun because politicos and journalists can't stop playing it.

I'll teach you the rules. Here's Rule #1: No matter how the U.S. military is organized, it's the wrong force..

Actually, that's the only rule in this game. We don't really need any other rules, because that one applies in all possible situations. Allow me to demonstrate:

If the Air Force's fighter jets are showing their age, critics will tell us that Air Force leaders are mismanaging their assets, and endangering the safety of their personnel. If the Air Force attempts to procure new fighter jets, they are shopping for toys with money that could be spent better elsewhere. Are you getting the hang of the game yet? It's easy: Keeping old planes is the wrong answer, but getting new planes is also the wrong answer.

There is no right answer.

It works everywhere. When the Army is small, it's TOO small. Then we start to hear phrases like 'over-extended' or 'spread too thin,' and the integrity of our national defense is called into question. When the Army is large, it's TOO large, and it's an unnecessary drain on our economy. Terms like 'dead weight,' and 'dead wood' get thrown around. I know what you're thinking: We could build a medium-sized Army, and everyone would be happy. Think again. A medium-sized Army is too small to deal with large scale conflicts, and too large to keep military spending properly muzzled. The naysayers will attack any middle of the road solution anyway, on the grounds that it lacks a coherent strategy. So small is wrong, large is wrong, and medium-sized is also wrong.

Now you're starting to understand the game. Is this fun, or what?

No branch of the military is exempt. When the Navy builds aircraft carriers, we are told that we really need small, fast multipurpose ships. When the Navy builds small, fast multi-mission ships (aka the Arleigh Burke class), we're told that blue water ships are poorly suited for littoral combat, and we really need brown water combat ships. The Navy's answer, the Littoral Combat, isn't even off the drawing boards yet, and the critics are already calling it pork barrel politics and questioning the need for such technology.

Now I've gone nose-to-nose with hostiles in the littoral waters of the Persian Gulf, and I can't recall that pork or politics ever entered into the conversation. In fact, I'd have to say that the people trying to kill me and my shipmates were positively disinterested in the internal wrangling of our military procurement process. But, had they been aware of our organizational folly, they could have hurled a few well-timed criticisms our way, to go along with the mines we were trying to dodge.

The fun never stops when we play the 'No Right Answer' game. If we centralize our military infrastructure, the experts tell us that we are vulnerable to attack. We're inviting another Pearl Harbor. If we decentralize our infrastructure, we're sloppy and overbuilt, and the BRAC experts break out the calculators and start dismantling what they call our 'excess physical capacity.' If we leave our infrastructure unchanged, we are accused of becoming stagnant in a dynamic world environment.

Even the lessons of history are not sacrosanct. When we learn from the mistakes we made in past wars, we are accused of failing to adapt to emerging realities. When we shift our eyes toward the future, the critics quickly tell us that we've forgotten our history and we are therefore doomed to repeat it. If we somehow manage to assimilate both past lessons and emerging threats, we're informed that we lack focus.

Where does it come from - this default assumption that we are doing the wrong thing, no matter what we happen to be doing? How did our military wind up in a zero-sum game? We can prevail on the field of battle, but we can't win a war of words where the overriding assumption is that we are always in the wrong.

I can't think of a single point in History where our forces were of the correct size, the correct composition, correctly deployed, and appropriately trained all at the same time. Pick a war, any war. (For that matter, pick any period of peace.) Then dig up as many official and unofficial historical documents, reports, reconstructions, and commentaries as you can. For every unbiased account you uncover, you'll find three commentaries by revisionist historians who cannot wait to tell you how badly the U.S. military bungled things. To hear the naysayers tell it, we could take lessons in organization and leadership from the Keystone Cops.

We really only have one defense against this sort of mudslinging. Success. When we fight, we win, and that's got to count for something.

When asked to comment on Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. Army's LtGen Tom Kelly reportedly said, “Iraq went from the fourth-largest army in the world, to the second-largest army in Iraq in 100 hours.”

In my opinion, it's hard to argue with that kind of success, but critics weren't phased by it. Because no matter how well we fought, we did it with the wrong Army.

I'd like to close with this invitation to those journalists, analysts, experts, and politicians who sit up nights dreaming up new ways to criticize our armed forces:

The next time you see a man or woman in uniform, stop for ten seconds and reflect upon how much you owe that person, and his or her fellow Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen. Then say, “Thank you.”

I'm betting you won't even have to explain the reason.

Our Service members are not blind or stupid. They know what they're risking. They know what they're sacrificing. They've weighed their wants, their needs, and their personal safety against the needs of their nation, and made the decision to serve. They know that they deserve our gratitude, even if they rarely receive it.

Two words — that's all I ask: “Thank you.”

If that's too hard, if you can't bring yourself to acknowledge the dedication, sincerity and sacrifice of your defenders, then I have a backup plan for you:

Put on a uniform and show us how to do it right.

© 2005 Jeff Edwards

HERE IS A HISTORICAL FACT THAT THE FOREGOING IS AN AGE-OLD PROBLEM TO MILITARY MEN:

LUCIUS AEMILIUS PAULUS, a Roman Consul, who had been selected to conduct the war with the Macedonians, B.C 168, went out from the Senate-house into the assembly of the people and addressed them as follows:

“In every circle, and, truly, at every table, there are people who lead armies into Macedonia; who know where the camp ought to be placed; what posts ought to be occupied by troops; when and through what pass that territory should be entered; where magazines should be formed; how provisions should be conveyed by land and sea; and when it is proper to engage the enemy, when to lie quiet.

And they not only determine what is best to be done, but if anything is done in any other manner than what they have pointed out, they arraign the consul, as if he were on trial before them.

These are great impediments to those who have the management of affairs; for every one cannot encounter injurious reports with the same constancy and firmness of mind as Fabius did, who chose to let his own ability be questioned through the folly of the people, rather than to mismanage the public business with a high reputation.

I am not one of those who think that commanders ought at no time to receive advice; on the contrary, I should deem that man more proud than wise, who regulated every proceeding by the standard of his own single judgment.

What, then, is my opinion?

That commanders should be counseled, chiefly, by persons of known talent; by those who have made the art of war their particular study, and whose knowledge is derived from experience; from those who are present at the scene of action, who see the country, who see the enemy; who see the advantages that occasions offer, and who, like people embarked in the same ship, are sharers of the danger.

If, therefore, any one thinks himself qualified to give advice respecting the war which I am to conduct, which may prove advantageous to the public, let him not refuse his assistance to the state, but let him come with me into Macedonia.

He shall be furnished with a ship, a horse, a tent; even his traveling charges shall be defrayed.

But if he thinks this too much trouble, and prefers the repose of a city life to the toils of war, let him not, on land, assume the office of a pilot.

The city, in itself, furnishes abundance of topics for conversation; let it confine its passion for talking within its own precincts, and rest assured that we shall pay no attention to any councils but such as shall be framed within our camp.”

Source: Titus Livius, born 59 B.C., died A.D. 57, “history of Rome,” Vol. 7, Book XLIV, Chapter 22, Translation by George Baker, A.M.