Copyright 2013 by John T. Reed

A reader sent me a link to a NY Times article that says the U.S. Army is going to start having officers rated by their subordinates including with regard to their integrity. “U.S.
Military's Top Officers Face Review of Their Character

When I got done laughing, I started writing these comments.

My reader, Van Hardenbergh, said this on Facebook about it:

Well, well, well. It looks like the DoD has realized that there might be a little tiny eensy-weensy problem with character in the top brass. It's almost like they had been reading all of John T. Reed's articles about the deep character flaws endemic in our military leadership and now they want to check the "Did something superfluous to make it look like we aren't developing and fostering a bunch of dishonest sociopaths" box. As if 360 evaluations was their idea. Sure, they lie, cheat and steal, but all for a good cause, right?

First, I think we can be assured that the U.S. military reads all my articles about the military religiously. They probably have Google alerts or some similar mechanism to make sure of it, like a person in each service being required to check my military articles page daily for new articles then read them and report upstream what I said. This is not some legend in my own mind unilateral grandiosity. I just know the way they think and operate. They are essentially politicians and monitor all public criticism the way politicians do internal polling and such. There have been a couple of times when I said something critical and almost immediately there seemed to be a direct response by the military. I can’t be sure, but I’m almost certain of it.

I explained the actual rationalization of U.S. military officers use to justify their lying, cheating, and stealing quite thoroughly in my web article “Is military integrity a contradiction in terms?” See especially my breakdown of the standard Army “counseling session” you get when you refuse to sign a false document.

The behind-closed-doors among-officers discussion of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin E. Dempsey’s announcement of the 360-degree integrity evaluation will go something like this:

This is total bullshit! They tell us daily we have to ‘play the game’ and sign the reports and now they’re going to have our subordinates blow the whistle on us. If they really do this, the whole goddamn officer corps above the rank of lieutenant or captain will be court martialed and dishonorably discharged! They can’t do this. It’s too late. You can’t change direction 180 degrees on people who have devoted their whole lives to the military and are about to retire. We did what they told us to do. We didn’t like it, but we couldn’t change it so we had to go along. And who the fuck is Dempsey to pull this bullshit!? Are we supposed to believe he made it to four stars and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs by refusing to sign false reports!? They talk about Petraeus, McChrystal, and Allen as if they are rare bad apples in the good barrel. Those guys were at the very top of their services in rank and responsibility. And they sure as hell had to play the game all day every day to get there. Maybe they should have started this way in 1776, but it’s too late now, not unless they want to rebuild the officer corps from scratch, with all new people, overnight.

So is this going to happen? Absolutely not. The military officer corps will revolt. If they really push it to the point where previously successful officers lose promotions and/or pensions, the losers will get lawyers and blow the whistle on the entire top military chain of command.

Dempsey is West Point Class of 1975. I am West Point Class of 1968.

360 degree evaluations is a good idea. I have advocated it. It would turn the officer corps from sleazy bureaucrats to politicians, which is probably a step up. The better idea is to hire one man from civilian life to carry out specific missions. Let him go about it however he wants within the the law. Recruit whom he wants, pay them how much he wants, wear uniforms but not go through standard military training except as their commander wants. Pay the commander only according to whether he successfully completes the mission in question. He pays his men out of his bounty. Everyone is sworn into the U.S. military like posse deputies, but they do without the chickenshit like saluting, saying “sir,” and quintuplicate paperwork. Violations of the law are prosecuted.

The focus on ethical/legal victory as I advocate in my sports coaching books. Get it done however you want as long as you stay within the law and ethics. I would cite C.C. Myers and the late Red Adair as example of the kinds of guys I would hire for such purposes if I were commander in chief. I would also cite Ross Perot’s rescue of some of his employees from Iran. Here is a Wikipedia mention of it:

The exploit was recounted in a book, On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett, which became a best-seller. In the 1986 miniseries, Perot was portrayed by Richard Crenna.

Perot is a U.S. Naval Academy grad. I had supper with him in 1977 in my capacity as co-president of the New Enterprise Club at Harvard Business School. The rescue took place in 1979.

The rescue team was led by retired U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel Arthur D. "Bull" Simons. He was famous for the Son Tay Raid which went off like clockwork but totally failed in its mission to rescue US POWs in North Vietnam because they had been moved away from the prison in question before the raid. I probably would not have hired such a person for the Iran rescue on the grounds that a civilian with a reputation for getting things done would likely be better qualified and because the Iran rescue did not make use of choppers and such the way the Son Tay raid did. The Iran rescue was more of an international private investigator human smuggling operation.

Career military people spend most of their careers like firemen waiting for a fire and often learn little from the actual combat for many reasons—primarily all the politics and bureaucracy. When I coached football, we studied the film of our last game with magnifying glasses critiquing and grading each and every player on every play. The military generally does not even film their operations and spins whatever the results are rather than objectively try to learn from them. See my web article comparing the military to a U.S. NFL team. Also, here is a paragraph from my web article “Should you got to, or stay at, West Point?”


A person I discussed this with said combat leaders need discipline and West Point teaches discipline with the cadet rules and Fourth Class System. True. Football players also need discipline. And if the New York Giants had prepared for the 2008 Super Bowl against the New England Patriots by having the players align their shoes under their beds and clean rifles and polish their brass and march to their meals, they would have been beaten 200-0.

Colonel “Bull” Simons spent a lot of years lining his shoes up and making sure others did the same. This is not useful preparation for anything in the real world. Simons dropped dead at age 60 the same year as the rescue.

Regarding the U.S. military upgrading the integrity of its officer corps, there is no chance. The “play the game” cluture has been deeply embedded since the Korean War (according to the late Col. David Hackworth). You would literally have to fire all current officers above the rank of captain and start over to get an honest officer corps. Basically, the young officers who are honest are all driven out or quit in disgust during their first four to eight years. The ones who continue made a conscious decision to play the game. They are not the guys you need to make the change Dempsey claims he wants to make. Hell, HE is not the guy to lead such a change. It’s just political posturing and PR to try to offset the recent embarrassments. The embarrassments will continue. Dempsey will retire. Same old same old.

John T. Reed