Pentagon Problem Number One: Sycophants and Careerists

Three years later, a broadside called Self-Destruction: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army During the Vietnam Era, by a military officer writing under the pen name Cincinnatus (later revealed to be a lieutenant colonel serving in the reserves as a military chaplain, Cecil B. Currey), linked problems in Vietnam to the ethical and intellectual shortcomings of the career military. The book was hotly debated—but not dismissed. An article about the book for the Air Force’s Air University Review said that “the author’s case is airtight” and that the military’s career structure “corrupts those who serve it; it is the system that forces out the best and rewards only the sycophants.” (emphasis mine)

James Fallows
The Tragedy of the American Military
The Atlantic
J
anuary/February 2015

Nobody understands the dysfunctions in the Pentagon better than Fallows. He has been following the story for nearly four decades, and has perspective that few of us can match.

His point here about the corruption of careerists still applies. You can bet that not everyone with rank is a bootlicking mediocrity – I know several exceptions that disprove the rule. But the nature of the military’s career management system turns out a hugely disproportionate number of officers and top NCOs who are little more than self-interested careerists.

The officer procurement, development, and retention systems for each service are in desperate need of reform. That will demand political will and imagination. Eisenhower might have pulled it off. It will take a leader with great trust in the military to pull it off.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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