Fooling the men is the first principle of life

Saturday, May 25th, 2019

In the army in the United States, Dunlap says, “fooling the men” is the first principle of life:

The official stand is that all enlisted men are morons and must be treated at that level of intelligence, therefore all officers and a lot of non-coms will tell any soldier anything at all, regardless of truth. Consciences are parked with the intelligence. Training for the past war was as a rule conducted on the basis of peacetime training in past decades. A man could not be a good truck driver if he could not march well. He could not hold a rating as a tank mechanic if he did not know his military courtesy. He could not be a platoon sergeant in the line if he was not a whiz on the drill field. The old officers training the armies still believed there was “Nothing like drill to make a soldier.” The snappy, salute-happy lads, commissioned or enlisted, were not much good either in the line or in the shop, until they learned their job on non-union hours, which was often quite late in their lives. In war, only the results pay off, but they were of the tradition which dictated that not the result, but the way it was obtained was of greatest importance.

Toward the end of the war the infantry troops were given more sensible training which gave them a better shake for their money, but did not bring back the guys who died in Tunisia and Sicily and Italy, and the Islands. Even service troops got some realistic night training, mostly useless. I went through a few infiltration courses, crawling under machine gun fire, etc. when I came back from Africa. What irritated me was that our brass-hats were determined not to learn except the hard way — the British made every error we did, two years before, but after Dunkirk they realized it and reorganized.

They had written a lot of books and manuals about modern warfare, but none of our brass read them. Africa was a fine example; what Rommel’s boys did to Patton and his Fort Knox tank tactics was pitiful. For exact details, find a member of the original 1st Armored Division, if any are still alive. General Patton made a great name in Europe, with the Air Corps to knock out German armor ahead of him, but he was sure a chump in Tunisia. The colonels who led his his columns learned how through their own experience, and a lot of guys died before they got experience.


  1. Kirk says:

    I think Dunlap has identified the same set of issues that I did over the course of my career, just expressed somewhat differently in an earlier time frame.

    One of the similar issues I saw, at least, was that self-same syndrome of selecting NCOs based on extraneous drill performance vice something actually worthwhile, like their professional skills and acumen.

    When I joined the Army in the early 1980s, the Army still had the “Fear of God” attitude towards training that came out of the experiences of a lot of the Vietnam-era guys. There was massive emphasis placed on individual skills and the testing thereof–The Skills Qualification Test was an annual test that had to be done either hands-on at the lower levels, or in a written Scantron mode for the upper ones–And, it had impact: When I was a mid-grade NCO, you always saw the guys who were looking to “get ahead”, which was everyone, because promotion, studying the SQT manuals for their jobs. Why? Because it meant something in terms of who’d get selected for the next rank–If someone was going to get promoted on what was termed a “waiver” for the next lower enlisted rank, then the senior leadership was going to look at their physical fitness scores, their marksmanship scores, their SQT scores, and their performance day-to-day. You’d stand there in formation every month, and hear the boss call out who was to get the waiver to the next grade, and he’d explain why; so-and-so was getting Specialist because he had the highest numbers in those three testable areas.

    And, there was always complaint, because the tests were a pain in the ass and expensive to administer–But, they were solid, quantitative measurements of professional prowess, and guys who scored in the top ten percent were going places regardless of who they might not have sucked up to.

    Then, a cabal of lazy-ass bastard senior NCOs who’d never been able to do very well on those tests and a bunch of bean-counting commissioned types who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing decided to gradually do away with the testing, and first stopped it for the lower-level enlisted, and then the NCO corps. Results? SQT manuals, where your jobs technical skills were laid out, became forgotten objects, and the general technical skills of the enlisted side started dropping. By the time I retired, I have to say that the vast majority of the NCOs in my field were barely able to manage day-to-day technical stuff, and there was really no point to learning anything, because nobody cared.

    Axiom: The unit does what the commander checks, and if the commander ain’t checking it, nobody is doing it.

    In my early days, you got promoted on a bunch of things, one of which was technical skills in your job. That carried a lot of weight–By the end of my career, that carried very little weight, and wasn’t evaluated on any kind of objective basis. Many of my peers were past masters of blowing smoke up the officer’s asses, and they looked really good in an uniform, could march troops like nobody’s business, and they knew jack and s**t about actually doing their jobs.

    The whole thing kind of snuck up guys like me; we knew, but because the facts weren’t objectively identifiable, there was little we could do about it–Time was, you’d be able to point at the results of that year’s SQT, and say “Hey, look… They emphasized recon skills this year, and nobody was very good at them… We need to spend some time doing that stuff…”, and make it stick. After the tests went away, there was nothing to make the argument.

    Case in point for my field was precisely those recon skills–Engineer recon is a pretty broad field, because it basically means you’re telling your guys to split up and find everything in the area of operations that Engineers might use, like stockpiles of gravel and building materials in quarries and lumberyards, natural water points, streams for crossing and taking water from, and on and on and on. You have to know your stuff, because one minute you’re in a quarry looking at gravel stockpiles, and having to do the math to get the volume of what’s available, and the next you’re out looking at a potential water point, trying to figure out how much water you could take out of it.

    Early ’80s, that stuff was what we fit into the cracks of training exercises. Late ’80s and early ’90s, because of the SQT de-emphasis, and the fact that the officers had streamlined training down to the bare minimums of “mission-focused training”, all we did was the stuff that was clearly identifiable as mission-oriented. The “extraneous crap”, as they termed it, got no more than lip service.

    So, what happened when we went into Bosnia? Oh, yeah… Kinda embarrassing, that–The enlisted force, and a lot of the junior officers, couldn’t do their damn jobs, because all they’d trained on was the “mission-focus” stuff that they’d imagined we’d be doing in a war, like build obstacles and breach.

    Surprise, surprise, surprise… Turns out, you go to war, and then Finagle’s Law, which is that the perversity of the universe tends towards the maximum, takes effect.

    My theory was always that whatever you planned for, wasn’t going to happen. And, since they planned for emphasis on things they thought they’d need the troops to do, well… S**t happened.

    So, reading Dunlap is kinda like “Old Home Week”, for me, and I am forced to acknowledge that the Army really never has cared much for professional excellence in the enlisted ranks.

  2. Kirk says:

    Oh, and another point: After Bosnia, there was a whole lot of “waily-waily-woe” about how the troops didn’t have all these “lost skills”, and what a problem that turned out to be.

    Did we actually do anything about it, though? Nope; guys like me were horrified at the whole thing, embarrassed that the enlisted side of the house had shown it’s ass on professional technical merits, and then precisely nothing effective was done about it. I still couldn’t get Engineer Reconnaissance tasks onto the training schedules, even with the After Action Reviews to show, ‘cos I was told “…that’s not our mission…”.

    Uhmmm… Guys? May I point to the fact that we’re the last Corps Wheeled Engineer Battalion on the Active Army side of the house, and that we’re probably going to be one of, if not the first units going anywhere significant, and that we’re gonna get every Engineer mission that the guys in the Divisional slice aren’t going to be able to do, as well as the ones that the Corps Heavy boys are going to be too busy to do…? So, everything is basically in our wheelhouse, not just the Mobility/Countermobility BS you’re so obsessed with?

    Turns out, early days in Iraq? I was the one who was right. Very, very steep learning curve, one that we didn’t really learn a lot from, ‘cos after the early days of “Do it all…”, we wound up doing the Route Clearance mission I’d also been raging on for about a decade, and nothing but… Oh, and we weren’t really trained or equipped for any of it, at all. That didn’t happen until about 2005-06, TBH.

    Idiots. All of them–The handwriting was on the wall as early as the Somalia mission, but nobody wanted to or, apparently, could read it.

  3. John says:

    Kirk, how closely does this match your experience?

    Dr. Leonard Wong, “Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession”

  4. Kirk says:


    All I can do is laugh, laugh hysterically. This guy is saying the exact same things the more perceptive guys were saying down in the enlisted and junior officer ranks thirty years ago. The problems he’s going over were visible and understood even when I was a private; yet… It takes a retired senior officer with a Ph.D to make it “real” to the system, and bring it up as an issue.

    The Army has a huge problem with this crap. It’s not just mandatory training, either–It permeates the system from top to bottom, and is built into the daily life at all levels.

    We used to have this concept of “supply discipline”, where commanders, leaders, and soldiers were responsible for minimizing waste of resources at all levels. You weren’t supposed to order more pine oil than you needed for your company, you weren’t supposed to tell the troops to use “too much”, and the troops weren’t supposed to use more than they needed… In order to conserve resources.

    We badly need a similar concept in terms of “time and tasking discipline”, one that emphasizes what we are asking our subordinates to do. Unfortunately, nobody ever looks at this in terms of tracking what they’re actually doing with all these taskings and requirements. The conceptual framework you would need, like the budget for cleaning supplies, simply doesn’t exist.

    I’m listening to Dr. Wong, here, as I reply to you. He’s not saying anything we weren’t saying thirty years ago, and I can’t find anything to disagree with. What’s irritating, and what makes me want to reach through the screen to choke the shit out of him is this: WHAT THE F**K DID YOU THINK YOU GUYS WERE DOING WITH ALL THIS S**T IN THE FIRST PLACE…!!!???.

    Seriously… Where the hell was the self-awareness of this crap when he was in command? I know it had to have been visible when he was the guy running things, because it was to all of the rest of us. Yet, this guy has to do a f**king study to “discover” all this?

    This is why I think college educations are a waste of time. These guys are literally too ‘effing stupid to grasp the actual effect of what they’re doing as they do it. This is a fundamental marker for stupidity, and it exists at all levels.

    I used to work for a First Sergeant who loved coming up with all these mandatory requirements for the guys who had overnight Charge of Quarters duty. At the point where I came into the company, he had so many mandatory checks mandated that were the Charge of Quarters NCO to actually do them, they’d never be at the desk in the company building at any point during his tour. And, then he’d get his ass chewed by the same guy for not being there when something happened… So, what happened? Everybody pencil-whipped the mandatory checks he’d mandated.

    I flat-out told him he was training the NCOs in the company to lie to him, but he was never, ever able to see that was what he was doing with his micromanaging.

    The upper layers of leadership in the Army have been doing this stupidity since forever, and they’re so self-unaware of it that they’ve got to have a dude with a doctorate tell them this, and then they have the temerity to act all shocked and surprised when someone confronts them with the reality of what they have been doing.

    The thing that just yikes me about this is the fact that you could have figured all this out just by going out and observing and talking to the troops, who’d have told you this stuff thirty years ago, when we were identifying it from the ground up. Only, nobody does that, anymore. They all sit in their offices reading and answering email, thinking they have a handle on the “reality” of things, based on what is reported to them.

  5. Paul from Canada says:

    I had a similar experience during my last year of service. The C.F. got a bee in its bonnet about efficiency and “Business Cases”. Now my first instinct at the time was what a load of B.S. it was. The military spends money, it doesn’t make any money. It is by definition, a cost and a drain. The very idea of trying to make a “business case” for the need for an exercise just seemed ludicrous, but it was not as foolish as it seemed.

    For example, with manpower at a premium, and deploy-able manpower even more so, we started contracting out non core tasks.

    A military aircraft mechanic has military training, (NBC, firearms etc) which is an added cost on top of his trade training. He is also subject to military discipline and has a contractual obligation to work in a war zone. So don’t waste him maintaining a civilian aircraft only used for VIP transport or training. Get a civilian contractor for that, and put him in a fighter squadron that may deploy somewhere.

    We used to maintain our own fleet of moving trucks, maintained and driven by military personnel. The logistics types had been trying to get rid of them for years, and just contract out to Allied or United Van Lines.

    It finally happened, because of this “business case” process. Having an expensively trained driver-mechanic trained if off road driving and maintenance in the field driving a moving truck full of furniture from base to base was not efficient of cost effective.

    Good outcomes in the end, but the process was absolutely p*ss-boiling. Most of these things had been proposed in the past, many, many times. Countless papers and staff reports written, countless “suggestion box” notes put in, and nothing!

    What DND did, was hire a high priced consultant (I think is was Deloitte and Touche), for god knows how much money. A pair of young graduate accountants and/or MBAs, showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed and interviewed various people (myself included). Neither of them knew anything about the military, or the organization and culture.

    They didn’t do any actual analysis, just wrote down the same efficiency suggestions that we told them. The very same ones we had been pushing up the chain for years and were ignored. Now suddenly because it had the magic anointing of coming from a high priced consulting firm, it was accepted cheerfully,and implemented.

  6. Kirk says:

    There’s a definite problem with the military culture, and with a lot of other hierarchical constructs that are akin to those things. If you went out and asked the employees who’re actually doing things what the issues were, they’d tell you. A lot of the time, they’re actually providing feedback to the system, too. In accordance with established policies and procedures.

    But, management isn’t listening.

    Once management does figure out that there’s a problem, they then don’t perform any sort of introspective looking into things, they hire an outside “expert” at exorbitant cost, and then ignore them, as well.

    I’ve come to conceptualize a lot of this crap as unplanned and entirely unaware operant conditioning. How long do you think it takes for the subjects of this environment to modify their behavior to comply with it all? You wonder why your officers lack candor and lie their asses off to you, after setting up Skinner box after Skinner box for them to work through on the daily, and you’re surprised at the result…?

    The utter lack of self-awareness these types exhibit is amazing to observe. I watched that video that John posted, and it’s a hoot. This Dr. Wong, a former field-grade officer, seems to be totally self-unaware of the issues, and I find it horrifyingly humorous to observe. What the heck did he think he was part of, upholding, and creating as a field grade officer in the US Army.

    Also, that whole passage about “…the Navy having a special term for it, gundecking…”. Uhmm. Sir, have you never heard the term “Skilcrafting”? It was pretty well used, throughout the entire Army during my career. Also, “pencil-whipped”.

  7. John says:

    You misunderstand the point of hiring consultants.

    In most cases the management hiring the consultants knows what the problems are and where they want to be, what they don’t know is how to get there. Consultants provide the external push and plans to get them there.

    The two major virtues of a consultant are 1) they should be unaligned with regards to internal politics, and 2) they should go away after the project is done.

    The former is supposed to protect against empire building and vendettas, the latter is important in cases such as layoffs, as they can bear the ill will and make it easier for the remaining staff to work together again. Note that these virtues are ideal, real world situations are not and the further you drift from the ideals the more useless the consultants are.

  8. Paul from Canada says:

    In an ideal world I am sure you are right. Particularly with regards to knowing what some of the problems are, but not knowing what to actually do, or needing cover to to the necessary and unpleasant thing.

    However, in my experience, I have seen dueling consultants, where the first batch didn’t come to the conclusion, or endorse the course of action the bosses wanted, so another round of consultancy resulted until the “correct” result is found. Or, the empire building and faction fighting you refer to means each faction trying to get their pet consultant in to bolster their position and vice-versa.

    Hiring an outside consultant, particularly in an area you don’t know about, for example, after an acquisition, or when trying to automate or computerize a process you did manually before makes sense. Hiring one to tell you what you already know can be a waste of money.

  9. Paul from Canada says:


    The pencil-whipping is a real problem, especially now days, with all the extra diversity, suicide prevention, drunk driving prevention etc.etc.

    A US Navy officer got in some trouble for pointing out that if you added up the hours required for all of the “Mandatory” refresher and non core role training, it took more training hours than were actually allocated. The ONLY way to get it done was to pencil-whip it or hand out the cheat sheet for the computer based training quiz at the end. There was no legal way to accomplish it.

  10. Kirk says:

    No matter what, the hiring of outsider consultants to tell you things your subordinates know, or to do things that they’ve been urging on you…? That’s the very definition of organizational dysfunction.

    Healthy entities don’t need outside intervention to manage change and adaptations. If you absolutely must have a consultant come in to manage/lead/initiate change and adaptation, you’ll save yourself a lot time, money, and grief by just shutting the business down ASAP. Or, killing the agency, if it’s not a business.

  11. John says:


    I think Dr. Wong is self aware on the issues now, and he probably looks back on his career in the Army with some degree of chagrin. Did he understand then? I doubt it, at least not fully. Most people are just too busy day-to-day trying to keep their heads above water to be analytical enough on such a self-image compromising topic. It *is* a series of Skinner boxes, and it starts, as he pointed out, before you even join the Army.

    I have some suspicions that up-or-out is also part of the issue. You have no time day-to-day because of mandatory training overload and no time on a longer time horizon because you have to keep pressing for the next rank and if you challenge the status quo before you get flag rank (and possibly after), you could find yourself out of the Army early.

  12. Kirk says:


    Been there, done that. When I was the operations/training NCO for our company in Korea, I totted up all the “mandatory requirements” laid on by 8th Army, 2nd Infantry Division, the Brigade headquarters, and then the Battalion Commander’s “guidance”.

    The total came to something considerably more than the total available training time we had, under optimal conditions and without also subtracting all the holidays and days off they mandated we take.

    Produced a chart, sent it off with the Commander to the quarterly training meeting up at Division, suggested he ask them to prioritize which set of events we should focus on. Commander came back with a major off-the-record ass chewing from the boss two levels up, and “guidance” that we should do our required training… All of it.

    I’m in the middle of writing something up for Dr. Wong about this whole issue, and we’ll see what I get back. My reaction to the video that John posted was kind of like watching Captain Renault in Casablanca:

    “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!” (The croupier hands him his money.) “…Your winnings, sir.” “Oh, thank you very much!”

    What flatly blows my mind is that nobody seems to have ever sat down and counted up all the hours available to conduct training and do things, and then compared that to the actual hours they’re demanding we expend on their mandatory BS. You do the math, and you rapidly discover that the commander’s time isn’t his own, at all–The knuckleheads two levels up have basically taken everything for themselves, and they operate in apparent obliviousness to the whole issue that they’ve created.

    I’m coming around to a conceptualization that visualizes each and every event in an organization as being essentially a “Skinner Box”, where the subject of the event is undergoing operant conditioning–Whether or not you like to admit it, that’s what you’re doing with policy and procedure: You’re creating a Skinnerian box, and you need to be aware of the actual “event” you’re conditioning with those boxes, as well as what the actual behaviors are that you are shaping.

    All too many of the people running our hierarchies are completely and utterly oblivious to this reality, and that’s precisely why so many of these policies and procedures don’t get the effect they envision for them, and why they eventually choke the life out of the organization.

  13. John says:

    All large organizations are at least partially dysfunctional. It simply can not be any other way at scale. The art of running them is to be able to have them produce well despite this. The Internet is the same way…at any one time it is broken somewhere, but it works well enough overall. If I’m a top-level officer in a corporation, I will use what ever tools I have to keep things herded the right way, before the market puts it’s business elsewhere.

  14. Paul from Canada says:

    “…I’m coming around to a conceptualization that visualizes each and every event in an organization as being essentially a “Skinner Box”, where the subject of the event is undergoing operant conditioning–Whether or not you like to admit it, that’s what you’re doing with policy and procedure”

    I agree, and I think you are also getting a dose of it in a cultural way as well. Look at Political Correctness and language. Even those fighting it find themselves unconsciously using the language/terms even as they try to refute them.

  15. Paul from Canada says:

    “…All too many of the people running our hierarchies are completely and utterly oblivious to this reality, and that’s precisely why so many of these policies and procedures don’t get the effect they envision for them, and why they eventually choke the life out of the organization.”

    I also think that we get stuck on the old valuing what we can measure yardstick. We have spoken before about the peacetime officer population, and how, without a war to weed out the useless, we use metrics that don’t really measure the correct thing.

    One of the best, if not the best western General in WWI was Arthur Currie. He was pear shaped, double-chinned, and trailing a scandal about misappropriated funds. He was also a “militia” (reserve or National Guard) officer. There is no way that he would make it in the current peacetime army.

    We get what we measure and value. And it seems to me that what we “value” is corporatist, go-along-to-get-along, ticket punchers who will climb over their grandmother’s corpse for their next promotion. For whom keeping their nose clean (except for the brown from having it up the next layer’s ass), is the top priority.

    This is our current upper leadership, and this is what is molding and mentoring the next generation of leaders.

    When is the last time ANY senior officer actually resigned in protest over something?

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