Basically, there were two ways to reduce abuses of power in the service

Tuesday, July 7th, 2020

After World War 2 ended, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the Doolittle Board tried to prevent future abuses of power in the service:

In making an Army of eight million men, the United States had commissioned many thousands of men who should never have risen above PFC. Some lousy things happened, particularly in the Service Forces. Officers and noncommissioned officers, in some cases, did abuse their powers.

Basically, there were two ways to reduce abuses of power in the service. One was to overhaul the officer procurement system, make damned certain that no merely average man could ever be commissioned, and have fewer officers, but better ones. The other way was to reduce the power to abuse anybody.

The Doolittle Board, probably thinking of a long period of pleasant peacetime coming up, in early 1946 chose to recommend the second.

It was a good idea, but it wouldn’t work. The company commanders in Korea watched the girls run in and out of the barracks, had men talk back to them, and didn’t know what to do about it. In fact, they weren’t sure but what the American thing to do was to ignore it, and get a girl of their own. Which many did.

What the hell, the war was over. Anybody who said a new one was brewing was definitely a goddam Fascist, or something.

Besides, contracting a venereal disease was no longer a court-martial offense. That kind of thinking had gone out with the horse, with saluting except on duty, with the idea that you should respect a sergeant.


  1. Kirk says:

    I think a lot of the issues surrounding the loss of discipline in post-WWII Army had less to do with the Doolittle Board and a hell of a lot more with the general cultural zeitgeist of the times, both in the military and in civilian life.

    You can draw an awful lot of parallels between the period 1945-1950 and the very similar period between 1989 and 2001: The Army, in general terms, was felt to be irrelevant to the future of much of anything. Post-WWII, it was the entirely nutso idea that everything ever after would be nuclear, and that there would be no more “conventional” conflicts, and after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, both the Army and the civilian side of things felt that there was no more need for an Army at all…

    This showed itself in a lack of purpose and mission; nobody wanted to “play Army” any more, because that was hard, and it was a lot easier to stick around garrison and live the “good life”. Hard training was abandoned, and nobody took anything really seriously. As well, the “good guys” got the hell out of the service, not wanting to play garritrooper. Both periods saw many of the same syndromes emerge, and the lazy-ass thinking of the unengaged military took over. Edges weren’t only lost, they were consciously ground off, with malice aforethought. The “perfumed princes” typified by Anton Myrer’s character of Courtney Massengale in Once an Eagle took over, and drove many a good officer and enlisted out of the service.

    The US Army does not do a good job of maintaining itself or its values/mores during peacetime. We tend to lose our shit, and go all wobbly/corrupt. Then, when crisis erupts, we hurriedly pull our shit together, and start doing all those things we knew we really should have been doing all along. It’s not only the military, though–The political and civilian side are equally guilty and complacent. Hard training and expensive preparation for war are what it takes to ensure you don’t have things like Kasserine Pass and the infamous Task Force Smith, but we don’t like paying the tuition in peacetime to prevent those, so we make them inevitable. Even when we have our bags of shit semi-packed, we have always got things like the lack of preparation for the IED campaign to hold us back–There was no reason for that, whatsoever. The South Africans had MRAP and armored route clearance gear available on the international open market as far back as the 1980s, and we just didn’t bother to procure or study the issue. I don’t think I ever saw a single article in any US-source military journal or military think tank outlining the potential for IED warfare until about 2005, but it was all over the international military press. A well-read cretin could have seen that coming, and many of us damn sure did–But, nobody in authority saw it as relevant or potentially happening to US forces.

    Hell, the idea that a cab-forward design and no armor packages available for the nascent FMTV program was something we highlighted to the program managers, and they blew us right the f**k off, saying that they “did not envisage this family of vehicles being used in a direct-combat environment.” Uhm. Yeah. Guys? Your “vision” doesn’t mean shit in the face of the enemy’s choices.

    It’s all down to the culture. No visible threat? No need to do more than go through the motions. Both post-WWII and post-Cold War America suffered under that delusion.

  2. Harry Jones says:

    I once had an aged relative who had fought in Korea. He never wanted to talk about it. I think I finally know why.

  3. Paul from Canada says:

    Hell, this attitude is not unique to the US Army.

    A couple of examples;

    The Canadian Army decided sniping was not kosher and let it atrophy, until they had to support the Montreal Olympics, and the fiasco of the terrorist incident at the previous Olympics in Germany forced their hand, and they had to bring the skills back, starting pretty much from scratch. Luckily there were still manuals and such in the archives, and a few Warrant Officers still around who had done it. Today the Canadian Army has some of the best snipers in the world, with records to their names, but in the late ’60′s we didn’t even have a dedicated sniper rifle.

    Likewise, the Germans pretty much invented modern camouflage uniforms, so much so that when Canada developed first pioneered the modern digital pattern, we interviewed a surviving German expert from WWII.

    Germany went through almost the entirety of the cold war without camouflage uniforms because the politicians considered it too “aggressive”, and associations with WWII German use of camouflage too politically incorrect! The mind boggles.

    Going back to Canada, I once came across an ops research report in a dusty file cabinet about lessons learned in Korea. Things like the employment of machine guns in the hilly terrain, using old techniques of indirect fire to interdict Chinese troops in likely forming up areas behind their lines, and how best to throw grenades uphill with the least risk. All stuck in the back of an HQ file cabinet.

  4. Kirk says:

    I don’t know whether to be horrified or heartened by that Canadian sniper anecdote. On the one hand, it is nice to know that it’s not only the US doing this stupid crap, but on the other, I’ve always thought the Canadian Forces were smarter on that. I knew they’d de-emphasized snipers, but I thought that was budget, not doctrinal.

    Of course, the US has, as always, gone further and deeper into the idiocy. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but one of my friends in the Army was the guy they tasked with setting up the new mine dog companies in the aftermath of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq/Afghanistan. There was nothing to do it with–All manuals, all information, and everything to do with those companies (which we’d had and gotten sterling service from during Vietnam…) had been purged from the official system. He had to re-invent the wheel from first principals, with absolutely nothing to go on. This, as you can imagine, was pretty ‘effing stressful.

    By the time it was over with, they’d finally located a single partial copy of the Vietnam-era Field Manual, that included the cover and some of the interior. It was on display at a small-town war museum somewhere in the Midwest as a part of a display showing a typical Command Post of the Vietnam War, and nobody knows who or how it was spotted.

    Believe it or not, even a thorough search of the National Archive turned up jack and squat. When they did get a full copy of the old manual, it was long after the whole crisis was over, and the first mine dog companies were deployed. When he got it, just before moving on to another job, he found that he’d pretty much replicated the whole structure and setup fairly accurately. He did comment that if he’d had the old manual, though, that it would have cut months out of the process, and saved him innumerable hours. Which might have saved his marriage, which broke up at least partially over the insane amount of time he’d spent at work…

    I never had the heart to tell him I’d had a copy of that manual in my mine warfare research papers since about 1991-93, and had I known he or anyone else was looking for it, I could have provided it.

    This isn’t unusual–You go to the library at the Engineer School, or any other US Army facility, and start asking questions about “old manuals”, and they will, in a very haughty tone of voice, tell you that there are no such things in their library–Everything is the very latest and most certainly up-to-date, and they do precisely as the regulation says, replacing the old with new as soon as it comes in. The idea that old might be useful…? LOL. Not in our Army.

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