The Division CG was frequently annoyed because he could not find Peploe in his office or near a phone

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachT. R. Fehrenbach describes (in This Kind of War), George B. Peploe, commander of the 38th Infantry:

Peploe felt soldiers should train in peacetime exactly as they trained in wartime. For an army has only two functions, to fight, or to prepare to fight. But Peploe faced the basic problem all officers who thought his way faced in the postwar years — hard, realistic training was unpopular, and it sometimes resulted in injuries.

While everyone admitted realistic training resulted in fewer dead upon the field of battle, a man injured or killed by accident on the training field soon had Congress down about an officer’s ears. And the people up above showed no willingness to back their juniors up. Many a general who would have walked up a hill blazing with enemy fire without thinking twice quailed in his polished boots on the receipt of a congressional letter.

Under the Constitution of the United States, Congress holds the power of life and death over the military, and no one would have it otherwise. History has shown very clearly that for democracy to continue, the people, and not the generals or even the executive authority, must have control over the military. The people must dictate its size, composition, and its use — above all, its use. But control does not imply petty interference.

The problem seems to fall eternally upon the ground forces. While few men, legislators or otherwise, have felt down the years that they could command ships of the line or marshal air armies without specialized training, almost any fool has felt in his heart he could command a regiment.

And throughout history, the men in the ranks have been the ultimate victims of such philosophy. In the eighteenth century, when the British Navy, hard-bitten, professional, and competent, ruled the waves, His Majesty’s regiments — “The thin red line of heroes, led by fools” — left their bones scattered across the world.

In the summer of 1950, while 80 percent of the officers of Peploe’s 38th Infantry had seen combat in World War II, many of his new fillers had never so much as thrown a live grenade. Some of them were not even infantry by branch. Immediately and energetically, Peploe went to work. He put his men in the field, and he was always in the field with them.

The Division CG, General Keiser, was frequently annoyed because he could not find Peploe in his office or near a phone.


  1. Kirk says:

    Korea was where the “control” aspect of “command and control” really began to become the tail that wagged the dog. You can trace the tendency for higher commanders to reach down and attempt to wrest actual control over their subordinate units from the guys whose names were theoretically on the cute little placards out in front of their headquarters.

    Part of it stemmed from experienced WWII commanders of higher echelon dealing with tyro commanders in their lower formations. More of it stemmed from commanders who couldn’t give up what they knew best, low-level operational leadership. If you’re lost and at sea as a brigade commander, why not go back to what you know and are good at, commanding a battalion? Which is what a lot of these senior leaders essentially tried doing, only to founder on the fact that a brigade usually has three battalions, and you can’t play battalion commander everywhere at once.

    It’s a fairly common syndrome in the US Army, and it went on in Vietnam right through to our latest military misadventures. The ease and breadth of the modern communications networks make it way too easy for a senior commander to interfere in his subordinate commander’s business, and that creates a whole host of subsidiary problems, starting with the fact that if the subordinate is never really in command, his development as a leader becomes stunted.

    In other words, this is a real thing, and it has only gotten worse with being able to watch in real time what is going on via drone camera. I swear to God, it ain’t gonna be too long before there’s gonna have to be a videoteleconference betwixt division commander and some poor fucking squad leader out on the pointy end of things before he does what has to be done. It’s coming, I promise you. Hell, it’ll eventually spread like cancer down to team leader level, and probably individual soldier, if they can manage it somehow.

  2. Paul from Canada says:

    There are stories from Vietnam of platoons actively trying to hide from their company or even battalion CO flying overhead in his helicopter to try and keep him from micro-managing their platoon operation.

    I have an S.A.S. memoir in my library by a senior NCO. The Falklands was the first time they had real time SATCOM, a brand new borrowed system. He was part of a small group who was dropped onto the taskforce already underway, bringing last minute extra/new stuff like the SATCOM and Stinger MANPADS and so on.

    In the old days, SF operated behind the lines and out of contact, and had a great deal of autonomy. Even in a full Squadron op like in Oman, the local CO was pretty much left to his own devices, man on the spot knows best etc.

    Well, once TPTB back in London realized that they could call up the Squadron CO whenever they wanted and bend his ear with whatever the good idea fairy had most lately bestowed upon them, they did so. He states several times that this was the beginning of a decline in the effectiveness and efficiency of British SF operations, and he wished he had accidentally dropped or broken it.

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