Monday, September 22, 2008
PentaThink and the Emperor's New Clothes
As Hurricane Ike knocked the power of for ninety percent of Houston, I found the time to catch up with my reading, while listening to the gentle thrum of my Honda 2000 generator. At the top of my reading stack were The War Within, by Robert Woodward, the Coldest Winter by David Halberstam, and “The March of Folly” by Barbara Tuchman.
After a while I found that all three are the same story, echoing down through over two millennia endlessly repeating “pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest” as defined by Barbara Tuchman. She illustrates self-interest as the “greater good” of the body politic which is further defined in the British comedy, “Hot Fuzz” in which a local cabal used homicide to enhance their standing for their local village for Britain’s “best village award” contest.
The local police chief used this cabal as an extension of his grief of the loss of his wife, while the rest of the town clowns followed in the manner described by Hans Christian Andersen in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” also known as Groupthink which is defined in Wikipedia as:
Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight.
Groupthink is also illustrated in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four” with such concepts of NewThink, Good Think, and Double Speak as in the mantra “Peace is War, Love is Hate, Freedom is Slavery” which denies the citizen the ability to think critically.
In Gordon’s War, we propose that the underlying cause of folly in Tuchman’s sense is more a conflict between what people believe is the greater good and that which is the objective reality. The conflict is heavily weighted in the sense of the in-group of their own sense of power and control of the group itself. It is intensely selfish and depends on Groupthink to develop the “Greater Good”
The Confederacy seceded from the Union in order to protect their peculiar institution, slavery, when secession was the only possible way for the Union to abolish slavery was through a Constitutional Amendment which the South could have blocked forever. Japan attacked the US when the US was so committed to isolationism that only an attack on our soil could have forced the US to fight. Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union repeated the defeats of Napoleon in 1812 and that of Charles XII of Sweden in 1709, and those two make the short list of great commanders.
Ego triumphs over the Greater Good with dreadful regularity.
Group Folly depends upon Groupthink, which is characterized by Irving Janis as:
1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
2. Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.
3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty".
6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
7. An illusion of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.
Groupthink is the dominant form of decision making in ordinary life, while it’s more rationale and objective counter is done as an exception once groupthink becomes group folly so disastrously as to force reconsideration. As in the Real World (RW), there is more than one group and within any one group there are subsets of groups each bound by the dictates of its own group think. Each group is fighting for survival for the group and the control of other groups.
Within each group is an inner group, the Gold Old Boys/Girls whose group think dominates the rest, and sets the tone for the group as a whole. This statistically is about ten percent of the group at the top of the pile, or one percent of the group plus its affinity groups of like minded or self interested.
This phenomenon is the default for groups of all kinds, and those of us involved in various associations and societies including the ROA know which groups and which persons to which and to whom I refer ... without naming names.
The worst example in American military history is the fable of MG Willoughby, MacArthur’s G2 between 1941 and 1951, who acted as the ultimate gate guard by repressing any intelligence contrary to his or MacArthur’s preconceived notions and whose greatest contribution to MacArthur’s defeat by the Chinese in 1951 was the denial that there were hundreds of thousands of Red Chinese troops in Manchuria and North Korea prior to the Battle of Kunuri on November 1950.
Once groupthink becomes formally established by law or custom, it becomes virtually ineradicable, worse than crab grass or herpes. Such is the case of our military establishment as exemplified by the denizens of the Pentagon as it has descended into dysfunctionality and irrelevance to the defense of the nation.
What Bob Woodward did not sense was the Good Old Boy attitude of the Active Components of the various services that became unsettled by the specter of operationally effective Guard and ReServe units, particularly in fire support and logistics. The storm came to a head when four National Guard separate brigades were poised for deployment to Desert Shield/Storm. While brain surgery and avionics repair were readily accepted as within the capabilities of RC (ReServe Component) units and personnel, the very idea of a “Weekend Warrior” wearing Green Tabs in a combat zone was too much for the Good Old Boy ego, and sense of group survival.
Shortly after Desert Storm, the operationally competent ReServe Components were functionally organized to avoid the opportunity for the leadership of RC units to gain operational experience. The administrative nullification of Federal Law that required units to be trained and deployed as units that followed further nullified the available operational environment necessary to train both units and individuals in the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). The word went out in the Sea Services that deployable units are anathema and that the proper role of RC naval and USCGR personnel was as replacements for “the Fleet”.
The Army’s ARFORGEN (Army Force Generation model) is clearly the nuttiest notion in military training in all military history, which history includes the use of surveying equipment to dress and cover a military formation. ARFORGEN poses a five year cycle of training starting with individual training escalating to company level training five years hence, with combat in the sixth year.
This assumes that the individual skill sets in years one and two will be valid in battle six years hence. It does not take into account that in a six year cycle there will be two or three different company commanders none of whom has the opportunity to take full control of the combat effectiveness of their own troops. The six year (five plus one at war) is longer than any enlistment contract and ignores the progression of those in the ranks from E2 on up. I went from E-2 to E-5 in less time at the end of which I was a platoon sergeant.
The six year cycle (including the combat year) also assumes that the task organization, tactics, techniques, and technology derived from an analysis of METT-TC can be accurately predicted six years hence and is unchanging lest it screw up the training cycle. It is hard to imagine anyone with real combat experience accepting this nonsense, but they do knowing that it is nonsense and knowing that should they point out that the Emperor has no clothes is most likely to get a McMasters Award (Passover) for excelling above and beyond the limits imposed by the Good Old Boys/Girls.
Likewise the restructuring the Army into Brigade sized units instead of Divisions has no basis in any array on military contingency based on any array of the conditions of METT-TC. It also was manufactured “in flight” without regard for an operational structure above brigade, leaving this (fortunately) for the commanders in the field to recreate.
The fundamental rational for brigading the Army from divisions was that the ROAD Army division had too few Colonel Command positions for Combat Army officers, particularly since one of the three divisional brigades under the Roundout concept was a National Guard Brigade. The reinvention of the Battle Group (five line companies with a Colonel commanding) as a Brigade Combat Team is evocative of the Regimental Combat Team of the Korean War with the shortage of O-5 command and staff slots of the Battle Group corrected resulting in an overall thirty percent increase in high value field grade assignments.
Despite the obvious nonsense of building units based on our “adaptive enemies” not adapting for a rolling six year period of time, in order to provide high value command and staff slots for field grade offices is proceeding with fanfare in accordance with the dictates of Groupthink.
DoD wide, the word is out that the Long War is in. This has been a popular budget builder for DoD which evades the risky effort to figure how to win against those whom we fight. Victory, for the permanent party, is counter productive to career survival and the survival of the Good Old Boy/Girl group.
The Long War then is an admission of defeat which is another word for the evasion of victory. The concept of non-state actors as an excuse for planning for victory is central to group survival for the irrelevant or misaligned. Groupthink doesn’t need much of a push to keep this state of ineptitude going for decades.
The Founders knew this would happen, having experienced the worst of cronyism from within and from without. They know the folly of favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism was inherent in palace politics and deliberately put the decision making process for the form and substance of our military establishment in the Congress (Article I, Section 8, clauses 11-16) and default military force in the states under the Second Amendment as modified by Article I, Section 10, clause 3.
The Founders were very leery of a large standing professional military establishment, which did not occur in American military history until the passage of the Defense Officers Personnel Act (DOPMA) in about 1980. Previous military establishments for war were of a temporary nature which included temporary rank structures for war. DOPMA came about as the product of the Cold War for which the Long War is a clear extension.
At present the Pentagon’s own collective groupthinks have the bit between it’s teeth, which bit needs to be yanked out, teeth and all lest we fall into the abyss created by intrigue within the Palais Pentagon or by the overzealous and under decorated in the field get us into another fine mess.
POST SCRIPT: While the above is the considered and objective opinion of a rabid ReServist, it should be noted that the synergy between GroupThink, Parkinson's Laws, and Haga's Law that lead an organization to expand regardless of demand or resources is a normal human frailty, and should be taken into consideration in organization design and operation.