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America’s Anti-Agoge

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

“….Instead of softening their feet with shoe or sandal, his rule was to make them hardy through going barefoot. This habit, if practiced, would, as he believed, enable them to scale heights more easily and clamber down precipices with less danger.”

– Xenophon, The Polity of the Lacedaemonians

Be quiet! In your position, it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students who live in Silliman! Then why the fuck did you accept the position? Who the fuck hired you? You should step down! If that is what you think of being headmaster, you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not!”
Jerelyn Luther, the Shrieker of Yale

“I personally am tired of hearing that first amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and for other students here.”

– Brenda Smith-Lezama, Vice President of the Missouri Students Association 

Much has been written this week of the protests at Mizzou and Yale universities now sparking more absurd copycats elsewhere.  Pundits have covered the dangerous illiberalism of campus political correctness and speculated that the students are the result of a generation of helicopter parenting. There were earlier essays recently on the “coddled” nature of elite university students generally and skewered Ivy League students in particular as the products of a deeply flawed, intellectually shallow,”meritocratic” rat race that serves as the gateway to the nation’s elite. There have also been conservative suggestions that the students lack the maturity to vote and a furious counterattack by social-justice faction lefties defending the students and their authoritarian anti-free speechsafe space” ideology.

While all interesting and moderately important, I don’t think any of this gets to the heart of the matter.

Up until today, every society in history has had a process, formal or informal, to prepare the next generation of leadership and inculcate virtues in them that would assure their society’s cultural continuity and physical survival. The ancient Chinese mandarinate was based on mastery of Confucian classics; the British Empire had its public schools and storied regiments where the sons of the gentry and peerage bonded; the samurai and daimyo of Tokugawa Japan continued to uphold bushido and cherish antique tactics in warfare centuries after Japan’s unification made such things more ritual than reality.

The definitive example of an educational rite of passage from student to member of the ruling class however, remains the Agoge of ancient Sparta. Established, according to Spartan legend, by the semi-mythical law-giver Lycurgus, the agoge (“the upbringing”) existed to mold Spartan boys through a ferocious training regime into the hoplite soldier-citizens who comprised the social apex of Sparta’s militaristic oligarchy. The agoge ceaselessly battered the students with physical exertion, corporal punishment, exposure to the elements and hunger in a bid to harden them  in mind and body. There’s much about life under the agoge that moderns, even admirers of classical Greece, would find distasteful or even appalling, but it was very effective at inculcating that ascetic toughness, communal discipline, martial prowess and laconic wit that Spartans prized.  For at least three centuries, the agoge helped sustain Sparta’s qualitative military edge and its hegemony over the Greek world and subsequently, its political independence for two centuries more. Not a record that was frequently matched in history.

America too has a system of education to prepare – or rather, certify – our future business, academic, judicial and political leaders based on matriculation at a small number of highly selective, elite universities and liberal arts colleges. Broadly speaking, this includes roughly the top 100 higher education institutions ranked by US News & World Report and narrowly, for filling the very top tiers of finance, law and government service, the Ivy League plus a handful of comparable schools. This would place Mizzou at the bottom of the barrel of our elite education system while Yale is at the very pinnacle. The kids going to exclusive, elite, universities are very bright for the most part, but even more so they are wealthy.

This upper class status includes the campus protestors screaming loudest about their wretched oppression. The hunger striker of Mizzou’s father is a multi-multi-millionaire while the Shrieker of Yale reportedly comes from the relative poverty of her parents $750,000 home. The aggressive authoritarianism on display at Yale, Mizzou, Amherst, Dartmouth or Claremont is less the “Rage of a Privileged Class” than the petulant tantrum of the 1%.  In other words, despite their heroic efforts at a public pathos orgy of political correctness to portray themselves as victims in grave danger as they bullied and assaulted professors other students, these are spoiled rich kids used to getting their way, pitching an unholy fit to get undeserved power over others who disagree.

However obnoxious and unlikable these petty tyrants are or how totalitarian their demands to end free speech and academic freedom, fire and expel all their critics or put social-justice commissars in charge of every university department, they didn’t educate themselves. The students embody, perhaps in a more militant form, what they were taught. The problem isn’t that this year has a random surplus of student radicals, or that sinister racist conspiracies exist in the administrations of our most left-wing universities as protestors claim or that these helicoptered students are all psychologically fragile waifs raised in a culture of self-love and psychodrama. No, the problem is that the system to educate our future leaders tends to inculcate deep hostility and loathing toward their fellow Americans, extolls anti-empirical, witch-hunting dogmatism as a virtue while rewarding narcissism and anti-social aggression in interpersonal relations. This needs to change.

We have built an American anti-Agoge that cultivates values, ethics and habits in future leaders that are politically repulsive in their authoritarian rejection of Constitutional rights and are antithetical to ruling wisely or well. At times they would seem to conflict with a life as a functionally competent human being. Half of all Yale students in this pressure-cooker require at least some mental health counseling. This is an astounding statistic. Imagine if Polybius or Livy had written that half of the sons of the Patrician class were at least slightly mad. A toxic ruling class that is certain that they have been victimized by the citizens they govern and who lack the normal resilience to withstand minor stresses of life without concocting conspiracy theories or taking to their bed is a recipe for disaster. In a liberal democratic state such as ours, dependent as it is on the values of an open society to function politically, this state of affairs is a sign of political decay and creeping oligarchy.

What is to be done?

We did not arrive at this juncture overnight and fixing a fundamentally broken academic culture will take time, but here are a few simple suggestions to start.

  1. Legislation to Secure Academic Freedom, Due Process and Free Speech on Campus:  This will defang the PC bullies, social justice warriors and their allies in university administration by hamstringing their ability to coerce and punish dissent. Obviously, this will be easier in public universities but these provisions could be attached to receiving Federal funds, including guaranteed student loans.
  2. Draconian Reduction of University Administrative Positions relative to Tenured Faculty: This will save a great deal of money better spent elsewhere in by axing bureaucracy while de-funding and disempowering the diversity commissariat on campus that is the source of much illiberal mischief. Again, this is a matter more for state level action initially.
  3. Restore a Core Undergraduate Canon rooted in Real Courses in Real Academic Fields: This will reduce the Melissa Click problem of academic sinecures for full-time radical political activists posing as professors with Fifty Shades of Gray “scholarship”. The money saved by getting rid of an army of administrators in #2 leaves a lot of room to hire mathematicians, biologists, historians, economists, physicists, philosophers and linguists who earned a doctorate in something real.
  4. Require Elite universities Receiving Federal Funds to allocate 20% of their Student Body to Students from Middle-Class, Lower Middle Class and Working Class backgrounds, Geographically Balanced: I have mixed feelings about this in principle, but it would definitely break up the overwhelming UC-UMC Superzip monoculture at our gateway institutions and bring new talent and perspectives into our ruling class that the university administrators at present work extremely hard to systematically exclude. It will also increase social mobility and provide competition for the progeny of our game-rigging “meritocratic” elite.

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None of these will usher in a utopia. Much of radical academia will muddle through doing what they have been doing until retirement, but the system itself will be on a trajectory for better health rather than for getting steadily worse.

Twenty-Nine Articles

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

SWJ Blog has a new post up with an important and all too timely article on transition operations whose authors include an amigo of mine, Pete Turner, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Turner will also be one of the featured speakers at the Boyd & Beyond Conference in October at Quantico:

Transition Operations: A Discussion with 29 Articles by Richard LedetJeff Stewart and Pete Turner 

….What is Transition?

Currently, there is no accepted definition for Transition in US Doctrine.  For the purpose of this discussion, we will define Transition simply as the transfer of responsibility from Supporting Nations (SN) to the Host Nation (HN). 

How do we go from full-speed-ahead COIN operations where we call all of the shots to a fully functioning sovereign nation that provides security and services for its population?  Although we have concluded one Transition (Iraq) and are in the midst of another (Afghanistan), we are still literally feeling our way forward, one unit at a time, without a coherent strategy, doctrine, or national policy.  Battalion and Company Commanders want to know, “What comes after build?”

As previously stated, our doctrine is remarkably silent on Transition.  FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency acknowledges the requirement for Transition in the late stage of counterinsurgency:  

“The main goal for this stage is to transition responsibility for COIN operations to HN leadership.  In this stage, the multinational force works with the host nation in an increasingly supporting role, turning over responsibility wherever and whenever appropriate.  Quick reaction forces and fire support capabilities may still be needed in some areas, but more functions along all Logical Lines of Operations are performed by HN forces with the low-key assistance of multinational advisors.  As the security, governing, and economic capacity of the host nation increases, the need for foreign assistance is reduced.  At this stage, the host nation has established or reestablished the systems needed to provide effective and stable government that sustains the rule of law” (paragraph 5-6).

That is the sum total of the guidance given in our counterinsurgency manual.

Transition thus appears to be rather nebulous; it is something we desire and anticipate, but do not necessarily know how to achieve, or even understand.  It may occur quickly, or be drawn out over an extended period of time.  Like other operations in COIN, Transition will also occur differently in different locations, with various requirements and assorted timelines.  Our own relief in place/transfer of authority (RIP/TOA) process even affects Transition.  How do we maximize effects at this point, especially considering that the level of international effort is simultaneously in decline?  What are the requirements for Transition, and what is the glide path to a smooth successful hand-off to the host nation?  Is it a phase that comes after “Hold,” or is it part of the “Build” phase, both of which occur sequentially after “Clear?”  One might also argue that once “Transition” has begun, the COIN fight is over for SN forces and the responsibility shifts to the State Department or the UN.  Or does it?  

There is no simple way of answering these questions, or the others which are raised throughout this paper.  The answers may change with each particular case.  However, without a dialogue on the subject these questions will continue to go unanswered and operations are likely to proceed with uncertain or frustrating results. ….

Read the rest here.   I am a particular fan of points 3,4,5,6 and 9.

And now, we interrupt this post for a…….

Public Service Message:

If you enjoy discussions like this one and think that SWJ and SWJ Blog are an important forum for debate on key defense and strategic issues, they could really use your financial support:

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The Small Wars Foundation / Journal / Council’s annual fundraising campaign is now underway and this is easily the most critical funding effort we have conducted since going hot in 2005. We originally envisioned quarterly campaigns but quickly realized that we were likely over-tapping the hard-core few who have kept our head above water all these years. Well, we are currently on life support in many aspects of our operations to include day to day operating costs, upgrades to the site, and providing at least a meager compensation to those who work 24/7 to keep our humble contribution to our Nation’s security and foreign policy alive and well.

There are many ways to support SWF/SWJ and they can be found here. But what we are most in need of right now is hard cash, the more the better. We have over 200 of our popular Small Wars Journal challenge coins remaining and will get one off to those who donate $50 or more or commit to a $25 a month recurring contribution. Donation options are available at the same link.

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“No one is really listening, they are just pretending.” – Madhu, Part II

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Since the original post of “No one is really listening, they are just pretending,” there are indications that pretending may actually be doing institutional harm.

The US Naval Institue recently sponsored the Joint Warfighting Conference 2012, and my friend Lucien Gauthier (YN2/SW) wrote a very good recap of the event. In his post, Lucien remarked on the comments of retired USMC General James “Hoss” Cartwright. Cartwright’s comments have been described by others around the blogosphere as “unleashed,” and indeed his comments may have raised a few eyebrows. But this sentence of Lucien’s post, while perhaps stating the obvious may reveal one challenge the Navy and DOD face in the credibility and trust department:

“Gen Cartwright had the luxury of no longer being in uniform and so his candor was particularly poignant.”

Now I don’t know General Cartwright, but I know people who do and they report he is a fine officer, and my remarks aren’t about him, but the implications of Lucien’s observation. The suggestion “…the luxury of no longer being in uniform and so his candor…”  struck me, for what is the reverse? “…in uniform, no candor?” If our highest ranking officers wait until they are retired to be candid, what does that say for those remaining in uniform, and what does it say about the environment? Does the environment inspire pretending? How many serving “pretend” daily just to get by, or worse, to get promoted?

A few months ago in a conversation with a young naval officer, one of the brightest I know, I was talking about “to be or to do” and the value of honesty always. The officer remarked, “Well sometimes you have to let the boss think the idea was his…” or something to that effect. I made the point that this is part of the problem: if these leaders are so uptight they need to be handled, then they are part of the problem. Trust can grow only where honesty is ubiquitous.

Recently, the Navy Times published a short query entitled, “Tell us what you think: Faith in Navy Brass?” One of the questions surprised me: “Do you trust the Navy’s leadership and still take them at their word?” If those who responded (be sure to read the comments) are to be believed, the answer is a resounding, “no.” Curiosity piqued, I conducted an informal poll among a small group of naval officers (active duty and retired) asking the same question. The answer: “no.” Since my Navy days, I’ve heard the old saw, “A bitching Sailor is a happy Sailor,” but this seems different.

At least ten commanding officers have been relieved of command eight months into 2012. Two were relieved due to unfavorable command climate surveys, so one could conclude the Navy is listening and taking action in some quarters. The recent decision by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to require breathalyzers of Sailors and Marines reporting for duty introduces evidence of distrust, and his decision is nothing short of institutional micromanagement. At their core, a micromanager does not trust their subordinates.

When the folks on the pointy-end of the spear aren’t trusted, leaders should not be surprised when those folks return the favor. So to leaders, while you may think some of your subordinates agree with you, they may pretending, and are you ok with that? Are you ok with that if you learn you are the cause? Less pretending, more honesty.

Postscript: For more evidence, check out his post at the USNI Blog, The Wisdom of a King. Another fine example of the importance of trust can be found in a September 2012 Proceedings article by LCDR B.J.Armstrong, Leadership & Command (both come highly recommended).

Cross-posted at To Be or To Do.

Turning Away From Strategy

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

It appears that the Pentagon no longer intends to educate the most talented members of the officer corps to think strategically.

I say this because the status of the premier professional military education institutions – the war colleges and NDU – have been devalued, their leadership slots demoted and their educational mission degraded. As a guest columnist for Tom Ricks noted back in June:

….The new uniformed leadership of the Armed Forces, i.e., General Dempsey and his staff, apparently intend to prune NDU back to where it was a few decades ago. There will be some modest resource savings, but since the entire university budget doesn’t amount to the cost of a single joint strike fighter, one has to wonder what is motivating all of what is happening here. In the cuts that have been discussed, Dempsey’s deputy, Marine Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn has wielded the meat axe, often with the aid of micromanaging action officers. No one here in the rank-and-file is sure if the urbane chairman is on board with the details of all of this. (Ironically, both the chairman and J-7 are NDU graduates with advanced degrees.)

This set of changes took place in stages. First, while very few general or flag officer slots were cut in the armed forces, the three-star president of the university slot was downgraded to two, and the school commandants, downgraded from two to one star. No big deal, one might say, but one would be wrong, very wrong. A three star in Washington can go head-to-head with a principal on the joint staff or a senior OSD bureaucrat to protect the university. To compound the problem, the last three star president was retired in the spring and the university was left for a few months under the command of a senior foreign service officer, a former ambassador, a woman of great diplomatic talent and experience with no clout in the Pentagon. The new commandant — a highly regarded Army two-star — will not report until deep into June, when all or most of the cuts have been set in concrete. (Interesting question: can an employee of the State Department legally or even virtually assume command of a DoD organization?)

….A new “charter” was subsequently published by the Chairman. It focused the university on joint professional military education and training, which in itself, is a good thing. Immediately, however, the research and outreach activities of the university, often more focused on national strategy than military affairs, came under intense scrutiny. These outfits had grown way beyond their original charters and had become effective and highly regarded servants of a wider interagency community. Much of their work was not done for the joint staff but for OSD Policy, and some of that in conjunction with civilian think-tanks. The research arm of the university was productive, even if not always useful in a practical way to the joint staff. It also was helpful to the colleges in a much more proximate and direct fashion than other think tanks, like RAND.

….The research, gaming, and publications arms of the university — a major part of the big-think, future concepts and policy business here — will be cut to somewhere between half and a third of their original sizes. To make things worse, many of the specific cuts appear to have been crafted in the Pentagon, and nasty emails have come down from on high, about how the university is bankrupt and going into receivership, which was never the judgment of the military and civilian accrediting officials, who inspect us regularly and have generally given the university high marks.

If it would be impressive if some of our senior generals had been as effective on the battlefield as they are in the bureaucracy.

Uncreative destruction of intellectual seed corn is a bureaucrat’s way of telling everyone to shut up, don’t question and get in line. There’s nothing wrong with having excellence at joint operations as an educational goal for most future brigadiers and major generals but our future theater commanders, combatant commanders, service chiefs and their respective staff officers need something more – they need strategy.  More importantly, the Secretary of Defense, the President, the Congress and the American people need the DoD to have an in-house capacity to generate deeply thought strategic alternatives, question assumptions and red-team any self-aggrandizing options the services or bureaucracy feel like offering up in a crisis.

The motivation here is simple, really. If you put out all the strategic eyes of the Pentagon, then the one-eyed men can be King. Or he can always contract out his strategic thinking to highly paid friends to tell him what he wishes to hear.

Naturally, this will have bad effects downstream in a superpower whose civilian leadership seldom has as good a grasp of geopolitics and the fundamentals of classical strategy as they do of law or the partisan politics of running for office. They will be in need of sound strategic advice from uniformed military leaders and they will be much less likely to get it. Instead, they will have senior officers who are less likely to balk when the President’s back-home fixer turned “adviser” or superstar academic with delusions of grandeur pushes a half-baked plan at an NSC meeting to “do something”. When that happens, the jackasses kicking down this particular barn will have long-since retired and cashed out with consultancies and sinecures on boards of directors.

While a lack of strategic thinking can undermine even a lavishly funded and well-trained military, the reverse is also true; strategic leadership can revive an army that is but a half-dead corpse.

A brief illustration:

 

After WWI the two states that made the most extreme cuts in military power were defeated Germany and the victorious United States. Germany was forced to do so by Versailles, but responded by opting under General von Seeckt to reduce to 100,000 men by making the Reichswehr a qualitatively superior nucleus of a future expanded German Army. Prohibited from having mass, the Germans opted for class with every long-serving recruit being considered officer material and being superbly trained (even to the extent of covert training and weapons testing jointly with the Red Army deep inside the Soviet Union to evade Allied inspections). Von Seeckt also instituted a shadow general staff office that thought deeply about tactical lessons, operations and strategy for the next war. Without the Reichswehr being what it was it is highly dubious that Hitler could have so rapidly expanded the Wehrmacht into a world-class land fighting force in so few years time.

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In contrast, the United States radically reduced the size of the regular Army and starved it of weapons, ammunition, gasoline, training and basic supplies. Promotions slowed to a crawl where ancient colonels and elderly majors lingered on active duty and future four and five star generals like Eisenhower, Patton, and Marshall all despaired and contemplated leaving the service. The Army’s – and to extent, America’s – salvation was in the fact that George Marshall persevered as a major and colonel in keeping a little black book of talented, forward thinking, officers and thought deeply and reflectively about building armies, helping enact “the Fort Benning Revolution” in military training. When FDR placed the power in Marshall’s hands as Chief of Staff he knew exactly what to do because he had a well-conceived vision of where the US Army needed to go to meet the national emergency of WWII. He was the American von Seeckt, except that Marshall was an infinite improvement morally, strategically and politically on his German counterpart. We were extremely fortunate to have had him.
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We may not be as lucky next time.

TED: E.O. Wilson -Advice to Young Scientists

Sunday, July 1st, 2012


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