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Archive for April 3rd, 2012

Frederick the Great, Baron Von Steuben, and the Value of Practice, Practice, Practice

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012
[by J. Scott Shipman]
Frederick the Great


During a recent trip to London, I took along John McAuley Palmer’s Washington – Lincoln – Wilson Three War Statesmen. Previously I reviewed Palmer’s excellent and informative America in Arms, so I’ve been looking forward to this follow-up. While I’m not finished with Washington (on about page 90), this one is a much tougher read than the first, but I’m going to press on as I can make the time among competing work and books.

What I wanted to share with you was an excerpt from Palmer’s remarks on Baron Von Steuben’s Prussian military background.

Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben


Von Steuben, in many respects was Washington’s ace at organizing, equipping, and training the army—a job for which Von Steuben was eminently qualified. His was the latest training in the methods of Frederick the Great and his vaunted what was to become his Prussian General Staff. (many thanks to Seydlitz for correcting my error)

For training, Frederick used what he called the “applicatory method.” This sounds a lot like Fred Leland’s cutting edge law enforcement training and Don Vandergriff’s work with the US Army. Here are a few quotes:

“He found that military success depends, not upon profound theoretical knowledge, but upon sound judgement and quick resolute decision under stress. Directing a successful attack is therefore not the same thing as writing an essay about it. It is a question of grasping a situation, making a practical decision, and issuing intelligible orders to the several parts of a military command. It is a question of not merely knowing but of doing. (emphasis, Palmer, pages 42-43)

“This led Frederick to form the habit of giving himself tactical problems in his daily walks and rides. Carlyle gives us the following interesting glimpse of the great king after he had become a distinguished and successful general:

For Friedrich is always looking out, were it even form the window of his carriage, and putting military problems to himself in all manner of scenery. What would a man do, in that kind of ground, if attacking, if attacked? With that hill, that brook, that bit of bog? And advises every officer to be continually doing the like. That is the value of picturesque or other scenery to Friedrich. (emphasis mine)

“From making this a method of self-culture to making it a means of instructing others is but a step…It is the continual test of judgement, of decision, and of facility in issuing effective orders.” (Palmer, page 43)

Frederick also used this training method as a “tactical measuring rod” to help determine the competency of his leadership.

Von Steuben proved Frederick’s methods with Washington’s army. But what struck me was the simple power of establishing and maintaining good habits that promote, practice, enable coping with dynamic environments, and the exploitation individual curiosity and action. Frederick institutionalized his “self-culture” into his meta-culture and so did Von Steuben in turn.

This type of practicing; the continual maintenance of good habits will help ensure a competitive posture in just about any field. Further, Frederick practiced ad hoc—wherever he was, he was thinking through the lens of his profession and asking relevant questions of himself and his subordinates—further lessons for today’s leaders, regardless the profession.

Looking, paying attention, and thinking is free—so even in declining budgets we should follow the example set by Frederick and Baron Von Steuben in his turn.

Cross-posted at To Be or To Do.

Call and response?

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — just curious, entirely speculative ]

Just a quick, speculative question here…

I’m wondering whether the movie-poster-style image of NYC above, which (as I understand it) appeared on the jihadi forums today, Monday 2nd April, might have no bearing on actual plots under way, but instead be an over-the-weekend response to Ambassador Crocker’s statement published Friday 30th March?

Ambassador Crocker says “next time it will not be New York or Washington, it will be another big Western city” which raises blood pressure elsewhere, and then the eye-catching image gets posted on the forums and boosted in the NY Daily News — and NYC can get in on the worry too…

Just a thought.

Recommended Reading

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

 Top Billing!  Zachary Tumin – Let’s tackle the right education crisis

Zach Tumin, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and co-author of  Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World is critiquing the Council of Foreign Relation’s recent report on “national security and education” that was very light on connections to national security and very heavy on recommendations for more corporate ed reform of the public school system (Largely because the task force was stacked with an excess of people who would benefit financially from such policies).  Tumin writes:

There’s a national security crisis in U.S. education. I’m no history sleuth, but it must have come on fast just after February 2010. That’s when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sent the last Quadrennial Defense Review up to Capitol Hill, with no mention of U.S. education at all. Two years later, in March 2012, Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice issued a report from the Council on Foreign Relations that declared American education to be so failed as to put U.S. national security at risk.

National security crises can arise suddenly. But education crises? Schooling kids is much as Max Weber once described politics – “a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” You can lose a school building or a teacher overnight, but you don’t fall into a national-security-like crisis by mid-morning recess. You don’t get out of it by homeroom the next day, either.

American education today does feel like it’s in crisis. But not the one Rice and Klein would have us believe. Klein and Rice say the problem is: “Johnny still can’t read, ‘rite or ‘rithmetic.” They say tests and standards are the fix. And like George Bush did down at Ground Zero after 9/11, they’ve gone to “The Pile,” megaphone in hand, shouting the alarm. This time, though, it’s not Saddam and WMD. It’s China, Finland, Singapore and our schools.

….If we’re going to war, let’s get the problem right.

There is a crisis in American education worth going after hard. It’s one we can fix, and only a fool wouldn’t want to, whether its draped in the American flag or just sitting there quietly waiting to wreak havoc. Almost 1 million K-12 teachers – 29 percent of U.S. public school teachers – say they plan to quit within the next five years. Two years ago it was 17 percent. For those teachers with six to 20 years on the job – the heart of the batting order – 40 percent now say they plan to wave the white flag.

How do we know? Because Pew and Harris Interactive told us so last month in the 28th annual MetLife “Survey of the American Teacher.” Pew famously puts out the dullest, most obvious, least controversial survey findings imaginable. No one ever accused Pew of “rock piling” it.

But this was a stunner. Pay isn’t the issue. Safety is all right. Teacher-parent engagement is up. With collaboration between teachers and parents strong, teachers feel they have parents’ support and involvement. These are great soft indicators. So what’s the beef? Teachers feel they’re being asked to take a high-speed drill to a “strong slow boring of hard boards” problem just when the long, slow nurture of children has become all the more important to kids’ success. America’s teachers think we’ve got the problem – and the solution – wrong. Here’s what Pew found:

Read the rest here.

HG’s World– Thoughts on a Maritime Nation

The maritime theme that most often runs through this blog, and binds it together, is the same one that for over two hundred years has bound together the United States, and led to our success as a nation and great power. Due to our ability to recognize our failings, and self correct ourselves this path has led to a world more prosperous and secure, than any time since humans have existed. Our nation was founded by people who journeyed to our shores on ships, and then when divorced from Europe, founded a navy to protect our shores and lanes of commerce. 

….The recent decision by President Obama to commit to a “Strategic Pivot” to reinforce our presence in the Western Pacific has left the Navy with hard choices to do more with less, as it plans to retire 16 ships and now 7 more cruisers and 2 amphibious ships next year. Some in Congress have begun to question the logic and soundness of the Navy’s decision. This topic has spread to the influential naval centric blog of Information Dissemination, where this post generated lively debate. Amid the plans for pivoting to Asia is a rather large fly in the ointment named Iran. Reading the “Tea Leaves” tends support the phrase, plan for the worst, and hope for the best.

Thomas PM Barnett – WPR’s The New Rules: In Tough Times, America’s ‘Dirty Harry’ Streak Re-Emerges  

President Barack Obama has presented himself as the ender of wars. Moreover, where the preceding administration went heavy with its military power, the Obama administration goes laparoscopically light. And as if to culminate a quarter-century trend of U.S. military interventions that have all somehow devolved into manhunts of some sort, America now simply skips the intervention and gets straight to hunting down and killing bad guys. We stand our ground, as it were, on a global scale. Give us the wrong gesture, look, attitude or perceived intention, and wham! One of ours might kill one of yours — in a heartbeat. You just never know.

If that sounds like the resurrection of the “Dirty Harry” mindset, it has a lot to do with our still-tough economic times. As a nation and society, we have a long and persistent history of adopting a decidedly illiberal attitude when income growth lags. Jostled by hard times, we feel little remorse about dispatching those who transgress, trespass, threaten or terrorize us.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Why We Don’t Know What We Talk About When We Talk About Probability 

I will rephrase the previous two points, as they are nonseparable. 
Luckily, we do not use probabilities in daily(and less daily) decisions,
 at least not in the raw form presented in the literature -doing so 
 would have made us exit the gene pool.

To Be or to Do –Frederick the Great, Baron Von Steuben, and the Value of Practice, Practice, Practice 

Danger RoomNavy: We’re 4 Years Away From Laser Guns on Ships and FBI: Russian Honeypot Tried To Sex Obama Cabinet Official

Outside the Beltway (Dr. James Joyner) –Republican Stupidity Widens Gender Gap 

Chicago Boyz (David Foster) –Rogues’ Gallery: The Convicts of Early Australia 

What kind of person keeps $ 10 million in cash at home?

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