For the past two years I have worked with dynamic, young intellectuals—the “Whiz Kids”—in foreign policy matters at the Pentagon. Our organization, the office of International Security Affairs, was created 16 years ago as a focal point within the Department of Defense for dealing with other agencies on political-military problems. There are 300 professionals in this organization—60 per cent civilians and 40 per cent military (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines). The office is headed by an Assistant Secretary of Defense with six civilian deputies and a three star Admiral as principal subordinates.
For the military man, this assignment in the “Pentagon’s State Department” is unique. It is stimulating, challenging, frustrating, and at times, embarrassing. Permit me to illustrate these four adjectives by a recent incident. A crash action of Presidential interest required the combined efforts of a group of civilians and military in our office. The team included a new management trainee, age 25, Harvard Ph.D.; a civilian branch chief, age 34, Columbia LL.B. and Ph.D.; a senior Air Force colonel, age 53, a Mississippi high school graduate; and a Navy captain, age 50, U. S. Naval Academy.
The group, all of whom were wearing civilian clothes, was gathered around a conference table examining several documents. At that moment a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, age 31, Columbia LL.B., entered the room, scrutinized each of the members, and turned to the young trainee saying, “You are Colonel Old, aren’t you?” “No,” the other replied. “There is Colonel Old over there.” Undaunted, the Secretary turned next to the civilian branch chief, “You are a Columbia Law Graduate, aren’t you?” “Yes,” came the response.
“Ah, good. You’ll get the job done on time.”
He did. By working nights the branch chief beat the deadline and earned the plaudits of his boss for a scholarly report.
How many times this scenario has been repeated in recent years at the Pentagon, I do not know. But what is important is how it indicates a radical change within the military establishment. My concern is with the impact of this change and what should be done to improve the situation.
The rise andfall of military power. As a Second Lieutenant on the War Department General Staff in 1942, I recall General George C. Marshall and his deputies ordering to Washington able young officers to work for them or for Army and Air Corps Headquarters. By the end of World War II, military men in their late twenties and early thirties dominated the vital operations and policy posts within the Pentagon. They included career officers like Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Goodpaster (presently Lieutenant General, U. S. Army and Assistant to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff) as well as reservists like Lieutenant Colonel Robert S. McNamara, U. S. Air Force.
In contrast, the civilian hierarchy was headed by Secretary of War Henry L. Stim- son, age 78, and a tiny staff—average age 57—that included no men with impressive academic backgrounds. Therefore, development of War Department policy was virtually under military control.
Paul H. Appleby, Assistant Director, Bureau of the Budget, during the war period, expressed grave concern over the dominant role of the soldier. During his lecture on “Civilian Control of a Department of National Defense” at the University of Chicago in 1946, he said:
It is a common view that civilian control of the military establishment is certainly, simply and permanently assured by the provisions of our Constitution. In still a simpler way it is widely felt that the only requirement is to put a civilian on top. Students of government understand, however, that there are real and difficult and ever-changing problems in all executive control under popular responsibility and that these assure a still more serious character in civilian control of the military establishment . . . The error in the simple view has now been magnified by the achievement of the control of atomic energies. The great increase in the power potential of military action will tend to create a similar increase in dependence on and susceptibility to military power . . . Recognizing that danger to civilian control of national defense is danger to democracy, we must recognize that danger to civilian control has been made enormously more critical by the new military potential . . . The danger to civilian control exists in a peculiar way in the military realm because of the glamour and prestige conferred by history and crisis on wearers of military uniforms. On innumerable occasions we all must have observed the vast difference in treatment accorded men wearing star-spangled collars compared with treatment of civilian officials of equal or higher responsibilities. Even a colonel or major is freely given a respect sharply in contrast to the antagonistic attitude often reflected toward their civilian peers.
The Appleby philosophy was shared by other prominent leaders who were also concerned about the postwar influence of the military. Professor Samuel P. Huntington in The Soldier and the State emphasized this belief when ho wrote:
Military officers wielded a far greater power in the United States during this period than they did in any other major country. Three of the most significant manifestations of their influence were: (1) the influx of military officers into government positions normally occupied by civilians; (2) the close ties which developed between military leaders and business leadership; and (3) the wide-spread popularity and prestige of individual military figures.
Huntington points up this three-pronged military involvement in civic affairs after World War II with such examples as Marshall’s appointment as Secretary of State and later Defense Secretary; military government of Japan and Germany; succession of men like General Douglas MacArthur into business firms; the election of President Dwight D. Eisenhower; and military involvement through aid programs and treaty organizations. The large political control by the military gave intellectual currency in some quarters to Harold Laswell’s hypothesis that the movement of world history was “from progress toward a world commonwealth of free men toward a world order which the garrison-prison state reintroduces caste-bound social systems.”
Today few can be found who adhere to Laswell’s conclusions, and part of the reason must lie in the diminished role of the military. Jack Raymond writes to this point in his recent book, Power at the Pentagon:
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the postwar era, General Omar N. Bradley and Admiral Arthur S. Radford, operated in the continued glow of victory in war but were impressive in their own right as well. Their successors, General Nathan F. Twining, an Air Force officer who had risen from sergeant in the National Guard, and General [Lyman C.] Lemnitzer, who was caught in an administrative changing of the guard, had good war records but were bland, passive men in Washington.
When McNamara assumed control of the Pentagon, much of the wartime glory of the military had receded. Whatever prestige the military incumbents of the Pentagon high command had left was dealt a devastating blow in the Cuban invasion fiasco of 1961.
It should be emphasized that the revolution within the Pentagon was only a part of a vaster social change that occurred in the American society with the commencement of the Kennedy administration.
The New Civilian Team. What are the characteristics of the new civilian incumbents? Most are young—in their thirties and early forties, have an Ivy League education, are highly intellectual, and eager to exercise power. Educational backgrounds of the new breed parallel that of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara (Harvard Business graduate and later professor) who assumed top leadership of the Military Establishment in 1961—age 45. Today’s academic brainpower is the most incandescent in Pentagon history. The Journal of the Armed Forces points up this fact in a recent article:
Of the 27 top officials of the Defense Department—old and new—11 including Secretary McNamara hold either graduate and/or undergraduate degrees from Harvard; six including Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance, hold graduate and/or undergraduate degrees from Yale; two, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) Arthur Sylvester and Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Baldwin are graduates of Princeton . . . Twenty-two of the 27 went on to graduate school earning 12 LLB’s, 6 PhD’s and 6 MA’s. Eight earned their graduate degrees at Harvard.
Other illustrations of the youthful talent in this group are Assistant Secretary of Defense, Systems Analysis, Dr. Alain C. Enthoven, age 36, Stanford and M.I.T.; Secretary of the Air Force, Harold Brown, age 38, who received his Doctorate in Physics from Columbia at 22; and Under Secretary of the Army David E. McGiffert, age 39, Harvard A.B. and LL.B.
Concurrent with the influx of key senior officials there was also a fresh input of bright young men and women at the working levels to augment and later replace the older Whiz Kids. Let us look at the 1965 group of 12 college graduates selected by Secretary McNamara under the Executive Training Program. Their credentials include: Upper 10 per cent of a topnotch university; master’s degrees; age 25; leadership traits; completed active military service. This elite talent (starting salary: $7,220) is marked for more rapid advancement and stimulating opportunities. For a year these individuals are being rotated through the various offices of the Department of Defense and then they will be assigned to the activity which most interests them.
Whiz Kids in Power: Having held the military reins for over five years, perhaps the most profound influence the Whiz Kids have had upon our democratic society is their assumption of complete domination of our Defense Department. Many, including pundit Walter Lippmann, foresaw this change.
As early as January 1961, Lippmann wrote that the new civilians in the Kennedy administration would curb “the talkativeness of American military men ... on critical affairs,” and “wean the Congress and positions of the Press from their undue reliance upon military establishment as the true source of the true American policy. For then those who who have to deal with our problems will learn by trial and error that the true source of the true policy is among the civilians who make the policy.”
In fairness, it must be stated that the civilians provided a valuable national service in redirecting the military establishment toward previously neglected defense requirements. President Kennedy’s first defense message to Congress emphasized the importance of preparedness for a “spectrum of warfare” permitting greater military alternatives rather than reliance upon the nuclear deterrent alone. The Whiz Kids implemented this philosophy by beefing up our limited warfare capability through special forces, an air assault division, increases in the conventional forces and the further research and production of small arms and equipment. Not merely did the McNamara team succeed in readjusting our military posture but it showed a decisive willingness to use military power within the Clausewitz idea as “an extension of politics.” In the Cuban crisis in the Dominican Republic, and in Vietnam, they permitted the President to call an opponent’s bets in the international poker game, matching our adversary’s wager with a pile of military blue chips of our own.
While we have seen evidence of positive advantages of this civilian assumption of power, Newton’s Law, that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” could, in part, be applicable in this instance. While some gains were made, reactions occurred that were detrimental to effective government.
It may be argued that the operations of government demand men of mature judgment and experience. Burke in his famous speech to the voters of Bristol did not emphasize his intelligence as a criterion for public service, but rather “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, and his enlightened conscience.” Walter Lippmann said essentially the same thing when he wrote, in 1959: “ . . . public service is a profession and an art which must be acquired by long experience in public life. For the art of governing men is a great art itself—perhaps the greatest as it surely is the most momentous of all arts, and a lifetime is not too long a time in which to learn it.”
Most military officers do not have the academic credentials of the Whiz Kids. Thus, the quicker minds and brighter wits easily outshine the slower, less articulate ones. But this does not mean we ought to disregard the military, or that they do not have ideas, or that their judgment cannot be important. We must not neglect military potential in terms of the long experience gained through lifetime careers in the Nation’s service. It is vital that military expertise be given its proper weight. And, in their haste, the Whiz Kids may not have done so.
A case in point is the young intellectual hired (at $30,000 per annum) from a prestigious consulting firm to study and effect reforms in the NATO Defense structure. He left for Paris determined to implement his proposals in six months. He returned a year and a half later, having achieved very little besides alienating Americans and foreigners alike. Any experienced officer who had worked with our European Allies could have told him before he left that patience and empathy are more important to reforms in NATO than brilliance and abundant ideas.
More disturbing than the inadequate use of military minds is the recent development which former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Edward L. Katzenbach Jr. pointed up in the March 1965 article “The Demotion of Professionalism at the War Colleges,” in the U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings: “The sense of military professionalism has been on the wane,” he wrote. “The mystique—that sense of mission and that excitement of being part of a tightly knit professional body—is barely felt. Service may be becoming a job.” His statement is supported by the fact that an ever increasing number of our most able junior and senior officers are leaving the service long before they have confirmed an early promise of public and professional service. The Army is faced with a severe shortage of junior officers, and the Air Force and Navy have many unfilled spaces for technically trained men.
There are many factors involved in this diminished professionalism. But, a critical one is that, in its haste to execute reforms, the civilian hierarchy has overlooked many of the pressing needs of the services. Among these needs are the maintenance of a professional status—modernized educational program, responsible job opportunities, and prestige accruing for faithful public service. The newly installed civilians have turned many of our fine senior officers into docile King Lears shorn of both prestige and adequate responsibilities. This is a perilous path to follow.
The military is not a game for amateurs but, as Huntington wrote, “professionalism ... is characteristic of the modern officer in the same sense in which it is characteristic of the physician or lawyer.” He concludes that the characteristics of the military professionalism include its expertise, responsibility, and corporateness, and in order for our liberal society to endure, “the civilians must permit the soldiers to adhere to the military standards.”
While no one is advocating a return to Chaucer’s medieval romantic conception of a soldier, it behooves modern democratic America in its own interest to support a strong professional military force. I charge, however, that the civilians could have more adequately comprehended the importance of maintaining this professionalism. By their failure, they have not given the military services vital leadership. For example, even such specialized areas as the selection of military targets in Vietnam have been taken over by the Whiz Kids. Such actions have caused an anonymous general officer in the Pentagon to compose this ditty:
I am not allowed to run the train;
The whistle I can’t blow.
I am not allowed to say how fast
The railroad trains can go.
I am not allowed to shoot off steam
Nor even clang the bell.
But let it jump the goddam tracks
And see who catches hell!
Another disadvantage of the new civilian proliferation at the Pentagon relates to the very heart of government efficiency. Since 1960, key civilians in the Department of Defense have increased 50 per cent. This great expansion in top personnel, coupled with the already large numbers in the Departments of Army, Navy, and Air Force, has created another hierarchy almost as predicted in Parkinson’s Law. The ill effects of this new structure is greater diffusion of control and responsibility at the expense of economy in time and money. A case in point is the sextupling of comparable jobs at the Pentagon. For example, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Department of Defense each has its own logistics advisors, headed by an assistant secretary and/or senior general with a large supporting staff. Any Defense policy problem in logistics requires inordinately long delays to co-ordinate with all six agencies.
There is one final worrisome quality about the new McNamara breed which probably has not so far caused any sleepless nights among our democratic philosophers but is still worth watching. I refer to the slumbering “Man on Horseback,” be he military or civilian. The threat of a large military complex within the liberal society is still very much present. Certainly, it is less obvious than in the immediate post-war period when senior officers had close liaison with manufacturers, domestic political decisions, and foreign affairs. Yet, while civilians are in control today, we must not forget they are in charge of our giant war-making potential with a 50 billion dollar budget and three million men in the armed services plus another million in civilian attire. Lord John Acton’s comment that power in any form tends to corrupt and absolute power does so absolutely should not be taken lightly.
The “McNamaras,” it may be argued, are preferable to the “MacArthurs” because of their hopefully broader prospective and greater sense of political restraint. However, this new authority must still be subjected to the checks of our constitutional system and as Mr. Jack Raymond concludes: “The acknowledged excellence of a McNamara should not divert us from traditional precautions against centralized military authority outside the White House, whether exercised by a man in uniform or in civilian clothes. It is not the character of the man but the power he wields that should concern us.”
The Military. Thus far, in viewing the new transition at the Pentagon; can we agree, perhaps, that although these young civilians are always bright, they are not necessarily always right; that they, in fact, exhibit some of the virtues of a Pericles and some of the vices of a Caesar. Why, then, was the military forced to acquiesce? I suggest, that the answer can perhaps be found in Caesar’s advice to his friend, “the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves ...”
As in Sartre’s existentialist play, No Exit, we, the military, have created our own Hell. Not a particularly hot one, as Hells go, but an inferno we would prefer not to be in. There are, it is suggested, four reasons for our decline in influence.
First, as Morris Janowitz expressed in his portrait of the military profession, we are conservative in nature, routineers, who prefer custom, tradition to innovative ideas. Perhaps this will always be the inherent trait of the warrior since he is charged with the security of the State. But this emphasis on authority, organization, and sameness is perhaps the very reason many gifted men like McNamara, Bundy, and Kennedy left the muddy road of military service after World War II to explore more intriguing highways in the civilian community. Rare are the men like Vice Admiral Hyman Rickover who remained to work successfully within the system. And even he could have only achieved his success with considerable Congressional and public support. General Maxwell Taylor is the most obvious example of the military strategist who knows when to fall back and regroup. Lieutenant General James Gavin is another. Taylor became so disturbed with the system that he retired early to present his views in The Uncertain Trumpet. He again donned a uniform only when the New Frontier was elected.
In a very real sense, then, the military may have been its own greatest enemy—by failing to encourage an enlightened public opinion.
Publicly, the military say they desire intellectuals, but in fact their intellectuals are put in the corner without opportunity for advancement and where they can do the least muddying of the waters. One Air Force officer, Colonel Robert N. Ginsburgh, points up our failure to respond effectively to dynamic civilian leadership. He emphasizes the need in the American military school system to “encourage original thought, research and publication comparable to that of our leading universities.”
To compound the error, the military failed to develop its own Whiz Kids. There are no young officers in the Department of Defense being trained to compete with the agile civilian minds. Consequently, a vast gulf exists between the two groups—the military in my last office, for example, were a generation older, the alumni of an antiquated educational system dating to the depression years. Most of us in the military have been unable to grasp the significance of these “fundamental changes in American society” which Professor Rensiss Likert points up in his recent book on New Patterns of Management:
Supervisors and managers report in interviews that people are less willing to accept pressure and close supervision than was the case a decade or two ago. The trend in America, generally, in our schools, in our homes, and in our communities, is toward giving the individual greater freedom and initiative. There are fewer direct, unexplained orders in schools and homes, and youngsters are participating increasingly in decisions which effect them ... As people acquire more education, their expectations rise as to the amount of responsibility, authority, and income they will receive. Also, a longer exposure to the values of an educational system which places emphasis on participation and individual initiative increases the likelihood that these values will be accepted by the individual and carried over into the working situation.
These significant differences in age and education produce many misunderstandings.
“He’s the most disagreeable brat I’ve ever encountered,” a distinguished overseas commander remarked to his military aide after being interviewed by a visiting Whiz Kid. The General, age 58, U. S. Military Academy; the civilian, age 30, Harvard A.B. and LL.B.
In fact, the young man was not disrespectful. But his education and legal experience permitted him to ask penetrating questions that dug deep into critical issues time and again. No one had confronted the old soldier with such forthrightness. His staff gave him the respect his rank warranted. His West Point training taught him to treat his superiors with the same respect. He could not comprehend a free exchange of views with no holds barred. This situation is repeated in some degree in numerous meetings between military leaders and their youthful civilian superiors.
The military made a third mistake by not recognizing its own deficiencies as emphasized by outsiders. There were countless tomes written in the 1950s. Kissinger’s Necessity For Choice, arguing the fallacy of relying solely upon nuclear deterrents, is but one example. But the “LeMays” insisted upon piloting their SAC bombers to the detriment of establishing an effective limited warfare force. Military backwardness gave the New Frontiersmen ample reasons to seize the reins of power from the incumbents.
To top these failures, the military not only eventually refused to fight, it refused to join. Once the Whiz Kids had assumed control, the majority of the military did not adjust readily to their new superiors’ ways. This only produced further tension between the two groups and a further downgrading of military prestige. A good case in point is the attitude of the Joint Chiefs. They cling to a strict procedure of decision-making that involves the laborious task of obtaining the formal views of the four services. Monumental studies on trivial and major problems pass through four stages; flimsy (white paper) is the first working level effort that involves obtaining Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps positions through a series of meetings. In a recent minor action over 1,600 man-hours went into drafting the first stage report— secretaries typed around the clock. After the next meetings, the 80-page report was retyped on buff colored paper; then more conferences were held and the report was retyped on green paper. After approval by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it appeared on red strip paper.
This procedure may result in weeks or months passing before reaching final decisions. In this particular case, the responsible officer, age 52, said that to begin the action he merely went to the files and copied a similar four- year old paper on this subject. The Whiz Kids, on the other hand, operate more informally but more profoundly and decisions can be reached in minutes, if need be. The result is that the plagiarism and circuitous methods of the Joint Chiefs of Staff become unworkable at times and a stock joke of their civilian colleagues.
A prime example was a Berlin crisis in 1963. Secretary McNamara wanted to know at once the location of our detained vehicles on the Autobahn and other details. A request was made to the Joint Staff but, in the meantime, a Whiz Kid visited the War Room and drew off the situation on the back of an envelope. The desired information was presented immediately to the Secretary of Defense. Four days later, a formal report was rendered by the military. It included two fancy, but obsolete, multi-colored charts. McNamara’s decision had been made 72 hours earlier.
The Two-Sided Problem and Suggestions for Improvement. My theme has been simply that an important transition in power has occurred at the Pentagon and along with it have come certain military and civilian problems. On the civilian side, the importance of military experience has been disregarded and professionalism has not been promoted. The military themselves are at fault for their conservatism which hinders the fostering and acceptance of important new ideas. Observing this, I offer suggestions to remedy these ills.
I should emphasize that for the longer pull, time will cure some of the hurts and strains presently apparent between the two groups. The more experience the civilians gain in the Pentagon environment, the better working arrangements they can achieve with their military subordinates, and likewise the military will learn its lessons in time. In ten years, the now-young civilians will be in the position now occupied by their military counterparts. They will be offering ideas and programs which will wither before the single damning charge—-“Antiquated!” In contrast, the large group of old World War II warriors will have long since departed and perhaps new military thinkers will then have arrived on the scene.
Over the shorter run, however, several things can be done to alleviate present tensions and promote more effective defense.
First, to have the services of more competent military professionals, it is necessary to increase incentives. In economic terms, this means higher pay both for the youngster contemplating a career, for the others fighting in the Vietnam War, and, yes, even for those who help to formulate military strategy at the Pentagon. While money does, indeed, decisively defeat “whatever is second” as an incentive, public recognition cannot be overlooked, the man willing to give up his life for his country must receive a recognition comparable to such professions as law and medicine.
Finally, incentives must be secured to ensure that a man of worth will achieve responsible positions at a relatively early age. Today we are topheavy with old generals and colonels who are still fighting World War II. Twenty-two years ago they were colonels and lieutenant colonels with bright ideas that contributed so much to our victories.
The most able men left the military, for the slow advancement is little incentive for a man with promise to remain in the active service of his country. By more selective screening initially and requiring retirement for the majority after 25 instead of 30 (in some cases 35), we could keep our most able men and contribute equally with the Whiz Kids.
Secondly, action is long overdue in taking our own Clausewitzes and Mahans out of the dust heap and making use of their intellectual talents by giving them responsible positions. Our military educational institutions of the National, Army, Air and Naval War Colleges require new creative life instead of continuing to offer what Mr. Katzenbach calls “something between Great Issues Courses and extended Administration Policy Briefings.” These second-rate schools not only have permitted the Kissingers, the Kahns, and the men of RAND Corporation to run with the military’s football, but also have allowed them to dictate the playing rules in mid-game.
What is needed are graduate-level military colleges comparable in standards to the Ivy League universities. This can be achieved by obtaining an eminent faculty, adequate libraries, qualified students, and an atmosphere of academic freedom. Only in such an environment can the military compete with their civilian colleagues.
Thirdly, there is an important requirement for study and leadership of both civilian and military to solve some of the issues raised in this transition. Perhaps a committee composed of leaders of both groups could stimulate discussion and solution of these questions.
Fourthly, those now in command at the Pentagon should acquire a salubrious dose of humility by asking military men to aid them in developing their new ideas—and by wielding restraint in their use of power.
Yet, humility is not something someone takes like a morning vitamin capsule. It is most effective when force-fed by fate over long periods of time.
Finally, public discussion ought to be mustered in regard to the proper role of the professional military man within the confines of our liberal democracy.
How strong professionally must he be to protect the ideals of our civilization, yet not destroy them? If we, as citizens, honestly reflect upon our country’s history we will discover that our ideals have never been jeopardized by a strong military force—only by a weak one. As Huntington wrote, “Upon the soldiers, the defenders of order, rests a heavy responsibility. The greatest service they can render is to remain true to themselves, to serve with silence and courage in the military way. If they abjure the military spirit, they destroy themselves first and their nation ultimately.”
The Whiz Kids succeeded to power because they were capable of addressing themselves to the swift pace of events. This was not the first, nor will it be the last, major change within our defense establishment. With a keen appreciation of this one, however, it might be easier to cope with the next.