This html article is produced from an uncorrected text file through optical character recognition. Prior to 1940 articles all text has been corrected, but from 1940 to the present most still remain uncorrected. Artifacts of the scans are misspellings, out-of-context footnotes and sidebars, and other inconsistencies. Adjacent to each text file is a PDF of the article, which accurately and fully conveys the content as it appeared in the issue. The uncorrected text files have been included to enhance the searchability of our content, on our site and in search engines, for our membership, the research community and media organizations. We are working now to provide clean text files for the entire collection.
Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership Essay Contest
By Captain C. A. Leader, U. S. Marine Corps
Admirals and ensigns seem to monopolize leadership forums; the senior officers speak as masters and the juniors as apprentices. The perspective of both groups is personal, and this intimate view of leadership is traditional—not only to the naval service, but to the nation. That an individual can decisively influence events is an American tradition. This view is reflected in our national expectation that one individual—the President—can have an immediate, decisive effect on complex organizations and situations.
Tolstoy’s theme in War and Peace that individuals influence the course of history less than they are driven by it is not typically American. The American view of history is a chronology of biographies; the stories of presidents and generals shaping the national character. Brave young officers prove their leadership and become admirals or generals. This perception of the overriding value of a leader is reflected in the American penchant (unusual in a free society) of electing generals to the presidency. Military leadership appears equated in the American mind with decisive civil leadership. This belief in the universal power of individual leadership is particularly evident in internal military discussion.
Individuals play an undeniable role in shaping both large and small events. Institutions play as great or greater a role in influencing the same events. As great as responsibility for individual leadership is, the institution’s responsibility to provide leadership is greater because it has wider effect.
An institution is more than its organization; it is more than management relationships. The character of an institution is determined by its identification of and dedication to an overriding value. The nature of that value establishes the manner and methods of the institution. But unless those values are enforced and action is taken against those who do not support them, the ideals become super-
ficial; painting the words, “To protect and serve” on the doors of police cars does not make a police force effective. In a military organization devoid of an institutional character and without an established value, decoration and promotion become the highest values the individual can aspire to achieve.
Establishment and enforcement of institutional values entails the creation of a formal or informal code of professional conduct. Romantically and historically, this standard has been the officer’s code—based on the premise that officers were accountable to a loftier code than the Articles of War, which were designed to control the potential misconduct of enlisted personnel.
Such a premise is currently inappropriate; now, we have a Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Strangely, the UCMJ maintains the romantic notion that officers—as a class—are responsible to a higher ethic of conduct than the people they lead. An article proscribes “conduct unbecoming an officer.” It would be interesting to know the last time a violation of that article stood the test of court-martial.
The UCMJ is an objective code; any subjective results are incidental. It is a code of law and not of conduct. Only violations are defined; a positive code of desired conduct is not mentioned— except by exclusion. The area of conduct unexcluded by the UCMJ is a broad field of play.
At one time, the lack of a more specific and positive ethic of conduct was not a problem for the service. During the 19th century, the West Point motto “Duty, Honor, Country” was the only formal codification necessary for the military ethic. The service was intimate, stable, and it shared common Judeo-Christian values. Within this context, "duty,” “honor,” and “country” represented much more specific ideals than those words seem to connote today.
This situation of stability and shared values has changed dramatically since World War II. The size of the service has deprived the military communities of shared duty experience. The loss of universal moral values has had an even greater effect in the dissolution of any previous military code. The judicial attempt to enforce a separation of church and state has had the effect of separating Judeo-Christian ethics from the instruments of the state.
The service has been slow in acknowledging this effect and providing a moral code to replace the Judeo- Christian ethic. Instead, to fill the vacuum created by having no shared religious basis for a professional code, we witnessed the emergence of what is charitably called situation ethics.
Ethics and moral judgments, whether personal or professional, have always been situational. No value system is so codified as to dictate in each of the infinitely varying circumstances of life the single ethical course. What seems to be meant by situation ethics in practice, however, is that—short of violating civil or military law—whatever course the individual takes is ethically acceptable.
This is an extremely dangerous concept for an organization. It leads to a decay of common values. When any value that cannot be proven illegal is acceptable, the institution as a cohesive whole has no values of its own. The absence of morality is not immorality; it is amorality. The concept of conduct unbecoming an officer has no meaning in an amoral environment.
The decay and destruction of the German Army, formerly one of the world’s great military institutions, should serve as a warning. It is illuminating to examine the role of institutional values and an ethical code in that army’s decline.
The golden age of the German Army is generally considered to have been from the time of Gerhard von Scharn- horst to that of Count Alfred von Schlieffen (c. 1813-1913). Scharn- horst’s strategy in developing that nearly peerless institution’s professional character and the subsequent reasons for its dissolution are both model and cause for self-examination.
In Scharnhorst’s time, Germany did not have the reputation of producing excellent soldiers and had recently lost its war against Napoleon (1806). The institution of military excellence was formalized principally through rigorous professional education and enforcement of an uncompromising code of officer conduct. The accomplishments of the German War College and General Staff Corps are relatively well known. Less appreciated is the institutional leadership exercised through the officer’s code and its concentration on the value of individual ethical character.
Saber duels and cheek scars are the cliched images of the German Officer Corps. But they ignore the fact that duels were the actions of students, and not of professional officers. Courts of honor were convened to provide Be- friedigunfcihigkeit (satisfaction) in questions of individual honor.
Courts of honor, a subjective tribunal different in purpose from a court- martial, were composed of officers who judged the actions and motives of an officer against the values of the officer corps. These courts of honor had the power to recommend separation of both the accuser and the accused if either officer had violated the ethics of conduct.
In this self-policing manner, individual and institutional honors were given substance. The concepts were living, evolving models that became more than ideals through enforcement. The courts of honor demonstrated that the officer corps could— and would—establish what conduct was demanded of its members.
The more recent phenomenon of the proliferation of lawyers and legalism in the service makes it almost unbelievable that in the 19th century this nation used the court-martial as a court of honor. To officers raised under the UCMJ and exposed to its legalistic approach to institutional behavior, a shared ethic and paternalistic approach to enforcing a subjective code are difficult to visualize.
A decay of the shared ethic was critical in the decline of the German Officer Corps. Although the motives were diametrically opposed. Hitler’s National Socialist philosophy had an effect similar to the American judicial separation of church and state in splitting the professional military code from Christian values. The Waffen SS, the combatant arm of the SS, which selected, trained, promoted, and assigned its officers separately from the German Army, is probably the ultimate Western example of church and state value separation.
Interestingly, and critical to the Waffen SS’s fighting effectiveness, traditional Christian values were replaced by a clearly defined and enforced National Socialist code of performance that provided a standard of professionalism. Instead of tradition- or religion-derived values, the Waffen SS used a hodgepodge of myth and Teutonic mysticism.
Two lessons should be obvious from the Waffen SS experience. First, a professional code of ethics or standards is needed in any military institution to provide cohesion and direction; normally, the Waffen SS fought well. Second, the divorce of situation ethics from a larger ethical value is dangerous. The fervent National Socialist officer who made his ethical decisions based on the specific situation and violated no laws of the Third Reich often found himself on trial for war crimes. A professional ethic—particularly in the military—must be consonant with international morality.
Although the German Army was more oriented toward traditional Christian values than the Waffen SS, the decline of its ethical base was obvious. Writing for an unpublished U. S. Army Historical Division European Command study in the late 1940s, Ob- erst (Colonel) Walter Reissinger, a former General Staff Officer, noted that the loss of Christian ethics as a higher authority . . meant that the standard for independent moral judgement had been largely lost.”
Deprived of an ethical value, situation ethics had no meaning. Reissinger further noted that as a result of the loss of its ethical foundation, ". . .our concept of honor was little more than one of etiquette, a social or professional mask.”
For an institution to reach a level of unselfish professional dedication under the elder von Moltke and embody his admonition to officers (“Accomplish much, remain in the background, be more than you appear to be.”) and then be allowed to decay is a tragedy.
Oberst Herrmann Teske, also writing for the U. S. Army Historical Division, noted in an essay on the German performance evaluation system that under Hitler, “An ever increasing phenomenon. . .was the demand for accomplishments, for visible and measurable results which slowly pushed into the background the evaluation of the man and his character." Teske also noted a . steady decline of education for real spiritual independence.”
Teske’s comments are strikingly similar to those of critics today who warn of the rise of a new class of military courtiers; officers who parody von Moltke’s dictum and seem to be more than they are. The military courtier, if he exists as a class, is more adept at organizational politics and the furthering of his own career advancement than he is at dedicating himself to a profession based on the concept of service. Where once officers were apolitical, moral, and committed to
national service, the military courtier is political, amoral, and committed to self-service.
The emergence of a class of military courtiers, or at least of growing indicators that the military environment is favorable to self-serving tactics of Machiavellianism, is a problem of weak institutional leadership. The most frightening indicator is the lack of member confidence in the leadership of the institution—a problem that circumstances make difficult for flag officers to appreciate.
This lack of confidence in the institution is most obvious to the junior officer. He is in a position to know both the first-term enlistee and the career serviceman, and the problems of retention are not statistically abstract to him. He knows his best subordinates and why many of them choose not to reenlist. The junior officer knows how little faith many of his subordinates possess in the institution, its leadership, and its justice.
Not far removed from the university, the junior officer is aware that, as a group, the best of his classmates did not enter the service. Further, he has seen many of his best contemporaries leave the service. The disillusionment experienced by many of the best mid-rank officers does not escape notice of the junior officer, nor do the motives of many officers who retire after 20 years of service.
To complain about the imperfections of the service and his seniors is a right of the junior officer. However, there is a tremendous difference between impatient dissatisfaction with a loved but flawed institution, and a cynical lack of faith in the institution, its values, and its leaders.
The most bitter reality of institutional leadership problems is that no individual can effect an overall change. The naval service is so large, complex, and influenced by such a great number of other institutions and events that it is beyond the power of any individual to effect a decisive change of course.
The weakness of the institutional leadership of both the French Army and Government was evident to some observers before their collapse in May 1940. Those who demanded change and leadership became prophets after the astonishingly rapid fall of the Third Republic. As in the Bible, however, those prophets had been previously ignored in their own land.
In retrospect, the fragility of the French institutions should have been obvious. Underlying whatever political and strategic mistakes were made was the failure of the institution to address the cause and effects of the 1917 army mutiny as a leadership problem of institutional dimensions.
Although the indicators for the French are obvious in retrospect, they were not so at the time. In the future, others may reflect on signal indicators of a fatal leadership problem with the U. S. military: the Vietnam-era "fragging” assassinations, shipboard riots and sabotage, the uneven conduct of POWs and failure to seriously examine a code for POW behavior, lack of resolution of the USS Pueblo (AGER- 2), and organizational pettiness reflected in the Mayaguez operation and the Iranian rescue attempt.
History is replete with examples of successful institutions raised from the ashes of defeat: Napoleon's creation of the Grand Army from the chaos of the French Revolution, Scharnhorst’s reorganization of the German Army in the 19th century. Hitler’s efforts with his army in the 1930s, and Soviet resurgence in 1943.
Much less typical is a successful institution born of foresight rather than failure, of a winning tradition rather than a lost war. Lord Fisher’s reform of the British Navy in the early 20th century is one such example.
In the United States, having only come away with ties at best in its last two wars, the argument that the service institution must be examined prior to risking the loss of the next war requires thoughtful reflection and not smug rejection.
Institutional leadership is not a onetime problem to be solved. It does not yield to the quick fix. It is never the result of slogans and cliches unless the words of those verbalized ideals are made consistent through promotion, assignment, education, and training.
Neither is institutional leadership solely the responsibility of flag rank. The decision to lead the institution must be a collective determination by its members to further a common ideal. It is this shared commitment between the most senior and the most junior members that generates the cohesion, loyalty, and trust that allows a military force to persevere and succeed.
Although leadership will always manifest itself in the traditional exchanges between superior and subordinate, this is not its sole province. Leadership is also the art of creating character in a military institution and instilling the cohesion and fighting effectiveness that produce victories.
The naval service deserves our sincere effort to provide it with a collective institutional leadership. The affirmation of a service ethic and code of conduct is a worthy goal.
(Continued from page 21) Comment and Discussion
“Strategic Choice and Maritime
(See J. Eberle. pp. 65-72, April 1982
Victor Wolf Jr., President, The Astrolabe Group Inc.—After almost 30 years in the U. S. Foreign Service (19521980). I am convinced that Admiral Eberle has struck a note of profound truth when he asserts that the symbiotic and, indeed, unified nature of politics and national defense in Western national security policy is the key to all. As Admiral Eberle infers and history demonstrates that linkage has not received sufficient attention from the political leadership of the Free World. For example, there should be no argument that public support is needed for the large proposed budget expenditures for national defense over the next years to be enacted by the Congress. There can be no argument about the thesis that increased expenditures are needed in the national interest. Yet. how do we deal with the disturbing lack of confidence which many in the United States and other countries in the Alliance have in their governments’ national defense decisions? The issue is one of credibility.
One essential element of national defense is appropriate levels of the
strategic Triad to ensure an effective (deterrent) counterstrike force. While accepting as inevitable a minority seeking unilateral Western disarmament in both the conventional and strategic spheres, the admiral's emphasis on the need to produce an overall strategy less dependent on nuclear weapons and to achieve progress in arms control negotiations is the essential point of departure of the West's national security policy. Such efforts would go far to reassure many of those on the nuclear freeze bandwagon.
If the nuclear freeze advocates were only leftists or eccentrics, the pressures for meshing national security needs with the political process in the various Western countries would be tolerable. But this is not the case. Even a cursory examination of the U. S. and European political scene reveals that forces behind effective arms control negotiations (perhaps merging the START talks with the Theater Nuclear Forces discussions now under way) and a national security strategy, including a careful examination of balanced force structures and missions, are well nigh irresistible.
When Admiral Eberle calls for a redefinition of strategic balance in terms of equivalence of effect, he also immediately suggests how both our arms control negotiators and our strategic planners can be liberated to really do the job we all want them to do—get on with the development of an effective and safe national security posture and environment. Why is this so? Because he both assuages the fears of those wanting progress in the START field and makes specific proposals for a balanced force structure capable of performing the needed missions. It is essential in free societies to reassure the public. Otherwise, panic and fear may cause irresistible pressure to throw out the baby of continued effective national defense forces for the Western countries with the bathwater of nuclear weapons excess.
The admiral's argument for a balanced naval force, relying on mobility, units aimed at the missions to be performed, and possessingonly enough attraction power to draw minimum attention upon themselves in the political sphere, holds a lesson for all of us. The advantages of carrier battle groups may not at a certain point offset their disadvantages. The emphasis in naval forces should be on units and missions that only the U. S. Navy can execute: some big carrier groups—of course. But also the myriad of other units that are needed to perform such tasks as antisubmarine warfare, interdiction of