I've noticed the flap lately over the retired General officers calling for the resignation of Secretary Rumsfeld. They disgust me.
There have been very few military leaders who successfully transitioned to civilian leadership positions of great authority. Of them, Grant became president and his presidency is generally considered a failure. Eisenhower became president, and his presidency is still subject to debate. Washington, of course, is revered as a father of our country.
After the battle, after the dust settles, there are genuine, legitimate lessons to be learned, to better accomplish the next mission. Since time immemorial, warriors have studied missions that succeeded and mission that failed. There are hearfelt opinions on what went wrong, what succeeded and what failed. Historians delight in those discussions. Just one example: when Lee attacked the center of the Union line at Gettysburg, Pickett lost a division. Longstreet counseled against the attack yet Lee stood firm. The attack failed, and historians have argued about that decision since soon after the smoke drifted away.
Over a career that covered twenty-something years in the Active Army, Guard and Reserve I had the opportunity to observe and interact with numerous General officers. It was my observation that most of them were stone-clad bastards who were only interested in their own advancement. An officer in the Army moves up in rank by completing missions, by being placed in positions of higher authority and responsibility, and by succesfully completing missions. Everything in the service is mission oriented. Whether the mission is to provide chow for hungry troops in the field, or to enter into Europe to defeat the German Army, the mission comes first.
When my boss was being an iron-clad bastard, I could console myself that I was doing a dirty, thankless, miserable job because the mission required it. I didn't have to like the mission, I just had to do it. I understood that, because if I failed, my boss failed, the mission failed, the Army failed. Mission performance is all that counts. I undertood that. I understand that today, yet the lessons that make someone a great battlefield leader are totally unsuited for making a great civilian leader. Civilian leadership requires compromise, understanding of human nature, boldness to go beyond conventional thought. Civilian leadership requires concensus building. Military leadership requires mission-orientation.
It has long been a maxim in the Army that soldiers didn't criticise the decisions of civilian leaders. To do so is unprofessional. You might rail and bitch about the incompetence of appointed officials between friends, among peers, but you never went public, and you damned sure didn't complain where subordinates could hear. If an officer complains about the performance of civilian leaders, then the soldiers under him start to question the mission. The mission comes first. Everything is subordinate to the mission.
We in the military have long said that we train for the last battle. When the lessons are learned they are learned from past mistakes, from past successes. The Army has undergone numerous changes in the past twenty years. For much of my career, we were concerned about hordes of Russians pouring through the Fulda Gap. We were concerned about hordes of Chinese pouring through Panmunjom, Korea. The Army has changed. The military now has a flexiblility and abilities that I never dreamed about ten years ago. They are better trained, better equipped, and better led than when I was in service.
I hope that the officers who criticise Rumsfeld are doing so out of a sincere desire to better the military. I would hate to think that they are doing so out of a desire for political gain. However, the lessons of my past are still valid. Officers who publicly criticise a civilian leader are in danger of hurting the military, of hurting the mission.
Those officers who publicly criticise the Secretary of Defense are unprofessional.