I wrote this story six years ago on /MilitaryStories
. I'm reposting it here, with Mod permission, because I think it makes a few points that might generate interesting feedback from the War College.
I think I read somewhere that the most common advanced degree earned by US Army officers is an MBA. This worries me. Today, the Pentagon operates in much the same way the HQ of large corporations do. I think they're missing something important, but I'm not sure what exactly.
This story goes back in time to 1968-69, a point where Corporate Culture fully came into play in the US military, a time before everything got computerized but when data-based management became ascendant. I feel - but I'm not convinced - that the US Army, took a wrong turn here, left important things behind. Battlefield things. Things MBA's wouldn't know, and couldn't imagine as something important. That point began a disconnect between Command and the battlefield that has never, near as I can tell, been corrected.
But maybe not. I always thought this story should be sent to West Point, or maybe the Pentagon. That's not happening. I'm posting it here, because I'd like to know what the War College thinks.
I edited out some links in the story, because they are not really relevant to this discussion. Thank you for reading. Talk me down.
Here's the story reposted - originally posted here
When I was a teen back in the early 60's, I used to play wargames. These weren’t digital wargames like we have today. Most of the good ones were made by Avalon Hill and Strategy & Tactics magazine. They consisted of a cardboard map/battlefield, usually hex-gridded, with little cardboard squares identified as military units. The little squares had military graphic symbols on them - armor, mech-infantry, infantry, airborne, whatever - with unit size identifiers over the insignia, from one bar for a company-size unit, all the way up to three x’s for a corps.
You weren’t supposed to call these things “games.” They were “simulations.” Ideally, if you made the same moves as the historical battle, you’d come out with something close to the actual, historical result. Ideally.
Never happened. I never met a game that successfully simulated the fog of war. We could see the other side’s deployment. Simulated R.E. Lee never
sent those boys smashing into Cemetery Ridge. For that matter, simulated General Meade - acting with perfect intelligence as to the size and deployment of the Confederate Army - always
used his massive advantage in men and ordnance to crush the Rebels in no time flat.
Same happened at D-Day, Waterloo, Stalingrad, Gaugamela... But it was fun and only
a game, so who cares, right? Right?
I found out later that a lot
of those game designers had worked, were working or would work at the Pentagon. Payback is a bitch. There I was in 1963 using my panzers to destroy the Allied landings on Omaha, Juno, Gold, Utah and Sword - couldn’t imagine what a vet of those battles would think of me “simulating” the annihilation of all those soldiers. We'd occasionally make a little nod to the old man upstairs - "Sorry, Dad. I decided that releasing the 21st Panzers right away was the optimum response."
Six years later, I remember getting briefed in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) of our air cavalry battalion. The Operations Officer (S3) was pointing out where our light infantry company should go, and there we were - a little grease penciled box with an X (crossed rifles) and a tiny helicopter shaft and blades under the X (airmobile), with one little bar on top of the center of our box (company-sized). We were shown moving across the mapboard toward an NVA regimental HQ (red grease pencil). Uh oh. Somebody is playing wargames.
Somebody was. The Pentagon was being run by former Ford executive Bob McNamara and his band of “whiz kids,” young MBAs with no fucking military experience whatsoever. They were convinced that war was just like business - planning, attention to detail, top-down management could solve anything. A battlefield was just another problem of production and supply and personnel. Careful flowcharting and management of metrics will win the day!
No wonder they liked wargames - was kind of a flowchart, no? But to play wargames successfully, you needed what we had in our basement wars - perfect intelligence, an accurate and reliable view of the battle. Otherwise the results produced in the Pentagon simulation would NOT match the results on the ground.
So the Pentagon was mad for metrics. The call went out to quantify everything
- ammo, troops, KIA, KBA, air strikes - everything. Otherwise all that business-trained genius wouldn’t work.
The troops needed to quantify their efforts - reduce each day to a number. That's all anybody wanted - a number. As soon as a number could be obtained, it came into the Pentagon world pure and unspoiled, like Venus on the half-shell, stripped of all its sketchy origins. It was The Truth, dug up by so many noble Indiana Jonesers out in the field, whose integrity and keen eye could not be contested. Then it was made into data pie charts, and served up to JCS piping hot and delicious.
Sketchy origins. Honestly, people were fighting over the bodies. I remember the infantry Bn Commander chewing on my captain about claiming some of those bodies for the infantry, appealing to his esprit de corpse.
It was a big deal. "Come on. Your guys were shooting, right? Some of those blood trails could be shot people. From 400 meters? Yeah, that's within range of your guns." In thick jungle? I think not.
I first encountered this kind of thinking in 1968. Vietnam was swarming with bean counters. I remember guys attaching numbers to my fire missions. “How many killed? Whaddya mean, ‘I don’t know?’ Go look. You can’t go? Well, what’s your best guess then?”
There was a lot of mandatory guessing going on. The guys in the Dye-Marker towers along Jones Creek were killing people off hundreds at a time - they estimated. Likewise FACs were just making it up. God knows what the B52 pilots were dreaming up. Had to. The Pentagon wonks needed a clear view of the battlefield.
They were trying to count ammo, too. Anyway, I when I left I Corps, I got handed a BSM and my KBA count along with my 201 file. Was weird. That seemed pretty cold-blooded coming from a REMF S1's office, disrespectful somehow.
First thing I remember upon joining a 1st Cav company in the bush was discovering an enemy grave in the middle of nowhere. Wasn’t hard to find. Our company commander dutifully reported the stinky thing to Battalion. Orders came back, “Dig it up.”
This was apparently new. Must
be important, since they’d never asked us to do that
before. Maybe something was up, maybe they'd bagged a big shot, someone like maybe General Giap, the hero of Điện Biên Phủ! Maybe they were looking for his
body. We had dreams of glory - all we had to do is guck our way through this one nasty chore. Must
be important, or they wouldn't ask, so...
Was gross. Guys shoveled in shifts. The worst thing my Dad could say about a bad smell is that it would “gag a maggot.” That. The maggots were vomiting right beside the diggers.
We sorted it out into what might have been three bodies - best guess. Sent for orders: What do you want to do with these bodies?
Answer: “Bury ‘em.” Whaaaaat? YOU bury ‘em, brasshat! All you wanted was a body count?
We said that. Not over the radio, but it was a close thing.
Ugh. We re-buried them. By the end of that, we had changed. We were stank-wise to the Ford Motor Company’s need for metrics. Next time we found a grave, we dutifully reported it, made a perimeter upwind from it, sat for a while, then reported “two bodies” and waited for orders to re-bury them. Which we did. In a way. Without the “re-“.
So there you have it. The war in the Pentagon went so
well - kicked their simulated ass. The war on the ground went otherwise. Our fault, I guess. We lost by a nose. Which one of us kids playing those games could imagine that smell? Who at Wharton would’ve thought that metrics could smell
I’m available for business-school lectures anytime. Have your people contact my people. I'll need visual aids. You supply the maggots.