Starry’s War College Advisory Rings True Today

The question of the role of the military mind considering the contentious requirements of the battlefield warrior, and the military managers who prepare, organize, equip and maintain the forces needed, is an issue that is never laid to rest.  That is, most probably, because requirements change as new equipment is developed, new doctrine evolves, new support means are identified and new direction is exercised by those who must determine objectives or outcomes being sought.  A comprehensive and perspicacious discussion of the issues involved was uncovered by the U.S. Army War College and reprinted in Parameters in its Winter 2018-19 issue.

Ten Lt. Col. Donn A. Starry, class of 1966, wrote an essay titled ‘‘Profession at the Crossroads’’ that dealt effectively with the significant issues he identified:

  • The changing nature of war. The advent of nuclear weapons introduced a realization that the horrendous consequences of an exchange of the most powerful nuclear bombs forecloses on total war, such as World War II, unless another Hitler is willing to sacrifice his nation to obliteration. Hat possibility requires continued planning and preparation for defending and probably for retaliation against potential enemies.
  • The changing concepts of victory. In the American tradition, when war became necessary, total victory was necessary and the military mission was absolute. That conviction was still voiced by Gen. Douglas MacArthur early in the Korean conflict even as political considerations were driving us to settle for less.  Subsequent evolution of such policies has influenced every conflict in which we have been involved since, none of which has resulted in complete destruction of an enemy.
  • The changing pattern of strategy and tactics. The challenge of coping with the nuclear threat along with the development of more capable, more lethal conventional weaponry and the explosive advancements in communications drew the attention of scientists, academicians and high-level decision-makers who were developing needs for influencing, even controlling, tactical ‘‘how we fight.’’ Military interest was primarily in improving its capability to participate in the local preparation and readiness for wartime operations.

Their increased participation is required in what historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. expressed as the need for ‘‘professional generals… established as authorities on policy, accepted in the highest national councils and held accountable in the most solemn national debates… joining a new political elite that will determine the size, capabilities and the deployment of the nation’s military forces.’’  Most important is the requirement for early identification of the intent and the solution to be sought.

Unfortunately, we were already engaged in the Vietnam War and Schlesinger’s observations were ignored.  Our civilian hierarchy ignored the professional generals, never established the ultimate goals to be achieved and engaged in piecemeal commitment of forces as they conducted tactical operations from their Washington, D.C. offices.

Successful Campaigns
Two campaigns, the prevention of a communist takeover of Grenada and the restoration of Kuwaiti governmental control, are examples of properly conducted military operations.  Objectives were decided early, how to do it was planned by military leaders, and time was provided for necessary preparations.  Both campaigns were successfully complete in minimum times with minimum casualties and costs.

Starry summed up with a recognition that combat warriors and competent managers are still fundamental requirements for the conduct of combat operations, but both have expanded responsibilities and therefore more comprehensive education demands. He provided wealth of guidance concerning that education that I hope is being included in all courses in the Army system and the deliberations of the new U.S. Army Futures Command.

I have in the past expressed a hope that the Army will be able to restore the school system I found so informative.  I never attended a course in which I was not amazed at how much I did not know before I got there.  Courses were longer, student bodies larger, tours were family accompanied and ‘‘political correctness’’ unthought of. I was chastised severely by a popular columnist for my opposition to diversity.  I have never been opposed to diversity, only to the means being employed to achieve it. But I accepted the criticism as a reflection of poorly expressing my views.

Now, however, along with my compliments to the War College for resurrecting Starry’s essay, I have a complaint about the recent disturbing news that a ‘‘politically correct’’ judgment was made to postpone in effect to cancel the appearance of the author of a thousand plus years of history because one of today’s pressure groups complained his book is offensive.  I do not know by whom or at what level such a decision was made, but I am surprised and disappointed that the War College would adopt appeasement as a policy necessary to protect students from being exposed to a distinguished author’s presentation.

I remember when all and any views could be presented, critiqued by the faculty, and students allowed to decide what to believe.

A return to that philosophical foundation ought to be a reasonable aim.


This article originally appeared in ARMY magazine, September 2019, VOL. 69, NO 9. Reprinted by permission.

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