Search Results for: Urban Warfare

David Johnson

Dr. David E. Johnson is a Senior Fellow at CSBA.  Dave joined CSBA after eighteen years with the RAND Corporation, where he was a Principal Researcher. His work focuses on military innovation, land warfare, joint operations, and...

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Epic Landpower Fail: Lack of Strategic Understanding

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

The US Army will not be very successful in the coming operating environment unless it develops a sense of strategic understanding in its officers (and senior noncommissioned officers).  For the purposes of this essay, strategic understanding is defined here as: awareness, comprehension, and ability to communicate broad purpose for the use of force and the relationship between tactical action and national policy.  Trends tell us two things that demand this characteristic: first, landpower is inherently attributional; second, the Regionally Aligned Forces model ensures that the American Army will go to more places, faster, in smaller numbers, than ever before.  Inadequately preparing for these landpower trends will lead to both institutional and individual epic fail.  

The Problem

Rosa Brooks recently conducted interviews at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait for the latest edition of Foreign Policy magazine (May/June 2014, p. 44).  Ironically, it was raining at the time, but that wasn’t the only striking thing about the discussions. Here’s a short selection from her experience:

“So what are you guys doing here?” I [Rosa Brooks] ask the young private next to me in line at the camp’s spacious Starbucks.  “I mean, in Kuwait. What’s your mission here?”

He offers a sheepish shrug.  “Got me, ma’am. That’s above my pay grade. I’m just trying to stay dry.”

“Ours not to wonder why, ours but to try and stay dry,” quips the lieutenant standing nearby, carefully maneuvering a lid onto his overflowing caramel latte.

This lieutenant’s response is a favorite in the officer corps, most likely due to its use by the infamous Corporal Oppum in Saving Private Ryan.  I’ve actually heard it several times from cadets in the Military Strategy class I teach. In this case, the paraphrase of Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” was just a bit off – a more exact quotation would have been: “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” Unfortunately, this line is often employed to propagate a great lie – that “the reason why” does not (or should not) matter to the uniformed military.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

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