I can’t speak to the Service Academy fracas, but I initially took Tom’s suggestion to close the War Colleges with a grain of salt.

Remember, CNAS scribe Tom Ricks’ relationships with some of the War Colleges has gone from rocky:

A friend passed along a 2005 e-mail note in which Steven Metz, chairman of a department at the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, urged several of his colleagues to blackball me because of my coverage of the Iraq war. “We all need to avoid Tom like the plague,” Professor Metz advised.

To pungent:

Such neglect makes me wonder whether the commandant cares about the college’s accreditation.

To downright ugly:

[Ed–from a contributor to Ricks’ blog] During the lunch in which I was approached by the faculty (three in all), I was told that my experience was not surprising. “The AWC [Army War College] is creating a closed idea environment by their policy of not allowing new ideas in here,” I recall one faculty member telling me.

So, perhaps, with that bit of context, we can better understand how the War Colleges (where students can “reinforce their biases while getting in afternoon golf games“) got lumped into an attack on the Academies.

But, given that I’m somewhat attuned to the excellent golfing opportunities the Monterey Peninsula offers Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) students, Tom’s closing golf quip got my dander up.

And when Tom pulled out two Naval Postgraduate School studies (actually a couple of student-written MA theses) to inform his ongoing dialogue (here and here), I had to go inquire about Tom’s opinion of NPS…

And I got a surprising answer from Tom. If the man “had his druthers” he’d keep the Naval Postgraduate School, the National Defense University and, perhaps, make the Naval War College a national strategic college that worked in conjunction with civilian institutions.

So, in an Tom-Ricks inspired educational BRAC, the Navy would do pretty well for itself.

Mid-level Navy officers–though under-represented in the “Capo Crimini” of the CNAS-housed
Small War mafia
–do, as a community, have pretty solid support during their mid-career transition from tactical expert to strategic leader.

I’m not saying the War Colleges are perfect, or that we wouldn’t like to see a few more naval geniuses out there, but the Navy’s strong War Colleges, coupled with a uniformly strong applicant pool is why the Navy, today, is so well represented in the ranks of higher Pentagon leadership.

(Now–just in jest–would somebody let me know the next time CNAS’s Dr. John Nagl heads off to the golf links? Then I’ll pen a quick Washington Post Op-ed about DC-based military thinkers who “reinforce their biases while getting in afternoon golf games.” Heh.)

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  • “reinforce their biases while getting in afternoon golf games.” Heh.)

    You say that like its a bad thing. 🙂

  • RickWilmes

    Keeping the Academies or the War Colleges open or closed is not the underlying problem. The underlying philosophy at all the colleges being taught IS the problem and that is what needs to be shut down not the schools themselves.

    What is the underlyging philosophy?

    In terms of ethics, it is altruism, the ethics of self-sacrifice.

    As long as our leaders are taught that self-less, self-sacrifice to a cause greater than oneself is a valid goal, than how can anyone rationally expect these same individuals to engage in independent thought?

  • Byron

    Bang the drum, slowly. Gotta love a one topic person.

  • RickWilmes

    Byron, facts and problems do not go away until properly identified. Altruism is the root of all the problems facing the U. S.

    Identifying the effects will not stop the cause.

  • Byron

    So by your standards, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross should be eliminated? Or no one would ever win a Medal of Honor for giving his life to save anothers? Is that your viewpoint?

    Being in the military means subordinating your life to a mission greater than yourself. The military could not work unless this is so. If a service member does not understand this, then this person will not only reduce the effectiveness of the unit, but will also endanger the others in the unit.

    You said that you were at the Naval Academy; how long were you in the service of your nation?

  • Fouled Anchor

    Rick, if you don’t think a military professional can engage in selfless, self-sacrificing service AND independent thought, then you have obviously not met very many Navy Chiefs. And there are plenty of officers who were educated at these institutions who have displayed the ability to do both as well.

    I don’t know about all problems facing the U.S., but I would argue that all problems facing the military are either A) the result of poor leadership, or B) emerging issues that can be solved through good leadership.

  • RickWilmes

    A self-less leader is a contradiction in terms. Rational self-interest is what allows individuals to think and it also is what allows leaders to make the correct decisions.

    Keep in mind what started this debate, Mr. Ricks thinks that the Navy has intellectually weak strategists.
    Why and how did that happen?

  • Fouled Anchor and Byron–what you guys said.

    Rick, there’s two issues here. First is the strategic “thinking” issue–and Ricks, coming at this from a COIN/Long War approach, is correct to say that the Navy hasn’t been dominant. Why should they? It hasn’t been their war, really. (as an aside here, I’ve been really interested in how the Marines are finding their voice; they were, a few years ago, really kinda wooden. But now they’ve got all kinds of bright, well-spoken war veterans ready to make their voices heard)

    Then, second, there’s the matter of cost-effectiveness. Are we getting our money’s worth out of the service schools and academies?

    So Rick, I I kinda think the two topics are independent of one another.

  • RickWilmes

    They are two different species of the same genus. The genus being military education. Yes, they are different but the cause of their problems are the same. In order to think and solve problems rationality is required. Altruism denies this by placing the group, society, nation above the individual.

    Is it the group that thinks or each separate individual?

  • RickWilmes you are promoting a philosophy I find quite unfamiliar. I think whatever point you were trying to make ran off the road when you suggested a self-less leader is a contradiction in terms. Every good Chief I have ever met fits the description of a self-less leader, so you pretty much lost your audience with that comment.

    But you also missed the entire point…

    The first conversation regarding Tom Ricks on this blog had to do with his book, where he suggested “there was little competition” among strategic thinkers “in the Navy, which in recent years has tended to be weak, intellectually” in regards to producing a strategic concept that was resonating loudly within the DoD post 9/11.

    The first point is true IMO, for reasons I have stated elsewhere. The evidence suggests however that the second part is factually incorrect; the Maritime Strategic Concept of the Navy resonates loudly with Gates and the Obama administration, but not very well inside the Navy itself.

    Unfortunately, that is not how this conversation started as you suggest. This conversation started because Tom Ricks proposed the idea to close down West Point in a Washington Post editorial. I think the debate his proposal has produced has been useful, even as his recommendation is not.

    I’m really not sure what you are trying to contribute to this conversation, but I would fail your leadership class and philosophy class, and I’m OK with that result. If the value system you are promoting is the alternative to the status quo, the status quo just won the debate in my opinion.

  • RickWilmes


    How does a selfless person think?

    How does a leader make a decision?

    The correct answers to those questions will show that a selfless leader is a contradiction.

  • Maybe Mr. Wilmes should have taken a philosophy course or two while at the Naval Academy.

    When you, and you alone, know the ONE problem at the root of it all, altruism, and no one can even see why that might be a problem, perhaps you should rethink your standing. What seems blindingly obvious to one person only is generally not the most likely scenario.

    Further, you seem to be arguing that all decisions must be rationalized on the basis of self over community. But the fact is, that leads to anarchy, not community. It is fundamentally unhealthy for humans, either in conflict or in peace. We all, in every community around the world, subordinate our personal desires to some extent or another.

    Frankly, to state rather baldly that service members are incapable of thinking independently just because they work to achieve some goal larger than themselves is insulting. Could it be, perhaps that independent thought led them to decide to serve such an organization? Mr. Wilmes premise is foolish on its face and rude to boot.