He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.

– Albert Einstein

Your definition of diversity is probably flawed in application of this blog post, because you are being indoctrinated to think it means something else.

I had the great pleasure of going to the Naval War College last Thursday to attend a few events ranging from a promotion ceremony to the semester awards ceremony for the Naval War College graduating class of 2012. As many of you know, the annual Current Strategy Forum was also held last week, a forum with a great tradition of being highly informative and intellectually challenging.

While on campus I took the opportunity to solicit opinions from several students regarding this years Current Strategy Forum, and everyone tended to focus on one specific panel of General and Flag officers that was moderated by Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work. The single most noted characteristic of this particular panel was how one could not slide even a piece of paper between the opinions and positions of the uniformed officers; they all spoke from the same piece of paper.

Of all the ways to describe any panel at any forum, I’m not sure one could describe any such panel in a more disturbing and insulting way.

I imagine the current administration is very proud that publicly there is no disagreement among General and Flag officers on any particular issue, but I can think of no greater marker that should concern a citizen of this nation – a nation that has been fighting wars since September of 2001 where all General and Flag officers appear to agree on everything in public. We are seeing a wider variety of different opinions publicly in print today from the Peoples Liberation Army Navy even under existing Chinese censorship laws than we are from leaders of the United States Navy in a land of free speech – and that is simultaneously remarkable and disturbing by any metric. We casually dismiss such things to the alter of partisan politics, an alter not worthy of the worship it is granted during any period of war for a superpower.

This policy of everyone in the DoD speaking from the same sheet of paper that was enforced by Secretary Gates and now Secretary Panetta is a real problem, because when every leader in the US military has the same opinion in a public forum – particularly at someplace like the Current Strategy Forum at the Naval War College – all but one of those leaders is redundant. In unison the whole of the Department of Defense is publicly saying the world is simple, and they know the answer to every question. Any organization with such public hubris deserves to be destroyed, and if that destruction is by budget then that result is earned rightfully. There is no defense for solidarity of mind among leaders for any organization intrusted with so much responsibility. Under no theory of order has solidarity of opinion been a strength in a free thinking society, and in the highest funded government agency where national security and means of arms is stated as purpose, that kind of oligarchy is dangerous to any free society.

“If you and I think the same, then one of us is redundant…. Diversity is what leads to better problem solving and more creative ideas that can help build an organization and build a business. People should be seeking out more diversity, not settling for less.”

-Tim Penner, Procter & Gamble Canada

Posted by galrahn in Homeland Security, Policy

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  • While you’re right that such hubris wold deserve severe consequences/scorn, I believe this is more fear than pride. The budget is the likely reason this singular message exists. The leadership is in full financial-survival mode. When you have different messages, it’s harder to properly defend a position. While terrible for innovation and operational development, disagreement over procurement and programs will make it harder to defend expenditures. Basically, years of playing games has left us with piles of terrible procurements, budget dumps into useless warm-fuzzy programs, FFG’s still draining our cash, and no room to maneuver financially. Now the leadership is panicking and will pick a single basket to put their remaining eggs in. A terrible, but understandable idea.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Excellent summation. Some other points to consider: While the closing of ranks in public among uniformed leadership is telling enough, the stifling of internal discussion is where the lasting damage will be done. And that stifling is taking place with alarming completeness. Offering, or even HOLDING, a dissenting opinion is sufficient to be reminded of the party line, and the unsubtle hint that continuing such may adversely affect one’s career.

    The United States Armed Forces have, with few exceptions, always been a remarkably fertile ground for innovative thinking and genuine debate. Where the junior hasn’t any obligation to agree with the senior simply because of rank. In many places such is still the case, particularly at the point of contact, in the tactical fight. But, if we continue this demand for lock-step intellectual and professional accession, it will not be long before the ossifying effects reach dangerously into that realm, too, where innovation and flexibility are life and death requirements.

    How to fix? It will take a monumental change in culture. Mid-level and senior leadership has learned over decades that a focus upwards, toward pleasing one’s bosses, rather than down, toward those one leads, is the key to advancement and choice assignment. Wrapped in this is the zero-defect attitude, and the usurping of authority of junior leaders, out of a lack of trust or fear of something unapproved happening for which fault may be found.

    At the level of operational-strategic thinking, this illness manifests itself in a corporate mentality of conformity, and deferring of decision, because to avoid decisions means one cannot be criticized for making a bad one. Unfortunately, the absolute worst trait a military leader can demonstrate is indecisiveness. It virtually hands initiative to an enemy, and can only be wrested back from him at the considerable cost of lives of those we are supposed to be leading.

    Your post is highly pertinent, and should be a warning klaxon to our seniors in the Navy in particular. While we tell ourselves we have the most capable Navy ever, and our sailors are our greatest asset, our force is a Global one for “Good”, we don’t seem to have noticed that the teleological signposts that define a successful military force are, in large measure, pointing the wrong way.

  • Sass

    I was thinking much the same as I read about the DoD testimony at the hearing on the Law of the Sea Treaty. Their very unanimity on the subject gave their testimony less credibility. It seemed to impress the Congress critters, though.

  • Diogenes of NJ

    In the broader overall sense, I fear that what is being inflicted upon our society is nothing short of the extinguishing of the American Spirit. This “diversity” is merely one of the symptoms.

    What drives the lock step leadership is fear. They know that the purges are coming. They assume that the lions will choose to eat the wildebeest that graze at the edge of the herd. The problem is that the grass in the middle has been trampled upon and a lot of it is covered in s….

    As an early post war boomer, I’ve been told all my life that my nation would never fall to an external enemy. The way that the enemy would destroy the nation would be from within.

    The American Spirit still lives in Galrahn and URR. Gentlemen you have my sincerest respect and admiration for the battle in which you are engaged. Diogenes’ hope is that Isoroku Yamamoto’s words of warning once again become true.

    – Kyon

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    I don’t have the same impression from the inside that you sense from the conferences and public position the USN takes. I believe it’s part of the democratic process. The military in general is entirely non-democracy, so you’ll see the final decisions supported regardless of public opinion. That said, there is still a healthy internal debate. At the end of the day, the military salutes and executes to the best of their ability (flawed tactically, but the right direction strategically) according to the civilian leadership’s direction. That’s a good thing for us and the world over-time.

    As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, Except for everything else.” It’s inefficient and slow, and that’s a feature (not a bug) over the long term.

    I assure those that may read these words that the “American Spirit” (I read that as a call for INDIVIDUAL freedom) is alive and well.

  • Mike M.

    Behold the fruits of Goldwater-Nichols. And, of course, institutional cowardice.

  • Diogenes of NJ

    @ Benjamin Walthrop

    I’m sure that you remember, as I do, that the bust of Winston Churchill was among the first items returned by the current administration.

    The threat sir, is looming.

    – Kyon

  • GIMP

    What else could you possibly expect from an institution that has set the primary marker for success to be the ability to kiss up and kick down.

    Our ship and airplanes are broken, we have no parts. We order cannibalizations to rip a working part from up airplanes here to ship 9,000 miles make a plane work there because our supply system is a complete failure.

    We kick out good, solid technicians and keep others who can’t fix anything based on PFA scores. We have more flag officers than ships. Our future weapons systems are over budget and under performing. All the time.

    We short the fleet on parts and people while approving budget overruns on programs we should demand either meet spec and budget or be delivered for free and with a penalty.

    Truly, none of us is as dumb as all of us.

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    @ Diogenese of NJ

    You may be correct, but I don’t think it’s a given.

    You seem to want to make this political. I think that’s a false choice (in the long run), but your concerns are noted (by me anyway). We may all lose the great game if conditions allow it.

    The USN and USA are facing a new (hopefully) Cold War. It is both foolish to discount the current level of US readiness, and foolish to discount the POSSIBILITY of cooperation. At the end of the day, there are greater threats to all of humanity than can be described by “normal” political doctrine.

  • Cap.n Bill

    Perhaps there is some truth to be found in these words. I’m far too elderly to know. But I am impressed by the use of the words American Spirit. I still remember the heros/leaders of the Old Navy. Many Years ago I attended some lectures given by these gentlemen. Awestruck by the force of their personality and clarity of their expressions. Most impressive for a rookie to observe. And YES, I’d have willingly, even joyfully, followed them into battle, a personal decision based solely upon what I knew of them and how they conducted themselves when speaking to their spellbound audience. Perhaps the American Spirit was on display.

    It has been a long time since I’ve noted anyone in the military or civilian leadership who could so influence the troops.

    Might we be suffering from a crisis of Leadership ?

  • From an outside perspective, it sure seems as if free thought is being stifled. It may be different internally but that seems unlikely.

    Here’s a concrete example. CNO Greenert has an official blog (you all knew that, right?). In May he posted an article about Iran, A2/AD, and AirSea Battle. If there was ever a blog posting that should have resulted in a blizzard of comments and discussion, that was it. Well, there are two comments and I think they were posted by mistake as neither has anything to do with the topic. Did no one in the Navy have a comment or amplifying thought or was everyone too intimidated to speak? It’s a sad state of affairs.

  • W.M. Truesdell

    I wonder what would have happened to Simms in this day and age. Great article (which, obviously, is any article one agrees with).

    Here is the Simms article, another good one.


    W,M, Truesdell

  • SwitchBlade

    Many good thoughts here, but I noticed no disagreement with the premise.

    I would submit its been going on since Tailhook, when SecNav James Webb resigned and CNO Admiral Kelso decided not to because he was the one to fix the problem. I said it then – He didn’t have the backbone to stand up to the PC crowd and therefore wasn’t the one to fix the problem. History has proven me correct. (I’m not an aviator – I was surface navy then and SWO later.)

    The Flag officers push their agenda (LCS) but don’t have any independent PUBLIC thoughts. Therefore, their public thoughts are irrelevant.

  • Dave Schwind

    In my doctoral program, we are currently studying the effects of Groupthink. This statement from galrahn is absolutely profound in that context:

    “In unison the whole of the Department of Defense is publicly saying the world is simple, and they know the answer to every question. Any organization with such public hubris deserves to be destroyed, and if that destruction is by budget then that result is earned rightfully. There is no defense for solidarity of mind among leaders for any organization intrusted with so much responsibility. Under no theory of order has solidarity of opinion been a strength in a free thinking society, and in the highest funded government agency where national security and means of arms is stated as purpose, that kind of oligarchy is dangerous to any free society.”

    I hope it’s within the rules of the USNI Blog, but I’ve shared the link to this post with my class as this is central to what Irving Janis wrote about during his studies of Groupthink. Thanks galrahn!

  • Brian

    So since all the prior comments are simply agreeing with the article writer there doesn’t seem to be any independent thought.

    Maybe the Admirals have realized that if they show a different opinion in public it’s immediately trounced on by the generally anti-military press.
    Additionally, I know it’s much easier to change someones opinion if you don’t first back them into a corner by stating things publicly. Who knows what’s going on behind closed doors? Almost without a doubt, every Admiral I’ve ever met and had the pleasure to being in open discussions with (where his words weren’t being recorded for later use) was very willing to discuss many ideas and views contrary to established doctrine.
    Let’s try to not get fixated into the “it was better in the good old days” mentality.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    There is a difference between agreeing and “simply agreeing”. The very analytical process you identify as lacking here should tell you that.

    To an extent, a good number of people who comment here and elsewhere have a very good idea of what goes on behind closed doors.

  • Brian

    I would like to agree with you that many do know what goes on behind the closed door, and I bet they know more than I, but as I’ve progressed up to senior ranks, it troublesome to hear the constanst whine that the vast majority of senior officers are just not as good as they were back in (fill in historical period of your choice). When in reality I’m sure you’d agree there were huge mistakes made in each of those historical periods if in fact you know your history.
    Would you say it’s much harder to be an Admiral today than in the past (outside of periods of direct wartime)?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t “periods of wartime” what it is all about?

    All the rest is more or less self-inflicted chickensh*t. Whether that makes it “harder” than in the past is conjecture. I do think that Thomas Hart trying to save his obsolescent little fleet from annihilation could legitimately point to that task being somewhat harder (and more meaningful) than being the Deputy Director for Total Force Management N12.

    The “back in the day” stuff you refer to is a bit of a red herring. The USMC has a crop of junior and senior officers who are proven combat leaders. Mattis, Dunford, Nicholson, Paul Kennedy, Eric Smith, Bill Mullen, and many other field grade and company grade officers, whom should be the ones who are the drivers of USMC training and focus. If the sharp edge they can give us is blunted by the same mentality Galrahn describes in his post, shame on us.

    That isn’t “back in the good old days”. That is what is yet to come. Will they be the ones who are allowed to keep us a highly-trained, focused, deadly fighting force? Or will workplace breathalyzers and Liberty plans win the day?

    One of the problems with the United States Navy is that they have no Mattis, or Nicholson, or Paul Kennedy. The mentality and mindset that holds sway there is a very big problem.

  • Diogenes of NJ

    Bill Gertz today – proves Galrahn’s point.


    [Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney said the administration is seeking to unilaterally disarm U.S. nuclear forces, something that is “the most dangerous thing I have ever seen an American President attempt to do.”]

    Apparently one needs to retire before voicing a differing opinion.

    @Brian –

    As you go about patronizing those of us who are “fixated” on remembering what it was like in the “good old days” know this:

    I was born into the greatest nation that had ever existed on the face of this planet. A nation that at the time was engaged in the largest charitable act ever undertaken to both ally and former enemy alike; namely the Marshall Plan (and there were many more examples). I seriously doubt that you have the years to have wittnessed the greatness of Our Nation, or our Navy after WW II. There were 900+ ships in the Navy when I entered.

    Just as you and the others like you casually dismiss the “mentality” of those who sacrificed to bring this nation to post-war greatness as nostalgia – know that if our current national trajectory is allowed to proceed unchecked, in the end those found to be culpable will be eternally cursed by the future generations of Americans who will never again experience anything like freedom. Your acquiescence today condemns your children’s children to live on their knees.

    Today our forces and equipment far and away exceed the capabilities that any of us could have even conceived of in the ‘70s. ADM Meyer never imagined that the weapon system he championed in those days would have had the capability to engage and destroy a ballistic missile warhead in space (he told me so himself). There are more examples from last century – Rickover, “Red” Raborn, Tom Connolly and today we have…? What has changes since then is the leadership. A cowardly, self-serving, narcissistic leadership in the Military and the Government will destroy the greatness of a nation more effectively than any external enemy could hope to.

    URR is not one to live in the “good old days” as attested to by his remarks above. What we both have in common is that we have had the benefit to be exposed to competent leadership, so we know the difference.

    When the Nation went to DEFCON 3 and Diogenes and his shipmates were shoving war-shots into the torpedo room as fast as we could manage, CNO was a Midshipman 2nd class – perspective, you should live it.

    – Kyon

  • Laowei

    My opinion is the primary source of the problem is corruption of the board process. In order to get command, assignments, or promotions, the primary driver is having the right patron. This starts at the top, as I haven’t met or heard of a civilian DoD appointee who tolerates bad news, dissent or disagreement. This has created a command climate of lickspittle social climers willing to do anything to get into the good graces of the now infallable general officers. Maybe this will change when all of the combat 0-3s finally get a chance to take on senior leadership positions, but more likely all of the ones likely to challenge the status quo will either quit or be passed over for promotion for uttering non-PC sentiments.

    As for me, I haven’t hit 18 yet.