Saturday, September 08, 2007

Opinion (George F. Will): Letting soldiers do the thinking

Above: Pickett's Charge from the cyclorama by Paul Philippoteaux. Pickett's Charge was a disastrous infantry assault ordered by Confederate General Robert E. Lee against Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Union positions on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Although the assault is known to popular history as Pickett's Charge, overall command was given to James Longstreet, and Maj. Gen. George Pickett was one of his commanders whose division led the way. The total Confederate casualties during the attack were 6,555, of which at least 1,123 Confederates were killed on the battlefield and 4,019 were wounded -- all in the space of an hour. When asked, years afterward, why his charge at Gettysburg had failed, General Pickett said, "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it."

CARLISLE BARRACKS, Pa. -- Officers studying at the Army War College walk the ground at nearby Gettysburg where Pickett's men walked across an open field under fire. They wonder: How did Confederate officers get men to do that? The lesson: Men can be led to places they cannot be sent.

Today's officers lead an Army that was sent into Iraq in 2003, and by 2004 the operation became, as an officer here says, "a deployment in search of a mission." Since then, missions have multiplied. Today's is to make possible an exit strategy. Gen. David Petraeus's Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says counterinsurgency's primary objective is to secure the civilian population rather than destroy the enemy. This inevitably involves the military in organizing civil society, a task that demands skill sets that are scarce throughout the government and have not hitherto been, and perhaps should not be, central to military training and doctrine. Nevertheless, the War College is coming to grips with the fact that what soldiers call "nonkinetic" -- meaning nonviolent -- facets of their profession are, in Iraq, perhaps 80 percent of their profession.

Read the rest at the Washington Post