(On July 22nd, Michael C officially left active-duty U.S. Army service. In an attempt to explain why, he started a series about the Army’s culture, its successes and its failures. Read the rest of the “Why I Got Out” series here.
On a more positive note, if you want to know why Michael C joined the Army, read about it in “Why Do I Fight?”, “What Did You Do Out There”, “Did You Accomplish Anything Out There?”, “Why I Served”, and finally, “Hasta La Vista...Baby”.)
On Monday, I ran out of room for my list of “that’s just the way it is” thinking. Here are a few more examples:
- Countless support organizations, like the Finance or Tax centers, close their doors for lunch and promptly at 1700, making it horribly difficult for soldiers to use them during non-work hours. Why?
- Intelligence units in Iraq and Afghanistan started publishing daily “Intelligence Summaries”. Some of these summaries had readerships of maybe a dozen people, but required hours of work to put together each day. Why?
- Nothing can go in a Soldier’s pockets, including his hands on a cold day. Until 9/11 the pockets on BDUs, all eight of them, were strictly ceremonial. Why?
- The Marines haven’t conducted a beach landing since the Korean war. The Army hasn’t conducted a meaningful airborne operation since 1989. Yet we have a whole branch of the military and an entire Airborne division, with two more brigades and two special operations regiments devoted to those very expensive, ineffective and underused form of insertion. Why?
- Why do we use soooooo many acronyms? (Eric C forced me to stop using acronyms, and we have almost completely excised them from On Violence. Like an addict, I had to admit my problem and go cold turkey.) Why?
- Before brown boots, soldiers spent hours shining and polishing boots to perfection. Despite mastering this skill completely, it had virtually no effect on our warfighting capabilities. Why did we do it?
The answer to all these questions is always the same, “That just the way it is.” I’ve heard the answer to that question enough times to tear my hair out.
I understand I am simplifying a bit. My critics could argue that “that’s the way it is” counters the good idea fairy--though I’m actually a fan of the “good idea fairy”; the U.S. Army is probably the only organization in America that actively resists “good ideas”.
Or “that’s just the way it is” describes a perfectly logical action/plan, but the subordinate doesn’t know the reason why. For example, the Army conducts physical fitness training everyday. Why? Because fighting wars requires the ability to march long distances and conduct small arms combat with the enemy. Why do some old sergeants (major) believe that the ideal fitness program is running five miles five days in a row with some push ups and sit ups thrown in? Because “that’s just the way it is”. The difference between the answer to the first question and the second, is that the former suffers from a lack of institutional communication; the latter is inertia.
Above all, “that’s the way it is” means something. It means, “We do things because of tradition, not logic.” It means, in almost every case, that there is no purpose; most officers continue practices not because they work, but because that is how they first saw it, because of tradition.
As always, I am interested if current or former soldiers agree or disagree, and any other examples I might have missed.