Understanding General Mark Milley

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The first thing I learned at Army Officer Candidate School is that all officers have two primary duties: accomplish the assigned mission and take care of the men (‘men’ is an all-inclusive term that includes women).  I didn’t rise to the rank of general, nor did I go to West Point.  Those people may have been taught something different, but I doubt it (West Point grads and/or General Officers, correct me if I’m wrong).

Assuming I’m correct, consider General Mark Milley’s performance on 30 June before a House Armed Services Committee hearing to discuss the 2022 Defense Department budget.  General Milley,  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking and most senior military officer in the United States, when considering his first duty, must have assigned himself the mission: ‘look woke during testimony.’  On that I rate him a 10 of 10. He succeeded.

But I rate his accomplishment of the second duty a 0 of 10.

During testimony, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) asked Milley about the teaching of Critical Race Theory in the U.S. military.  In an effort (in my opinion) to divert attention from CRT, Milley responded, “I’ve read Mao Zedong.  I’ve read Karl Marx.  I’ve read Lenin.  That doesn’t make me a communist.”

Milley, a college graduate (West Point is a college), was trained to reason abstractly, can therefore realize and understand the dangers, consequences, and ultimate outcomes of communism.  Why is that important?  Patience.

 Milley said, “I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our noncommissioned officers [NCOs], of being ‘woke’ or something else because we are studying some theories that are out there.”

Milley specified general officers (I think he meant all officers since O-1 through O-6 are not general officers) and NCOs (E-5 through E-9).  I omitted O-1 through O-10 and E-5 through E-9, focused on ranks E-1 through E-4. They comprise 55.9% of Army enlisted personnel.  There is no requirement for a college degree or even a high school diploma for entry into the military.  The only requirement is to be 18 years of age (17 with parental permission).  These young men and women, the majority of the enlisted, have, as the late, great Rush Limbaugh said, “little skulls full of mush,” meaning they are incapable of incapable of abstract reasoning because of lack of training.  The military recognized this in 2014, instituted an ‘up or out’ program where “[y]ounger soldiers [are] expected to move up or out faster to get rid of rules that ‘perpetuate mediocrity.'”  It discharges soldiers who will never be able to eventually reason abstractly.

General Milley asked, “So what is wrong with understanding — having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?”

Here’s what’s wrong.  General Milley knows, I am certain, of the ‘chain of command.’  It is a line of communication from the most recently inducted soldiers to General Milley himself.  But soldiers cannot effectively use it because they were not trained to reason abstractly.  They are not capable of making the intellectual leap from extremism, about which they were (more or less) trained, to understanding what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin specified in his memo: “We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies.”  Or of making the intellectual leap, therefore understanding, any other theories out there.

Austin, on February 5th, directed military leaders to conduct training by the first week of April to discuss what extremism is and how and when to report it.  This standdown took place across the world for all branches of military.  It got mixed reviews.  Some examples of this ‘typical’ military training follow:

Soldiers expressed frustration at ‘check-the-blocks’ training led by military personnel unprepared to answer questions about what activities constitute extremism.  

A staff sergeant (an NCO who, according to Milley, is “capable of abstract reasoning”) said the training needed more real discussion about extremism.  “You had a few people who were very loud and boisterous about their opinion, but then the [attitude of a] majority of people was, ‘This was a waste of time.'”

Another sergeant said his training focused upon Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training, or SHARP, as well as Equal Opportunity training, which is designed to prohibit discrimination.  “It kind of felt like they were trying to pack in all of the mandated trainings in at once. A lot of people were like, ‘What was the point of this?'”

A sergeant first class who led an extremism training class asked soldiers to identify the warning signs of extremism after each case study.  “That was the frustrating part because there really were no warning signs [in the case studies].”  He continued, “The bulk of the training focused on the examples, defining extremism and reporting extremist behavior, and the rest was giving ‘proof that it exists.’  The case studies were blatant examples of extremism, like a terrorist attack.  Not addressed were less-obvious ‘gray areas’ for officers to figure out on their own.  I would have preferred a clear list of examples with action items.”  That sentiment was shared by others.

The concept of  ‘death by PowerPoint’ (which refers to canned, boring training) was expressed by Army personnel of all ranks after their training.  Outside experts were seldom there to help facilitate the discussions, which left trainers without any subject matter expertise.

The soldiers were ‘trained’ on the nebulous concept of extremism rather than the process of abstract reasoning so they could understand.  Remember at whom the training was aimed: E-1 through E-4.  They seldom if ever question their supervisors (officers and NCOs), thereby insuring desired outcomes.  Can anyone say ‘intimidation?’

So where are we?  Soldiers were not trained to reason so that they could understand the actual nature and characteristics of political extremism.  The sad thing is General Milley probably knew this but went ahead anyway with his remarks.

Image: West Point

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