What Officers Are For1
A friend of mine recently pointed out an interesting, for certain values of interesting, article he found in a left-wing magazine, said article purporting to make over our doubleplusungood, evilwickedbadnaughty, and, not least horrifying, aristocratic and archaic personnel system within the armed forces.2 I’m not going to excessively trash the arrogant, ignorant, and above all idiotic to the point of brain dead person who wrote it. It appears too stupid, misinformed, misguided, and pointless for words; hence no need to waste words on it or on him.3
But it does raise a question that, I suspect, most Americans in or out of uniform really don’t have an answer for; per the title above, “What are officers for?” A closely related question would be, “And what distinguishes them from non-commissioned officers, who are also leaders?” And then there’s a last question, “Why would someone on the left, or a leftist magazine, be pushing this now?”4
One source for understanding the role of the American military officer, and what distinguishes him both from his fellow citizens and other military personnel, can be found as a pdf file, here: http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/education/armedforcesofficer.pdf.5
I feel the need to interject at this point that there is a difference between real officers and second lieutenants or ensigns, who are, more or less, junior officers under instruction, not really assets to their units, typically, but absolutely necessary nonetheless because officers who are useful to their units have to come from somewhere. We treat O1s, second lieutenants and ensigns, as real officers in order to grow them into their positions and ranks. But we all know the difference. Done properly, too, the time spent as an O1 is a chance to ease the unfit out of service before they can do much harm. Note: we also require of ensigns and twoey louies that they demonstrate the same integrity and moral fiber we expect of the real officer.
So what’s the difference between a senior non-com and an officer? The officer is supposed to be smarter, but this is not always the case.6 Moreover, the senior non-com is usually a lot more experienced and knowledgeable than the company grade (second lieutenants through captains) officers he mostly deals with and works under. Both require vast physical and moral courage. Both demand physical fitness.
Rather, the big difference is that, while integrity is important in senior non-coms, the nature of their jobs and the scope of what they eventually rise to be in charge of are limited, such that if one of them should turn out to be lacking in integrity, the damage is limited. For officers, on the other hand, integrity, absolute and uncompromising, is the bare minimum. Without it, he is worse than nothing. Without it, the damage he will inflict on his own military is vast. Moreover, integrity is necessary to trust; you must know that when an officer says, “I will hold until relieved or destroyed,” or “I will take that objective or die trying,” he means just that and you can count on it.
Another difference is in focus. The senior non-com, after a dozen or a score of years leading small groups, is expert in that in a way an officer is very unlikely to be. The officer, trained and educated for larger efforts, learns what is required for those in ways the senior non-com is unlikely to be able to equal. One check of the difference is something I observed in mustangs who – unlike myself, and I had my own similar issues for a couple of commissioned years – waited too long to go to OCS or ROTC. They never learned to become officers, but remained highly paid staff and platoon sergeants forever; fine doers, yes, but incapable of effectively managing/leading/commanding anything larger than a platoon.
But here’s the shocker; Job One for an officer corps is, “Ensure that the means of collective mass violence remain under the control of the ruling class.” That’s why the legates and tribunes of Roman legions were always from their upper and ruling classes. That’s a good portion of why the British kept their purchase of commissions system for so long.7 That’s why Soviet officers were almost always also members of the Communist Party.
And that’s why almost all our officers come from the very rich, right? Oh, wait, no they don’t. In fact, they’re almost all working to professional/upper middle class sorts.
Why should that be? Are we an exception? Not at all. Our officers tend to come from the working to upper middle classes because those, not the class of Warren Buffets and Bill Gates, are our ruling classes. At least when they want to assert control they certainly can…and have.
Don’t believe me? Well, hmmm…just who is it who’s going to be inaugurated on the 20th of January, 2017? Did Hillary, with her unstinting support from Wall Street and the hyper-rich win? Why, no, it turns out it was Donald Trump, rich himself, to be sure, but voted in by the – there it is again – working to upper middle classes, who also largely funded his campaign.8 This middle class9 orientation can become rather bizarre at times. I understand, for example, that West Point was once offered a stable of polo ponies, gratis, and turned them down flat. Why? Why because it was not in keeping with their image and reality of a factory for producing middle class officers…to ensure that our armed forces secure the means of violence for those classes.
Which leads us to the last question I posed above, why is a leftist magazine pushing for massive change in the officer corps now. I know, I know; it’s hard to imagine lefties being coherent and rational enough to go from: 1) We have failed of election at a key time, 2) because of that failure, we are not going to be able to either import a new group of voters dependent entirely on us, nor to remake society to suit our fantasies 3) therefore, what with Roe v. Wade and all, we’ll never have the political wherewithal to exercise absolute unrestrained power, so 4) we’d better start thinking about some other ways of getting it, which means, 5), a coup led by an officer corps dependent on us, since we’re not going to be allowed unlimited Mexicans anymore.
Yeah, yeah….not likely. But, on the other hand, while the left is rarely anything like that rational, we have to recognize that their instincts for societal ruin are unerring, that their dedication to that ruin is absolute, and that their energy in bring about that ruin is inexhaustible. That article, and one other I’ve seen to the same general end, is perhaps an instinctive response to their political failure.
Fortunately, we’re not going to let them now, are we?
Note, 11 days and counting until the great triggering, along with the saturation bombing campaign of “All Your Base Are Belong To Us.” Mark your calendars. Note, too, that I intend to do a special triggering column on the great day.
Photo by Getty Images
1 Nothing in the following column should be taken as a defense of the absurd percentages of military personnel these days who are commissioned. It’s just ridiculous, preposterous, and even obscene.
2 https://psmag.com/the-u-s-military-needs-a-major-makeover-49bce0a6aab4#.l29liuyw8. H/T, Jack Withrow. Note, normally I would not give them the free clicks. In this case, though, Pacific Standard is a fine candidate for an All Your Base Are Belong To Us saturation bombing on the 20th of January. Yes, a new and updated video is in the works, details forthcoming.
3 Although it is, of course, possible that the child knew just what he was doing and intends ill.
4 I’m not going to get into warrant officers, who sometimes act as non-coms do in other armed forces, sometimes as highly skilled privates, and yet sometimes have every bit as much command authority, when commanding a Landing Craft Utility, for example, as any commissioned officer. I suspect, but am not certain, that this holds true in all three ways, simultaneously, for Special Forces warrants, at least some of the time.
5 Frankly, I consider that version somewhat inferior to the paper copy I was presented upon commissioning, in 1980, which was, itself, a somewhat updated version of the original one penned in 1950 by military historian SLA Marshall. What’s wrong with the current one? I find it a little too topical and current, really, which, to be fair, is what it purports and intends to be. I also find that is perhaps not quite as concerned with eternal verities as Brigadier General Marshall’s version was.
6 Though some came close, I never actually had a non-com that was smarter than I was, to include when I was a junior enlisted man. But I have rarely known one who didn’t have things – important things - to teach me.
7 And, ere we criticize too much, absent the purchase system there would have been no Wellington at Waterloo to drive Napoleon down to final defeat.
8 https://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/candidate.php?id=N00023864. Scroll down a bit.
9 We’re not Europe; our working class IS our middle class.
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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