Generals Speak Up-Or Do They?

by Maj James P. Etter

LtGen Victor H. Krulak’s article was challenging, thought provoking, and inspirational. In his opening paragraph he stated that “the essence of loyalty is the courage to propose the unpopular …, and the essence of leadership is the ability to inspire such behavior.” Well, I am inspired to put my loyalty to the test….

I am writing about Marine Corps generals and the quality of their creativity as defined by LtGen Krulak. He states:

However important the quality of creativity is in the subordinale, it is even more important in the superior. If he has a strong instinct to innovate, if he is willing to speak up and to write for publication himself, it is likely that he will be an effective vehicle for nourishing the ideas of his subordinates.

During the past 10 years, the Gazette has published 125 articles or commentaries by generals-a rate of approximately one per month. At first glance this seems like quite an acceptable quantity, but the figure ‘requires more detailed examination.

Twenty-four of the articles were posture statements-reprints of testimony given before one or more of the congressional committees. Articles of this type are routinely prepared by the staff to reflect the existing position of Headquarters and are then reviewed by the principal delivering them. They typically deal with the status of equipment and personnel and expound on the outstanding posture of the Corps, except where an effort is being made to justify new hardware or programs. Much like a snapshot, they report “what is,” without any of the why or value judgments.

Thirty of the articles written by generals were largely historical in nature. These dealt either with chronological events or presented personal accounts of a historical event. These articles rarely looked back in order to give guidance to the future; rather they told “what was.”

Twenty-five of the total were “work related.” These articles told what was accomplished in a specific billet or during a specific training exercise in which the particular general was a participant.

Thirty of the articles can best be classified as “miscellaneous.” They include letters to the editor, reprints of statements by deceased generals, and articles on subjects not related to the Marine Corps.

Sixteen of the articles are left. These are the ones in which the generals speak out and, to quote Gen Krulak’s words, “emphasize that their minimum duty to you, to your institution, and to their country is an honest and fearless expression of their best thinking. …”

It is this small number, 16, categorized as “speaking out” articles that causes concern. In the past 10 years, our general officers have written only 16 articles that attempt to deal with the many issues that the Corps has faced and will continue to face. It is important to note that 11 of these articles were written by MajGen Richard C. Schulze and MajGen David M. Twomey. This means that only 7 individual generals over the past 10 years have chosen to speak out or address the major issues that could, did, and do affect our Corps, and 3 of these wrote after their retirements. One would think that subordinates deserve more than this amount of “speaking out” by our senior leadership.

In the past 10 years, the Corps has been involved in many significant events and has confronted several key issues. Yet our generals have not spoken out in print. Where are the articles debating our performance in Beirut and Grenada, driving home the lessons learned? Maneuver warfare has been debated and written about by all except our generals. Surely they have opinions. Our generals talk about the new equipment and the ever increasing quality of our manpower, but where is their discussion about how these new resources should be applied on the battlefield? Is this reluctance to speak a manifestation of careerism at the highest levels? Should the Corps be led by officers who express no opinions unless they are blessed by the Commandant?

Gen Krulak stated it well when he said:

Young officers must strive to keep alive their creative and innovative energies, to do all that is necessary to improve the Corps. And senior officers must encourage and promote this attitude…. For both, it is a matter of duty and obligation.

The caption above the Gazette’s Ideas and Issues section reads, “candid professionally oriented comments on matters of interest to Marines.” Who is more qualified to give their candid opinions on ideas and issues than our generals? If we as subordinates are to glean the wisdom that is gained through experience and should be passed on to us, then our generals must put their thoughts in print and “speak out.”