The Attritionist Letters (#7)

I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence, which I now offer to the public, fell into my hands. The general who authored them is almost certainly retired, for he writes with such careless disregard-and one might suggest some contempt-for our beloved Corps. The young captain to whom he writes is a more puzzling case; there are far too many Capt Wormwoods in the global access list to determine which is being addressed. Nevertheless, it is the essence of these papers that I find disconcerting-and thus the urgency with which I submit them to you, the reader. Read on.

Capt Wormwood,

After reading some of the missives that you send, I cannot help but sit down and laugh heartily at your naivete. It does not surprise me that you hear all manner of absurd ideas; there is no end of foolishness in this world. What I find laughable is that you give enough credence to the things you hear that you would actually ask me about them! I suppose I should not be terribly surprised. What else should I expect from a mere captain? In fact, perhaps I should be pleased that you are referring matters grear and small to me. That is certainly rhe role of every subordinate.

This brings me to the subject of your last letter. It is a mark of the degeneracy of these “maneuverists” that one of their number would actually state that “trust is the secret ingredient of maneuver warfare.” The arrogance of these people is stunning. If you need a “secret ingrethent” to conduct their form of warfare, what happens when it disappears? If trust between subordinates and seniors is an absolute requirement for maneuver warfare, then the maneuverists occupy an even weaker position than they know. When was the last time that you observed a relationship between senior and subordinate in which they truly trusred one another? I would wager that you have never seen ir. I certainly haven’t.

How can we trusr our subordinates? They have been trying to avoid and shirk their duties since time immemorial. Frederick the Great wanted his soldiers to be more afraid of their officers than their enemy, and with good reason. He knew they would desert if given a minute’s opportunity. Do you nor think that your lieutenants will require minute supervision? Of course they will, and not simply because they are young. They will attempt to mislead you if you do not watch them closely. This is no more than an acknowledgement of human nature.

The need for control, not trust, is a truth that the Marine Corps has long recognized. If you look beyond the rhetoric, you can see how little trust commanders have in their subordinates. It is manifest in things both small and large. Why do Marines fill out reams of paperwork before going on leave or prior to an extended liberty period? Why has the Marine Corps created a detailed predeployment training program that minutely prescribes training requirements for deploying units? The answer is obvious, although it is also obvious rhat no one will openly admit it.

Trust be damned! You cannot command and control a unit effectively based on trust! You cannot trust that your subordinates did maintenance; yoti must know. You cannot trust that your subordinates know what you want them to do; you must tell them and then ensure that it is done to your full satisfaction. I know what one of those tool maneuverists would say. I had one of them as a subordinate before T retired, and he was thick enough to attempt to discuss this issue with me. He said that “trust did not replace supervision, but that the form of supervision is diffĂ©rent.” He said that “in many cases, the senior would conduct unannounced visits to see what is really going on and had the right to expect total openness and honesty from his subordinates.” Can you imagine this? I was far too busy to leave my headquarters. My form of supervision was better; I had my subordinates come to my headquarters and briet me. We would sit in the conference room and they would conduct a Microsoft PowerPoint brief detailing what they had been doing. I could have them make changes or give guidance to m\ stali based upon this brief. I did exactly what everyone else did, but T had this young officer tell me that it was wrong. What did he know about exercising command? Nothing! 1 find that I am getting angry just relating the story to you now, and it happened some years ago.

Let me tell you this, Wormwood. You had better learn your place in this organization. Listen carefully and keep your mouth shut. Your superiors have been put in their positions because they are smarter than you. You would do well to remember this. I have heard maneuverists say that decisions flow up the chain of command and support flows down, but this is not the way the Marine Corps works, thank Nick. There is a reason that information flows up the chain of command and decisions flow down. It is because those who have the experience and will know best what to do in any situation are at the top.

It is quite likely that it is difficult for a mere captain to grasp all of this. If you are able to understand, you should begin to see how all of the things we have discussed in this and in past letters are interrelated. Each individual issue may not seem critical, but they arc part of a coherent and logical whole. When viewed in this manner, it is clear that the maneuverists have been defeated and that we are in charge.

If, as 1 expect, you are still confused, just shut your mouth, put your brain in neutral, and do what you’re told. No Marine who follows that order can go far wrong.

Gen Screwtape