Strategic and Tactical 'Paper Pushing'
Collins, John M., Army
"The pen is mightier than the sword."
The U.S. Army puts such a high premium on command that few commissioned officers who have not previously commanded at company, battalion and brigade levels ever wear stars, whereas most professional staff officers who make superlative performance possible cap carrers with eagles on their shoulders if they are lucky. General officers, as a general rule, are consequently grand tacticians and practitioners of operational art who win battles and campaigns but seldom excel at grand strategy, which wins wars. That sorry state will persist as long as most U.S. Army officers yearn for command and scorn "paper pushing."
My eccentric experiences suggest that diversified strategic, operational and tactical staff assignments can enhance U.S. national security by providing commanders with sharp intellectual tools and can also simultaneously improve subsequent prospects for civilian careers.
My only penance in the Pentagon was between November 1950 and January 1953, as a captain and the Army G-2's Arab-Israeli desk officer, assigned solely because I had earned a graduate degree in geography on the GI Bill. Extensive tutelage was immediately required, since I lacked intelligence experience at any level and knew next to nothing about the Middle East.
Step one was to attend a three-week course at the Strategic Intelligence School on Constitution Avenue near what is now the Vietnam Memorial. That institution has long since disappeared, but I still lean heavily on lessons learned in its classrooms. The value of unclassified materials, for example, became crystal clear when I combed newspapers and periodicals to develop an open-source order of battle for U.S. armed forces and, within a brief period, located all newly installed Nike Ajax surface-to-air missile sites around Washington, D.C., and learned the number of launchers per battery and the names of some battery commanders. Maps drawn to scale showed the best access and escape routes. Intelligence-gathering techniques acquired at that institution helped a lot when members of Congress asked me to prepare unclassified U.S.- Soviet military balance assessments from 1975 until the U.S.S.R. collapsed.
Strategic Intelligence School and subsequent attendance at several of DoD's academic institutions confirmed that progressive education facilitates professional staff work. Many observers viewed my matriculation at two staff colleges and two senior service colleges as overkill, but every course served as a unique building block. Other paper pushers should formally or informally enhance their knowledge bases at every opportunity.
Introductions to the Middle East, for example, were real eye-openers. My civilian supervisor had -to tell me that Mordecai was a Jewish name. I discovered that U.S. military attachés moved about less freely in Israel, a U.S. ally, than they did in the Soviet Union, an enemy of the United States. The best qualified Arab and Iranian officers often spurned attendance at U.S. military schools because lengthy absences would remove them from baksheesh (graft) chains that lined their pockets.
Updating card files that summarized the idiosyncrasies and aspirations of key officials in countries I surveyed consumed considerable time but Was worth it because personal histories illuminated pecking orders, probable lines of succession and other politico-military relationships.
I attended a summer seminar that the American University of Beirut (AUB) conducted for the State Department in 1952. Our Navy declined its invitation, but the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and CIA participated. Arab professors presided over graduate-level courses that covered regional geography, cultures, history, influences of Islam and contemporary problems. All three Army attendees were chauffeured throughout Lebanon, Jordan and a good deal of Syria, which soon was closed to outsiders. …