Byrdseyevue: books, opinion, media, perspective

December 12, 2007

Boys Will Be Boys

One night, early morning actually, around 4:00 am, Max’s Kansas City, 1975 or thereabouts, waiting for Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers- Thunders, late of the New York Dolls, keeping us waiting till we were so far past drunk it was pathetic. Thirty plus years later, all I remember is either Johnny Thunders or the band that opened for them singing, screaming and jumping to a 2 chord song called “boys will be boys”. That memory is the inspiration for the title of this post and has absolutely nothing to do with its content.

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If you attend Wharton you learn about business and you take this knowledge and perspective with you into your professional life. Which means, for example, if you run a company, you work until you reach whatever goal you have in mind or until you go under. If you’re a lawyer, you think and act like a lawyer. Same with a doctor or carpenter, or, I imagine, dog breeder, conjurer, or second story man. Be a fly on the wall in a room full of any profession and you’ll cringe at the matter of fact words you hear and the largely unexamined worldview behind them. Yet, for some reason many of us expect something different from the military.

The fact is West Point, Annapolis, VMI, any of the military institutes, provide professional training in warcraft. Military tacticians and historians break down and study battles like football coaches watch game film. Bottom line: The military is a professional career like any other. Crazy but true. A Lieutenant with a platoon (45 men) aspires to be a Captain with a company (200 men,)who wants to be a Lieutenant Colonel with a battalion, (800 men). Ands he wants to be a full Colonel with a Regiment. (4500 men with a medical, artillery, tanks and other fun stuff) That full Colonel hopes someday to get a General’s star and aid a Major General in leading a Division (15,000 men). The Major General can’t wait to be a Lieutenant General in charge of a Corps (30,000 men), and that guy has his eye on a 4th star, a full general so he can lead an army 0f 100,000 men. (all numbers are approximate, men refer to men and women.)

Of course, in order to advance up the corporate ladder these men need the occasional war. With all this in mind why on earth would any of us expect a soldier to do anything but believe he can win, gain the objective, phrase it however you want. What’s he gonna say, I don’t think I can do it. It’s too difficult. All the military guys need, if you were to ask them, is more men, materiel and money. Look at Ford. When it turned out that Quality Wasn’t Job One, did the carmaker dissolve? No, it laid off thousand and thousands of men for the greater good of the company and its mission. See the parallel?

Korea was a fiasco in which utterly ridiculous decisions were made, but that didn’t stop the military from jumping headfirst into Vietnam which was even a more difficult situation, and then Iraq. But remember the Beta Max, or Cop Rock, the Apple GL II, or the Newton? Remember junk bonds in the 1980’s, and the current sub-prime real estate mess where CDA’s- collaterized debt obligations were supposed to be the first truly risk free investment vehicle? Sometimes plans work and sometimes they don’t. These things happen . People should know better and on some level some of them do. But at the end of the day, boys will be boys.

I’m obviously not saying anything new, and certainly over-simplifying, but if you read about American since the close of WWII in 1945, It’s clear that what we’re doing in Iraq is entirely consistent with our national behavioral patterns. I highly recommend David Halberstam’s, “The Coldest Winter- America and the Korean War.” (credit to DH for the chart that allowed me to spit out the military hierarchy above, as though I have any real idea what I’m talking about.) Halberstam writes with penetrating incite about Truman, MacArthur, the State Department, Congress, American military personnel both ranking and famous as well as forgotten foot soldiers. He also covers Mao, Chiang Kai-shek, Stalin, the South Korean leader Syngman Rhee and Kin IL Sung of North Korea, and a host of others. It is his last book. David was killed in an automobile accident 5 days after the completion of this ten year project.

I’m not endorsing our foreign adventures, in fact, I’m disgusted by the hubris, arrogance, incompetence, and the total lack of historical perspective in administration after administration that sets wars in motion and plays them out. Alls I’m sayin’ is, what else can you expect? This, my friends, I’m sad to say, is business as usual.


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