HIST202 Military Misfortunes chap 3_ 1 of2

HIST202 Military Misfortunes chap 3_ 1 of2 - 3 Analyzing...

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Unformatted text preview: 3 Analyzing Failure INTRODUCTION THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES the ways in which contemporaries and histo- rians misdiagnose military misfortunes, the former because of political and institutional imperatives, the latter because of scholarly traditions and habits of mind. For a variety of reasons military failure does not often receive sound analytical treatment from contemporaries; what is more Striking and more perverse is the absence of sound analysis by military hisrorians and one of the chier consumers of military history—military organizations themselves. Only by clearing away this undergrowth of a priori misconceptions about military failure can we begin a useful study of it. Following this discussion we turn to an analytic approach that offers some guidelines for the investigation of military misfortune, Clausewitz’s concept of Kritik, or critical analysis. Although the great Prussian theorist of war offered no formulas for diagnosing all failures, let alone preventing them, he spoke to our central analytic problem. In the final section of the chapter we will lay out our method for studying failure-«one we will follow in five succeeding cases. To illustrate some basic points we will look at perhaps the most famous of American military misfortunes, the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. 29 30 Military Mdsfortunes WHY NlILITARY MISFORTUNE IS NlISUNDERSTOOD CLOSE—UP The Politics of Failure No defeat in American History has had quite the impact of the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Within two hours eight American battleships had been sunk or badly damaged, nearly 2,400 men had perished or received mortal wounds, and the Opponent had escaped virtually untouched. The commanders on the spot—Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, commander of the Pacific Fleet, and Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, commander of US. Army forces on Hawaii, were relieved of their commands within a fortnight. The justice of those decisions remains hotly disputed, and a vocal community of historians and officers insists that Kimmel in particular was made the scapegoat for the successful Japa- nese surprise attack.’ By all accounts Kimmel was an able and industrious officer who helped ready the Pacific Fleet for the challenges of the war that soon emerged; by all accounts, too, his command had suffered from having been denied access to certain critical cryptological sources of intelligence (in particular, decrypted messages to and from the Japanese consulate in Honolulu ask- ing for precise information concerning the location of American naval shipping in Pearl Harbor). Kimmel and his apologists insist that, had he received such messages, he would have taken measures that could have averted the worst of the damage. MoreOver, as naval officers in particular have pointed out, whereas the government quickly cashiered Kimmel, it did no such thing to General Douglas MacArthur, whose air force was smashed on the ground by the Japanese attack a good eight hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The result, many have claimed, was political scapegoating pure and simple. Now, interestingly enough, although scapegoating sometimes occurs in the wake of natural or even man-made disasters, it is less widespread than one might think.2 A diffuse cloud of suspicion may settle over an organization (NASA in the wake of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger; for example, or Union Carbide in the aftermath of the poison gas accident in Bhopal, India), but rarely do particular individuals come in for minute scrutiny and public disgrace in quite this way. When they do, middle managers or operators are criticized more often than chief executives. In the case of military failure, the tendency is for criticism and responsibility to fall most heavily on the highest level of management and Analyzing Failure 31 to be less forgiving. A chief executive of a railroad, for example, rarely loses his job over a train derailment, although the operator of the train involved most probably will. Moreover, as the case of MacArthur sug- gests, the spotlight will frequently miss Other commanders at fault. This phenomenon of the erratic spotlight is less arbitrary than it might appear, for two reasons. First, the politics of military failure are quite different from the politics of disaster. Military failures often cost more in terms of human life (at least in advanced countries) than do civil disasters. Moreover, except in rare cases natural and even manmade disasters rarely threaten national self-esteem or core values. Whereas a Pearl Harbor calls into quesrion the efficiency of the most essential inStitutions of govern- ment, a landslide, an earthquake, or even an airplane crash rarely does so. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 is the exception that proves the rule: Americans had viewed their prowess in space explo- ration as a demonstration of unique American capabilities, and the con- quest of space as a national adventure. That NASA, the organization that had put men on the moon, could have allowed such a rmingbz routine event to fail so catastrophically shook Americans far more deeply than the failure of, for example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to pre— vent the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor failure. Of course, the launch of a space shuttle was only apparently a routine kind of event—in point of fact, it remained a hazardous undertaking, as ‘ those within NASA knew very well. In a variety of ways, hOWever, NASA officials had given precisely the opposite impression to the Ameri- can public by putting nonprofessionals (from a US. senator to a high school science teacher) on spacecraft. This misleading appearance of secu- rity and safety contributed to the public reaction to the disaster. It should additionally be noted that those in charge also, to some extent, deceived themselves (“NASA and Thiokol accepted escalating risk apparently be- cause they ‘got away with it last time‘ ”).5 The same holds true for many military misfortunes as well. The inflated reputation of the fortress of Singapore in 1942 contributed to the calamity of its fall—not only to public distress, but to the reactions of statesmen and commanders groping for strategic responses to the Japanese onslaught. The confidence of the American government and Far East Command in November 1950 that Chinese Communist forces would n0t oppose in strength a U.S.-—Repub— lic of Korea advance to the Yalu contributed not only to public disbelief over the mm of the Eighth Army in the hills of North Korea, but to the collapse itself. Military organizations overall, and even particular installations, embody 32 Military Misfortunes national pride and self-esteem. When they fail, and in particular when they fail catastrophically, confidence in government itself is shaken, for the first duty of government is national defense. In some cases. moreover, the blow lands not only on a nation's self-esteem but on its cities and population. As a direct consequence of Pearl Harbor, American residents on the West Coast believed themselves in imminent danger of enemy attack, perhaps even invasion. Similarly, the sight of blazing shipping up and down the East and Gulf coasts in 1942 stimulated fears of sabotage and even air attacks by the German enemy. Military misfortune, then, because of its scope, its practical implications, and even more deeply felt threats to national self-esteem, evokes a far different response than does a “normal” disaster. Political authorities often have no choice but to re- spond by dismissing a senior military commander and replacing him with another, in effect creating a scapegoat. They do this not out of pusillanim- ity, but because the aftermath of military misfortunes differs from other disasters. Once a natural or man-made disaster has occurred, it is over; a time of recovery begins. In the case of military failure, however, the crisis has only begun, and recuperation from the immediate consequences of defeat—in the case of Pearl Harbor, tending to the wounded and sal- vaging the blasted hulks littering the bay—can be less important than coping with its larger consequences, namely a loss of confidence in and of the armed forces. To indulge in the kinds of complicated explanations of failure that we essay in this book runs counter to the immediate and pressing requirements of national emergency: Public men immersed in the here and now may well judge that such efforts, which require intro- spection and intricate argumentation, will do more damage than good. The Dogma of Responsibility Political necessity, therefore, impels contemporaries, particularly politi- cians, to facus on the senior commander. So too does what one might call "the dOgma of responsibility," the tradition, dominant in virtually all military organizations, that the commander bears full responsibility for all that happens to his command. This is expressed perhaps most powerftu in the naval semitradition of a captain going down with his ship; it is seen more frequently in the practice of sacking captains whose ships run aground or into other ships, even if the proximate cause of the failure is the error of a junior officer. Thus, one of the intelligence officers at Pearl Harbor who believed (together with many officers) that Admiral Kimmel was badly, indeed shamefully, treated reluCtantly agreed with the impera- tive that he be relieved: ' Analyzing Failure 3 3 A decision to relieve a defeated commander is not a question of justice. There is no justice in a war that sends one man to safe duty in a basement while thousands of his comrades are dying in desperate battle within a mile of where he sits. Kimmel should have been relieved, but not in disgrace.‘ The decision to relieve a defeated commander, even if the fault is not his in a narrow historical or legal sense, rests on a number of grounds. One is that a military commander's responsibility far exceeds that of an executive in business or Other government agencies because his power and authority equally exceed theirs. He can order men to their deaths; he can control their activities twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week; he can and must insist on obedience and formal deference incom- parable with those in the civilian world. The code of responsibility is drummed into officers from their first days as subalterns. Their right to command rests, ultimately, not only on their acceptance of greater risk and hardship than those under their command but on their willingness to accept responsibility. To say that a spectacular failure is either nobody’s fault, or everybody's, or indeed the consequence of a complicated chain of events and decisions, is to undermine the moral order an army requires in order to be able to fight. Because of the grip of the dogma of responsibility. a defeat, even if not a commander’s fault, can shatter his nerve, and a commander whose will has been shaken is worse than useless. This can be true of the most experi- enced and successful of military leaders as well as those not previously teSted in war. When the Egyptian-Syrian onslaught against Israel began on Yom Kippur (October 6) 19? 3, the Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan, suffered a collapse in confidence that rendered him ineffectual throughout much of the war.’ Even if a leader’s self-confidence remains intact, the psychological scar tissue resulting from having presided over disaster may deprive him of good judgment._'Admiral Kimmel‘s obsessive refusal to admit oversights and errors in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack indicates that defeat had precisely that effect on him. One final reason peculiar to military organizations contribUtes to the dogma of responsibility: the apparently vast ability of commanders to influence the forces under them. A general or admiral can, if he chooses, control certain kinds of events far more easily than can executives in Other organizations. Should he order an army to attack or a fleet to sail, it will happen, and fairly quickly, if physically possible. In business, by way of contrast, except in the most autocratic of corporations, decisions are taken in a fat slower and more collective fashion. To be sure, operational mili- 34 Military Misfortunes tary decisions are often far more constrained by a host of considerations— enemy abilities and actions, logistics, political directives, and so on—than they appear outwardly. Nonetheless, what counts is the appearance, and frequently the reality, of enormous abilities to influence events. In addi- tion, a senior commander can radically change everyday matters. which, though seemingly petty, can drastically alter the lives of those under him. By doubling the amount of physical training required every morning, for example, or by reducing or increasing parade ground drill, a commander can change the tone and morale of hundreds of thousands of men. Thus, General Matthew Ridgway, on assuming command of the Eighth Army in Korea in 1950, recalls not only his attempts to improve the tactics and training of his beaten command, but minor details of how it lived: I concerned myself with petty matters too, some of which may seem at a distance to be trifling in the extreme but all of which have a cumulative value in building esprit. For instance, when I first took a meal at the Eighth Army Main, 1 was shocked at the state of the linen and tableware—bedsheet muslin on the tables, cheap ten-cent- store crockery to serve the food in. Not that I personally fretted over whether I ate off linen or linoleum. But this sort of thing, at the mess where VIPs from all over the world were sure to visit. struck me as reflecting a total lack of pride in the whole operation— a confirmation that this was indeed what it was sometimes called at home: the Forgotten War. I promptly got that dreary muslin swapped for serviceable linen and that crockery changed for presentable chinaware.‘ Ridgway, it should be noted, was widely and correCtly known as a fighting man's general, indifferent to his personal comforts. This concentration of despotic power in a singie individual, however, is often deceptive. Obviously, what the enemy can and does do forms the greatest constraint on a military leader—one which he cannot ignore. But a commander can be, and often is, also at the mercy of organizations not under his control, of organizational subcultures so deeply ingrained that they are oblivious to his influence, of political pressures he cannot coun- teract, of military technologies he cannot change, of allocations of human and material resources he cannot affect. He can be a prisoner of assump- tions he shares and of earlier decisions he cannot unmake. Kimmel made his defense on just these grounds, and they have some, though not exclu- sive merit. It is precisely in these gray regions that a commander cannot control (or can do so only with great difficulty) that military misfortune develops. Analyzing Failure 3 5 WHY MILITARY MISFORTUNE IS MISUNDERSTOOD FROM A DISTANCE Military History and the Study of Defeat The politics of failure and the dogma of responsibility combine to focus attention on the commander, for understandable and indeed often laud- able reasons. It is harder to understand, perhaps, why those who study military history—including the armed forces themselves—have not come up with satisfactory methods for analyzing it. In facr, military historians, amateur and professional, have probably done more to obscure than to reveal the reasons for military misfortune. In order- to develop a useful method for analyzing military misfortune-ma method that must perforce be historical—we have to look at how the peculiarities of military history, as it has been written for the past century, have obstructed a coherent study of military failure. Two particularly striking paradoxes immediately confront the Student of military historiography. The first is that although military history is one of the oldest branches of history (think back on Thucydides‘ Peloponnesian War), and perhaps the most popular with the literate public, it is one of the least respectable among academic historians. The second is that although the military profession has few of the intellec- tual pretensions of, say, law andmedicine, it is far more disposed than are those professions to turn to historical study, albeit in odd ways. This latter fact helps account for the variety of purposes military history can serve. All history, of course, plays a role in susraining a community's sense of purpose; all individuals, consciously or not, make use of history.’ In the case of military organizations, however, this is more true than others: History serves as a monument to past achievements, an inspiration to newly induCted members, a database for operational analysis, a training ground for prospective commanders, an insritutional memory, and as a source of recreation.8 In few Other areas (diplomatic history may be one) do governments make such efforts to produce official histories, which influence historical writing and reasoning for decades thereafter. At the same time, the historical writings of scholars in this field compete with the writings of popular historians, journalists, serving and retired officers, and the occasional autodidact. Military history is often written in hori- zontal layers: either as battle history, campaign history, or the history of strategy making. Sometimes (Pearl Harbor is a case in point) it is written about everything leading up to the clash of arms, and sometimes about nothing but. In the words of one distinguished military historian, “Mili- 36 Military Misfortunes tary history is prey to problems and pressures that are involved far less often in the writing of other kinds of history.” This plethora of purposes and forms has had a deleterious effect on the analysis of campaigns, and particularly those campaigns involving failure. This is most n0table in the case of utilitarian military historyu—that is, the kind of history by and for military organizations desiring to train men, and officers in particular, for war. A belief in the utility of historical study for this purpose first took root in the same country that provided many of the pioneers of historical method—Germany. ‘0 In the view of the German General Staff, and particularly its greatest chief, Helmuth von Moltke, a rigorous study of military history offered one of the best substitutes for direCt experience of war available to a peacetime army.11 Moltke himself, a writer of some note and ability, wrote a number of campaign studies, and personally supervised the production of the General Staff’s histories of the campaigns of 1864, 1866, and 1870, which led directly to the unification of Germany under Prussian hegemony. The General Staff’s historical section invariably included officers of high intellectual and'lead- ership quality; where an assignment to serve as an official historian in the United States military today usually signifies a career coming to an end, it meant just the reverse in the German Army. At the heart of the German army lay its General Staff, at the heart of the General Staff the Kfiegmkademie, or War College; and at the heart of the curriculum there lay military history, which absorbed as much time . as tactics}2 History was taught according to the applicatory method, first introduced in the 18205. This method of historical study involved the extremely detailed study of a battle from tbepoint afview aftbe commander. It required the preparation of special narratives interrupted periodically by queStions to the reader asking him to judge whether the commander’s action was the correcr one, given what he knew at the time.” As one practitioner of the method put it, the student's study of the campaigns of his famous predecessors must be active and not passive; he must put himself in their place, not content with merely reading a lively narrative, but working out every step of the operation with map and compass; investigating the reasons of each movement; tracing cause and effect, ascertaining the relative importance of the moral and the physical, and deducing for himself the principles on which the generals acted.l4 The applicatory method was not confined to Germany: G. F. R. Hen- derson, a British coionel and a writer of great skill applied it at the turn of the century to his biography of Stonewall jackson, a far livelier and Analyzing Failure 3 7 more rewarding tome than the scores of studies cranked out by the labori- ous methods of the German General Staff. But whether their works were dry or vivid, the authors of applicatory history could not but distort real- ity, for they focused all their attention on the commander. Given what we have said above concerning “the dogma of re5ponsibility,” this comes as no surprise. Formal applicatory history faded in the early twentieth century, al- though it continued to do well in the field of small—unit tactics.” But the legacy of applicatory history remains in the tendency of readers of mili- tary history, and particularly military students of the subject, to see battles and campaigns as a clash between two commanders—a duel in which the wits and moral qualities of a single leader determine the outcome of bat- tle. While there is some accuracy in this view, it lends credence to the fai- lacy of homogeneity—the habit of speaking of a large organization as a unitary whole rather than as a collection of suborganizations with defina- ble subcultures, routines, and modes of operation. A second type of utilitarian military history, related to the first, is that which seeks to use experience to demonstrate or validate certain principles or procedures. As even Admiral Herbert Richmond, a thoughtful writer and capable naval war planner, wrote: War consists of several elements, and into all of these enter principles. Those principles are permanent, and those who study hiStory find a wealth of instruction in the application of those principles. 1“ Frequently, however, the search for immutable principles of war is but a lazy approach to the applicatory method. Where the latter attempts to train a commander's judgment by giving him vicarious experience, the former leads to a reckless ransacking of history for evidence to support a priori positions.” At best, the attempt to write or read military history as a vindication of principles leads to mechanistic and rigid simplification. The final utilitarian purpose of military history inheres in its myth- making and morale-building functions. These are, one hastens to point out, necessary functions. Pride in one’s service or one’s regiment contrib- ute to military effectiveness, and help integrate officers, particularly new officers, into their organizations. Particularly important—and danger- ous—in this regard is What one might call “monumental history,” official history written to record for posterity the armed forces’ achievements in a particular war. Even official history written with the most honest of intentions 'can fall into the trap of being overly solicitous of reputations, excessively unwilling to criticize high-level decisions and policies.” 3 8 Military Misfortunes This is not to suggest that official history is necessarily biased or dishon- est, that it shuns a critical examination of failure in order to celebrate success. Much official hiStory has won high praise even from private scholars inclined to suspect its quality. The remarkably candid British offi- cial history of the strategic bombing offensive against Germany comes to mind, as does virtually the whole of the United States Army’s history of World War II and the recently published German history of the same conflict. The danger resides more in the uses of officially produced his- tory, in an unwillingness to go beyond it, than in official history itself. Indeed, from time to time military organizations have looked to official history to rescue themselves from the artificial optimism of most war games and exercises. A US. army educational review in 1971 com- merited: One of the most consistent student comments about curriculum content is that the synthetic operational problems are generally euphoric in nature—the US. Army always wins with relative ease. . . . A strong element of every curriculum should be historical Studies which frankly analyze unsuccessful American military efforts. This should not be a “head-hunting expedition” or invidious to any individual, but it should involve an objective discussion of what we did, what went wrong, and why. This single action would do more to establish credibility for our instructiOn than any other known to me.” The three varieties of utilitarian military historyv—applicatory history, history in support of principles, and history as monument-wall have justir fiable if sometimes unattainable purposes. The point is that all three kinds of history turn one’s attention away from the dissection of military mis~ fortune, and particularly from its study as organizational rather than indi- vidual failure. Academic historians have done little better in this regard, largely be- cause military history has, even to the present day, gained little respect- ability in academic circles. Even in Wilhelmine Germany military history was never a well-established branch of the discipline, being viewed instead as a subject suitable only for the technical experts of the Great General Staff. Thus, in the 18805, the faculty of the University of Berlin stoutly opposed the appointment of the greatest nineteenth-century military his- torian, Hans Delbriick, to a chair of military history.” Similarly, the handful of British nineteenth and early-twentieth-century military histo- rians, chiefly at Oxford, found themselves contending with a widespread prejudice against their subject matter. This took a variety of forms: In Analyzing Failure 39 part, it came as a reaction against what has come to be known as “the drum and trumpet” school of military historyu-the flashy and stereotyped battle pieces of pOpular military historians. In some cases (in England, at any rate) it refleCted a simple disbelief in the importance of war itself; in Others a suspicion (not altogether gone on today’s American campuses either) that an interest in military history indicated an unhealthy bellicos— ity out of keeping with the pacific traditions of scholarship. This last complaint led the holder of the Chichele Professorship at Oxford (until recently the only endowed chair devoted to the study of war) to remark to his colleagues, “You are no more likely to become a militarist or a jingo through addiction to military history than an ornithologiSt is likely to feed his children on gobbets of raw flesh, still warm, because he has become fascinated by the behavior of birds of prey.”“ The suspicions with which academic historians have viewed military history is, however, a chronic source of resentment, not necessarily a block to creative scholarship. More serious for the writing of military history since World War II have been the critiques offered by military historians themselves, or at any rate those sympathetic to them. By the 1950s, Walter Millis, an American military hiStorian of some note, was writing that “military history as a specialty has largely lost its function. There is a panache about military history which has kept it alive since the days of Homer and presumably will always do so,” but, he continued, it had become irrelevant to modern war: Its only hope is to become “less military and more civilian,” to merge itself into the general study of social history.22 Many other military historians, including some of the most tal- ented practitioners of what had until the 19605 been conventional mili- tary history (narrative accounts of campaigns, in particular) took up this refrain. Peter Paret declared in the early 19705, “Far too much military history is being written in America," most of it “descriptive history, cen- tering on leading figures, campaigns, and climactic battles.”25 Agreeing with this criticism, many military historians turned instead to the study of “War and Society,” a resolute attempt to place military imitations and events in ever broadening contexts. Instead of studying battles, histo- rians (often equipped with the lateSt statistical techniques and computer databases) examined patterns of recruitment, the relationship between arms industries and economic development, the daily life of soldiers, or the relationship between group interests and the emergence of military doctrines." This new kind of military history gained impetus from the more general rise and dominance of social history in the pen-1945 pe— riod, and in particular the so-called annals: school of social history. What all this did was to leave the original, core subject of military history-“war itself—in a state of extraordinary neglect. John Keegan’s re~ 40 Military Misfortunes markable book, The Face quattle did a brilliant job of resurrecting “the battle piece." showing just how well a historian could do in recreating the facts of battle.” Keegan opened a door onto the academic study of combat—but no one followed him through. This is all the more astonish- ing in view of the fact that one of the most striking methodological inno- vations in the study of military history—S. L. A. Marshall’s system for the collective interviewing of units immediately after battle—offered an opportunity to capture the essence of contemporary warfare in a way not possible by more conventional methods.26 Although by the 1980s signs of a return Swing of the pendulum had become visible, it was nonetheless the case that many academic historians had allowed themselves to become curiously remote from the central fact of war—combat.” Whatever the merits of the “War and Society" ap- proach, it steered attention toward one explanation of victory and defeat (insofar as one was interested in such questions at all): the view that war was a test of a whole society’s resources and abilities, and that success in battle stemmed directly therefrom. This view shunned a close analysis of military organizations in war; it inhibited the writing of a military history relevant to the concerns of professional soldiers; and, above all, it drew interest away from the close study of battle necessary to understand fail- ure in war. - Social Science and the Study of Surprise As some historians have ruefully noted, in the postwar period social scien- tists have taken the lead in the study of military matters.28 From sociologi- cal studies of the American soldiers in World War II, to general works on civil-military relations, to studies of the theory of strategy, social scien- tists have set the scholarly agenda. This has included the study of military failure, or rather one kind of failure: surprise attack or, more broadly, intelligence failure. Beginning in 1962 with Roberta Wohlsetter‘s book Pearl Harbor: War- ing and Decision, political scientists have mulled over how it is that large and sophisticated intelligence organizations have missed the clues of an impending attack. The conundrum was particularly acute in the case of Pearl Harbor, because that was one of the first cases in which it was publicly acknowledged how far modern decryption of radio messages had gone. The central puzzle that social scientists founde—or set for them- selves—recurred in a number of cases, including Pearl Harbor, the Ger- man invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Chinese intervention in Korea, and the Egyptian and Syrian attacks on Israel in October 1973. Analyzing Failure 41 According to the social scientisrs a number of caustn accounted for the failure of intelligence. One of these was “noise“—the difficulty of sifting out the correct and important from the irrelevant or the false; the prob— lem was nor, as had been thought, that organizations had too little infor- mation at their disposal but too much. Others focused on the importance of deception, and of the surprising ease with which one country could mislead another about its intention to attack." While some analysts made the case that institutional arrangements such as having competing analyti- cal groups could reduce surprise, the consensus seems to be just the re- verse. In the words of the most persuasive student of surprise: Intelligence failures are not only inevitable, they are natural. . . . Scholars cannot legitimately view intelligence mistakes as bizarre, - because they are no more common and no less excusable than academic errors. . . . My survey of the intractability of the inadequacy of intelligence,‘ and its inseparability from mistakes in decision, suggescs one final conclusion that is perhaps most outrageously fatalistic of all: tolerance for disaster.30 Although the “no-fault” view of intelligence surprise has been chal- lenged, it remains the reigning one among scholars. When surprise does occur, and when culpability can be assigned, it belongs at the level of the highest civilian decision maker: “The principal cause of surprise is not the failure of intelligence but the unwillingness of political leaders to believe intelligence or to react to it with sufficient dispatch.”31 The analysts of failure repeatedly warn their readers about “the silly certainty of hind- sight," saving their criticisms for the political misjudgments at the very top, which either mislead intelligence analysts or cause them to be ig— nored, usually with dire results.” The problem with most studies of intelligence failure stems at once from their excessive claims and from their incompleteness. If every fail- ure-be it of any army, a corporation, or a government—which results from not taking appropriate action based on “clear,” “timely,” “relia- ble,“ “valid,” “adequate,” and “wide-ranging" information,33 is an intel- ligence failure, the term becomes meaningless. Conversely, if inadequate intelligence is the norm, there can be no standards for judging good or ad- equate intelligence at all. It is interesting that few of the students of intel- ligence failure have also discussed at length the nature of successful intelligence work. Part of the reason lies in the fact that sound intelligence (or sound use of it) frequently causes the opponent to change or even can- cel the course of aetion he intended: A study of surprise attacks predicted is usually a study of nonevents. Of course, intelligence has, on a number of 42 Military Misfortunes occasions (the Battle of Midway, for example, or the Batde of AlamHalfa) enabled one side to anticipate another’s actions. But chiefly it is the nar- row definition of intelligence as the foretelling of the future that inhibits a more realistic understanding of the role and limits of intelligence. If some students of surprise claim too much, others bound their Studies too narrowly. Typically, case studies of intelligence failure look at two different kinds of organization: the organs of supreme command—a presi- dent or prime minister and his military advisers, for example—and intelli- gence organizations. Rarely do surprise attack theorists study the opera- tional commands on whom the blows of a surprise attack fall, and when they do so it is only in order to trace their reactions to warning in the fatal few hours immediately before an onslaught. The reason for this self- limiting study is simple: Most investigations of intelligence failure stop their investigations at the point of combat. Their interest lies in why surprise occurred, nm in what its consequences were. In some cases these consequences may seem self-evident, though even here appearances may be misleading. The Japanese success at Pearl Har- bor, for example, had only negligible strategic consequences, since the sunk or damaged battleships would prove irrelevant to the ensuing battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and the Solomons. As we shall see in some of the case studies below, it is an error to think that surprise by itself determines more than the outcome of the first engagement: Thereafter other fac- tors—the quality of command, prewar doctrine, quantitative elements, and others—come into play. In Clausewitz‘s words. But while the wish to achieve surprise is common, and, indeed, indispensable, and while it is true that it will never be completely ineffective, it is equally true that by its very nature surprise can rarely be outstandingly successful. It would be a mistake, therefore, to regard surprise as a key element of success in war. The principle is highly attractive in theory, but in practice it is often held up by the fricrion of the whole machine." ' The overvaluation of surprise by some analysts of intelligence failure Stems from an exaggerated picture of what intelligence is and can be. By implication, at any rate, many of them would appear to conceive of it as an ability to see into the future, to know today the likely outcome of the interactions of military forces locked in combat a week, a month, or a year from now. In truth, however, military intelligence can do two more limited, if Still necessary, things: it can try to answer the question, Where is the enemy now? and, equally important, What is the enemy like? In some cases it can even suggest answers to the question, What is the enemy Analyzing Failure 43 likely to do? At its best, intelligence can provide the bounds for strategic calculation, but it is asking too much to expecr it to look into the future. In addition—and this is the most serious deficiency in their arguments— the theorists of surprise treat failure as a homogeneous entity. They do so because they do not explore the operational consequences of surprise, that is, the battlefield outcomes of the intelligence failures whose genesis they have traced with such care. As we shall see in many of the following case studies, however, failure is rarely if ever homogeneous. When the Chinese intervened in force in Korea in late November 19 50, they routed some American forces but not others: where the Second Division of the United States Army soon crumbled into small groups of desperate men, the First Marine Division conducted an orderly retreat, inflicting ex- tremely heavy losses on its opponents and remaining intact to the end as an effective fighting force. If all AmeriCan units had suffered the fate of the Second Division, the UN Command might well have had to evacuate the Korean Peninsula; if all had fought and endured as hardily as the First Marine Division, the rebound might have come well before UN forces had fallen back behind the 38th Parallel. When the Japanese lashed out at American and British forces in the Pacific in 1942 they achieved partial surprise in both the Philippines and the Malay Peninsula, and in the end forced garrisons in b0th areas to capitulate. But whereas the British forces collapsed quickly—by February l942—the Americans were able to hold out until April; one defeat was a humiliationwith dangerous political (and hence strategic) consequences at home and in the theater, the other was a “forlorn hope” that became an inspiration, not a disgrace. When Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked Israel in 1973 the campaigns went quite differently on the southern and the northern fronts. In the south the Egyptians managed to overpower a fortified line named for an Israeli chief of staff, seize terrain from which they were never dislodged and heat back a major Israeli counterattack. In the north, with one minor and temporary exception, the Syrians achieved no such gains and were soon repelled, albeit with much hard fighting. Once again, the psychological and political repercussions—particularly the consequences for peacemak— ing—were immense. Like academic military historians, surprise attack theorists have fallen into the habit of ignoring the central element of war—the fighting. Like some of the utilitarian historians, and many contemporary observers. they tend to focus on only one level of command, usually the very highest civilian authority, such as a president or prime minister. It is therefore to other analytic traditions or approaches that we must turn in order to learn how to dissect military misfortune. 44 Military Misfortunes _ IN SEARCH OF METHOD: CIAUSEWITZIAN KRITIK Let it be clear at the outset that the analytic task faced by. the student of military misfortune is fOrmidable in the extreme. He or she faces the usual difficulty of military hisrory, rendering some sense out of the chaos'that is a battlefield. There is an addition the problem one astute general called the tendency of all ranks to combine and recast the story of their achievements into a shape which shall satisfy the susceptibilities of national and regimental vain-glory. . . . On the actual day of battle naked truths may be picked up for the asking; by the following morning they have already begun to get into their uniforms.” Despite the plethora of documentation generated by soldiers and their organizations—memoirs, regimental histories, not to mention war diaries and after-action reportsuthe reality of battle is often obscure, and the forces for dissimulation, be they conscious or unintended, potent. This is, of course, treny true when speaking of disaster, when the urge for bureaucratic self-promotion by means of the creation of spurious or mis- leading documents can be overwhelming. But quite apart from the problem of evidence—eyewitnesms who either forget spontaneously or choose to do so, war diaries written months after the event by harried junior officers, reports concealed for reasons of secu- rity—is the problem of procedure. Even in cases where the historian's normal methods of evaluating and cross-checking sources can work, how should we set about thinking through particular military failures? Perhaps the best guide for the analysis of military misfortune comes from the greatest of all students of war, Carl von Clausewitz, and particularly from book 2 of his masterwork, On War. In this section of 07: War, Clausewitz discusses his concept of “critical analysis,” or Kritik, which forms the basis for his approach to the study of war. Kritik supports the development of military theory, which is the subject of his book. Clausewitz begins with a notion of theory quite different from that of the contemporary social sciences. Rather than seeking to develop an axiomatic set of hypotheses to reduce the world to formulas—an enter- prise Clausewitz views as futile at best, pernicious at worst—the critic attempts to deveIOp his understanding of “the relationship betWeen phe- nomena," a sense of how wars unfold, and an ability to judge. It is “a guide to anyone who wants to learn about war from books. . . . It is meant to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield.”" His approach has more in common with that of the well- Analyzing Failure ' 45 schooled art critic than with that of the physical scientist, for where the scientist seeks to set forth propositions verifiable by experiments that can be duplicated, the critic seeks to understand unique events. “Just as some plants bear fruit only if they don’t shoot up too high, so in the practical arts the leaves and flowers of theory must be pruned and the plant kept close to its proper soil—experience."” . Knit"): has three steps: the discovery of facts, the tracing of effects to causes, and the investigation and evaluation of means.38 Clausewitz ar— - gued against what we have called horizontal history—the study of war at only one level, be it that of tactics, strategy, technology, or whatever; Rather, he believed that military questions must be studied at all levels because of the interaction among them. Thus, “a means may be evaluated not merely with respect to its immediate end: that end itself should be appraised as a means for the next and highest one. . . . Every stage in this progression obviously implies a new basis for judgment. That which seems correct when looked at from one level may, when viewed from a higher one, appear objeaionable."” Clausewitz advocated the study of military history in support of the study of war, and indeed, some three-quarters of his writings dealt directly with military history, not theory. Yet his approach diverged from that of the academic historian as well. He believed in the systematic study not only of what actually occurred in a battle or a war, but in the investigation of what might happened, the StudynOt only of the means that were used, but the means that might have been used. In addition, he accepted some of the premises of applicatory hiStory.- For the most part, the critic should look at war from the point of view of the commander. Clausewitz rejected, however, the rigid adherence to this method that characteriz the utilitarian historians we discussed earlier."‘0 ' .Finally, Clausewitz believed in the utility of studying a few relatively recent military episodes in detail rather than studying dozens in a more superficial way. In war facts and motives “may be intentionally concealed by those in command, or, if they happen to be transitory and accidental, hisrory may not have recorded them at all. That is why critical narrative musr usually go hand in hand with historical research."“I Moreover, in war effeCts “seldom result from a single cause; there are usual several concurrent causes,” each of which must be pursued to the end.” Only by a close study of relatively few cases can one hope to get to the truth of what war is about. Clausewitz suggested-a method: intensive historical case study, a willing- ness to think through hypothetical actions systematically and multilevel analysis. Equally, and perhaps more important, he offered a mental ap- 46 Military Misfortunes proach, a cast of mind conducive to the study of military misfortune. In war, he wrote, “criticism exists only to recognize the truth, not to act as judge.”“3 We may legitimately criticize a general's decision without imply- ing that we ourselves would have done better in the same way that an art critic can point to a flaw in a sculpture without meaning to suggest that the artist was anything Other than a skilled craftsman.“ Thus, al- though 07; War is written for future commanders, it succeeds in avoiding the pitfalls of what we have called “the dogma of responsibility.“ Clause- witz helps us realize that our chief concern is net the awarding of demerits or prizes to defeated or successful commanders, not deciding whether a decision to relieve them from or retain them in their positions was just, but to discover why events took the turn they did. MAPPING OUT MILITARY MISFORTUNE Having seen how failure may be misunderstood, and having looked at approaches that may help us in uncovering its sources, we turn to the method of studying military misfortune we will use in the cases studied below. It involves five steps. First we must ask, What was the failure? To do this we must be willing to make a serious use of counterfactual analy- sis. More simply put, we must ask, What would have been required to transform failure into something less, a mere setback perhaps? Proceeding from this, our second question is, What were the critical tasks that went incomplete or unfulfilled? We look, in other words, at the key failures that determined the eventual outcome. Third, we conduct “layered analysis," examining the behavior of different levels of organization and their rela- tive contributions to military misfortune. This procedure culminates in the fourth step, the drawing of an “analytical matrix," a simplified chart of failures that presents graphically the key problems leading to military misfortune. From this chart, finally, we derive our “pathways to misfor- tune"—the larger cause of the failure in question. To illustrate how this process works, we return to the story of Pearl Harbor, already noting one very- large difference between our approach and that of most of the literature on it. Most writers—from the authors of the congressional report on the attack to historians and social scientists discussing it a generation later—have concentrated on the question, Who was to blame? Various men have paraded through our imaginary dock, including the local commanders (Kimmel and Short), the professional heads of the armed services (Stark and Marshall), their civilian superiors Analyzing Failure 4 7 (Knox and Stimson), and even the president himself. Some have argued that the dock should be empty, or that all Americans should be in it. Without denying the practical importance of allocating responsibility and blame—a task bOth distasteful and essential during the war—we leave it aside entirely. Having satisfied ourselves that none of the principals were outright incompetents (and no one, including the harshest critics of Kim- rnel and Short, has said that), we turn to a study of the failure proper. WHAT WAS THE FAILUREa The first and most important task confronting the student of military misfortune is figuring om what, precisely, constitutes the failure under discussion. A satisfactory answer to this quesrion' requires-more thought than may be apparent. As the case of Pearl Harbor illustrates, it is not simply the facr of being attacked and suffering heavy losses: The same occurred in the Philippines, yet the Japanese onslaught there had nothing like the psychological or indeed the material impact of the assault on Hawaii. Some (particularly Kimmel’s partisans) ascribe this to the supe- rior capacities of General MacArthur for self-promotion and concealment of mistakes, as well as civilian inclination to pillory the navy rather than the army for the failure. But there are simpler and more powerful reasons for Pearl Harbor's peculiar status as a failure. First and foremost is the discrepancy between the losses suffered by the United States and those experienced by the Japanese. At the cost of only twenty-nine aircraft theJapanese had managed nor only to virtually elimi- nate American airpower in Hawaii but to sink most of the battle fleet and to inflicr losses that would have been heavy for a nation accustomed to 'war and that were Stunning for a nation thinking itself at peace. At Pearl Harbor 2,400 men died, a number only somewhat smaller than those who fell on the first day of the invasion of Europe in 1944.“ Sec- ond, the Pearl Harbor attack clearly came as a surprise to all conCerned— a fact immediately noted with dismay nor. only by the newspapers but by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox (who arrived in Hawaii two days after the attack) and by an investigatory committee that arrived a fewweeks later. Even at the time this jarred sharply with the sense that American aurhorities knew very well that war with Japan was imminent; after the war was over, and the fact of the decryption of some Japanese ciphers could be revealed, the element of surprise seemed even more astonishing. In the words of the Joint Congressional Committee that investigated the 48 Military Misfortunes attack: “The Committee has been intrigued throughout the Pearl Harbor proceedings by one enigmatical and paramount question: W, with some of thefinest intelligence available in our histmy, with the almost certain knowl- edge that war was at hand, with plans that contemplated the precise we of attack that was executed by Japan on the morning :9“ December 7—Why was it passihiefir a Pearl Harbor to occur? "4‘ The failure was not that American soil had been attacked—that was an eventuality expected by many Americans including the armed forces; the failure was not that American forces were roughly handled-that hap- pened in the Philippines, at Wake, and at Guam and would happen again at the Kasserine Pass in North Africa. The failure was not even that the Japanese achieved a certain amount of operational surprise—«hat their ships and planes were not detected until they were an hour or two from Hawaii. Surprise is endemic in all warfare, and American intelligence was not, in fact, effective. It had temporarily lost its insight into Japanese movements by virtue of improved Japanese communications security, and that too was reasonable to expect.” No, the shock of Pearl Harbor lay in the failure to inflict heavy losses on, or simply put up a stiff resistance to, an enemy who was expected to get in the first blow. Had the Kido Butai (the Japanese task force) lost a hundred airplanes and perhaps one or two ships, and had American losses been smaller-way, the loss of only one or two battleships rather than eight—the Pearl Harbor attack would have no greater status as a- military failure than the attack on the Philip- 11165. p There was, in addition, a latent failure more perilous than that which occurred. The sunken and battered battleships of the Pacific Fleet would soon prove largely irrelevant to the strategic balance in the Pacific Fleet would soon prove largely irrelevant to the strategic balance in the Pacific: The age of the aircraft carrier had arrived, and the battleship soon found itself relegated to a secondary (if still important) role in shore bombard-. ment, antiaircraft protection, and limited surface engagements. The ex- traordinary operational and tactical success of the Japanese had, in the end, virtually no strategic significance, save insofar as it enraged the Amer- ican people and strengthened their will to win. But the Japanese could have changed the conduct of the Pacific war very greatly by attacking not the battleships but the supporting facilities at Pearl Harbor, particularly the Pacific Fleet’s vulnerable oil supplies. As Admiral Nimitz remarked ' after the war: “All of the oil for the Fleet was in surface tanks at the time of Pearl Harbor. We had about four and a half million barrels of oil out there and all of it was vulnerable to .50 caliber bullets. Had the Japanes¢ destroyed the oil it would have prolonged the war another two years?“ Analyzing Failure 49 in point of fact the Japanese commander, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, urged by his subordinates, considered a third air attack on Pearl Harbor aimed against just these targets but decided against it. The failure at Pearl Harbor was a failure of vulnerabilities and an ab- sence of precautions, an operational failure, n0t solely or even primarily an intelligence failure. “The disaster of Pearl Harbor lies in the failure of the Army and Navy in Hawaii to make their fight with the equipment at hand—it was nor that they had no equipment, for they did, but they did not utilize what they had.”"’ That a marginally higher level of alert- {1653, an ability to take advantage of the mica] warning provided by radar or improved patrolling would have made a difference can be seen by comparing the impact of the two waves of Japanese aircraft, which hit Pearl Harbor a bit less than an hour apart, at 07 5 5 and 0850 respeCtively. The greatest damage—including the mortal blows to the battleships Okla home and Arizona—was done by the first wave, which launched its torpe- does, dropped its bombs, and strafed with its machine guns for a precious five minutes before return fire was encountered in quantity. The second wave came in for much rougher treatment, even though American sailors, marines, and soldiers were frantically busy succoring the wounded and battling the blazes set by the first attacks. This second wave losr twenty planes (versus nine from the first), and its participants reported a far heav- ier volume of fire directed against them.’0 CRITICAL TASKS, CRITICAL LAPSES Having esrablished the nature of a failure—in this case, the absence of a stout defensewwe begin to look for the critical tasks that were not ful- filled, the critical lapses or mistaken assumptions that led to that failure. After Pearl Harbor, everything from American immigration legislation to the attitude of professional soldiers to national guardsmen came under review as “causes” of the failure. Accompanying this tendency to find a plethora of weaknesses on the defeated side was, as always, an inclination to overlook fragilities on that of the victors. To overcome these natural predispositions we must define the critical junctures at which a scheme of attack or defense broke down. One way to find out the nature of critical tasks is to look at ways in which the defeated forces actually came close to achieving their objective, in this case the vigorous defense of Oahu against air attack. As we argued 50 Misfo rtunes above, failure is never homogeneous, and two aspects of the Pearl Harbor attack bring this point out particularly clearly. First, two of the twenty or thirty army air force pilots who got off the ground that day attacked a swarm of Japanese airplanes over Haleiwa airfield: they had little suc- cess, but Haleiwa became the only field to escape serious Japanese attack. Even relatively limited air action by fighter aircraft showed that the assault could be disrupted. Second, and more striking. is the discrepancy between the performance between navy and army antiaircraft fire. Whereas the batteries on all navy warships were in action between five and seven min— utes after the first attack had begun, only four out of the army's thirty- one batteries engaged the Japanese at all, many of the remainder not coming on line until noon, several hours after the raid had ended.“ These discrepancies are not only puzzles that call for a solution, they indicate something of what might have been achieved by way of a successful de- fense of Pearl Harbor. Once guns were manned and airplanes aloft. the Americans managed to disrupt or at least sharply diminish the force of the second Japanese attack. Neither the quality not the quantity of American weaponry or skills was grossly deficient: A vigorous defense was entirely possible. One critical failure, then, was that of alertness of the active defenses of Pearl Harbor, and by alertness in this case we mean the ability to come into play within minutes, or perhaps as much as a half hour of warning. A second critical failure was passive in nature—the absence of certain mea- sures that might not have increased Japanese losses but that would have limited the damage that the raiders could have done. This includes the dispersal of aircraft (which were lined up wing tip to wing tip in order to enable protection against sabotage) and the burial of the vulnerable oil tanks, which luckily were never hit. Two measures in particular were missing: barrage balloons (sausage-shaped balloons tethered to long wires) and antitorpedo nets to shield important warships. The former would have complicated immensely the task of low-flyingJapanese airplanes; the latter would have rendered useless one of their most lethal weapons, the torpedo. Interestingly enough, to the end Japanese intelligence agents in Hawaii received insistent queries concerning the presence of either of these defensive measurespand for good reason. The success of the Japanese attack depended on their ability to use torpedoes launched by aircraft in shallow waters and accurately to drop bombs on “point” (as opposed to “area") targets. Given the nature of air-launched torpedoes, the limitations of contemporary aiming devices, and the relatively small bomb loads of Japanese aircraft. this could only Analyzing Failure 5 I be achieved by low-level flying, with all its many hazards. The chief vul- nerability of the Japanese plan lay n0t in the danger of discovery, which thejapanese underStood and accepted, Admiral lsorultu YamamOto warn- ing task force officers that they might have to fight their way into Pearl Harbor?2 Rather, the danger lay in the possibility that American defenses would force them to Operate in such a way that the combined carrier task force would do little harm to its chosen targets and lose its scarcest re- source of allathe crack pilots of the Japanese Naval Air Force. The critical American failures—to maintain an adequate level of alert- ness and to have in place an appropriate air defense—were intimately linked. It was n0t a matter of simply having patrols our, although it cer- tainly was a major failing of Admiral Kimmel’s not to have ordered lim— ited reconnaissance to the north and northwest of the islands—an area long recognized as one vulnerable to an enemy approach. Rather, Pearl Harbor lacked an effective air defense system, even if most of the compo- nent pieces of machinery (antiaircraft batteries, fighter planes, radar, and so on) were in place. No central operations room controlled the air space over Oahu, for example. Thus, when the radar operators at Opana Point detected the approaching Japanese at 0702 on the morning of December 7, their report to the virtually unmanned information center was inter- preted as a flight of B~17s coming in for refueling on the way to the Philippines. Had the radar plot been appropriately interpreted, however, only the fighter planes of the Fourteenth Pursuit Wing would probably have been alerted—and they were on a mere four-hour alert. The infor- mation center had no responsibility for alerting the navy afloat or ashore. -The subsequent Pearl Harbor investigations revealed that the army de— pended for its information primarily on navy long-range reconnaissance for warning, radar being regarded as a new and unreliable device. Yet the army had no idea what kind of reconnaissance the navy had or would implement. At the same time, the navy, whose installations were to be protected by army fighter planes and antiaircraft guns, did n0t control the army's level of alert or even understand that General Short had cho- sen the lowest level of alert, which only covered antisabotage precautions. The navy was supposed to control air operations against enemy ships heading toward Pearl Harbor, the army air force to coordinate air opera- tions overlandu-using airplanes allocated by separate commanders more or less as they saw fit.” This lack of communication and coordination within Hawaii has nor received the same attention as the lack of commu- nication between Washington and Hawaii, yet in the end it proved the more dangerous. ...
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HIST202 Military Misfortunes chap 3_ 1 of2 - 3 Analyzing...

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