Trust, Mistrust, and the Crisis in Leadership

February 5, 2000

Comment: #346

Discussion Thread:  #s 126, 129, 136, 137, 138, 142, 155, 186, 206, 207, 233, 242, 255, 261, 271, 281, 282, 302, 303, 321, 324, 336, 337, 344, 345


[1] Ex-Captain George Riggins "Retentions & Quotas One Captain's Thoughts" Email, date unk

[2] Col. R.W. Zimmermann (USA Ret), "READINESS -- Striving for Excellence in COO," David Hackworth's VOICE OF THE GRUNT Newsletter, February 2, 2000.

[3] Wayde Minami, "ANTHRAX DEBATE SHOWS SEEDS OF MISTRUST HAVE SPROUTED," Army Times, January 17, 2000. Wayde Minami has served in the active and reserve components of the armed forces. His e-mail address is

This comment is about the common thread connecting three apparently unrelated subjects: (1) women in the military and quotas, (2) systems analysis, quantification, and political correctness, and (3) anthrax [References #1, 2, & 3 respectively].

That thread is WEDGE OF MISTRUST between the leaders and the led this commentary attempts to explain why it lies at the center of our growing personnel crisis.

George Riggins analyzes the hot-button issue of women in the army in Reference #1, but with a different twist. Riggins is one the captains who has recently punched out of the Army; he clearly loves the Army and soldiering, but feels he was driven out by the debilitating effects of quotas, the preferential treatment given to women, and the political correctness that naturally accompanies top-down social engineering experiments. It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss Riggins as a macho hard head who believes the woman's place is in front of the stove, cleaning diapers, or dutifully playing bridge with the commander's wife. He clearly respects the capabilities of women. In fact, he concludes from his experiences that the most vile aspect of the quota system is that it unfairly penalizes those superior women who excel in their military jobs by forcing them to work twice as hard just to prove they are on a par with Cpl Benatz.

Col. R.W. Zimmerman (USA Ret) describes the adverse effects that systems analysis and political correctness have on training and readiness in Reference #2. Zimmerman argues the Army's obsession with quantification and management science, coupled with requirements to train people in touchy-feely sensations (in this case a program called "Consideration of Others" or COO at Ft Carson CO.), reduces readiness and saps leadership by inducing them to behave like the political commissars of the old Soviet Army. (The Army's emphasis on statistical quality control is indeed ironic, in view of the fact that the Army loves to blame McNamara for the debilitating effects of spurious quantification during Viet Nam!!!!). Zimmerman says the focus on non-combat items together with the obsessive need for statistical compliance has become so bad that units and key leaders are sometimes brought in from important field training to obtain the required social engineering certifications. Oftentimes, he says, critical tactical training is completely cancelled.

The subject of Reference #3 is anthrax vaccine and the controversy swirling around the mandatory program to vaccinate soldiers with a serum that is of questionable effectiveness and may be more dangerous than the anthrax threat. The author, Wayde Minami, argues that the central issue in this controversy is not anthrax but a the threat to unit cohesion caused by the breakdown in TRUST in leadership or in his words, a breakdown in the faith that the officers and NCOs appointed over you won't sacrifice your welfare for the sake of their career interests.

What is the common thread linking these apparently disparate subjects?

I asked this question to an active duty, field grade Army officer with many years of command time. The email that follows is his answer, but before reading it, I recommend you carefully read the three attached references.

I apologize for his anonymity, but the current zero defects environment does NOT encourage criticism from within.

----[email from field grade officer]------


The significance of these messages transcends "women's" or "minority" rights, the practice of "equity" in assignment policies, the absurdities of systems management, or the obscene anthrax controversy.

Captain Riggins' [Ref. #1], Col Zimmerman [Ref. #2], and Wayde Minami [Ref#3] arrive at the same conclusion: social experiments and political correctness in an organization that pays for its mistakes in blood hurts the very people they purport to help and destroys the institution from within.

This is easy to say, but why it occurs is complex and necessarily subjective. Unfortunately, the current environment discourages open debate, but for what it is worth, here is my view:

One must appreciate that there is a common thread uniting these three essays (not to mention hundreds, if not thousands, of similar email messages now swirling around the internet). Top-down social experimentation creates an poisonous atmosphere of "political correctness" that undercuts the most important quality determining the effectiveness of any military MUTUAL TRUST!

By that, I mean the mutual trust between superiors and subordinates the bond that evolves out of mutual respect, common experiences, and shared hardship.

No one has explained this more cogently than Col John Boyd in his monumental study of conflict. Not only did Boyd show MUTUAL TRUST lies at the moral core of an effective military institution, he also explained HOW it is evolves from the BOTTOM-UP via the shared experiences of many individuals interacting with each other in a wide variety of situations.

Boyd's "Organic Design for Command and Control" is centered on developing the IMPLICIT arrangements that enable cooperation in complex, competitive, fast changing, dangerous situations. Recall how he ended that briefing by trashing the terms "command & control" and replacing them with "APPRECIATION & LEADERSHIP," precisely because the term "control" placed after "command" implies a Cartesian assumption that is based on the need to check and regulate the behavior of subordinates since they CAN NOT BE TRUSTED to do the right thing.

MISTRUST of subordinates and Cartesian top-down mentality may be appropriate in limited circumstances, like the control of nuclear weapons, where the penalty for an accidental launch could be a world wide holocaust. But remember, nuclear weapons are not about the conduct of war, they are about mutual suicide and any resort to nuclear weapons necessarily represents a total failure of the soldierly arts.

In REAL warfighting, a Cartesian leadership philosophy grounded on a general assumption of mistrust is a prescription for disaster when troops are under pressure. Yet that assumption and the concomitant belief in the efficacy of the top-down God's eye view of the battlefield is deeply imbedded in our techno-military culture of centralized command and control, and will become more so, if the techno-loons succeed in shoving the Revolution in Military Affairs down the soldiers' throats.

Centralized command and control systems produce methodical (i.e., predictable) warfighting doctrines premised on the assumption that subordinates should not be free (i.e., can not be trusted) to make their own decisions while staying within the broad guidance of a commander's intent. The belief in methodical battle sowed the seeds of disaster for the French in 1940, and its American descendent, the doctrinal obsession with synchronization, leads to rigidity and non-adaptiveness on the battlefield, as was proven in Army's failure to cut off the Iraqi Republican Guard in the Persian Gulf War or the Air Force's complete inability to touch Serb military forces doing their ethnic cleansing counter-offensive in Kosovo.

The mistrust implicit in centralized command and control systems is a prescription for disaster in the fast-paced, irregular, decentralized decision-making environments of 3rd and 4th generation wars, but it is also important to understand how it corrupts military institutions in times of peace.

The Cartesian warfighting mentality spills over into our peacetime culture in the form of top-down social engineering experiment and policies guided by the mechanical assumption that humans can be regulated and controlled by methods of statistical quality control and the accompanying emphasis on zero deviations (zero defects). This is brutally evident in the sad lamentations by Riggins and Zimmerman and implicit in Minami's op-ed.

The result is an oppressive atmosphere of mistrust, where ambitious junior leaders lie to get ahead and senior leaders prefer to avoid the hard truths that contradict THEIR VISION (the word itself is a top down Cartesian construct).

My father once told me that "to truly prepare and win in war, a good leader is not politically correct, he is just brutally, and competently honest!" In terms of risk aversion, lack of trust defines ones relationship with subordinates and politicization defines the reciprocal relationship with one's superiors. One sees a pervasive unwillingness of senior officers to take actions that might reflect unfavorably on themselves. Or, to not take action when they are put in embarrassing situations, regardless of the facts in the matter, even if hurts the troops under their command. This politically correct behavior is, no doubt, the result of many complex, intertwined factors, but the propensity toward risk aversion should not be surprising, given that senior leaders were once junior leader leaders who grew up in, and got promoted by, a culture that is unforgiving of mistakes or deviations.

Whatever the detailed causes, the result is nevertheless clear: "Political correctness" produces the wedge of mistrust and leaves us with fawning milcrats instead of combat leaders.

When a military culture is based on the assumption that the actions of junior officers and noncommissioned officers must be synchronized and measured by methods of statistical quality control, the result is predictable. Junior and Senior Leaders—

  • wait for orders

  • believe they must do everything "by the book"

  • actually believe "the book" knows best

  • learn never to tell the boss anything that will make him or her squirm

  • learn never to tell the boss anything that will make the boss look bad if passed to higher echelon

  • learn to never trust anything but documentation that one has followed orders and followed the rules

  • have never been rewarded for cooperating with peers

  • have never experienced relying on independent decisions generated by trust in peers

  • have no idea of what it is like to take responsibility and make decisions in a high trust environment-period!

Chuck, the bottom line is that the current culture of "political correctness" is creating or has created officers who have never experienced any of the three ingredients of confidence that are needed to win in combat: (1) When you know your profession, you have a well-founded confidence in your technical competence; (2) when you know your people, you can evolve unit cohesion based on mutual knowledge, having experienced a variety of operations together; and (3) when you know your boss is devoted to your success and will not abandon you under pressure, i.e., when your boss practices trust and empowers you through the use of mission-tactics; then an you will develop soldierly confidence; then you can evolve have a meritocracy based on performance; then we can evolve a military culture with the courage to honestly evaluate its men and women and test its institutional excellence in an ongoing process of continuous improvement (and remember, in a trust-based military meritocracy, politically-charged questions, like the role of women or minorities do not exist because they solve themselves through honest competition); when all this occurs, we will have the confidence to understand that true success comes from excellence, not the false god of hardware worshiped by the synchronized techno-loons.

But, in today's culture, ever fewer officers have experienced the three ingredients of a trust culture together … and true professionalism has become an idealist's pipe dream and our leaders rely instead on technology as a crutch to get around their crippling insecurity.

-----[Field Grade officer XXX]-------

With a culture like this, I would add that we would also see the natural selection of Armed Forces Day Posters that celebrates people instead of weapons.

[For new readers the last 4 years of the Defense Department's official Armed Forces Day Posters have included caricatures glorifying weapons imbedded in subliminal mutations of the American but have totally ignored references to the people or any suggestion that people who are the heart and soul of the military.]

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1, for personal use only:

"Retentions & Quotas: One Captain's Thoughts"

Email from former Captain George Riggins

As one of a long string of Captains who have recently departed the United States Army, I can assure you that this is not about money. My wife is a physician. I don't have to work if I don't want to.

As far back as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to be a soldier. I realized that goal as an enlisted soldier, a Warrant Officer Candidate, a Cadet at West Point, and nine years commissioned service as an Attack Helicopter Pilot.

During that time, I witnessed the very things that MG Moore speaks about in his article. I was told that falling out of a two runs at the Warrant Officer Entry Course was grounds to be set back to another class. I saw men set back. I saw women who only made two runs their entire time there.

During a briefing from Perscom, I sat as a Cobra Pilot, hopeful to be trained in the Army's latest Attack Helicopter, the AH-64. The Lieutenant Colonel giving us the briefing matter of factly told us that any woman in that room could raise their hand and he would put them in AH-64 training. He told the men in the room that there was not enough money to train them. They would have to wait.

I never saw anything less than a one block on an OER. I received a commendation from MG 'Buck' Kernan for my service as the Deputy Chief of Plans for the 101st Airborne Division, a position coded for a SAM's graduate Major. In fact, a SAM's graduate Major was told he would have to wait for the position because they wanted to extend me in place to plan two critical missions.

I went from that coveted position to commanding a Headquarters company because I wasn't qualified in the Apache. In that position, I had the honor of serving with a woman who had raised her hand during that briefing from Perscom. She was now pregnant and wanted nothing more to do with the Army. That slot could have been given to me, or any one of a hundred other warriors. Instead, it was wasted on a quota.

The same quota system also placed women in my unit supply room who couldn't lift a tent. So, while we were already under manned, now I had to pull soldiers off of the perimeter, to help out the women. These were also the same women without the upper body strength to pull back the charging handle on an M-60, yet they could max a PT test. Funny thing about the scoring system on that test.

It was the same quota system that put a woman in my aide station. That woman had an affair with the Battalion XO and admitted to it, yet the Brigade Commander didn't have the intestinal fortitude to go forward with charges because he thought it would generate bad press (this during the time of LT Flynn and the Sgt Major of the Army headlines). That Major went on to Lieutenant Colonel and is now commanding a Battalion. Yes, LTC Bruce Georgia, I am talking about you. And, in case you care to deny this, I kept the sworn statements.

The next time, I didn't give the Brigade Commander the chance. When one of my Lieutenants got caught with this soldier, I ran the investigation myself and charged him in a court martial. Funny thing about how the Army doesn't like publicity. Rather than tell the country that yes, we had a problem, and we dealt with it like soldiers, they chose instead to release this officer 'for the good of the Army'. At least they didn't let him out with an Honorable discharge, but for a married officer witnessed having intercourse with a married subordinate, in his direct command, in the field, he should have served time. No, the Army had to cover it's ass. Now everyone who wants to get out has an excuse to screw their soldiers.

Perhaps the most vile of all the problems of quotas and reduced requirements is the fact that the women who really were qualified were always held suspect as to why they had made it to where they were. The people who all too often saw incompetence rewarded fell into the trap of lumping all the women into a category that did not fit all women. Those women who were qualified had to work twice as hard just to prove that they were on par with the average guy. The institution has failed those women.

No, it is not about the money. It is about the destruction of an institution that we once held dear. It is about the steady erosion of the pride that we once felt when we told people, "Yea, I'm a soldier!"

Bring back the standards, bring back the pride and you will bring back the soldiers!

George Riggins '90

Reference #2, for personal use only:

READINESS -- Striving for Excellence in COO

Col. R.W. Zimmermann (USA Ret)

David Hackworth's VOICE OF THE GRUNT Newsletter


As you enter Ft Carson, Colorado, home for the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, 3 Armored Cavalry Regiment, and 10th Special Forces Group among others, you would want to believe that this post is combat focused. But wait‚ a big sign at the gate reminds you of what's really important - Consideration of Others or "COO," now spiced up with the COO "word of the month."

Issues like consideration for others have crept into unit training schedules, as the military is unquestioningly complying with the demands of our political and social engineers. Commanders at all levels must go along to get ahead and Ft. Carson 's leadership is a front-runner in the race of the go along crowd.

The party line of Ft. Carson's equal opportunity NCO, in the Post information paper, the "Mountaineer," sounds very much like that of a Chinese or Russian political officer: " we have the opportunity to address many subjects regularly here at Ft. Carson. This is because our Post Commander, Major General Soriano, has mandated time to be set-aside for every unit to participate in COO. The requirement is for eight hours each year, two hours each quarter..."

Reports from thousands of active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and "coasties" over the years prove that Ft. Carson is no different from the majority of our military bases today.

During the quarterly training briefs, the topic of COO, in addition to family support groups, dental statistics, and off-post safety, receives practically more emphasis than combat training and deployment readiness.

Why? Because senior leaders must make the numbers to impress the chain of command and their civilian superiors who have directed specific social engineering projects. The other reason is that tactical readiness can't be as easily measured and compared.

The emphasis on non-combat items and statistical compliance has become so bad, that units and key leaders are brought in from important field training to obtain the required certifications. Oftentimes, critical tactical training is completely cancelled.

Where did these methods and requirements come from? Everything points to the systems management techniques the Army copied from industry in the 1980's. Our MBA trained senior officers seem to be obsessed with finding systematic solutions to everything.

Even when individuals show a lack of self-discipline, i.e. a soldier is injured in a vehicle accident by his own fault, the individual will normally not be found guilty. No, a system has failed and must be "reengineered."

As a result, our leaders have created so many systems and certification requirements, that they have actually "straight-jacketed" themselves.

Ask the average company commander and he or she will tell you, that there is not enough time in the training year, to accomplish all these certification requirements.

What suffers? Combat training. Ever wonder why we have so many individual weapons accidents during deployments? Because soldiers are better briefed on COO than drilled on their assigned weapons!

The top brass pretend to understand the problem, but things are getting worse each day. Why? You have to have impressive "stats" to get ahead. And there is a lot of painting and briefing to be done to show you're on the team.

The signs remind you we're ready for COO, but not for war???

© 2000 SFTT