American Diplomacy

Highlight map


Support American Diplomacy RSS Mailing-list Subscription Email American Diplomacy Facebook

Cushman Versus Hoffman: America's General Officer Corps—Honest And Obedient Or Spineless “Yes” Men

Planning and Early Execution of the War in Iraq: An Assessment of Military Participation
by LTG John H. Cushman, U. S. Army, retired

Dereliction of Duty Redux?
by Frank Hoffman, Senior Fellow, FPRI

Review by COL John Handley, U. S. Army, retired

The title of this review captures the essence of two authors' differing assessments of the U. S. military's generals and admirals. Retired LTG John Cushman offers a historical sketch entitled “Planning and Early Execution of the War in Iraq: An Assessment of Military Participation.” He initially traces the development of both the Department of Defense and the U. S. military as a profession and ends with planning for the Iraq War. General Cushman provides ample criticism of both civilian and military decision-makers, yet he reminds his readers that the military, under civilian authority, has few realistic options to obeying a lawful directive. He states that the educational development of military officers at all levels ensures they provide superiors an honest assessment of any situation and give the best possible advice on how to accomplish any mission. The problem for the officer comes after this point: When the requested advice has been rejected or greatly modified by higher authority, the officer can resign (retire), request reassignment, or accept the situation and attempt to accomplish the mission with the reduced resources. General Cushman provides examples of some generals, such as Eisenhower and Marshall, who threatened to resign if forced to adhere to a policy with which they strongly disagreed, but he generally concludes that most officers will offer their best advice, take its rejection in stride, and then do the best they can with what they have.

In “Dereliction of Duty Redux?” Frank Hoffman offers a less temperate criticism of the military officer corps, especially its flag officers, whom he views as little more than spineless “yes” men. He states that if civilian “policy masters” fail to provide what the generals need for “strategic success,” the officers should “retire, resign, or request reassignment.” What Mr. Hoffman fails to consider is the option mentioned by General Cushman and most often selected by military officers: accept the presidential decision and try to accomplish the mission with the resources provided. Though the American people might regard any other decision as a dereliction of duty, Mr. Hoffman disagrees and traces the military leadership's behavior to a lack of ethical development in America's military schools and colleges. If general officers would simply stand up to their “masters,” he writes, the latter would provide the former the necessary tools to accomplish the mission. The Hoffman article describes a problem (lack of ethics) and offers to resolve it by establishing a department of ethics at every level of military education in America.

The opinions offered in both articles on what one should do when one's advice is rejected, although apparently similar, are strikingly dissimilar with Mr. Hoffman's omission of attempting to accomplish the mission with the resources offered. The action an officer takes in such a case is not an issue of ethics, or the lack thereof, but adherence to the current and time honored aspects of civil-military relations as practiced by America's military forces. Military officers give advice, and civilian “masters” either accept it or reject it. For war planning purposes, it seems imperative that the civilians provide what the military states it needs to accomplish the mission. Any denial of required manpower and logistical support might well raise a question of ethics.

white starAmerican Diplomacy white star
Copyright © 2012 American Diplomacy Publishers Chapel Hill NC