US General Milley's Myths of War

General Milley Exposes the Myths of War

Myths of War Increase from Four to Five, Says US Army General

The US Army “exists for a single purpose and none other: to fight and win wars in defense of the United States of America. That’s it. Fighting and winning wars is our raison d’être,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said back in 2015. But in 2017 one of General Milley’s own pronouncements has become a myth.

“We are a great Army and we must remain so, but we must never forget that we are not in this fight, and never have been in this fight alone,” he said, citing the great work of the men and women of the other services and allies.

Milley outlined his myths thesis as the keynote speaker at the Dwight David Eisenhower Luncheon, hosted by the Association of the United States Army during its annual meeting in Washington, October 13, 2015. Then there were four myths, but now before an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, July 27, 2017, Milley expanded his argument to five, including his initial statement that armies exist to fight and win wars.

Politicans Make Bad Decision Because They Believe the Myths of War

When leaders, especially those “within the beltway,” deal with budgets and figure out force structure and future investments, they retain “myths that are factually and historically incorrect,” Milley said.

Those myths can lead to bad policy choices, not only for the Army, but for the nation’s security. Those who promulgate these illusions are often those who’ve “never actually experienced the blood and the sweat and the tears of war,” he said.

The chief then discussed each of these myths, which he described as probably “an illusion of hope in the human psyche … or perhaps sheer human incompetence.”

Milley’s Myth of War No. 1: Wars Will Be Short

Wars of the future will be short, perhaps even “a minor dustup,” is the first myth he said.

America’s founding fathers had no intention of fighting an eight-year war against the greatest power of the day, Great Britain, he said. “Most thought they’d rebel a bit, get some tax relief and do so with their local militias.”

Americans, both in the North and South during the civil war, expected a short war. They had “no clue they’d entered a four-year bloodbath that would be the deadliest in American history,” he said.

No leaders in Europe or elsewhere in 1914 thought they’d “butcher an entire generation of their youth in the next four years … and set conditions for World War II, the most devastating war in human history.”

Milley then cited the surprise of those who thought the wars in Korea and Vietnam would be short and with relatively few casualties.

And, “I doubt we thought we’d still be in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq when we first started at the places I’ve been,” he said.

“Wars are funny things. They have a logic all of their own. And they rarely conform to preplanned timelines,” the chief said. “They’re rarely short.”

Milley’s Myth of War No. 2: Wars Can Be Won with Technology

The second myth is that wars can be won with advanced technologies,” Milley said.

Proponents of this myth say that modern weaponry can provide standoff capabilities from the air and from the sea, he said.

“Our precision munitions and cruise missiles are wonderful, and I love them. They deliver a devastating punch. But this too is very seductive,” he said.

Wars cannot be won on the cheap in terms of blood and sacrifice, he said. “Those of us who’ve seen battles up close, who’ve watched our comrades die, I deeply want that to be true. I want wars to be won from standoff ranges.”

But unfortunately, it’s “fantasy,” not fact, he said. “After the shock and awe comes the march and fight.”

He cited the belief that strategic bombing during World War II could bring the war to a quick end. That didn’t happen. Soldiers on the ground won the battles.

Another example, he said, was Iwo Jima, where his father fought. Days and weeks of pounding by aircraft and battleships caused relatively few casualties and the Marines were surprised at the stiff resistance they faced when they landed, as well as the high number of their own dead and wounded that resulted.

Wars Can Be Won From Afar

Speaking at the National Press Club Thursday, General Milley modifed this to ‘Wars can be won from afar’ through aerial bombardment.

Look, wars are about politics. That’s what they’re about. They’re about imposing your political will, and they’re about people. And I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that human beings can survive horrific things from afar.

General Milley’s father was in the US Marine Corps during World War II and experienced this firsthand:

There’s no eight square miles of Earth that has ever received as much ordnance as the island of Iwo Jima. Almost all the Japanese survived. Life wasn’t good, they were drinking their own urine, they never saw the sunlight, they were deep buried under ground, and they weren’t happy campers – I got it. But they survived. They were ideologically committed to their cause, and they survived enough to kill 7,000 Marines when they hit the beach.

The situation today, facing ISIS bears similarities, especially considering the re-capture of Mosul:

It took the infantry and the armor and the special operations commanders to go into that city, house by house, block by block, room by room, to clear that city. What I’m telling you is there’s a myth out there that you can win from afar. To impose your political will on the enemy typically requires you, at the end of the day, to close with and destroy that enemy up close with ground forces.

Milley’s Myth of War No. 3: Special Forces Alone Can Win

The third myth, Milley said, is that special forces can do it all and America only needs an elite, rapid-reaction force to win wars of the future.

While America’s special operations forces are the best in the world, their success at killing high-value targets is a necessary tactical strategy, but not sufficient, he said.

To prevail in war takes so much more than killing high-value terrorists with drone strikes and small-unit raids, he said. Like war from standoff ranges, this myth is very seductive.

Speaking Thursday, General Milley said:

I’m a proud Green Beret, love Special Forces. Special Forces are designated Special Forces, with that name, for a reason. They are special. They do certain special activities, typically of a strategic nature. They have the best warriors in the world with the best training, but they are not designed to be plugged into a conflict to pull out a decisive victory. The one thing they are not designed to do is win a war. They can do raids, they can train other countries – there’s lots of other things they can do. Winning a war by themselves is not one of their tasks. There’s a myth that you can just throw Special Forces at it and it works – it’s magic dust. It’s great, but winning wars is not in their job jar, by themselves.

Milley’s Myth of War No. 4: Armies are Easy to Regenerate

If the Army is too small for the conflict at hand, the fourth myth is that one simply needs to recruit a large number and put them through basic training, Milley said, and “presto, you have a unit.”

The reality, though, is much more challenging, he said. Leaders take many years to develop the competencies and skills necessary to wage ground combat.

A platoon sergeant will take 10 to 15 years while a battalion commander will require 15 to 17 years, he said. Today’s weapons systems likewise take a long time to master, especially involving joint and combined fires.

We Need Bigger Armies

General Milley updated this, Thursday, saying:

There’s a myth that you can just bring kids into the military, march them around a field a little bit, six to eight weeks of training and – boom – you’ve got an army. Wrong answer. It takes a considerable amout of time to build armies, navies, air forces and marine corps, especially in today’s environment with complex weapons systems. Based on the tasks that are required, I believe we need a larger Army. My team-mates on the choice staff also think the same thing of the Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Milley’s New Myth of War, No. 5: Armies Fight Wars

Speaking Thursday, General Milley said:

Armies don’t fight wars. Navies, air forces – they don’t fight wars. Nations fight wars. It takes the full commitment of the entire nation to fight wars. We can do a raid real quick – that’s one thing. But war is a different thing, and it takes a nation to fight and win a war.

The Human Cost of the Myths of War

The cost of these myths have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives throughout American history, Milley said, acknowledging that he lives with the “ghosts of our battles past.

“For me, that number is 241,” he said. “We see their faces and all of them speak to us from the grave.”

As chief of staff, he said he promised to make the Army the best equipped and trained as he can to minimize the loss of life and win. “Those ghosts remind us that no Soldier should ever die because they were not ready.”

Mark Alexander Milley (born June 20, 1958) is a US Army four-star general and the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army.


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