The 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.
Milley was keynote speaker at the Dwight David Eisenhower Luncheon, hosted by the Association of the United States Army during its annual meeting here, Oct. 13.
“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.
He then spoke of the myths that are out there.
DELUSIONS 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.”
MYTH: 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.”
MYTH: WIN 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.
MYTH: 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.
MYTH: ARMIES 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.
COST OF MYTHS
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.”
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