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Special Snowflake Marines and Leadership

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by tulianr, Feb 13, 2012.

  1. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey

    The SS, Snowflakes, and Supervision

    Posted by Brett Friedman Marine Corps Gazette

    Like a Marine in a properly executed MCMAP training session, the Marine Corps is taking its lumps in the image department lately. In April of last year, Lance Corporal Harry Lew committed suicide in Afghanistan after experiencing sustained hazing on the part of his squadmates. Although there is no way to tell if the hazing caused LCpl Lew’s suicide, it almost certainly contributed to it. The story remains in the news as the Marines involved go through the court martial process. In January, the story broke that Marines, including Staff NCOs, had filmed themselves urinating on corpses of Taliban fighters. I’m not going to comment specifically on these two issues as the failure in ethics is pretty obvious. Anytime a Marine is ostracized in his unit, for whatever reason, the leadership has failed. The desecration of human corpses, whether filmed or not, is indefensible.

    I will, however, comment more specifically about the use of the SS logo on flags since there seems to be some debate over whether or not it was appropriate. I’ll ignore the fact that scout snipers apparently think that they are special snowflakes entitled to their own flag above and beyond the traditional scarlet and gold Marine Corps flag that every other unit uses. The first excuse posited by those who want to brush this most recent PR nightmare under the rug is that the scout snipers were ignorant of what the symbol meant. I guess that’s possible. What’s not possible is that every SNCO and Officer in charge of every scout sniper unit that used the flag shared that ignorance. No way. They just refused to do anything about it.

    The second, and far less believable excuse is that the SS logo is disconnected from the Nazi ideology and simply a reflection of Marines’respect for German military prowess. Nothing could be further from the truth. The SS were not a military unit. They were a paramilitary unit formed to protect Nazi party meetings from interference, chosen for their loyalty to the Nazi party. A subset of the SS, the Waffen-SS, was tasked with combat operations against Nazi Germany’s enemies, but this does not change the fact that the overall purpose of the SS was the execution of Nazi ideological aims. Even if we were to look to Nazi Germany for inspiration for military prowess, it was the Wehrmacht that achieved blinding military success, not the SS. The next excuse will inevitably be that the Wehrmacht were not Nazis. Again, this is not true. SS units tasked with extermination missions were attached to Wehrmacht units and thus under the command of Wehrmacht officers. Nowhere is there an example of Wehrmacht units interfering with or failing to support the mission of the SS as they murdered their way across Europe. Additionally, it was the Wehrmacht, not the SS, who were responsible for the care and transit of prisoners of war captured by German forces. Millions of prisoners, particularly Soviet soldiers, starved to death or were shot for failing to march out of the forward operating areas fast enough. These POWs, being Russian, were not as human as the German soldiers were after all. Still don’t believe me? I’ll let someone whose vaunted military prowess earned him the rank of Field Marshall in the Wehrmacht, Walter von Reichenau, speak for himself. “The soldier must have understanding for the necessity of the harsh yet just punishment of the Jewish sub humans… He is called upon to achieve two goals. 1) The extermination of the Bolshevik [he means Russians] heresy… 2) The merciless extermination of foreign treachery and cruelty to safeguard… the German Wehrmacht in Russia.” This is not by any means the worst example of Nazism amongst Wehermacht leadership, it was simply the first one I found. To claim that the snipers use the SS logo as a nod to German military prowess in World War II and not as a symbol of Nazism is false. There was no distinction between them then and there should not be now. This is nothing more than an excuse that leaders will use to conceal their moral cowardice when it came to allowing the use of this flag.

    Some Marines enjoy enforcing the minutiae of our ever expanding array of regulations, the majority of which are irrelevant to wars past, let alone the current wars. This activity, and presumably the memorization of these esoteric regulations, consumed the majority of their time, as has been mentioned on this blog before.

    So, if Marines are spending so much time being supervised and increasing centralization is destroying leaders’ ability to make decisions for their own unit, why do events like this keep happening? There’s only one possible explanation. We don’t know how to supervise anymore.

    Every Marine has heard the old trope that supervision is the most important step in BAMCIS, but do we know how to do it? It’s more than just ensuring that tasks get accomplished, regulations are adhered to, and Marines are present for duty. If you, as a leader, are not affecting how those tasks get accomplished, which of those regulations are followed, and how Marines conduct themselves when not present for duty, you’re only doing the bare minimum of what is expected of you. If your only method for affecting your Marines as your subordinates is punishment and paperwork, you’ve yet to learn the meaning of leadership. No matter how long you’ve been in.

    The events that have come to light lately prove that we no longer know how to supervise, lead, and maintain discipline. We’re supervising the wrong things. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to retrain the Marine Corps to fix our supervision problem. It’s a direct result of our culture. Our culture has brought us to the point where we all bear responsibility for these events. Every one of us. Every NCO who is more concerned with knocking out a checklist than mentoring his young Marines. Every SNCO who spends time searching out uniform regulation infractions. Every officer more concerned with paperwork and formats than setting an example. Every Marine, of any rank, who has told a subordinate to “shut up and color” when he or she pointed out that something was wrong. Our acquiescence to a culture of corrosive leadership has created this problem. We allowed leadership to be conflated with the creation and rote memorization of irrelevant regulations. We stopped mentoring and started poor parenting. We allowed bureaucratization to drown professionalism. We fostered a belief that we are special snowflakes who need rules, but not morality. We hazed Lance Corporal Lew. We desecrated human bodies. We posed in front of Nazi symbology. It's our fault that the Commandant has had to publicly apologize for a problem that our poor leadership caused.

    All of these events were a failure of leadership. Every Marine involved knew that what they were doing is wrong, but they did nothing to stop it. This is a problem that a safety standown, more specific regulations, and education about morality and ethics will not fix. We have fostered a culture that takes perverse pleasure in enforcing irrelevant standards while simultaneously ignoring or enabling true misconduct. We’ve fostered a generation of Marines who will look at the picture of the scout snipers and see facial hair, unbloused boots, and hands in pockets before they notice Nazi propaganda. They will quickly condemn failures in appearance but will enable and defend moral failings. They will ignore and allow a Lance Corporal to be hazed and ostracized. They will join in with the desecration of bodies. These are our priorities. But at least the grass around the battalion CP will remain undisturbed by feet clad in identical socks.

    Fix it.
  2. Pyrrhus

    Pyrrhus Monkey++

    I for one actually would not be in the least surprised if they didn't know that it was a NAZI symbol. Have you talked to anyone under the age of 35 (and most over 35) and asked them anything at all related to history?

    Interestingly, I completed my officer retention survey last week and used up virtually all of my allotted 4000 characters at the end to discuss the growing problem we have that is a result of myriad rules that have been used to supplant all morality. I argued for a return to morality. I doubt anyone will read it.
    tulianr, Sapper John and chelloveck like this.
  3. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Interim reply

    Thankyou, tulianr for starting this thread and posting Brett Friedman's essay here for us all to read, digest and learn from. Like it or not, if the world as we know it does go pear shaped in a truly monumental way....many of us, by virtue of the preparations that we have made for such an eventuality, will become leaders of our family and clan groupings, if not leaders of the small communities where we will choose to make our stand. With that role, will come responsibilities not only to exercise tactical and operational judgement, but also moral judgement; that is to say, doing the right things with the right motives for the right purposes.

    Reading through Friedman's essay, I am reminded of a military aphorism that I was taught when undergoing my own officer training.

    "They (your subordinates -soldiers and NCO's) will attend to (a) those things that most concern you (as their leader) and (b) those things that you supervise most closely, as their leader".

    So, if excellence in paradeground drill and high standards of dress presentation, are the things that you are obsessive about....then guess what: your soldiers will become similarly obsessive about parade ground drill and dress presentation...which may be ok if your unit is a command of chocolate soldiers, who will only ever be tasked for ceremonial duties...but not so useful for a unit imminently facing operational deployment to a war zone. Regarding things that you are not particularly concerned about, and aren't all that conscientious in supervising?? Guess what: They are the things that are likely to be neglected, or accorded much lesser priorities.

    Edit: A rather simplified exposition of this phenomenon, is the eponymous Hollywood film, "From Here To Eternity", based on the novel by James Jones (himself, a WWII veteran of the Pacific Theatre), where the unit commander was more interested in winning the upcoming Divisional boxing tournament than preparing his command for a looming shooting war in the Pacific. The film shows the corrosive effects on the officers and men of the CO's unit, and his careerist / managerialist approach to unit command.




    Brett Friedman's excellent essay on military morality and of military leadership is incisive, and insightful. He is a credit to his Corps, and has gotten to the nub of some of the US military's recent problems with ill discipline, and lack of discernment when applying moral judgement.
    tulianr and Gafarmboy like this.
  4. Gafarmboy

    Gafarmboy Monkey+++

    Too true

    Excellent and cognizant reply chelloveck; I too am of this opinion about our current military leadership. I resigned my commission after numerous run-ins with this type of leadership. They are more concerned about appearance than ability. The current focus of our so-called leadership is way off the mark. I will take a man that looks like **** but is razor sharp over a well-dressed-useless-office-noob any day.
    Rant off...

    If you can not protect what you own, you won't own it long.
    Sapper John, Cephus and tulianr like this.
  5. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey


    Chell, you had an interesting take on this. I posted it as a commentary on today's military leadership, but you bring out the point that leadership is a subject we should all consider.

    Most of us, even those who are not now in a survival group, realize that if things were to get ugly, we would have friends, neighbors, and family who would depend upon us to help save them from their own unpreparedness. Groups would develop, whether envisioned in the pre-SHTF times or not.

    Most of us, eventually, will find ourselves in the midst of a group of individuals who will be asking, "What do we do now?" It would behoove us all to consider the challenges of group leadership now.

    For some, who have a LEO or military background, leadership may now seem to be a natural ability; but if we were to look back in time, we would all probably remember a time that our leadership skills were not so natural; a time in which we made some painful mistakes, and/or learned some valuable lessons.

    Searching the subject on SurvivalMonkey, shows that there have been some threads dedicated to group leadership as far back as 2005; but I think it is a subject worth re-hashing.

    Dwight Eisenhower defined leadership as: "The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." That's a fairly good definition, but I think it is an over simplification. GOOD leadership is so much more. A GOOD leader will, I think, display most of the same attributes that a good parent will. (Anyone who has had to talk a four-year-old into doing something that he didn't want to do will, I think, agree that doing so is similar to pulling a reluctant mule up a mountain.)

    Leadership is more than just telling people what to do, and making up duty rosters. It's about concern for those you lead. It's about confidence. It's about self-sacrifice; and it is an acquired ability, not a natural one, in my opinion.

    For those without a military/LEO background, now is the time to acquire and develop that ability. Now is the time to consider the subject of leadership, imagine the leadership challenges which are bound to occur, and consider ways to overcome those challenges. One of the best ways to learn is to look at situations in which leadership failed, as in the recent U.S. Marine embarrassments, and to look at situations in which leadership succeeded.

    Other thoughts out there?
    Sapper John and chelloveck like this.
  6. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Leadership can be learned.

    Indeed. But not just only consider, but to become the leader that we may ultimately be expected to be. That is a process best started before the event, rather than during it. The good news is that leadership can be acquired, practiced and developed in everyday life...often in ordinary everyday relationships within the family, between neighbours, friends and community.

    As elucidated above...leadership knowledge, skills and values ( cognitive, psychomotor, and affective learning domains) can be acquired. It always helps to have experience, but experience of formal leadership is not absolutely necessary, and although some people have a knack for it...those who haven't a natural ability for leadership...can compensate by being able to learn what others may be able to do naturally.

    This is evidenced by the fact that the vast bulk of the officers (derisively called 90 day wonders) and NCOs weren't career soldiers, and had probably not had any uniformed experience beyond being children, playing little league baseball. They, the citizen soldiers who learned their craft on the run, vastly outnumbered the career permanent army soldiers...yet the shake and bake citizen soldier officers and NCO's were the backbone, muscles, sinews and guts that took the US war machine in WWII from North Africa to the Elbe, and from the Solomon Islands of the Pacific, to Okinawa. What they were able to do...I am confident that we too are also able to do....it just requires, what they required: knowledge, motivation, will, and the guts just to get on with it and do it!

    Edit: I don't discount the contributions of career soldiers to the WWII war effort...and undoubtedly they also contributed their fair share of pr!cks and sphincters to the allied cause.

    Read more: http://www.survivalmonkey.com/forum...owflake-marines-leadership.html#ixzz1mMF0gw9Z
    Sapper John and tulianr like this.
  7. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    Tully: "Some Marines enjoy enforcing the minutiae of our ever expanding array of regulations, the majority of which are irrelevant to wars past, let alone the current wars."
    I observe a parallel here, between civilian leadership such as we have these days and the military as described.

    Chelly: "They (your subordinates -soldiers and NCO's) will attend to (a) those things that most concern you (as their leader) and (b) those things that you supervise most closely, as their leader".
    This would seem to be a natural course of events, and as it should be. Your point is pretty obvious, winnowing the important from the unimportant is the thing that must be learned. Taught or innate, it has to float to the top.

    Tully: "Searching the subject on SurvivalMonkey, shows that there have been some threads dedicated to group leadership as far back as 2005; but I think it is a subject worth re-hashing."
    Delighted you dug those up. Back in the day, developing a group structure was hashed and rehashed several times.

    Once upon a time, I found myself, an E6, in the O club with four officers off my boat and a couple CPOs. (E7 to you non naval types.) How that came to pass, I cannot say, but it happened; normally enlisted personnel are excluded from O clubs. One of the chiefs was bemoaning the lack of military leadership ability exhibited by most of the officers AND petty officers (NCOs to you non naval folks). The officers, to a man, were dumbstruck. From that, the discussion delved into the facts of the age of specialization. The chiefs all rose from the specialties, as I had, and admitted that if they were cast adrift in a small boat with a variety of other specialists, they would be at loose ends unless one of those others knew small boats. My contribution was easier, since I was the lowest rank present, I simply said that if I was senior, I'd defer tactical ops to the small boat guy while retaining overall command. The ship's navigator (O3, LT upper half) was also there, and he jumped my bones about that until I pointed out that he could easily wind up in the same boat with a full Capt (O6) in the medical corp who would nominally be in charge from a military precedence angle, and would he be willing to let the Doctor steer the boat? My point was, and remains, that the ability has to be recognized and utilized. Example extant, the bosun striker (E3) with coxswain experience will handle the boat and even tho' senior, I'd take care of the engine (if there was one) or pull an oar if not. (That also took the wind out of the Chief Sonarman that originally raised the issue. He was noted for spit and polish rather than keeping the gear operating. The sonar shack was pretty spiffy --)

    (It came as a shock to me that the Navigator didn't counter with the observation that generally line officers outrank reserves, LDOs, and medical types even if senior, but he didn't. I like to think I floored him with logic --. Full marks to the ship's engineer officer (O4) my boss; I was expecting an ass eating session later for lipping off to the Nav, but it never happened. Gotta say, I was highly guilty of lese majesty in that "conference." There's another few stories on the Nav, but irrelevant here.)

    Back in the day, we were thinking about tribal organization among native Americans, too. Quite a bit of variety, but it can be generalized: Chief, however he got there, chieftains, all specialists; war, medicine man, warrior, and "dog soldiers" (look that one up, it is half interesting.) With that organization, all would defer to the specialist when needed, conflicts settled by the Chief or, if necessary, by council. My contention is that natural selection of leadership in groups formed up after SHTF will parallel tribal organizations, and that blustering boneheads will be ignored or eliminated. The tribe, or group, will look to those with some knowledge of the subject at hand when times are tough. The trick will be figuring out who knows what about which.
    chelloveck, Sapper John and tulianr like this.
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