“General Abrams’s Army”

Abrams1971 Herein find the Weekly "Policy Monitor" of Medley Global Advisors.  I have an essay on the back page.  The picture at left is of General Abrams.  pl

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26 Responses to “General Abrams’s Army”

  1. Mike Moscoe says:

    The colonel’s article on General Abrams is on pages 11 & 12 of this issue.
    On page 8 is an interesting story that the cause for short rations in Iraq may not be just the usual log snafu, but may be encourage by Shia raids on convoys making the long drive up from Kuwait.
    Mike Moscoe

  2. confusedponderer says:

    Insightful read. Again. Thanks.

  3. George says:

    “Before our invasion in March 2003, Iraq never experienced a suicide attack in its history,” Pape said. “Since our invasion, suicide terrorism has been essentially doubling in Iraq every year that we’ve had more or less 150,000 American combat soldiers stationed there.”
    …The first suicide bombing against U.S. troops occurred during the invasion, on March 29, 2003, in Najaf. It was carried out by a member of the Iraqi force known as the Fedayeen Saddam. Before the war was over, U.S. Marines found a stockpile of suicide vests hidden in a school in Baghdad.
    Of the 351 confirmed suicide attacks in Iraq by the end of 2006, the Chicago project has been able to identify 55 of the attackers. Thirteen were Iraqis; 16 were Saudis. Three-quarters of the attackers were Iraqi or from the Sunni-dominated states bordering Iraq.
    Pape has not found one confirmed instance of a Shiite suicide bomber in the Iraq conflict.
    Of the targets, more than 50 percent were military. Civilian targets accounted for more than 30 percent last year.
    -Quoted from

  4. Will says:

    super article. very illuminating.
    i was a fng rotated into a mechanized unit on the DMZ. On my first day at Con Thien, I pulled perimeter guard duty on top of an APC, armored personnel carrier.
    I had never been on one in my life. I had been trained as straight infantry w/ airborne school and some ranger. That was part of the policy of not training as a unit but sending f* new guys over there as replacements to mix in with short timers.
    The driver did a “pivot.” I didn’t know a tracked vehicle could do a pivot. I thought you drove them like cars. I spun off and my hand must have bounced off one of the roadwheels. My shiny brand new Bulova watch splintered into smithereens and my right hand swelled to double size.
    Two months later I was driving an APC. But I could have lost my hand!
    I still think the SOB driver did the pivot on purpose w/o warning to throw me off. There was a lot of crazies over there.

  5. b says:

    Very interesting – thanks.
    Reagan’s AssSecDef Korb has an OpEd on the same issue in today’s LA Times:
    Bush’s draft dodge
    The president doesn’t support a draft, but our Army isn’t built to fight a war such as Iraq without one.

  6. VietnamVet says:

    A great article. You clearly follow your four rules of analytic thought. The money part of the publication is pure Greek to me but it has to be a sign that the money managers are having second thoughts on the radical GOP agenda. What good are tax cuts, deregulation and a forever war when the rest of society collapses around their gated communities?
    The picture of the Ford Jeep and young officer, smoking, brought back memories. Except I drove was an Army Mule, the officers in my battalion all had drivers, and I only could wear civies on R&R.
    The US Army that entered Vietnam in 1965 was the finest in American history. All for naught. Colonel, even if you had rotated back to the world with your unit, you’d have kept coming back to the Iron Hook, again and again. Our sons and grandsons would still be fighting the surviving Vietnamese. No different in Iraq.

  7. W. Patrick Lang says:

    That’s me, of course. Since I was an intelligence officer, and in command I could wear whatever I thought best.
    This was in Phuoc Long Province just outside Song Be. I was out distributing refugee supplies to Montagnards that day in my “apparent” job as Refugee Assistance Officer. I chose not to wear unoform that day. That is another of my men in the other jeep. pl

  8. Montag says:

    Like putting a governor on the engine of a vehicle to limit the speed and hinder reckless drivers. But a steady barrage of IEDs is still debilitating at any speed.

  9. Steve says:

    Thanks for this post. For those interested, the book “The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War” by Andrew Bacevich, covers the Abrams story very well indeed. This administration has fully betrayed our Army, and has done serious damage to our military in general. How long can the American economy fund the trillion dollar military empire? Seems to me we are currently on the verge of financial melt down. All empires go broke in the end.

  10. Neil Richardson says:

    Dear COL Lang,
    I once had the pleasure of meeting LTC Harold Cohen (CO of 10th Armored Infantry) during a 4th AD reunion at Fort Knox back in 1980. He told a group of us who were in AOAC that Colonel Abe wouldn’t allow any tank commanders in his battalion to button up during the battle of Arracourt. He told us that the ability to see German tanks first under limited visibility was the key difference in that seemingly uneven fight. And he also added that since Abrams would always lead from the front as the spearhead of the Third Army, not only was he the greatest tanker in the ETO, but also the luckiest as well.

  11. jonst says:

    Steve wrote: “This administration has fully betrayed our Army, and has done serious damage to our military in general”.
    I think the leadership of the military, as well, betrayed the Army, the military, and the nation.
    Col Yingling starts out his recent essay http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2007/05/2635198
    with the following sentence: “For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency.” He goes on to attribute the failure, “the second in a generation” to “America’s general officer corps”. It all puts me in mind of a letter Goethe wrote to Johann Peter Eckermann, where Goethe noted why some Professors, when presented with contradictory evidence regarding a certain thesis were nonetheless unable to change their minds. Goethe noted: “This is not to wondered at….such people continue in error because they are indebted to it [the error]for their existence. They would otherwise have to learn everything over again, and that would be very inconvenient.” Rathenau, the old German Foreign Minister said the same thing with less words: “There are no specialists; there are only vested interests”
    At the sake of being deemed a johnny one note, I repeat what I wrote the other day. I believe we (our post WWII institutions) are, and have been for some time now, behaving in an Imperial/Colonial manner in a post Imperial/Colonial world. I do not pass, here, anyway, a value judgment on Imperialism or Colonialism. Rather I note it, whether I am correct or not, in a simple factual manner.
    The common theme in this dynamic is, as LBJ noted (he could always count votes)the support for actually fighting the war in the 60s grew very thin. Hence his inability to call on his reserves. Its the same today. We got the 12 division mission for a 10 division army (or whatever the exact formulation articulated by Gen Shinski was in his farewell address was)because once again our leaders were able to count votes…..not only was there no draft, there was no would be patriotic call to duty. Except to the people (and their families) that had already answered the call and were in the service. Perhaps it could be argued that the people of 60s, having made a silent, and not so silent, decision (as LBJ read it)to not support the war, if it meant their going, at least had the decency to vigorously protest others going. Not so in this century. The vast, vast, majority of our nation strongly supported the war. So long as it did not include their going. Or their loved ones going. It will be interesting to see how history looks up the respective generations. Its tragic that we failed to learn (however painful, or noble, as they case may be)these lessons in Korea. There was our hint.

  12. arbogast says:

    A marvelous, informative article.

  13. James Pratt says:

    I would disagree with Jonst here. The blame for Vietnam and Iraq lie with the political leadership, period.
    JFK, LBJ and Macnamara didn’t see or try very hard to see Vietnam as it really was. After the Japanese army and French army were expelled the last thing that most Vietnamese wanted was yet another foreign army in 1965. American exceptionalism and fear of Communism as a
    kind of metastatic cancer
    blinded the three Americans to local political reality.
    As Babak has pointed out here before, Iraq has been lost to the US politically since 2004. The Iraqis will vote for one reason or another, but that doesn’t mean they will support a government elected under American occupation rules.
    The fault lies with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bremer, not the generals.

  14. jamzo says:

    thank you for the insight
    it is helpful to see how the structure of the army affected the military aoptions bush/cheney had
    it shines a light on the boldness and recklessness of the decisions they made
    stucture has not been as significant in policy determination in the bush administration
    the vice president appears to have had unprecedented power
    power that is not provided to the office of the vice president
    power that is not derived from a personal relationship with the president
    i am wondering if the seeming petraeus-cocker partnership and the lute appointment indicates a shift in bush policy
    operations along the following lines
    rice-gates and their surrogates (lute, petraeus, cokcer) vs cheney and his surrogate(admiral fallon)
    i don’t know what allegiance to attribute to the chiefs and nsc seems to have been taken out of the game (iraq at least)

  15. jonst says:

    Well, I can’t shake a book at you James and pronounce “here is the correct answer”. However, I would be curious to know if you read: Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam by Colonel H. R. McMaster.
    I would not lay the blame solely on JFK, LBJ, et al. If they were blinded, at least to some extent, it was because of the exodus,forced in many cases, a question of honor in other cases, of South- East Asian intel/diplomat types in the wake of McCarthy Purges. Of course JFK and LBJ were big time supporters of tail gunner Joe, so in a way you could say the chickens came home to roost. Anyway, as I note, I go with Cols Yingling and McMaster, John Paul Vann’s and my own experiences there. The Brass shares in the blame. Big time. Then and now.

  16. stanley Henning says:

    General Abrams was not ony thoughtful at the strategic political-military level, but was an approachable and caring leader at the level of the individuals he led. In 1972, he personally intrvened to support my plea to make the most of my China area expertise for the remainder of my career (retired in 1993, but at the time was a Voluntary Indefinite Reservist serving as an Adjutant General Corps “administrator” under constant threat of being released during post Vietnam drawdowns).
    General Abrams’ willingness to listen and act accordingly significantly influenced my life. To me he was a true leader in every sense of the word and I feel privileged to have served under him.

  17. D.L. says:

    Tomorrow, the Iraq portion of the GWOT will have gone on 186 days longer than U.S. involvement in WWII.
    Watching and reading about this fiasco for 4 years has given me a monstrous case of irritabily, and in this condition I sometimes misread.
    General Abrams’actions had a lot of implications, but I only have one question.
    Colonel Lang, you write in the article:
    “Volunteer soldiers are a much easier leadership task than are citizens conscripted against their will.” True.
    But wouldn’t it be prudent, if we ever manage to extricate ourselves from the Iraq morass, to have the conscription system fully set up, ready to use, and legislatively prior enabled in the event of a joint resolution of Congress authorizing military action?

  18. walrus says:

    Col Lang, Thank you very much for the article on Abrams and the structure of the Army and the errors of Vietnam.
    I am afraid however, that I believe there is a much deeper cause for failure in Vietnam and in Iraq that is embedded in the Psyche of Americans.
    I will try and put this into words, but I may be doomed to failure anyway….
    America was founded by humanists. The Declaration of Independence is a humanist document as is the Constitution. America has seen itself to some extent as a scientific experiment. It follows that Americans in general are a reasoning people who see things as black and white, right and wrong.
    It also follows that Americans believe that every problem has a solution and America’s task is to find that solution by experiment if necessary.
    This attitude is embedded in American culture and society, in art, and in sport..and in the practice of war.
    Overall, the concept has been wildly successful, and has delivered material benefits to the world out of all proportion. But there are side effects.
    There is an American perception that every problem has a solution. That bigger is better. That America can do anything it likes, if it will only put its mind to it.
    These attitudes have been perverted by opinion formers into narcissism on a grandiose scale. Commentators soberly discuss whther America should bomb Iran, even using nuclear weapons, or permit other countries to do so and so. As is typical with narcissists, there is no thought whatsoever of the effect their words, let alone actions, have on the nations and the people concerned.
    To put it another way, how would Americans feel if Hitler had built the A-bomb and used it to win WWII, and you were now reading in todays edition of “Volkischer Beobachter” a scholarly debate by a couple of German Professors on whether it would be eugenically desirable to eliminate the entire American population or wether only partial genocide is necessary to “Aryanise” America?
    It is this total American inability (but for your goodself and a few others of course) to see the other side of an argument or empathise with any other culture that is at the root of the loss in Vietnam and now the appalling mess in Iraq.
    Americans with the black/white, yes/no, right/wrong, “can do” attitude are uniquely ill fitted to fight in the shifting greys of insurgency, period, because as a nation you simpy don’t have the right attitude.
    It’s not about IED’s and technology, it’s about culture. Col. Ted Serong and other Australians tried to explain this in Vietnam but were met with blank stares from American Commanders. It simply did not compute then and it doesn’t today. It’s no coincidence that another Australian, Dr. David Kilcullen, is still trying to do this for Gen. Petraeus.
    I am not saying by any means that anyone else is perfect, but at least the British lost enough people in India and Afganistan over the last three hundred years to understand that “Yes” doesn’t always mean “Yes”, and “No” doesn’t always mean “No”, and that personal relationships and cultural sensitivities mean more in the East than they do in dog – eat – dog market economies.
    If I were the commander i Iraq, I’d do three things immediately.
    1. I’d order troops to take those F&*^ing sunglasses off permanently and show their faces.
    2. I’d order that no troops will use vehicles if they can achieve the same objective on foot.
    3. I’d order that troops will eat Iraqi sourced food and Iraqi dishes as much as possible.
    And bugger Force Protection, Mc Donalds and Pizzas, and “Restricted choices at salad bars” ferchrissake!!!!!!!!
    You are not in Kansas anymore. You are in Iraq, like Iraqis. Stop pretending you aren’t and start seeing things as Iraqis see them.

  19. Chris Marlowe says:

    Americans, as a general rule, distrust the idea of empire and foreign wars.
    That is why American leaders, in collusion with the American corporate media, have to manufacture and magnify foreign “threats” in order to scare Americans into support. In the current case, the threat came from stateless Islamic terrorism, but then America’s leaders embarked on a war against a foreign state, Iraq. Now they are on the verge of an attack against another state, Iran, even though the American people have shown that they do not support the idea.
    The foreign perception is that America is in fact an imperialist power, when in fact American politics and media are the culprits. This view is particularly predominant among Muslims worldwide, most of whom do not support Islamic terrorism. This perception though, fuels the recruitment drive of Islamic terrorists.
    The end result is that America ends up as the owner of an empire most Americans do not want, and which the government and military cannot support on a sustained basis.
    Without the enduring support and sacrifice of the American people, there is no way that this empire can last.

  20. Chris Marlowe says:

    To follow up on my previous posting, the key to the success of the Bush/Cheney/Abrams policy in the ME lies in the passiveness of the American people. This is why the collusion of the corporate media, especially News Corp. and Fox News are central.
    Col. Lang, in his discussion on No Quarter, has mentioned how he was surprised at how passive the American people had become following the 9/11 attacks. Corporate media and the politicians provided direction, and their agenda to move the American people in the direction they wanted them to move. Anyone who dared to question their agenda were declared to be “unpatriotic” and “didn’t understand that 9/11 changed everything”.
    How many times have Bush, Cheney, Giuliani, Clinton (both) and all other US politicians used that phrase in order to silence critics and opposition? I for one would like to know.
    Judging from how quickly and aggressively Cheney is trying to move on Iran, my guess is that he senses a window of opportunity which is closing quickly. Fundamentalist Christians, one of the pillars of his coalition, are showing signs of becoming wobbly following the death of Jerry Falwell. Even Bush himself is showing signs of doubt.
    The political tide has turned against foreign intervention in the US, even though it has not yet coalesced into an effective opposition. Given another year and a half, it just might…
    Ultimately, everything depends on the American people, and whether they can make themselves effectively heard to the American politicians and media.
    The American people need to find their voice, and tell the government they are not happy with the status quo. If they cannot make themselves heard through elections and the corporate media, they will have to create a new channel.

  21. Matt says:

    Col – Have you read “Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times” by Lewis Sorley? If so, would you recommend it (maybe post a review)?

  22. When in Rome says:

    RE: Walrus
    “1. I’d order troops to take those F&*^ing sunglasses off permanently and show their faces.”
    I would add 1.1, Get rid of the storm trooper bullet head/skin head look. Let your grow and look like you can live with a head of hair in the same environment as the real bad guys do. God forbid, facial hair might make them think twice too.
    Agree totally that the yes-yes, can-do attitude is unsuited for insurgency war. It’s time for us civilians to put our arms around these wonderful guys and gals shoulders and say, “Leave it alone.” It’s our responsibility now.

  23. Sid3 says:

    Far better Gen. Abrams than Elliot Abrams. Looks like General Abrams restructured the US Army to protect us from the likes of Elliot Abrams and Co. For more info, see Welch Club article.
    For those interested, the essay re: Gen. Abrams arguably forces a re-evaluation of the footnote found at the bottom of page 767 in Col. Hackworth’s book, About Face. I am civilian clueless as to what to make of the footnote now, but I thought I’d simply report a possible “cognitive dissonance”, as people are wont to say nowadays.

  24. Cold War Zoomie says:

    “For those interested, the essay re: Gen. Abrams arguably forces a re-evaluation of the footnote found at the bottom of page 767 in Col. Hackworth’s book, About Face.”
    Hackworth didn’t say exactly *why* Abrams hated the SF combat bums. So it may seem on the surface that Abrams’ later policies dictating the use of cohesive units conflicts with his disgust in Vietnam with the units that were by their nature highly cohesive. If I were a guessing man, I would guess Abrams hated the idea that the SF guys considered themselves to be elite and probably acted as such.
    My service was in a different branch of the military under very different circumstances, but I can definitely imagine most general officers not being happy with any unit that defines itself as elite, goes native and acts like “animals” regardless of how effective it is. You see, in the military doing your job well isn’t always the number one priority!
    In Uncle Sam’s wonderful Air Farce, *attitude* was many times much more important than actual performance. “Fast burners” weren’t always the best at their trained specialty.
    Although I can’t speak for the Army, I have spent much of my career working with all the branches and there are common threads running throughout.

  25. W. Patrick Lang says:

    CWZ et al
    I was in the special ops business in VN in ’72 when Abrams was COMUSMACV (the boss in VN). I don’t remember that he had any sort of dislike for us “greenies.” he was actually quite complimentary of the courage and skill of our men, and used to “come by” to present decorations, be briefed, etc.
    David Hackworth was a friend, but I think the attitude may have been his rather than that of Abrams.
    “Combat bums?” “gone native, acted like animals?” That is really “pushing it,” This is an insult to the best soldiers I ever knew. I am proud to be counted among them.
    CWZ. I think you should learn to tell the difference between movies and reality. The officers and men of the 5th SF Group in VN and MACVSOG were the only SF people in SE Asia. They were professionals through and through. pl

  26. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Col Lang,
    “Combat bums,” “native” and “animals” were Hackworth’s terms, not mine. He used all three in his footnote.
    I should have put all of them in quotes instead of just the “animals” reference.

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