The Best Defense

Gen. Mattis warns our military can become overpowering but still irrelevant

Marine Gen. James Mattis, one of the most thoughtful of our military leaders, also spoke at the Chapel Hill conference. He began by making a point about the limitations of conventional firepower: Our military, he said, "must avoid being dominant and irrelevant at the same time." I hadn't heard that formulation before.

Mattis also spoke without any computer graphics. "The reason I didn't use PowerPoint is, I am convinced PowerPoint makes us stupid." I don't know if I'd go that far, but its absence of verbs does seem to me to emphasize aspirations without saying what actions we intend to take to realize them.

Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who also spoke at the conference, also took a pop at PowerPoint, saying that when combined with certain ill-advised metrics, it "is really dangerous."

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The Best Defense

BG H.R. McMaster: Being a grad student at Chapel Hill prepared me for combat

Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the celebrity brigadier, began his talk by saluting UNC-Chapel Hill, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Joint Chiefs of Staff handling of the Vietnam War. Of all the things in his career, he said, it was his time as a graduate student that prepared him best for the challenges he faced in Iraq. "It was here that I think I learned to ask the right questions... about complex issues."

One more argument for sending promising officers to civilian graduate schools. And maybe shutting the war colleges (with the exception of part of the Naval War College, which could become the military institution for strategic studies, and the Naval Post-Graduate School, which could do the same for Special Operations studies). 

Tom Ricks