The Best Defense

Other sad facts I learned from 'Six Weeks': Artillery as the top killer, the hordes of shellshock cases decades later

--By 1917, so many young British officers had been killed that "most company commanders were not more than twenty" years old.

--Despite the images of waves of soldiers being scythed down by machine gun fire, artillery and mortar shells inflicted the majority (60 percent) of wounds in the British infantry in World War I. Bullets caused 35 percent. (I didn't see numbers on gas casualties.)

--In 1938, some twenty years after the end of World War I, there were still 120,000 former British soldiers receiving pensions or awards for "shellshock" or other psychiatric disabilities -- that is, what he now call severe PTSD.

--Finally, I read aloud to my wife this passage by a Royal Fusiliers officer about dealing with a panicky soldier as they sheltered in a shell hole during a German artillery barrage during the battle of Passchendaele:

I tried to reason with the boy, but the more I talked top him the more distraught he became, until he was almost screaming. 'I can't stay here! Let me go! I want my Mum!' So I switched my tactics, called him a coward, threatened him with court martial and slapped his face as hard as I could, several times. It had an extraordinary effect. There was absolute silence in the shell-hole and then the corporal, who was a much older man, said, ‘I think I can manage him now, sir.' Well, he took that boy in his arms, just as if he was a small child, and when I crawled back a little later to see if all was well, they were both lying there asleep and the corporal still had his arms round the boy . . . .


The Best Defense

Sure, introduce more rigor into the professional military education system -- but not by imitating civilian schools

By Robert Goldich

Best Defense department of military education

I'd suggest that letter grading is inappropriate for institutions like the war colleges, but that more systematic evaluation is not.  

Letter grades were not given at the interwar Command and General Staff School, but class rankings based on percentages were, and I think something like that might be more appropriate. I do know that there was a distinct but very visible minority of students, military and civilian, at the National War College when I was a student who just skated by, including contributing nothing to group projects and letting others take up the slack. Some sort of more rigorous evaluation seems to me to be indicated.

One thing I think that any war college evaluation system needs to be very careful about is the application of civilian academic standards and concepts to military students. There is a fundamental and decisive difference between mid-career military officers in a military institution and civilian graduate students. While I am a big proponent of more civilian graduate education for military officers, there are also a fair number of officers who might not excel in a formal educational milieu who are nonetheless consummate military professionals.

As Bob Killebrew has pointed out numerous times, military knowledge is a distinct and separate component of human disciplines of study, and should be able to stand on its own.  We should not shoehorn military officers into civilian shoes which do not fit.

Robert L. Goldich retired from the Congressional Research Service in 2005 as its senior military manpower analyst. Currently he is consulting and drafting a book on the history of conscription.