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Friday, September 13, 2013

William Calley vs. Billy Mitchell

William Calley was the Army officer responsible for the My Lai massacre. On his wiki page:

"Calley graduated from Miami Edison High School in Miami and then attended Palm Beach Junior College in 1963. He dropped out in 1964 after receiving unsatisfactory grades, consisting of one C, two Ds, and four Fs."

Not everyone who does badly in school is an idiot, but most idiots do badly in school. Yet somehow, he scored high enough on the entrance exam for Officer Candidate School. Maybe he got his act together. It could also be that the exam was  a joke.

I don't know what it took to get into OCS in the mid 60s, but I have seen the current OCS application. It has sections on physical & mental health, education (4-year degree is required), criminal background, political/patriotism questions, and requests for multiple references. I think you needed a letter from a Congresscitter too. For some reason, you also have to submit a picture of yourself wearing a business suit- I guess the Army prefers photogenic officers.

I suspect the My Lai massacre is the reason why the Army requires all officers to have college degrees. Unfortunately, I know plenty of college grads who couldn't figure out how to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the heel. Worse, most college degrees have no relevance whatsoever to war. Is a degree in history going to make someone better at avoiding ambushes? 

In the civilian world, officers are almost always elected, because elections have been found to be the best (or rather least worst) way of putting the right people in charge. Why does the military shy away from this? Is it tradition? If so, that's an idiotic reason. 

I suspect the reason is that all of military culture is designed around the premise that there are those that give orders and those that follow them. And you aren't allowed to give orders until you can prove that you can follow them. Those that are the most obedient get promoted and more independent (and likely more capable) types stagnate, quit, or are kicked out. See the case of Billy Mitchell for a classic example. His career was destroyed because he challenged the powers that be about the importance of aircraft.

Billy Mitchell was court-martialed even though he had a sterling record, the respect of his men, and had conducted successful tests to prove his point. William Calley was not demoted or court-martialed prior to the massacre even though his men had secretly discussed fragging him.

If the military wants better officers, they need to promote people based on results and not obedience. 


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