Hand Grenade of the Week 28

David Silbey's picture

Hand Grenade of the Month -- September 2015

Refusing to Learn

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.”
Georges Santayana, The Life of Reason

Hello hand grenade fans (and those souls who dislike this forum but are drawn to it by a morbid sense of curiosity, to see what nonsense that Kuehn fellow is spewing forth this month). 

So why the famous Santayana quotation (minus its most famous component)? Who is the target?
The thesis, as I tell my students, is in the title. The “who” in this case is some level of bureaucracy in the Army at the Combat Studies Institute (CSI) or above in the newly established Army University (which encompasses a host of commands and organizations) who has decided not to continue the Operational Leader Experiences (OLE) project that has collected thousands of oral history interviews with combat veterans (and support personnel) for the wars of the last 14 years. 

In years past the author helped with this program, handing out forms for our incoming officers at the US Army Command and General Staff Officer Course (CGSOC) for those with experience to fill out and provided contact information so that the professional historians at CSI might interview them. A very worthy program, because, as we military historians know, the sooner you get these experiences (memory) often the more veracity they have rather than 20, 30, 40 years later when memory begins to fade, fail, and even change.

There are still, I estimate, at least 9 more years of potential officers with combat experience out there (I heard about a soldier having his foot blown off in Afghanistan just two days ago) who have yet to come through CGSOC---so why cancel the program now? Isn’t an interwar period the time to collect this kind of information and collate it, get insight from it? To learn? 

The reason? Money. Not enough. Are you kidding faceless nameless Army bureaucrats whoever you are? The program is pennies on the billions and may save lives not just today but in the future, never mind its enduring value to historians present and future. Frankly, programs like these are low hanging fruit as the Army falls into the trap of the more technological services, the Navy and Air Force, and tries to “leverage” technology instead of the immense human capital it has—and is now ignoring.

Write your Congressmen and Senators and ask “why?” I will be.

Vr, John T. Kuehn, Ph.D.
Commander USN (retired)
Platte City, MissouriThe views are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government


It's an ill grenade that blows no good (somewhere a grenade factory worker thanks you for your service), but I don't think you have the Bureaucrat's Perspective.

He has a project, a MAJOR project (AH-Brewster Buffalo II) on his hands, and, baby, that project has what ever project wants to have in bed with it: a big powerful constituency. So, he needs some quick cash to pay for the People's little tryst.

He knows the future doesn't have a constituency this far out from the next election, and thankfully the bureaucrat (and those other nameless souls) who will need those lessons aren't even born yet. And, more importantly, they won't have time to go looking for them in the emergency-crisis-apocalypsis.

When that's over, either the nameless lovely-but-unloved future will have lost--obviating the need to save those things in the first place--or it will have won without them, and so why save them if they weren't needed, hmm? It's no skim off my pension either way.

Anyway, don't you know the surest way to have a war is to think about war? (I heard that just yesterday at Starbucks or in the cloak room or somewhere. Your able bureaucrat says, "banish the thought of war, and seal the reminders in modernist concrete--either 'living' or 'out of the box'--in a shaded corner of the Mall, and let servicing MY constituency: me."

Besides, have you ever heard anyone in an emergency yell, "Quick, hand me an oral history and two of those lessons learned! Hurry, dammit! I need the Principles of War here, people!"

Yours, respectfully, in Surface Warfare,

Larry A. Grant