McMaster bust myths
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 10, 2014) -- Americans and their leaders all too often wear rose-tinted glasses when it comes to assessing future warfare, said the deputy commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command for Futures and director, Army Capabilities Center.

Too often, people think battles can be won through engineering and technological advances: cyber, advanced weapons systems, robotics and so on, said Lt. Gen. Herbert R. McMaster Jr.

Big defense firms sell big-ticket systems that are supposed to win wars, he said. The firms use subtle and not-so-subtle advertising that you need this system for the sake of your children and grandchildren and if you don't purchase it, "you're heartless." Congress usually obliges.

The truth is that while overmatch is important, people win wars, he said.

McMaster spoke at the Association of the United States Army's Institute of Land Warfare Medical Forum, Sept. 10. His topic was the Human Dimension.

Although the Army has dominated the battlefield technologically in the recent past, that's no guarantee against an increasingly agile, adaptive foe. The enemy is becoming more adept at eluding firepower through dispersion into civilian areas, disrupting communications and adopting new technologies, he explained. And, non-state actors like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are already fielding capabilities once the sole domain of states.

The "zero dark-thirty" myth is another, he said. This idea uses systems theory to explain warfare as a series of linked nodes. The idea is to selectively take out nodes that are critical to the enemy's network.

In systems theory, the U.S. would simply conduct air strikes or a special operations raid of limited duration to disrupt the network, he said. The systems theory goes back to the Spanish-American War in 1898, when sea power was supposed to win the war, but it took boots on the ground, he said.

In 1940, there was an article in "Look" magazine touting the role of long-range bombers like the B-29s, which could win World War II, should America get into the fight, he said. Same thing happened in the early years of Vietnam, but the North couldn't be bombed into submission.

Another myth about future conflicts, he said, is that America can choose whether or not to "RSVP." The U.S. can simply "opt out by saying 'thanks for your kind invitation, but we cannot attend your war.'"

The opt-out was used before Pearl Harbor, as well as before 9/11. "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you," McMaster said, citing Leon Trotsky.

A final myth is that the U.S. can just advise and assist other armies and let them do the fighting. The problem with that myth, he said, is the other army might have a different agenda that's incongruent with U.S. interests. Besides that, the other military and government might be corrupt and not inspire loyalty from its people and soldiers. Furthermore, the military capabilities may be lacking.

All of these myths are attractive, but they are no substitute for boots on the ground, he said, adding that he's the "biggest fan of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps," meaning it will take a joint team with all capabilities brought to the table to win.


While the air, space, maritime and cyber domains are important, warfare is essentially a "contest of wills," a "human endeavor," McMaster said. From the earliest time, people go to war out of "fear, honor or interests."

Understanding the psychology of the enemy, partners and civilians is essential, from the generals down to the privates, he said. Tomorrow's Soldier will need to be better prepared through education and realistic training.

Soldiers need to understand the cultural, tribal, religious, ideological and economic drivers at the nation and local levels, he explained, to have the situational understanding that is needed.

The enemy already has that understanding, he added.

In the past, America has not generally understood the psychology of the enemy or even their own, he said. In Pentagon war games conducted in 1964 and 1965, the gamers discovered that in a few years the war would escalate with half a million troops on the ground in Vietnam. The game outcome also predicted an American public losing faith with the war and that lies about winning the war would further erode support. But leaders disregarded the findings, which eventually were borne out.

While the American public and its leaders need a better understanding of conflict, Soldiers do as well, he said.

Soldiers need realistic training that includes sustained operations in confused and chaotic situations, such as in an urban environment, he said. Soldiers also need special cultural education which emphasizes a sense of empathy for the civilians.

Leaders too need special training to conduct these types of scenarios and try to "recreate traumatic stress and persistent danger for extended periods of time," he said.

Leaders also need to have a better understanding of combat trauma and its effects, as well as the stigma that's often associated with those stressors, he added.

As the science of human behavior advances, the Army needs to continue incorporating those findings into the human dimension, he concluded. While hi-tech weaponry is essential, battles are won or lost by people.

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