On policy matters, President Trump usually does well when he follows his instincts. But that does not appear to be the case on personnel decisions. His worst, to date, was choosing John Bolton as his National Security Advisor. We are already paying for that decision in worsening relations with a number of other countries.
If, on the one hand, you are going to raise the risk of hostilities, on the other hand you should be improving the quality of your military leaders. But in another poor personnel decision, President Trump has chosen Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The combination of Bolton and Milley would be like choosing Ribbentrop to run your foreign policy and Graziani to command your army in the resulting wars.
By the low standards we set for our senior military leaders, Milley is not especially awful. His main sin, which he shares with his colleagues atop the other services, is doing nothing about the fact that the Army is a Second Generation military in a Fourth Generation war.
Actually, in a way, General Milley did do something about that: he made it official. Not long ago, he ordered the U.S. Army to return to its World War II-era uniforms, the so-called “pinks and greens”. As costumes, the old/new uniforms will be a great improvement. The fact that they are costumes recognizes the reality that a Second Generation army is useless for a real war and exists only to stage public entertainments. All our Second Generation services are like armored knights on horseback in the 16th century. Their heavy plate armor has reached its highest stage of perfection, but real battlefields are filling up with low-born musketeers and the knights “fight” only in tournaments, where damsels swoon, someone is occasionally unhorsed and nothing is decided.
I am hopeful that General Milley will do as Chairman of the JCS what he has done as Army Chief of Staff and make the theatrical nature of the other services official too. The Air Force will go back to biplanes that stage dogfights over NFL football games. Ironically, that might also make it more combat effective in the air, at least in what really counts, supporting the man on the ground. World War I ground-support aircraft such as the Halberstadt and Hannoveraner CL IIs are better suited by far to the close air support mission than are F-35s. And Fokker D VIIs are usually ready to fly and fight, which means they can easily defeat F-22s stuck in their hangers by their enormous maintenance requirements.
The Navy tried to make its irrelevance official in the 1980s by bringing back the battleships, which look very impressive. That effort, however, failed, because it did not go back far enough. Chairman Milley, I hope, will direct the Navy to start building some new Constitution-class frigates, which will not only put on splendid shows on Navy Day but will require real sailors to man them, which might in turn compel the Navy to find some. The new Zumwalt-class destroyers already look like zombie versions of C.S.S. Virginia; why not build some real Monitors and Confederate ironclads and stage naval battles in the Reflecting Pool, as the Romans used to do in the Coliseum (which could be flooded)? And bringing back airships like Akron and Macon will wow the public while doing what the Ford-class carriers cannot, namely launch and recover airplanes (both of those airships carried Sparrowhawk scout aircraft).
The Marine Corps should not be touched. Its continued focus on making amphibious landings on heavily defended beaches had already rendered it son et lumiere.
Regrettably, these wonderful follow-ons to the pinks and greens require vision, and general Milley has none. We can, however, probably count on him to try to push the new Physical Fitness Test he decreed for the Army down the other services’ throats, so they too can witness a mass exodus of their staff NCOs. Staff NCOs are the backbone of any military in combat, but what does combat have to do with “armed services” full of women? Our military theater has reversed the roles in kabuki: it has women playing men.
There is an old saying on Capitol Hill that the Air Force is deceptive, the Navy is dishonest, and the Army is dumb. As Burke noted, stereotypes arise from observation.
Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.