Winslow Wheeler: Don Vandergriff’s “The Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs,” second edition

Officers Call
Winslow Wheeler
Winslow Wheeler

Major Don Vandergriff (USA, ret.) has released the second–expanded and updated–edition of his critical analysis of the Army’s officer corps, The Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs.

The book explains why and how the Army’s leadership has simultaneously designed itself for bureaucratic success and leadership failure in battle.  It is important reading, I believe, for any who want to understand of one of the most important problems that decays America’s armed forces from within–and from the top.

The new second edition has a forward by Col. Douglas Macgregor (USA, ret.).  It reads in part:

Addressing the first edition in 2006, one of the reviews at Amazon.com provides some useful comments, especially in retrospective:

To value each life is also to acknowledge the importance of each assignment. MAJ Vandergriff reiterates what U.S. veterans have been saying for years. Too rapidly rotating the key personnel in a unit will destroy its proficiency and cohesion. He says that entire 2,500-soldier brigades must be allowed to remain together for as long as three years. He points out that the Army’s “up-or-out” policy unwisely weeds out those who might achieve an exceptional level of proficiency at a lower echelon. He claims “up or out” is a manifestation of a plan by Gen. George C. Marshall after WWII to ensure the constant infusion of youth and rapid mobilization for the next world war. A large officer corps could lead such a mobilization, and rapid job rotation could ensure that those officers had the necessary skills. But the world has changed since 1946. MAJ Vandergriff claims that what may have been a realistic plan at its inception has now produced a top-heavy Army with 50 percent more generals than necessary and officers obsessed with promotions. He goes on to say that those promotions are based more on pristine personnel files, than character, leadership, and war-fighting capabilities. No longer productive would be a fitness report system favoring those easiest to lead over those good at their job. MAJ Vandergriff says that Army officers live with “promotion anxiety” and the “need to constantly please their bosses.” He points out the potential dichotomy between always pleasing one’s boss and still doing the right thing. While he agrees to the importance of “team spirit,” he warns that careerism can easily mimic organizational loyalty. In a 4th-generation war against a highly skilled but loosely controlled enemy, he says that the revolution in human affairs must take precedence over that of technology. He suggests that its suppression could spell ultimate defeat on the battlefield.

The book should be available in hard copy soon.