Review of Scales on War

I recently read Scales on War: The Future of America's Military at Risk by Major General Robert Scales, U.S. Army, Retired.

General Scales’ passion for improving U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps infantry really comes through in his book. His concern is reminiscent of Robert Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers. (Note: Read the book; don’t watch the movie. They are NOT the same.) As Heinlein put it:

“The Mobile Infantry is the Army. All the others are either button pushers or professors, along merely to hand us the saw; we do the work.” (Italics in original text.)

Damn right. What we see in Scales on War is that the U.S. Department of Defense has gotten away from these basic truths. Instead, there is too much of a focus on high-tech instead of plain old-fashioned infantry and artillery (which was General Scales’ branch). Arthur C. Clarke warned about this several decades ago in his short story “Superiority,” which was first published in 1951. General Scales puts it bluntly: “Every dollar wasted on trillion-dollar gizmos is a dollar taken away from those who actually fight our wars.” Well said.

It’s fair to say that the U.S. must keep up with technology in order to fight “peer competitors,” which is Pentagon-babble for Russia and China, and it’s fair to say that infantry won’t be the only arrow in Uncle Sam’s quiver. However, it really shouldn’t be too much to ask that the Army get rid of the M-16 and its derivative, the M-4, both of which tend to jam, and equip all regular infantry units with the same reliable rifle used by Special Operations Forces such as the Navy’s SEAL Team Six and the Army’s Delta Force. It shouldn’t be too much to ask to equip those rifles with the same aiming aids that are freely purchased by civilians for hunting. It also shouldn’t be too much to ask that the Army’s artillery be improved so that soldiers on the ground have a source of fire support in addition to having air support. Lastly, it shouldn’t be too much to ask to improve psychological and cultural training for soldiers and line officers so that they can better survive the horrible physical and psychological demands of combat and so that they can better reach out to residents of the countries they are deployed to. As General Scales points out, none of these improvements cost as much as big-ticket weapons such as the F-35.

Perhaps these improvements will be made. General Scales speaks well of General James Mattis, USMC, who tried to put into practice several of the improvements mentioned in Scales on War. Now Mattis has been promoted to Secretary of Defense, which will give him more power to make these improvements. Sadly, Secretary Mattis has to deal with Congress, which tends to take more interest in big weapons systems. In other words, while the mission of the U.S. Department of Defense is “to provide a lethal Joint Force to defend the security of our country and sustain American influence abroad,” Congress has, de facto, re-interpreted this mission statement to say “provide job security for us and for our corporate backers.” Can you say “complacency” and “ignorance” and “corruption”? General Scales certainly does. Read his book!

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