AN ANTIDOTE FOR INCOMPETENCE
CAPT MICHAEL G LOGICO INF PA
“People often rise to their levels of incompetence”
– Dr. Laurence Peter “The Peter Principle“
“Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight”.
- Miyamoto Musashi “Book of Five Rings”
Success in military operations is a product of good leadership, sound management and luck at different levels of command. A lapse in the command and control process can spell disaster, sometimes at the cost of lives. Incompetence in the AFP is no more common than in other organizations, but because of the very distinct nature of our job, it is more obvious and judgment is not always kind. These are just some of the reasons why individual commander are often identified with military disasters. However, the problem for the most part, beyond the commander’s control, as this article will suggest.
This article is neither intended to be apologetic nor to accuse certain individuals. Surely, the AFP is never short of brilliant minds. Many of our officers are products of the finest schools and training programs. We even encourage our people to pursue higher education, at government’s expense. Yet at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves why is it that we don’t seem to be making any progress, committing the same mistakes over and over again.
The credibility of a country’s military power is an important factor in its ability to gain its objectives without the use of force. If the AFP is successful in operations, the options available to our enemy are limited. The reverse is also true if we have a record of failure and incompetence. We are actually putting ourselves into a position of greater risk by encouraging our enemies to continuously challenge our forces.
This article intends to give an honest look at our organization, and what we can do to make AFP, an organization we can truly be proud of.
And although the observant among us are quick to notice the incompetence in others, we fail to see it in ourselves.
What is Military Incompetence?
Richard A. Gabriel in his book defines military incompetence as the inability of military leaders and forces to avoid mistakes, which in the normal course of things, could and should be avoided. Of course, what Clausewitz calls “friction” and the “fogs of war” could never be totally overcome. Therefore planning only hopes to reduce these uncertainties.
Military incompetence refers to the repeated and common pattern of errors that mark the leadership in military disasters. The leadership in military disasters is distinguished by a number of flaws, of which stupidity is not one, including:
- A conservative and tradition attitude. Marked by the misuse or rejection of newer technology and the inability to learn from experience.
- A determination to reject information, which challenges preconceptions.
- A tendency to overestimate the abilities of one’s own side and underestimate the enemy.
- A tendency to be indecisive and the inability to consider swift action, marked by the failure to exploit battlefield gains
- A failure to make adequate reconnaissance.
- An obstinate persistence in a given task despite contrary evidence
- A preference for frontal assaults and brute force over surprise, deception or tactical skill.
- A viciousness in defeat marked by the search for scapegoats and the suppression of information
- A belief in fate or bad luck rather than a rational assessment.
Sounds familiar? Do not be overwhelmed, this only tells half the story. They are symptoms of the real disease. The fact that the errors occur again and again is due to the nature of our culture and values, training and doctrines, and the personality types of officers.
Doctrine and Training
The most obvious problem within the area of the AFP organization lies in training and education. According to Sigmund Freud, the competence and ability of a soldier is a product of how he was trained and educated. Since today’s Internal Security Operations is fought at the company and platoon level, most of our problems could be solved through doctrine and training.
Doctrine is a set of fundamental principles that guide the actions of armed forces. These distilled insights guide the commander in determining the proper course of action. It is authoritative, but still requires judgment on the part of the commander. It’s good that our present thrust towards the doctrine development has become a priority. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. As of this writing, only 7 core manuals have yet been promulgated.
Granting that we are still a few years away from completing our operational and tactical doctrines, the concept of fire and maneuver should be the bread and butter for all small unit leaders. This is basic. It has been taught to us over and over again but unfortunately, these are just concepts that remain in the minds of officers. Its practice is not extended to the battlefields. Why? Because our soldiers do not undergo unit training in fire and maneuver.
In the battlefield, we win some; we lose some. Sometimes an M-60 gunner saves the day by maneuvering to a vantage position alone. We owe our success to the personal acts of bravery by our troops, not the proper application of military technique. Courage is good, but that’s not the way we want to win in the future. It’s rare to find a well-executed operation that’s anchored on teamwork.
Unit training is a command responsibility. Soldiers who fight together should train together. Today, we tend to overlook unit training in favor of more immediate tactical concerns in the area. A quick look at the deployment of forces in the area will show that almost all of our battalions are deployed to contain a specified Areas of Responsibility. To pull out a battalion to undergo retraining, is to leave a vacuum that is hard to fill. We must realize that it is not always a good idea to deploy units over an extended period of time. Units, like individuals need time to recondition and train. Prioritizing training doesn’t necessarily mean we sacrifice operational concerns. In fact, by keeping our soldiers sharp and motivated, we minimize the risk of committing tactical mistakes once the shooting starts.
However, if the opportunity to train does not present itself, there are other tools the commander may use at his level. The best way to keep your men organized in the heat of battle is to rehearse. Rehearsals, drills and briefings are absolute necessities that could mean the difference between the quick and the dead in any engagement. These are must-dos for a commander who truly cares for his men.
The AFP Culture And Values
Norman Dixon’s On the Psychology of Military Incompetence reveals the process by which armies make themselves the way they are and shows how difficult it is for armies to escape the worst effects of their own culture. The worst thing about our culture is that we are a product of a larger, more encompassing culture: the Filipino Culture. No matter how hard we try, we are still unable to escape the culture of parochialism, careerism and mediocrity. All of these are antithesis of professionalism.
It is a known fact that there is a shift in the basic values among some AFP officers today. As Samuel P. Huntington observed in his work The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, one of the salient characteristics that has traditionally distinguished the officer corps is its view of the military as a “‘higher calling’ in the service of society.” However, the attitude of self-sacrifice and commitment is slowly turning toward self-interest.
Officers are the institutional memory of any unit. They are the living repository of its history, its experiences and above all, its lessons. Not too many officers stay long enough in a certain position for them to gain expertise in their job. Just when they are at the point where they have mastered the details of their work, they punch their ticket and move on to higher responsibilities.
Whenever an officer puts his personal agenda over his mission, the effects are twofold. For the officer, he/she fails to absorb the finer points of his line of work. For an officer, not to be an expertise in his/her given field is to be an amateur. But it is even worse for the organization because we lose the ability to learn from our mistakes. At first it appears as if we recorded everything. But in reality, we learned nothing. It is this warped sense of values that have propagated mediocrity in the AFP. Officers and men alike must strive to attain levels of proficiency that will define a true professional over an amateur.
Yet, there are still others who, despite all good intentions and training are ineffective in combat.
One work of literature that helps explain why individual military leaders fail to perform is the ‘The Peter Principle’ by Dr Lawrence J Peter. This puts forward the view that in all hierarchies, employees tend to rise to their own levels of incompetence.
If you are good at your job, chances are, you will at some stage gain promotion. This will keep on happening until you reach a level at which you cannot perform–your level of incompetence. At this stage promotion becomes impossible and you end up stuck at your own level of incompetence, since there is no mechanism to be demoted back down the hierarchy. Thus, over time the hierarchy, would be filled by people who have reached their level of incompetence.
Of course, not everyone reaches this level at the same time. The corollary of the Peter Principle is therefore useful work in the hierarchy as accomplished by those officers who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.
Carl von Clausewitz recognized the Peter Principle long before Dr. Laurence Peter. He wrote, “There are commanders-in-chief who could not have led a cavalry regiment with distinction, and cavalry commanders who could not have led armies.”
Performing well in one job may earn a promotion to a position the officer cannot handle. Clausewitz’ field marshal, like our brigade commanders, needed intuitive and thinking skills. He needed an intuitive grasp of the big picture. They have to perceive the overall situation through the fog of war. The regimental colonel, like our company commanders, needed sensation and feeling. They have to inspire their men in battle.
Suppose a professional officer is strong in thinking and sensation, but not in feeling. He or she will succeed as a technical or special staff officer, but not as a commander or leader. This is the Peter Principle at work. The person rises to his or her “level of incompetence.” As in the book, On The Psychology of Military Incompetence, there are those captivated by leadership and those who lead naturally. The challenge, of course, is to find the natural leaders at the opportune moment, the men and women who possess intelligence beyond the classroom and who measure success according to achievement.
Three hundred and fifty years ago, the 17th century samurai, Miyamoto Musashi showed the key to defeating the Peter Principle. He wrote,
“Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight”.
Heart and mind are feeling and thinking. Sight is direct observation and perception is intuition. The words “polish” and “sharpen” are especially significant. Polishing and sharpening were vital operations in the care of the Japanese sword. The sword was the soul of the Japanese warrior. Musashi tells us how to polish and sharpen the sword of the intellect. This is the instrument of all victories. Again we go back to training and education.
Indeed it will take some time to change the culture of the AFP. The most we can do is educate our officers, and the culture will naturally follow.
Training and doctrine development is something we can do today. Unlike operations, the fruits of doctrine are not immediate. They will only be realized years from today. Given our impatient results-right-away nature, it is easy to understand why some of us do not understand its value. Training and doctrines is in fact, our number one antidote for incompetence.
Gabriel, R A:.Military Incompetence,
Dixon N. F.:On the Psychology of Military Incompetence,
Huntington SP: The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations
Laurence Peter: The Peter Principle