The Devil and the Details
The American Thinker notices that Time Magazine's article, "How to Leave Iraq" is illustrated with a picture of a helicopter pulling a Stars and Stripes "A" out of Iraq. It is pretty dramatic in artistic conception, the only fly in the ointment being that the image is that of a Russian helicopter, an Mi-24 Hind. American Thinker expresses a certain disappointment.
Accompanying TIME/CNN's current online article by Michael Duffy entitled, "How to leave Iraq," and reportedly on the cover of the TIME print edition, is an illustration graphically demonstrating how limited these so-called news organizations' knowledge of the American military happens to be. The "last helicopter out" a vision harking back to Vietnam and beloved of the Mainstream Media, in this case just happens to be Russian, an MI-24 Hind gunship, according to the folks over at Blackfive, a leading milblog where contributors tend to know what they are talking about when it comes to things military, unlike the mainstream Media weenies.
The blooper is no big deal in itself. But I suspect it comes from the same circles where all tracked vehicles are known as "tanks", all automatic rifles are described as "machineguns", all aerial ordnance is described as "cluster bombs" and the general idea of warfare is one in which stupid, yelling men advance shooting from the hip at everything that moves. Amazingly enough none of these shortcomings in knowledge are regarded as disqualifying anyone from discoursing on grand strategic concepts -- which is what the Time article is about.
Such ignorance, rather than undermining the authority of a strategic commentator, is sometimes regarded as actual proof of a wider mind, unlumbered by the low tradesman's obsession with machinery, technics, calibers, ranges, doctrines, history and whatnot. Ever since the Great War "proved" that professional military men were 'donkeys who led lions', a substantial percentage of Western intellectuals wouldn't be caught dead with more than a smattering of knowledge about things military. To know any more might create suspicions of stupidity; a first-rate mind could never interest itself for long with such dumb muck. While the actual rote operation of warfare could be left to the tradesmen, there arose the belief that the really important questions had to be left to the unfettered, liberally educated mind able to see problems in the round. Nowhere was this better expressed than in Clemenceau's dictum, "war is too important to be left to the generals."
Yet it is sobering to remember that before the Great War, the reason Joffre, Haig and the other Great War generals possessed such authority -- Joffre was absolute dictator at the front, even when the front was on French territory -- was the reaction to the catastrophes produced by an aristocratic officer corps. Before society learned to mistrust the professionals they first learned to mistrust the amateurs. So great was the disillusionment with the amateur leadership of the social upper crust that the safety of the nation could never be entrusted to them, but to the professionals. Only after the Great War would the attitudes turn again.
Up until the 19th century officers bought and sold their commissions in the British Army. It had the inestimable virtue of preventing the "wrong sort of people" from becoming officers. But the system had disadvantages in practice. Chiefly, it invited incompetence.
The worst potential effects of the system were mitigated during intensive conflicts such as the Napoleonic Wars by heavy casualties among senior ranks (which ensured that the vacant commissions were exchanged for their face value only), and the possibility of promotion to brevet army ranks for deserving officers. An officer might be a subaltern or Captain in his regiment, but might hold a higher local rank if attached to other units or allied armies, or might be given a higher Army rank by the Commander-in-Chief, or the Monarch, in recognition of meritorious service or a notable feat of bravery....
The malpractices associated with the purchase of commissions reached their height in the long peace between the Napoleonic Wars and the Crimean War, when Lord Cardigan paid £40,000 for his commission. It was in the Crimea that it became most obvious that the system of purchase led to incompetent leadership, such as that which resulted in the Charge of the Light Brigade. An inquiry (the Commission on Purchase) was established in 1855, and commented unfavourably on the institution. The practice of Purchase of Commissions was finally abolished as part of the Cardwell reforms which made many changes to the structure and procedures of the Army.
The aristocrats confidently believed their inherent superiority would win out. It would be "all right on the day". Of course it very often was not, and the dull technicians often beat the men who fancied themselves the first rate minds. One thread that runs through strategic history has been to what extent the amateurs and professionals should play off against each other. And it's reasonable to think that they both need each other. This debate was renewed in Vietnam when the "Best and the Brightest" saw fit to run the war without the old-fashioned concept of victory; when Lyndon Johnson swore that not an outhouse could be bombed without his specific approval. When national leadership became obsessed with "sending signals", as if the Armed Forces were nothing but a woodfire and blanket to be used for communicating with people who didn't speak English. If the Great War showed that the professionals did not always have the answers, Vietnam illustrated that the amateurs didn't always either.
It isn't necessary to be able to tell an MI-24 from a UH-60. Yet given that intellectual superiority is never to be taken for granted, it helps, ceteris paribus to know the distinction. It's a safe bet that al-Qaeda can tell the difference.