Information, War and Responsibility

A friend pointed out that she thought it was interesting that as the technologies of communications got better from WWII to Viet Nam, that the military command structure got worse. I think her observation is valid. It doesn't seem to apply to other armies such a Britain. It seems to be a phenomenum peculiar to the American military. What is even more interesting, is how the American military studied itself and with even more technology fixed itself. They agknowledged their weaknesses, analyzed their strengths, and remade themselves. I'm sure there are some very detailed studies that were done at the War College, which will someday be made public, if they are not already, but the effect is available for all to see. The key seems to have been to train for leadership. The success in WWII was that every officer, commissioned and non-commissioned, was prepared to step up to the next level and take over should that man fall. Whoever could, would. Lead. To the group objective. They didn't usualy know where they were, or who was where. From a modern battlefield management standpoint, they were in a blackout condition. They knew they were headed for Berlin, and Tokyo, and everything else was ingeniuity and adaption.

Korea and moreso, Vietnam were controlled wars, an oxymoron. War, by definition, is uncontrolled. If there are rules of war, then let the first rule be, not to have war. War is the suspension of all rules, the ceaseation of all communication between the combatants. War becomes the only communication between the combatants. When war became partial, when it was only partly fought, then the individuals involved also be only partially involved. There other activities could be career building, smuggling, combat avoidance, whatever. When you really know what is going on, when you know your superiors aren't committed, then you know it's time to look out for old number one, yourself. You know they are. The increase in technical communication was overlayed with a simultaenous increase in personal awareness. Hypocrisy is hard to hide. When career officers want tours so they can get their "ticket punched", there is a problem with the grunts in the field who want to stay alive for a year to go home.

You can't half fight a war. The first rule of war is that there aren't any rules. George Bush had a sensory base of experience from which to make decisions. Everybody in his command string knew what war is like. They explicitly asked Saddam Hussain if he really, really, really wanted war. When he got it, it was total. The key was to return to WWII type leadership. Every officer and man had been trained to accept the responsibility of making battlefield decision. There are still questions about how willing the army is to accept failure as part of the learning process, but the real professionals who pulled off the Gulf War, gave their men responsibility and gave them a chance to succeed of to fail.


Leadership development has been a key to this new army. Responsibility is so wound up in leadership that they are inseperable. The authority to change and adapt to achieve sucess was also granted. Reality on the battlefield is a matter of sense. Smell, sight, feel, taste, touch. When you push the button that will destroy the dot on the screen, you hope it is an enemy. Sometimes that sixth sense, the sum of the other five, with a dash of luck, is all that keeps the finger off the trigger. Several times the finger pushed the button and they were friends. That happens in war. That is the ultimate responsibility. Even killing the enemy is killing. Killing friends is why the psychiatric wards get lots of business. Leadership gives real responsibility. A true leader takes it.

While I was thinking about these things I had a talk with my mother about her teaching experiences. She taught grade school for many years. For twelve of those years she taught first grade. First grade is essentialy learning how to read. She said that she felt best about the fact that she had never had to fail a child and that she had never had a child who didn't learn how to read. No TAS test. She could tell if they were learning. And if they weren't she would talk on of the faster students into helping them with extra drill and flashcards and whatever was needed. If they were really slow, and some were, she would double up on helpers. If they weren't learning it was appearant early. There was plenty of time. The quick learners weren't bored because they were busy teaching. And I just realized, while I was writing this, they were learning leadership skills.

One of my friends son has always been an outstanding student, and I asked her about his early school. She said that since he was a bright student, he was seperated out and put into a leadership class. What is wrong with this picture! If the exceptional students are seperated from their classmates who do they lead? A leader has to have followers. Leadership and followership are determined by the consensus of the participants. The trust of following, the responsibility of leading, the experience of helping and of being helped are gone when the so called "leaders" and seperated from the "followers". The chain is broken. The "leaders" are now simply peers. They can't learn to lead because they are all leaders, there are no followers. How did this happen?

The more I think about it the more I get the feeling that the public school system is in the throws of a "body count" crisis. Each symptom of failure is met with more rules from above, more administration, more control from outside the classroom. The teachers are pawns in a power struggle. A struggle to see who can be more sense-less. To introduce computers into these class rooms will be to create a disaster which will make the Viet Nam war look like a cub scout campout.

There are lots of people who know how to teach. Unfortuantely that is no longer a criteria. Everyone from the Supreme Court to the local church, including attornys, legislators, lobyists, politicians and experts are trying to tell the teacher how they should be teaching and requiring them to fill out forms and behave in a predetermined manner, indepent of who their students are or what they need. The only people who should be concerned about what goes on in the classroom are the teacher, the students, and their parents. Discpline is only a problem because the teacher can't.

I know one teacher (forth grade)who uses technolgy in the classroom in an innovative way. She has a cellular phone. Her own. At her school in Dallas there are only four phone lines. Two for administration and two for teachers. One of those is in the faculty lounge. Nothing like calling your geanycologist to discuss personal problems with the rest of the faculty listening. Anyway, the kids know that any threat to call their parents is mediated by the availabity of phone lines. If the teacher tells a student she will call their parents, the student knows it can't happen at least till lunch and probably not untill after school and maybe not at all today. Tomorrow is tomorrow. With a cellular in her purse, my friend can intimidate the most beligerent student. She can call NOW! In front of the whole class! She says the students see this as raw power. They cower.

What about the parents responsibity? That is an interesting question. It would seem to me that one of the parents most basic responsibility is to see that the child comes to school clothed and fed. If the school lets the parent abdicate that responsibility, then what is left? The school lunch program is justified on the premis that hungary kids can't learn. This is, of course, a true statement. So what? It should still be the parents responsibility to clothe and feed the child. If the parent has insufficient resources to achieve this then arrangement should be made. But the school can't take the responsibility and expect the parent to continue to be responsible for anything. "By the way school, the kid has a behavior problem, why don't you take care of that while your're feeding him."

As well meaning as the school lunch program might be, it is a disaster as a management tool to hold the parent accountable for their responsibilities in child rearing. So who is responsible? We have told the parents they aren't. The school says they aren't. The government say's they aren't, they only measure the lack of results. I think nobody is. Who lost the Viet Nam war? Who was responsible? Same fella. Nobody!

How can we fix it. Back to basics, fundamentals. Responsibility, Resources, Respect. The responsiblity lies with the children (they suffer the consequences directly), the parents, the teacher and their mutual community. The community provides the resources. And everybody respects the teachers ability to achieve the goal. If they don't respect the teachers ability they they fire him and get a teacher whom they can respect. Management 101. The courts can not second guess the teacher. The teacher must be protected from litigation in the same way we protect other servants of the public, soldier and legislators and elected officials. If the members of the Austin City Council who signed the agreement which tied the City of a Nuclear Power Plant for which the City's 16% interest now exceeds what was originally 100% of the cost than how can the courts hold a teacher responsible for trying to maintain order in the classroom. I know. They aren't the same. But in a way they are. The City Council is responsible to manage the city the best they can, without fear of lawsuit. Students use the threat of lawsuit to paralyze a teachers ability to maintain order in the classroom. If every citizen of the City could sue any council member, or former council member, for any loss they felt they suffered as a result of a council decision, it would paralyze city government. What is the difference? Both situations produce paralysis.

Bill Bottorff
May 22, 1996

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