The United States Marine Corps yesterday fired - or requested resignations of - two Major-Generals found responsible for the successful attack on Bastion this time last year. Despite news outlets saying that this is especially rare, the US military (and particularly the USMC) actually has form here: Officers at field grade and above were often removed from command posts during WW2 and Vietnam if found to have under-performed operationally. In recent years, though perhaps less frequent (I haven't calculated the stats so cannot say), there have been similar removals such as that of Col. Joe Dowdy during the invasion of Iraq, and though under somewhat different circumstances, the very public removal of Gen. Stan McChrystal. Moreover, as has been discussed elsewhere on this site, the US are much more inclined to be open with their censure than we are.
Despite what is widely becoming recognised as a series of operational and military advice failings on both TELIC and HERRICK between 2004-2008, I still cannot think of an example of public censure or overt consequences being applied to any Senior officers in the British military. There is at least one very Senior officer at present whom many of his peers have openly, by name, in print, accused of serious command failings in 2006-2007. But this also extends to a lower level. I remember hearing a first-hand account of an OC on a HERRICK some years ago who consistently made command decisions that needlessly put his blokes at risk, such as would have seen a Platoon Commander fired or removed from post, combined with worryingly idiotic behaviour such as habitually firing his pistol from his vehicle in 200-300m contacts. Initially I was skeptical until I heard this story confirmed not only by another from that unit, but also by a good friend who was in the unit which took over from them. Last I heard, this OC is now a CO. Why do we find it so difficult to identify and get rid of these people?
Traditionally, I believe our arguments for not firing (particularly Senior) officers have been some mish-mash of letting people learn from mistakes; reputational protection; not wanting to damage lower ranks morale; and plain "just not how we do things, old boy!". There may be other reasons, and I may be misconstruing some of these, after all they are hardly published in doctrine or QRs which tend to hold that any soldier or officer making a serious error is held accountable. But these are the various answers I have heard around the houses when the question is occasionally raised conversationally. I would be happy to hear any corrections or additions.
These answers are also obvious bollocks. We are all aware that APC increasingly run a zero defects promotion policy, and some senior Generals have bemoaned the "institutional ordinariness of my kind" that this produces [Lt Gen Sir Grahame Lamb, an essay in British Generals in Blair's Wars]. Furthermore, any pre-2006 pretensions that we had of being more agile, intellectually sharp and capable of change than the US military have firmly been shot down, as Gen Sir Nick Parker stated in this IISS debate: collectively we do not act like an organisation which is primarily concerned about letting leaders learn from mistakes.
Reputational protection is a curious argument: in the same Lamb essay quoted above, he cites two key elements of Generalship being character - which he defines as living up to the responsibility of command - and competence which is self-explanatory. To my mind, the reputation of the USMC is better served by them collectively admitting fault, holding those who claim overall responsibility actually responsible (as opposed to firing the guard commander), holding them to a basic standard of competence expected of any junior soldier, and those people being willing to take it on the chin. The inverse, where mistakes are clearly made but nobody is ever seen to be accountable, is unfortunately where the British Army seems to be. I would suggest it does not enhance our reputation.
Accordingly, the idea that this preserves the morale of lower ranks is palpable rubbish. Junior soldiers and officers are often held to account for misdemeanors, and it is rarely anything other than public given the comparative size and rumour capacity of Battalion-sized units. They understand the concept, and consider it bastard unfair if more senior people do not get treated the same way. In a direct comparison to this case, soldiers found asleep on stag in Afghanistan can, should, and have been immediately removed from post, tried and sent to Colchester. Treating officers by the same standards does more than just satisfy the passing bloodlust of the arena spectators: it is a demonstrable commitment by the Army that our V&S of Integrity and Professionalism are more than just words. Most of all, it demonstrates that the Army tries to be fair, regardless of rank. Any officer in this Army who genuinely thinks that the majority of soldiers would suffer a morale hit by seeing senior officers held accountable for their actions should be removed from post on the grounds of mental incapability and delusion.
Finally, clearly it is "just not how we do things", but despite eternal debates such as the Up/In/Down/Out question, how we have done things before is not necessarily the best guide to how we should do things in future. If you disagree, feel free to draw a musket, red coat and rough-spun blanket the next time you deploy. So my two questions are simple:
Why don't we remove more Officers from post?
Is it about time we started?
I agree, shame you couldn't swear more often, get rid of the FLUB,s