Quote of the Day

“There are basically two ways to fight the US military: asymmetrically and stupid.”

HR McMaster

Little thing that interests me here. McMasters is, in that picture, wearing only 6 ribbons. Which is about what you might expect on a seasoned British officer (campaign medals etc without any gallantry awards, around and about these days, no?) but that’s a pittance for a septic. Gongs get handed out for learning how to fold the paper before wiping.

So what’s the story? Does he have some unusually low number of gongs for an American officer of his age and rank? Is he wearing some special short list to not show off? What?

OK, looking at Wikipedia he’s got a much longer list than he’s wearing in the picture. So, what’s the story there? You only wear the important ones with the posh uniform?

49 comments on “Quote of the Day

  1. Current US Army custom, though not regulation, is that you can choose to wear only the top 6 ribbons, but based on the regulation that you can wear whichever you want unless a senior officer commands otherwise, as long as they are in good order and in the correct order of precedence. Generals tend to do just top 6 because otherwise they’d be backed up over their shoulders or down to their knees.

  2. He could be right, but the last time the US Army fought a nation where the soldiers were fanatical and unlimited in number (Korea) they didn’t always win.. They didn’t always win in N. Africa, nor in the Ardennes, and the enemy there was a much smaller nation, relatively exhausted and fighting on multiple fronts.

    IN truth, there are three ways, the third being “wait until the Americans elect another twat as President.”

  3. That article didn’t make me think what a great military thinker he is (and that may be down to the nature of the article not the General) I respect a guy that rises to that rank. But everyone of those fallacies sounded like reasons to give me more resources, and let me conduct total war.

  4. Total war has its attractions. Not least a quick win.
    As has been shown in Afghanistan and Iraq a quick win is not always optimal.

  5. Just as a note, for comparison with a UK Lt General, that’s two ‘real’ medals – in our parlance an MC (he was a Captain, so would have probably wouldn’t have got the DSO) and a QCB and bar (or MD); a Purple Heart – no UK equivalent; a bunch of honours that are sort of the equivalent to some Order of the Bath and Order of the British Empire combination (possibly one at a K); a bunch of guff only the US and insane commies do; and the “I wuzz there” medals.

    The last including ones that we aren’t allowed to wear because there is a UK equivalent campaign. Yanks get to wear both the US and the foreign medals. So he gets the South-West Asia medal (and three stars), the Saudi and the Kuwaiti gongs. We (I) just wear the Op Granby one (if I was a Yank, I would only qualify for two campaign stars on the S-E Asia medal, as I came home before the end of the war.)

  6. “Gongs get handed out for learning how to fold the paper before wiping.”
    Maybe not. Apparently, Americans scrunch and rub, whereas Brits fold and wipe.
    (Maybe I saw that here. It’s the sort of factoid that one might stumble across here.)

  7. Martin,

    Every now and then a soldier becomes self aware and thinks is it worth all this bloody effort. Then they kind of re-wire themselves to say yes, but it was the wrong kind of effort. That seems to be where this general is. Not saying he’s wrong it just seems a tad convenient that his arguments tend toward what he’d really like to be able to do as a general.

  8. ‘He could be right, but the last time the US Army fought a nation where the soldiers were fanatical and unlimited in number (Korea) they didn’t always win.. They didn’t always win in N. Africa, nor in the Ardennes, and the enemy there was a much smaller nation, relatively exhausted and fighting on multiple fronts.’

    No-one always wins when fighting a nation where the soldiers are fanatical and unlimited in number. N Africa – the terrain played its part (against men who knew it better) and in the Ardennes – it’s hard fighting in forests against an enemy which is in superior armour and trying to keep you out of his homeland. They still won, mind.

  9. In their Serbian war, Operation Protect Slick Willie, they didn’t seem to hit much successfully except civilians and the Chinese Embassy. They still won though.

    In the first Iraq war they won easily but stopped a couple of days too early, before they’d completed their “turkey shoot”. That may have been because Bush the Elder didn’t want to destroy Iraq but to retain it as a counterbalance to Iran.

    Otherwise they’ve won nowt of consequence since The War.

  10. Hallowed Be,

    Every now and then, a [insert profession] becomes self aware and thinks is it worth all this bloody effort.

    That works with any moderately stressful profession. We hear it all the time from doctors in the NHS.

  11. Andrew M,
    Yes, that’s true. But when a Dog of war reaches this point that then comes up with a re-arranged argument for his own slipping, i’m even more cynical.

  12. That may have been because Bush the Elder didn’t want to destroy Iraq but to retain it as a counterbalance to Iran.

    No, it was because the coalition would have disintegrated the minute they crossed the Iraqi border. I have no idea whether Bush wanted to continue, or didn’t, but it would have been them and us and as all of our logistics was coming through Saudi, that was non-ideal in a very oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit way.

  13. When has an American army ever defeated in a battle or campaign an opponent that was its equal or larger in men and material?

    The Germans managed this multiple times throughout WW2, the Japanese also managed it in WW2, the Russians certainly fought superior forces to a standstill, the British have managed it plenty of times through history (tho not so much in the 20th century – the Battle of Britain possibly, and Wavells North Africa campaign). But have the Americans ever managed to win a battle by means other than overwhelming superiority of numbers and machinery? Possibly during the War of Independence? Other than that ????

  14. That’s rather the explanation of the American military’s way of thinking. They intend, expect and insist upon turning up in massive over supply in order to ensure that they are just going to win whatever.

  15. Well thats hardly fair. At least the British gave the fuzzy wuzzies a chance by only turning up in lesser numbers, although better armed of course…………

  16. Otherwise they’ve won nowt of consequence since The War.

    Korea was a good effort, particularly holding the perimeter around Pusan and the landing at Incheon. Didn’t win them the war though admittedly.

  17. When has an American army ever defeated in a battle or campaign an opponent that was its equal or larger in men and material?

    Lots in Korea: vastly outnumbered in terms of men and material, but won plenty of battles. They kicked the absolute shit out of the North Koreans after Incheon, only for the Chinese to enter the fray.

    Not the army, but the US Marines and US Navy was outmanned and outgunned in the Pacific by the Japanese, particularly around Guadalcanal IIRC.

    They’d certainly have been outmanned and outgunned by the Soviets if it had come to that.

  18. the Russians certainly fought superior forces to a standstill

    Yes, by the simple application of more men and materials.

    But have the Americans ever managed to win a battle by means other than overwhelming superiority of numbers and machinery?

    Definitely: against the Imperial Japanese Navy.

  19. “Against the Imperial Japanese Navy.”

    Doesn’t that come down to one incredible piece of fluke at Midway? A couple of squadrons of dive bombers catching all 4 Japanese carriers in mid refuelling and thus sitting ducks?

  20. Doesn’t that come down to one incredible piece of fluke at Midway? A couple of squadrons of dive bombers catching all 4 Japanese carriers in mid refuelling and thus sitting ducks?

    Some luck, yes. But a strong dose of luck is present in most military victories. At Guadalcanal – a much longer campaign – their seamanship was overall a bit better than their opponent’s. This book is excellent on the subject.

  21. @Jim

    ‘When has an American army ever defeated in a battle or campaign an opponent that was its equal or larger in men and material? ‘

    They managed it against us, but that was a while back. But joking aside, why would they want to Jim? Warfare is not supposed to be fair. The idea is to be bigger and stronger than your enemy, and kill him without so much as a scratch on yourself. see eg Battle of 73 Easting

  22. What kind of enemy refuels all his ships together, at the same time? You wouldn’t stop all your tanks and start refuelling them at once, or get all your infantry to strip and clean their rifles at the same time.

  23. “What kind of enemy refuels all his ships together”

    They we refuelling the aircraft, on the carriers, not the ships themselves. Hence how they were caught virtually defenceless, no fighters available to be launched, huge amounts of fuel and munitions stored in the open. One stray bomb, that couldn’t sink the ship in normal circumstances, could reduce it to a blazing hulk.

  24. “As has been shown in Afghanistan and Iraq a quick win is not always optimal”: not when it’s a quick win that’s just a temporary phase before the final defeat.

  25. “No, it was because the coalition would have disintegrated the minute they crossed the Iraqi border”: no, it was Bush’s shout; his generals were opposed to stopping fighting so soon, and they’d have been even more concerned with logistics than he was.

    You may be confusing this decision with mad bollocks about “on to Baghdad”.

  26. “So what’s the story? Does he have some unusually low number of gongs for an American officer of his age and rank? ”

    McMasters has, most of his career, pissed off every senior officer in the US Army for exactly the right reasons.

    The fact he has made it this far, and that Trump has pick him as NSA is quite simply amazing.

    This is the very best anyone could have hoped for from Trump.

  27. Martin

    “Total war has its attractions. Not least a quick win.
    As has been shown in Afghanistan and Iraq a quick win is not always optimal.”

    The purpose of war is to destroy your enemies will. Destruction of his tanks is simply a means to that end.

  28. Hallowed Be
    “I respect a guy that rises to that rank. ”

    Your respect is misplaced. You respect them for their achievements, not rank. Getting to General in the US Army is an arse kissing contest, with only very rare exceptions.

    “But everyone of those fallacies sounded like reasons to give me more resources, and let me conduct total war.”

    Here is a fun challenge for you;
    Show us a limited war the US has won.

  29. @Surreptitious Evil, February 22, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Yanks get to wear both the US and the foreign medals. So he gets the South-West Asia medal (and three stars), the Saudi and the Kuwaiti gongs. We (I) just wear the Op Granby one

    You have my most sincere respect Sir.

  30. @dearieme, February 22, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    In the first Iraq war they won easily but stopped a couple of days too early, before they’d completed their “turkey shoot”.

    I still vividly remember that. It was like a computer game – AH-64s’ crew each going for highest score with almost zero risk.

  31. At least the British gave the fuzzy wuzzies a chance by only turning up in lesser numbers, although better armed of course…

    Whatever happens, we have got
    The Maxim gun, and they have not.
    Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc (1870-1953)

  32. it was Bush’s shout; his generals were opposed to stopping fighting so soon, and they’d have been even more concerned with logistics than he was.

    You may be confusing this decision with mad bollocks about “on to Baghdad”.

    Sighs. Yes, it was GHWB’s ‘shout’. Yes, some of the generals were keen on continuing to fold up a defeated enemy. It’s what they were taught to do on the German plains.

    I wasn’t in theatre by that point but for odd reasons, I was back in “the loop” (after far too little leave, most of which was spent hideously ill from a bad reaction to the bubonic plague vaccine. Still, better that the alternative.) Chapter 23 of Schwarzkopf’s “It doesn’t take a Hero” is worth reading for the unclass version.

    YMMV.

  33. Tim W – the US teaches its commanders to study military subjects. They will have read Clausewitz and Jomini.
    A battle uses up fuel and munitions like crazy. Every army needs to stockpile masses of material and fuel as close to the action as possible.
    There are methods of invading a country by seizing an airport with airborne troops then bringing in supplies and troops by air on an ongoing basis but its extremely inefficient compared to seizing a port and offloading ships for the material and fuel.

    During Iraq War IV (which US often refers to as Iraq War II) the British forces were known for scrounging gear and supplies from the Americans. There is a saying:
    Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.

    Without the supplies to hand then military force is a mob of people in nice uniforms sat around playing cards. It cannot defend itself never mind project force elsewhere without supplies.

  34. Is not there a possibility that the loss of prime genetic material in WW2 and to a lesser extent later has weakened the USA determination when it comes to war.
    And then using the military as a social experiment would not help.
    On the other undamaged China and maybe plus Russia would be another thing.

  35. On the other [hand?] undamaged China and maybe plus Russia would be another thing.

    I find it really hard to see how either China or Russia would be considered as “undamaged” post WW2, particularly as compared to the USA. Perhaps you could elaborate?

  36. — “At least the British gave the fuzzy wuzzies a chance by only turning up in lesser numbers, although better armed of course…”

    It was a viciously sharp slice of mango, wasn’t it sir.

  37. @Jim

    Yes, weird mental lapse there by me. I did know that, though I must admit that naval warfare isn’t my speciality. But the basic point remains if you switch it from ships to aircraft!

  38. David Moore
    “You respect them for their achievements, not rank.” Well there is that. Another reason why he might need a war: to find out how good a general he is. Quite a common one that.

    “But everyone of those fallacies sounded like reasons to give me more resources, and let me conduct total war.”

    “Here is a fun challenge for you; Show us a limited war the US has won.”

    ooh.. i might struggle with that. ..(I’ve heard some small ones like the pig war) . But the point really is not getting in the situation of being the world’s policeman. Because in that role no resources can ever be enough. They talk about libya being a fail. So what? It’s Libya and nothing you can do will turn it into springfield.

  39. Why does anyone here critique the McMasters quote as if he were referring to historical wars? What does the performance of the US military of the 1940s have to do with the US military of 2017?

  40. McMaster has one gong which shows valour in the face of the enemy; the Silver Star. A decoration roughly equivalent to our Military Cross. He was also wounded in combat, which netted him the Purple Heart. That’s the equivalent of our wound stripe, which we haven’t issued since WWII.

    All of the rest of his fruit salad are participation trophies. But that’s the Yanks for you.

    All that said, if you’re a Lt-Gen with the MC, and probably also a KCB and a couple of military BE gongs, you’d be prime meat for C(I)GS.

    He is, in fact, eminently qualified for the position and it’s just a shame The Donald has taken so long to get there.

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