Bernard Schriever – “Black Saturday”

In his book A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon (2010) author Neil Sheehan describes the life and work of Bernard Schriever, who is considered to be the father of the American nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Schriever and his military and civilian colleagues believed firmly that if both the United States and the Soviet Union possessed these weapons of mass destruction the probability of them being used actually would be decreased.

Schriever had to overcome strong institutional resistance within the U.S. Air Force whose leadership was convinced that manned aircraft﹣strategic long-range bombers﹣was the only way to maintain a credible deterrent against the Soviet Union.

Through telling the story of Bernard Schriever and the development of the American ballistic missile program from the end of Second World War up to the mid-1960s Sheehan tells the history of the Cold War, which would last up until the 1990s with the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the unification of West and East Germany, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, and the freedom of Eastern Europe from Russian domination.

In a 2010 television interview (Booknotes on C-SPAN) Sheehan contrasted Schriever with his American-born military colleagues, Generals Paul Harkins and William Westmoreland, both who had overall command of U.S. forces in the Vietnam War.

Sheehan had been a young war correspondent in Vietnam for United Press International (UPI), later with the New York Times. As told in his book A Bright Shining Lie (1989), which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, the American generalship during the Vietnam War was unwilling to accept that America was losing that war.

General Schriever, according to Sheehan‘s research, made clear time and again to the members of this organization, whether military or civilian, that he wanted timely and accurate reports on the problems the program was experiencing, and was far less interested in the progress made.

So-called progress reports had become common within the U.S. military after the Second World War, and according to Sheehan, symptomatic for an institution unwilling to face what was not working.

Schriever would tell his subordinates that he would never fire anyone for failing, but instead for failing to inform him immediately of problems. For Schriever, as stated by Sheehan, success would take care of itself if one focused on solving the problems at hand. Go to minutes 24:10 to 26:50.

Bernard Adolph Schriever was born in 1910 in the German port city of Bremen. His father was an engineer. They immigrated to the U.S. only months before the U.S. entered the First World War in 1917.

Schriever grew up in New Braunfels, Texas, an area mostly populated by German immigrants. Read about his fascinating life in Wikipedia

U.S. Army 22-100

How a society fundamentally defines the everyday working relationship between leader and led – between two levels of hierarchy – is imbedded in how that society defends itself. In its military.

If that working relationship does not function well, if it fails, not only is the respective mission in jeopardy, the very lives of the soldiers are at risk. Defining and managing the line between strategy and tactics is in the military context a matter of life and death.

The American military tradition in practice involves a close working relationship between leader and led, between strategy and tactics.

The U.S. Army Field Manual 22-100 states: „Leadership is the process of influencing others to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. Purpose gives soldiers a reason why they should do difficult things under dangerous, stressful circumstances. Direction shows what must be done. Through motivation, leaders give soldiers the will to do everything they are capable of doing to accomplish a mission. Effective leaders use both direct and indirect influence to lead.“

Mission Command. The U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command Pamphlet 525-3-0 states: „Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based on mission orders. Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent.“

Army Leadership Doctrine: U.S. Army Field Manual 6-22, Part 3 describes a direct leader as someone who “influences others person-to- person …. instructs, recognizes achievement, and encourages hard work.”

A direct leader carries out the goals of higher-level commanders on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute basis. Because higher-level leaders cannot dictate the specific actions that should be taken in every possible situation, direct leaders must act independently. However, their actions, and those of their subordinates, always support the commander’s intent:

“At the direct level, a platoon leader knows what a battalion commander wants done, not because the lieutenant was briefed personally, but because the lieutenant understands the commander’s intent two levels up. The intent creates a critical link between the organizational and direct leadership levels.”

Section 7-26 distinguishes between long-term, strategic intent – which is a written statement indicating the goals of the operation – and day-to-day intent, which is communicated more informally from the direct leader to his subordinates. “Leaders in command positions use commander’s intent to convey purpose. The commander’s intent is a clear, concise statement of what the force must do and the conditions the force must meet to succeed with respect to the enemy, terrain, and desired end state.”

It states further: “Besides purpose and motivation, (direct) leaders influence also consists of direction. Direction deals with how a goal, task, or mission is to be achieved. Subordinates do not need to receive guidance on the details of execution in all situations. The skilled leader will know when to provide detailed guidance and when to focus only on purpose, motivation, or inspiration.”

Omar M. Bradley, an American four-star general during the Second World War, summarized the relationship between soldier and non-commissioned officer in the following way: “In battle, the American soldier wants to know that the job is going to be done right, with no unnecessary casualties. The non-commissioned officer is supposed to be the best soldier in the platoon and he is supposed to know how to perform all the duties expected of him. The American soldier expects his sergeant to be able to teach him how to do his job. And he expects even more from his officers.”

In addition to teaching and directing their subordinates, direct leaders must constantly supervise the work of their soldiers. FM 6-22 points out that effective supervision requires leaders to get to know their subordinates very well. “Proper supervision is essential to ensuring mission accomplishment to standard. It is an integral part of caring for soldiers. The better they know their unit and subordinates, the more they can strike a balance for finding the details.”

Although constantly „looking over their shoulders” is not something that American direct leaders should do, they are expected to tell subordinates both what is to be accomplished (mission intent) and how it is to be accomplished (instructions). The detailed instructions direct leaders give to subordinates is [not are? The instructions; plural.] a key hallmark of American military leadership.

Efficient and inefficient

Many of the most popular brands of children’s toys in the U.S. are wooden toys manufactured by fairly small companies. Compared to mass-produced plastic toys from China, they are inefficient to produce and more expensive to ship. Quality and design is the focus, not speed or quantity.

American-made tools: The websites of popular American toolmakers such as Snap On and Craftsman include many statements about non-negotiable product quality and safety but make no mention of efficiency. Production of American products often maximizes quality and safety while giving much less attention to efficiency of production.

U.S. health care: The delivery of health care in the United States is perhaps the best example of disregard for efficiency in exchange for safe, high-quality output. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, „about 30 percent of health spending in 2009 – roughly $750 billion – was wasted on unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs, fraud, and other problems.“

The reasons for this waste are complex, but the underlying logic is that in the health care sector (and in most other industries), Americans view a safe, comfortable, and positive output as the primary goal of their activities; therefore, efficiency is often ignored.

U.S. military: The U.S. military spends vast sums of money to achieve the strategic goals of the nation. For example, it costs the U.S. an estimated $1 million dollars to outfit a single soldier in Afghanistan for a year. The U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion dollars fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The key focus of military operation is achieving the strategic objective (or output); efficiency and costs are rarely discussed. If they are discussed, they are always secondary to achieving the mission.

Federal hiring process: President Obama signed a memorandum in February 2010 ordering the Office of Personnel Management to streamline the federal hiring process. Although implementing this order will vary across different agencies, the act symbolizes a concerted effort to add efficiency to what was previously an incredibly slow and ineffective process.

Hotel chains: Many companies cannot focus exclusively on output while neglecting efficiency. Hotel chains have started to encourage customers to conserve water (thereby increasing efficiency) by re-using towels and not changing linens every day. These campaigns are often marketed as „eco-friendly.“  They are aimed at lowering costs and increasing the company’s efficiency. The output must be of good and uniform quality, but if the company does not operate efficiently, then it will not be profitable.

Assembly line: With the assembly line Henry Ford revolutioned the automotive industry and the way products are produced in almost every industry. This new manufacturing process made building cars more efficient. Because of the increase in efficiency, the cost to produce a car went down and when production costs were lowered, so was the retail price of the cars. Today, almost all products – from faucets to airplanes – are produced in some form of assembly line.

Going on Operations

U.S. military leaders have a long tradition of showcasing themselves as both capable decision makers at the strategic level and capable soldiers at the tactical level. One famous example is a widely published photograph of General Douglas MacArthur charging through the ocean surf during a World War II beach landing in the Philippines. This scene depicts him as a leader who leads from the front.

Equally famous from World War II involved General Dwight Eisenhower, later U.S. President. On the eve of the D-Day invasion, Eisenhower went to meet with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division who would be leading the airborne assault.

In his book My Three Years with Eisenhower Captain Harry C. Butcher writes, “We saw hundreds of paratroopers with blackened and grotesque faces, packing up for the big hop and jump. Ike wandered through them, stepping over, packs, guns, and a variety of equipment such as only paratroop people can devise, chinning with this and that one. All were put at ease.“

A contemporary example of a strategic-level leader is General Stanley McChrystal. In June 2006 McChrystal’s team successfully hunted down Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, one of the most wanted men in Iraq. McChrystal reportedly accompanied his men on the mission to retrieve al-Zarqawi’s body. He frequently accompanied soldiers under his leadership on operations.

Truman fires MacArthur

The History channel online describes well „perhaps the most famous civilian-military confrontation in the history of the United States.“

In April 1951 President Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur. On April 11 Truman addressed the nation. He defended his overall policy in Korea. “It is right for us to be in Korea.” Nevertheless, he explained, it “would be wrong—tragically wrong—for us to take the initiative in extending the war… Our aim is to avoid the spread of the conflict.” 

MacArthur returned to the United States to a hero’s welcome. Parades were held in his honor, and he was asked to speak before Congress. Public opinion was strongly against Truman’s actions, but the president stuck to his decision without regret or apology. 

Eventually, the American people began to understand that his policies and recommendations might have led to a massively expanded war in Asia.

When not to obey

„Sir, the King of Prussia has made you an officer of the Prussian Army, so that you know when not to obey an order!“ Prince Friedrich Karl to a Major in the Prussian Army (1870)

„ … in those cases, in which the junior-officer comes to the conclusion that his commander is no longer in a position to judge the situation, and where his order has been rendered inadequate by events, it is the expressed responsibility and duty of that junior-officer to either redefine or ignore the order.“ Prussian officer training manual of 1906

MacArthur vs. Nimitz

During World War II, the two American military leaders in charge of operations in the Pacific could not have been more different in their personalities and leadership styles. Both General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz were in charge of two different sections of the Pacific, answering to no one but the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They both had incredible success, both in their individual and joint campaigns. Yet, only one of these men became an American celebrity, admired for his amazing leadership skills.

MacArthur was a showman, fond of strong gestures and motivating speeches. Occasionally accused of being a megalomaniac, Macarthur believed very strongly that the Pacific fleet should be united under his authority. He expected his officers to inform him about everything, and he expected his orders to be carried out precisely as he specified them. His opinions on his officers’ advice and reporting abilities are shown very clearly in two of his quotes:

“I realize that advice is worth what it costs – that is, nothing. Expect only five percent of an intelligence report to be accurate. The trick of a good commander is to isolate the five percent.”

On the other hand, Nimitz was said to be a team player, who relied on his staff’s expertise to successfully manage themselves and to provide useful advice when needed. Naval historian Robert Love wrote that Nimitz “had the ability to pick able subordinates and the courage to let them do their jobs without interference. He molded disparate personalities into an effective team.”

Nimitz was a German-Texan, born and raised in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Führen mit Auftrag – Requirements

Führen mit Auftrag – very loosely translated as leading by mission – is the foundational leadership principle in the German armed forces, and has been since the early 1800s. It has the following nine requirements.

Training: Führen mit Auftrag requires well-trained troops who ideally have been fighting together over a longer period of time. Soldiers should be viewed as masters of their craft. This includes not only expertise in using their weapons, but moreso their overall behaviour when in battle.

Self-confidence and cohesion: The entire group must possess a high degree of self-confidence. Every member, from enlisted soldier to the highest ranking officer, must view themselves as an expert at what they do. The officers should be proud to lead such troops. They should identify themselves with their troops and not have an eye on their next promotion.

Acceptance: Officers should accept soldiers who take different approaches as long as the overall goal is reached. Officers should not get too involved on the tactical level, thus allowing soldiers to develop their skills. Too early, too much involvement on the tactical level frustrates self-leading soldiers.

Trust: Officers and soldiers need to trust each other. Officers cover for their soldiers when things go wrong. Mistakes are either not punished or at least not immediately. Common thinking and acting is critical. It is based on common training.

Information: Detailed information is important, especially explaining the strategic thinking behind individual missions. Soldiers need to understand the big picture, the broader context in which they are operating. Officers take seriously input provided by the tactical level, thereby encouraging soldiers to think and act independently.

Few orders: Commanding officers state only the mission, provide necessary resources and makes sure that participating organizations coordinate their activities. Everything else is left to the tactical level, which makes their own decisions about how to complete the mission. Leadership is decentralized.

Motivation: Commanders at the front know best the strengths and weaknesses of their troops, and can best judge the situation. Allowing for independent decision making and action strengthens motivation and morale among the troops. They identify more closely with the overall mission, view themselves as subjects and not objects to be commanded here and there.

Deviation from mission: If the situation on the ground has changed, it is expected of officers and their troops to make the necessary adjustments immediately, even without having informed their next level officer.

Situation analysis: Officers and soldiers at all levels are expected to constantly reassess the situation. What is our overall mission? What are we expected to achieve? Has the situation changed in any way which requires of us to modify our approach? If so, in what way and when?

Führen mit Auftrag – Elements

Führen mit Auftrag – very loosely translated as leading by mission – is the foundational leadership principle in the German armed forces, and has been since the early 1800s. It has six key elements:

1. Decision making: Those with the most expertise should be involved. The team analyzes the Auftrag (mission), the parameters of the situation, and the possible options to complete the mission. This is the basis for making the optimal decision and for maintaining motivation and morale within the team.

2. The Auftrag describes the goal: The core task of military leadership is to issue well-defined Aufträge, missions. The focus is on defining the end state, not the specific action taken to reach it. Define the goal clearly, allow as much tactical freedom as possible. The path to the goal is best defined by those at the front. A clear Auftrag allows the tactical level to make necessary adjustments due to situational changes independent of their leadership.

3. Context and boundary conditions: The Auftrag includes a description of the mission‘s boundary conditions. The tactical level needs to understand how its mission fits into the broader strategic picture. They should be informed and understand the strategic thinking two level above their own. This allows the tactical level to make independent decisions should next-level leadership not be reachable.

4. Resources: Critical to mission completion is providing the tactical level with all necessary resources. Anything less is not only unfair, it threatens team morale and the mission itself. Capable commanders do their best to prevent a gap between mission and resources.

5. Coordination of forces: If the Auftrag requires action by several units, disciplines, organizations, then it is critical to clarify lines of authority and of communication. Overlaps should be avoided, areas of integrated approaches well defined.

6. Communications and reporting: Information flow needs to be set both on the tactical level and between the tactical and strategic levels. Progress reports are critical not only within military units, but also between the military and their civilian commanders.