Consider a very theoretically simple form of organization: The infantry brigade (here’s a handy org chart). Let’s keep the math simple: ten soldiers in a squad (led by a sergeant), four squads in a platoon (led by a lieutenant), 45 guys in total. We don’t have to worry about “organizational mission” or anything like that, because the platoon’s mission is whatever the company commander tells it to do. The leaders — the lieutenant and his platoon sergeants — should lead “down and across.” That is, the sergeants should be mainly concerned with the soldiers in their squads (“down”), but also on the same page as the other squad sergeants (“across”). The lieutenant should mainly be concerned with his sergeants (though on the same page as the other platoons in the company).
However, and crucially: The next-higher leader should also have half an eye gazing one level lower. The lieutenant should rely on his platoon sergeants, but not completely. He’s in the field with all 44 other guys. That’s a small-enough group that he should have a pretty good sense of how things are going with the entire platoon. Even if all four sergeants agree that the platoon is fine, the lieutenant should have sufficient powers of observation and judgment to decide that the platoon is not fine. He shouldn’t micro-manage — getting low-level stuff done is what NCOs are for — but the platoon leader who relies only on the reports of his sergeants is, pretty much by definition, a bad platoon leader…
…or a good one, depending on who’s doing the judging. Because, of course, while leaders should lead across and down, they also have to think UP. A platoon commander also has to have some idea of what his company commander sees, and at least something of a handle on how his CO thinks. It’s pretty likely that, in action, the platoon commander will learn something that the CO doesn’t know, and that would substantially change the CO’s thinking if he knew it. The good platoon commander not only recognizes this information — often a significant accomplishment in itself — but knows the best way to present it to the CO, such that it fits in with the commander’s information and thinking.
The problem, of course, is that the company CO is doing the same thing with the Lieutenant Colonel back at battalion, and he’s doing the same thing with the colonel back at regiment, and he’s doing the same thing with the general back at division… If you want 600 agonizing pages detailing all the ways this can break down, read Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn. It’s the best book you’ll never want to read twice, and when all the Boomers finally die off and we can start thinking rationally about Vietnam, it will be one of the classics of modern American literature.
If you don’t want to put this post on hold until you’ve read it, the tl;dr is: All it takes is one guy thinking up too much to get a lot of people very messily killed. Populate your entire chain of command with guys who think up almost exclusively, and you’ve got… well, you’ve got Vietnam. The platoon leader who is “just following procedure,” and writes up the paperwork that way, will never get in trouble. He might miss the objective. He might get his men killed, a few other platoons ambushed, and half the company hip-deep in shit, hell, he might miss a chance to score a smashing victory, but his actions will be 100% theoretically correct. He’s covered. If his CO asks him “why didn’t you consider such-and-such, lieutenant?” he can pass the buck. “I radioed it back to Captain So-and-So at company; he told me to go ahead.”
Captain So-and-So, of course, put it in the fifteen pages of paperwork he forwarded to Col. Whatsizface at regiment, who included it in the three-hour briefing they gave to General Whomever back at division…. Meanwhile, the crucial information that started the whole debacle, like in Matterhorn, could simply be “despite what my platoon sergeant says, it is not physically possible for my men to make that march.” Too much thinking up, not enough thinking down.
All that is with the simplest possible command structure, in an organization playing for the very highest stakes. What happens with a big, messy, so-complicated-it’s-effectively-meaningless chain of command, in an “organization” in name only? What happens when no one is effectively in charge?
In a democratic society, that’s the surest, most terrifying sign that a major crisis is just over the horizon. Guys in Our Thing like the Civil War, so consider that. Back in 1850, no one would disagree that “the Slave Power Conspiracy” (as the Yankees would have it) was the dominant force in American politics. But — crucially — the SPC had leaders, who knew and acknowledged themselves to be such. Good leaders, who saw the situation vertically — both down and up. John C. Calhoun, for instance. So long as Calhoun was alive and kicking, compromise was possible, because Calhoun saw the big picture, and, crucially, could whip his guys into line.
Calhoun died in 1850, depriving his side of leadership. The other side never had any leadership to begin with, so the “direction” of the country fell into the hands of guys like Stephen A. Douglas — a brilliant politician, but a deeply provincial one, with scruples so flexible he’d fit right into the 2019 version of the Democratic Party.* Douglas had no vision, only process. For Douglas, the point of politics was politics, and because of that, hotheads like Preston Brooks and John C. Breckinridge had free rein. We know what happened after that, there’s no need to re-litigate the Unpleasantness of 1861-5 in the comments, the point is this:
When you’ve got a junior Congresscritter with nothing but a big mouth setting the national agenda because nobody else can be bothered to, you’re fucked.
In theory (and counter-intuitively), representative government works a lot like military command. Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are the platoon leaders and they are — as much as it vexes me to write this — doing a good job. They’re supposed to represent the viewpoint of their constituents on the national stage, and since their constituents are rabid antisemites and brainless hipsters, respectively, they’re succeeding brilliantly. The problem is, they’re not thinking up like a good platoon commander should, and so you get the schadenfreudily delicious spectacle of the entire Democratic Party concluding that a “resolution” against “hate” — the easiest gestural-politics slam dunk this site of “kittens are cute” — is just too extreme for the American people.
Even worse than a platoon commander not thinking up, as we’ve seen, is a regiment commander not thinking down, and the Democrats are a Matterhorn-level clusterfuck on that score, too. They really do seem to believe this “Hate iz bad, mmmmkay?” resolution they’ve cooked up is a tactical problem. They really do seem to think that all they need to do is find the correct wording, the right procedural shenanigans, to pass it, and the problem’s solved. Stephen A. Douglas could pull it off in his sleep, but as we’ve seen, when Stephen Douglas is your best case scenario it’s about to start raining bullets.
A guy like John C. Calhoun would have Chiquita Khruschev’s fingers broken if she got within fifteen feet of Twitter. He’d go old-school Sharia on Ilhan Omar, stuffing her in one of those full-body trash bags and duct-taping her mouth just to be sure. He might be fighting an unwinnable, Vietnam-style conflict — demographics, like logistics, are the only things that really matter in the long term — but he’d fight it brilliantly, and to the bitter end, because he’d know what was at stake.
The goofy geriatric Whites on the American Left not only don’t know what’s at stake, they actually think they’re winning. Like LBJ and Robert McNamara, they’ve got all the advanced metrics that say the numbers are pointing their way. The guys getting killed on the Matterhorn say otherwise, but that signal is guaranteed to get lost in the noise.
*This is the guy, you’ll recall, who sabotaged his own legacy-defining Compromise of 1850 just four years later with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, because he wanted to make a few bucks on railroad stock. A not-retarded Hillary Clinton with smaller balls, that was Stephen A. Douglas.