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THE EVOLUTION OF CONGRESSIONAL ATTITUDES TOWARD
A GENERAL STAFF IN THE 20TH CENTURY
PREPARED BY ROBERT L. GOLDICH, SPECIALIST IN NATIONAL DEFENSE,
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL DEFENSE DIVISION, CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE, THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, AUGUST 30, 1985
I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF ANALYTICAL FINDINGS
PURPOSE, BACKGROUND, AND SCOPE The purpose of this report is to describe and analyze the evolution of congressional attitudes toward the concepts of military general staffs during the 20th Century, and assess them in the light of current leadership on the subject of general staffs. The nature of German military institutions and the German General Staff, American civil-military relations, and the roles and missions of the four U.S. military services, are involved in, reflect, and are crucial to an understanding of congressional attitudes toward a general staff. The report identifies trends and themes in these attitudes, and delineates factors which appear to have influenced the Congress and its members in arriving at the attitudes they have held.
This report was prepared at the request of the Senate Armed Services Committee to supplement the Committee's ongoing staff study of the organization and management of the Department of Defense (DoD). The Committee staff was interested in the development of and rationales for what it believed had been continuing congressional antipathy toward the term "general staff and the concepts and structures it connotes.
The report begins with this brief statement of its purpose, background, and scope; a description of research methodology; and a summary of the major analytical findings of the report, centering on the crucial distinction between pre- and post-World War II congressional attitudes toward a general staff. The study then traces the historical development of the general staff concept, with particular attention to modern definitions and the German example. It then identifies and analyzes major themes in the evolution of congressional attitudes toward a general staff during the 20th Century, using the legislative histories—hearings, reports, and floor debates-of the six major legislative acts of the 20th Century related to Army and defense organization as primary sources. Emphasis is placed on issues of bureaucratic politics, executive-legislative relations, structural change in the military establishment, and reaction to external developments such as the Nazi era and World War II. Brief concluding observations end the study.
MAJOR ANALYTICAL FINDINGS: WORLD WAR II AND SERVICE
UNIFICATION AS WATERSHED EVENTS
World War II saw a fundamental change in the depth and intensity of congressional attitudes toward a general staff. Before World War II, discussions were in the context of the need to provide coherent staff support to overall national and senior field commanders in the conduct of military operations, and revolved around issues of bureaucratic politics and executive-legislative relations. On balance, these reflected more positive than negative views of the institution.
After World War II, congressional discussion of general staffs arose in the context of proposals to provide stronger organizational coordination and management of the four military services through creation of a central Department of Defense and a Joint Chiefs of Staff organization. Opponents of unification of the Armed Forces under a central Department of Defense, or equivalent organization, argued that a joint, or interservice staff structure in a more unified military establishment would represent an undesirable step toward the German General Staff system. These opponents of service unification were principally partisans of the Navy and Marine Corps, who felt that naval and amphibious interests and identities would be dominated by the Army and Air Force in a unified Department of Defense.
Great confusion about the nature of the German General Staff was generated by the resulting debate. There was vehement discussion and uncertainty about the extent to which the German General Staff created, as opposed to reflected, militarism and authoritarianism in pre-1945 Germany. Modern scholarship inclines to the latter view. There was also a blurring in the minds of many congressional commentators between a general staff as (1) an organization charged with assisting a nation's military high command in the planning and execution of military operations (which is found in the military services of all nations) and (2) an elite branch of the career officer corps whose members monopolized high-level positions in the national military headquarters and in field commands (which was unique to pre-1945 Germany).
Those Members of Congress, and others who were opposed to service unification thus may have reflected a distaste for German military institutions, opposition to service unification, and/or unclear comprehension of the varying ways in which a general staff could be defined. The result was an equation of increased centralized control of the separate military services with German General Staff methods and organization, hence with pre-1945 German militarism, and an extension of opposition to the German General Staff to opposition to any General Staff. The wars and upheavals which led to the crystallization of these beliefs in the minds of Members of Congress 40 years ago were cataclysmic in nature. Given the evidence of the persistence of these attitudes until well after the end of World War II, it is likely that they linger yet.
II. THE CHANGING NATURE OF GENERAL STAFFS The term "general staff has been applied to numerous different features of military organization since the term first appeared in military literature in the 18th Century. By the last third of the 19th Century, the type of structure that had obtained before no longer applied anywhere in the industrialized world. It was replaced by two new and different types of organizational structures, which have been the subject of much analytical and polemical confusion-down to the present.
It is important to understand how general staff structures evolved, and what the nature of the pre-1945 German General Staff system was in order to understand why the Congress became interested in general staffs at different times. The first part of this chapter describes the difference between preindustrial and modern general staffs. This distinction is important to an understanding of why Congress was interested in and concerned about the creation of a modern U.S. Army General Staff in 1903 and in subsequent reforms of that structure. The second part describes the characteristics of the pre-1945 German General Staff and its relation to German militarism of the mid-19th through the mid-20th Centuries. This is essential for comprehension of how congressional attitudes toward the general staff were shaped by understanding-or lack of it—of the German General Staff.
FROM THE PRE-INDUSTRIAL TO THE MODERN GENERAL STAFF 1 Originally, the term "general staff" was applied, beginning in the middle of the 18th Century, to the collected central administrative officials, and commanders of specialized combat troops, of an army at its national headquarters or of the headquarters of an army in the field. These groups of individuals were almost exclusively concerned with maintaining and supporting forces in the field, rather than actually employing and operating them. Well into the 19th Century, not all of them were professional soldiers; those with logistical and medical responsibilities were often civilians under contract.
The "general staff of a field army, for instance, might consist of those persons responsible for supply, transport, finance (both paying the soldiers and disbursing money for provisions and equipment purchased on the march), military justice, and military discipline (policing the army, preventing desertion, and insuring that any pillaging or foraging was done on orders, or did not unduly interfere with the army's march). Also part of the general staff were commanders of what, in the preindustrial era, were the arcane, specialized, and "high-tech” artillery and engineer branches (even these leaders could be contract civilians). "Such
* This section is based largely on van Creveld, Martin. Command in War. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1985: 27-40, which is in turn the most recent and comprehensive synthesis of scattered older works. Of the latter, see especially Irvine, Dallas D. "The Origins of Capital Staffs.” Journal of Modern History, June 1938: 161-179.
2 This distinction is appropriated from Barrett, Archie D. Reappraising Defense Organization. Washington, National Defense University Press, 1983.
lesser figures as surgeons, soothsayers, and executioners completed the colorful picture." 3
The term "general staff" was first used to describe this type of staff in American military history during the War of 1812. One historian described the U.S. Army General Staff of that era in the following terms: 4
It was not a general staff in the present sense. Rather, Congress established the War Department administrative offices which in modern terminology would become the special staff . . . . The Secretary (of War) could henceforth call upon an adjutant and inspector general with two assistants, the inspector general and the assistant adjutant general; a quartermaster general; a commissary general of ordnance together with two deputies and an assistant; a paymaster; and an assistant topographical engineer. These officials, unlike previous holders of some of the same titles, were expected to settle in Washington an act as the per
manent management staff of the War Department. The "Army General Staff" came to denote this collection of War Department administrative and logistical bureau chiefs until the establishment of the modern U.S. Army General Staff in 1903.
What this traditional "general staff did not do was provide a staff to assist the commander-whether of a national army or an army in the field-in planning and conducting actual military operations. To the extent that he had any such support, he obtained it from a very few individuals whose duties varied according to the situation—the quartermaster general, whose duties encompassed logistical and supply supervision; a personal secretary; and the senior commanders of military units. Frequently, however, "An aggressive, fast-acting command might well try to concentrate everything-intelligence, planning, operations, staff work-in his own hands, relying on his secretariat simply as a technical organ responsible for taking down his orders and allowing nobody to share his thoughts.
The general staff of pre-industrial war was concerned with administration and logistics rather than operations because of the nature of pre-industrial war and the tasks and demands placed on field commanders in pre-industrial battles. Winston Churchill described the wholly personal nature of a general's actual command responsibilities in a pre-industrial battle in his biography of the Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722). The Churchillian language is no less accurate for being flamboyant: 7
The task of the commander in Marlborough's wars was direct. There were no higher formations like divisions and
van Creveld, Command in War. 35. See also David G. Chandler, “Armies and Navies: 1. The Art of War on Land." in J.S. Bromley, Editor. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. VI., The Rise of Great Britain and Russia, 1688-1715/25. Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 1970. pp. 761-762. * Weigley, Russell F. History of the United States Army. New York, Macmillan Co., 1967. p.
van Creveld, Command in War. pp. 37-38; Chandler, "Armies and Navies." p. 761. van Creveld, Command in War. p. 38.
? Churchill, Winston S. Marlborough: His Life and Times. Abridged and with an introduction by Henry Steele Commager. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968, pp. 281-283.
corps .. The control of the battle was maintained on
In the midst of the scene of carnage, with its drifting smoke-clouds, scurrying fugitives, and brightly coloured lines, squares, and oblongs of men, [the commander) sat on his horse, often in the hottest fire, holding in his mind the positions and fortunes of every unit in his army from minute to minute and giving his orders aloud. We must picture him in those days when the Signal Corps was nonexistent, attended not only by three or four generals of high rank, but by at least twenty young officers specially trained and specially mounted, men who were capable of following the event with intelligent eyes, who watched the field incessantly, and who knew where to find the subordinate commanders, their brigades and regiments.
In the times of which we tell the great commander proved in the day of battle that he possessed a combination of mental, moral, and physical qualities adapted to action which were so lifted above the common run as to seem almost godlike. His appearance, his serenity, his piercing eye, his gestures, the tones of his voice-nay, the beat of his heart-diffused a harmony upon all around him. Every word he spoke was decisive. Victory often depended on whether he rode half a mile this way or that. At any moment a cannon-shot or a cavalry inrush might lay him with thousands of his soldiers a mangled bundle
on the sod. That age has vanished forever ... This language, written of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1702-1713, was almost as applicable to the Napoleonic Wars a century later, and almost all other wars waged until the middle of the 19th Century. Administration was considered to be susceptible to systematic control; combat operations were not. Furthermore, battlefield command, while perhaps requiring men with an extraordinary high degree of both moral strength and intellectual ability, was not yet exercised over forces and areas so large and/or complex as to be beyond the ability of any one man to control, regardless of his innate abilities.
Martin van Creveld has summarized why the duties of pre-industrial military staffs—including those, after the mid-18th Century, called "general staffs"-remained confined to administration: 8
the much greater uncertainty associated with operations, and the difficulty of reducing it to a set of rules, help explain why the modern general staff was so slow to develop; as late as the middle of the eighteenth century it