“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for me, and some good news for you…” said the raspy voice at the rostrum. “Somebody slipped me some bad whiskey last night, so I’m not gonna be able to make my speech.” (AUSA, 2004) That was Four-Star General and Army Chief of Staff Peter. J Schoomaker, addressing the Association of the United States Army in October of 2004. In an essay entitled “Regional Knowledge Systems,” (Siska/Hummel) Dr. Peter Siska refers to a term he attributes to Schoomaker. Siska uses the term “Pentathlete,” and credits the reference in the notes to Major Kareem P. Montague, who submitted an essay to the General Douglas MacArthur Military Leadership Writing Competition (and, incidentally, received second place). In this essay, Montague attributes the term to Schoomaker as well, asserting that Schoomaker first used the term in an interview with James Kitfield on 29 October, 2018. (Montague) This is true, and it is not true. Just three days prior to that interview with the National Journal correspondent, he had used the term a number of times in his speech to the AUSA. But Assistant Army Chief of Staff, General Dick Cody gave the speech.
That little detail: it’s true and it’s not true. That just so happens to be a recurring theme in the exploration of this subject. The term Pentathlete means something very specific. And then it means something very specific to Schoomaker, and then something very specific to Montague, and then something very specific to Siska. What is interesting is to observe that all of them essentially believe that they understand, intuitively perhaps, exactly what the other means by the word. And yet they all clearly take away something completely different, as the following examination will try to demonstrate.
Part of this outcome is structural, in that it is related to how each party came by the term in the first place. For example, Siska attributes the term to his reading of Montague; Montague attributes the term to the Kitfield interview; and Schoomaker is appropriating the term to persuasively convey a jingoistic reductionism. For Siska, the outcome of applying the concept is an adept and incredibly thoughtful methodology for organizing and evaluating complex geosocial data. For Montague, the outcome is a more skeptical appraisal of the origin and meaning of the term, leading to an enhanced focus on individual cognitive development and a soft criticism of the Army for falling short in some areas. For Schoomaker, it was none of these things. Pentathlete was a buzzword (like “metacognition” in academic circles) he would use dozens of times, in a series of professional, polished speeches.
Indeed, it was an abbreviation. The correct phrase, in Schoomaker’s extended usage, was “Multi-Skilled Pentathlete Warriors,” and it is helpful to explore Schoomaker’s career and usage before proceeding further. Because the other part of this outcome, that each figure comes away with something totally different, is cultural, in that it is related to who these people are in space and time, and what they each bring to the subject when they approach it. They are all inherently concerned with leadership. Siska, the geographer, wants to gather and organise and examine the tangible. Montague, the literary contestant, wants to emphasize a proficiency with the intangible and abstract. But Schoomaker, on the other hand, needs money and men and the confidence of his superiors. Pentathlete, for him, is no closer to its natural, original usage than for Montague or Siska. Each of them hangs their own meaning on the word, like a hat hook, and then proceeds with confidence.
Peter J. Schoomaker, according to his Bloomberg Profile, “served as U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff from August 2003 to April 2007. He served 31 years in a variety of command and staff assignments with both conventional and special operations forces, and served as its Commander-in-Chief, United States Special Operations Command until December 1, 2000.” (Bloomberg) The Kitfield piece describes how he was called out of retirement because “Schoomaker’s predecessor, General Eric Shinseki had been at loggerheads with [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and senior pentagon officials,” and that Rumsfeld “bypassed every active-duty General in the Army in choosing Schoomaker.” Kitfield alludes to some “major changes underway,” in the armed forces, and asks for the General’s opinion, and Schoomaker replies that he “thought those changes were absolutely essential.” (Kitfield)
It is instructive to recall that a great deal was in fact changing during that period. The American people were growing weary and cynical with the war in Iraq, and had all but lost focus on Afghanistan, as the tired Weapons of Mass Destruction line from Washington had been exposed for just what it was: another buzzword, as stories of Yellow Cake and Uranium Tubes were being publicly debunked by the beltway. (Hersh, 2003) Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, however, were several years into a massive plot to privatise as much of Defense Logistics as they could before their terms were up. (Chatterjee) And the provisions of the Patriot Act were making their way into law, establishing the Department of Homeland Security over the FBI and CIA and a host of other previously semi-autonomous agencies with their own preexisting prerogatives and hierarchies. Also, a new kind of technology was establishing itself in combat, even as it was being introduced to the public: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or Predator Drones, as they came to be called, which could deliver satellite-guided rockets to even the most obscure targets, with the push of a button, piloted from the safety of a coffee-scented cargo container in Nevada. (Harkness) To be sure, much was changing.
In spite of this, Schoomaker’s line remained pretty consistent throughout those years, as examination of just a handful of his various speeches will illustrate. Apart from the Pentathlete, there are some other common themes which tend to unify his messages over time. One of them we will call the “Ominous Prognostication,” which is a common rhetorical device among persuasive military and political leaders, typically used toward the beginning of a prepared speech to establish a psychological sense of foreboding in the audience. Before AUSA in 2004, Schoomaker’s words in Cody’s mouth: “I think we’re in the most dangerous times in the history of the country. As I’ve heard others say it, it might be the most dangerous time since the U.S. Civil War.” For one thing, given the realities of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts (and the US role in them) the suggestion was and remains an obscene and absurd exaggeration. The hearer is supposed to automatically conjure World Wars One and Two and Vietnam and Bosnia and the Cold War and the entire year of 1968 and then reel in the dissonance of a respected Four-Star trying to equate such lethality to that of a few tens of thousand poor, scattered, illiterate tribesman whose concept of mission readiness revolves around thirty-year-old Russian rifles and imported Ford pickup trucks, and who themselves just so happen to be non-white, non-Christian, and in the vicinity of the world’s largest supplies of oil.
Nevertheless, Schoomaker sells it hard: “This is truly a test of wills, and will require a deep and enduring commitment by all of us. Security of our Homeland, the War on Terror, and our Global commitments are the new realities of today’s complex and uncertain operating environment. The Future is no less uncertain.” (AUSA, 2004) Homeland, like Pentathlete, is another old word being dusted off for a new market. Schoomaker reiterates the “dangerous times” bit later in the year in the “Future of the US Army” speech, so we will come back to it. Schoomaker continued “The Global War on Terror is not just a contingency, nor is it a temporary crisis. It is a new reality that will require constant vigilance.” The army should expect “that sustained operations will be the norm, and not the exception...We must develop our soldiers and our leaders to be more like Pentathletes and decathletes...Rather than focus on a single, well defined threat or geographic region, we are developing a range of complementary and interdependent capabilities that will enable the joint force commanders to dominate any adversary or situation anywhere in the world at any time.” (Ibid)
The use of evocative language is pervasive in Schoomaker’s oratory. When he describes the three “focal points” of those aforementioned changes going on, from the army’s perspective, he speaks of “modular capabilities,” a “rebalance” of active and reserve resources, and the need to “stabilize” his forces. (Ibid) The first connotes the Roman phalanx or the hoplite; the second connotes the scales of the lady liberty; and the last connotes the heroic architecture of the Greek Columns and the Parthenon. All are potent themes which resonate with the core intent of the message, which is always to align the “warrior’s ethos” with the “Army’s Values.” Careful attention to such criticisms becomes more crucial when trying to translate what the general says from what he means to what is true. When it comes to the actual development of personnel, there’s a lot of “leadership” and “critical thinking” thrown around, but ultimately, what the general means is tech.
Schoomaker describes a new, post 9-11 paradigm in which “force measurements relative to capability, rather than capacity,” are the new order of the day, in which more than two thirds of the committed manpower is devoted to logistics or management (command and control, in the parlance), and in which continuity of finance is a critical variable. (Ibid). Though he always advocated for more money and more men, he conceded that he had ample resources for the task at hand, and that much of the process depended on “converting old Cold War structures to more relevant capabilities.” The conventional 20th century innovations were mechanical: planes, tanks, rifles; energy-centric: nuclear power and propulsion, oil and natural gas, renewables; and chemical: medicine, biochemical warfare, and drugs. Technology, in terms of a globally connected and fully integrated digital society, was still in its infancy, conceptually speaking, during Desert Storm and the Bosnian crisis, and thus played very little role in shaping the events, militarily speaking, beyond that of traditional news coverage amplified by the rise of cable television.
The truth is that Schoomaker was presiding over the Rumsfeld Revolution. The army, like the rest of the armed services, enjoyed a raft of post-9/11 defense spending, largely funded by a persistent annual deficit, while experiencing one of the most prolific periods of technological innovation and proliferation in all of human history. They had drones, cameras, body armor, weapons, data and communications systems, and at least a ten-to-one annual budget for men and toys, compared to other developed nations. Between these two revolutions marched an army of lobbyists and civilian contractors, many of whom effectively obtained a kind of positional parity with the generals themselves. Pratap Chatterjee describes in her compelling examination of the subject, a situation in which the exegent realities of a civilian controlled supply line guarded by gauntlets of well funded lawyers subordinated urgent battlefield requirements to transactional, material concerns, which transcend one’s concept of extortion.
This is where sober contemplation of the message being crafted and delivered is important. Back to the Kitfield piece. Kitfield spontaneously volunteers a “track and field metaphor,” which coincidentally prompts Schoomaker to reply with one of his own, which is then later attributed as being his first reference, when in fact he had just used it three nights before, and would use it throughout his remaining career. The general gets a little deeper, because the regular stuff doesn’t satisfy the National Journal crowd, and also because basically nobody reads the National Journal outside the specialist community anyway. In retrospect, the candor is jarringly prescient: “Because of what we’ve learned in combat, we’re now putting people through training scenarios where there’s no solution...that put people in a zone of continual discomfort. If they start getting comfortable….we ratchet up the pressure so their back in the zone of discomfort. That’s where we want them. That’s how you stretch yourself.” (Kitfield) A more abysmal recruiting slogan could not be invented!
As things stood at the time of that interview, Schoomaker was slated for 30,000 stretchy new souls. These would be among the first of a new generation, poised to inherit “robots...UAV’s...a pilotless Air Force (or at least the beginnings of one)...Autonomous Systems...Vertical Lift [Capability]... and information technology,” to name a few examples. (AUSA, 2004) Life in the military was getting objectively easier for everyone, including and especially Special Forces. The enemy wasn’t marching tanks and battalions and missile systems through Red Square, or torpedoing commercial ships to choke off supply lines, or building nuclear facilities offshore. They were hiding in caves without clean water, wielding scraps for weapons, living on rations, and occasionally “improvising” explosive devices and conducting suicide strikes along common thoroughfares. Whatever improvements might be made to the recruit training process for U.S. Armed services would have been mostly confined to the qualitative, but there is only so much a division commander can expect a new soldier to read before shipping off to station, because there wouldn’t be any major change to the actual time period allotted to that training process. So aside from minor doctrinal and epistemological changes to inbound soldier and officer training, the bulk of that raft of post-9/11 money went to actual procurement. When Schoomaker mentions the “multi-skilled pentathlete warrior” he isn’t talking about battalions of critical thinking leaders wielding their liberal arts training. He’s talking about the same regular soldiers we’ve always had, now being inundated with tidalwaves of new hardware and software packages, each with its own particular operational requirements and learning curve, and which Rumsfeld, the Army and D.O.D. had all but cashed in the mortgage to obtain.
Most of Schoomaker’s response to Kitfield after the Pentathlete bit is related to the development of manpower, but for the most part, it isn’t qualitative. He discusses the “temporary” surge, the frequency of movement of troops “from base to base,” and an increase in the types of non-combat services being provided, vis a vis “military police, civil affairs, and medical and transportation units...and Special Forces.” But thematicly speaking, he most succintly captures the complex of recurring elements when he says “War is a pretty complex business. You’ve got to grow your leaders and your soldiers. You’ve got to put the right equipment in their hands, form them into the right formations…” Development and organization are both accounting concerns. One increases the inherent value of the human, the other seeks to distribute that with minimal waste or loss. The equipment is the primary practical concern of interest, and is easily and persistently the most expensive.
And at the end of the day, the equipment has to get paid for, but it also has to be operated, maintained, troubleshot, repaired, replaced, and updated, and eventually superseded before reaching obsolescence. Some systems (ships, communication systems, radar) outserve their human counterparts by decades. Some are inherently disposable (flashlights, filters, batteries, etc) , and must be constantly obtained in bulk and often renewed. Once on the path, there is no way off of it, because Moore’s Law dictates that every technological system will evolve in capacity and capability at geometric rates, which in simplest terms means the Army’s best computers today will be the worst on the market in ten to twenty years. As Schoomaker puts it, “This means spinning out maturing technologies into the current modular force and incorporating advanced capabilities in the future combat systems program.” (US Army Role)
Evidence of this reality lies in the realm of specificity. As the years go by, the bit about the stress training is basically the only real detail Schoomaker ever offers when it comes to changes in human development; the rest are mainly platitudes and jingoisms. However, when it comes to toys, Schoomaker has laundry lists in his head tailored for any opportunity to speak on the matter. A survey of these C-SPAN speeches will support the suggestion that what Schoomaker means by Pentathlete is less about the development of the human capability so much as the augmentation of it with a diverse quiver of tools and gadgets. Beyond logistics and leadership, the Pentathlete is about weapons systems.
Consider, briefly, the money. David Coleman traced the history of the total number of persons employed by the U.S. Military from 3,300,000 during the Korean War to around 1,985,000 at the collapse of the Soviet Union, to about 1,385,000 just before the events of September 11. (Coleman) From Schoomaker’s era forward, that number fluctuates to about 1,425,000 and back again, based on a handful of specific but generally familiar factors: recruiting, retention, demand, mortality, and cost. The latermost of those, cost, is also a known variable: From 1990 to 2000, Defense Spending as a percent of GDP fell from above 5.5 to below 3.5. From 2000 to 2010, it ballooned right back up to where it had been when George H. W. Bush left office. (US Defense Spending) Manpower fell by half a million after the Cold War ended but only contracted or expanded by a few tens of thousand service members thereafter, whereas funding was restored to Cold War levels. That is the historical significance of the Rumsfeld Revolution.
That money obviously did not all go toward increasing manpower. It went to tech firms and data firms and security firms, and in general, to the military industrial complex at-large. One such company in the present day is Basin Holdings, a “global holding company focused on providing products and services to energy and industrial customers.” (Basin Holdings) Altruism is for large crowds of voters and donors; investors want the bottom line, and Basin Holdings gives it to them right on the front page! “We are interested in compounding the growth of distributable cash earnings by growing companies that are essential for global economic progress...Basin’s global network enables us to offer international sale prospects to companies that we create or acquire.” (Ibid.) Another such company is MAGAerospace: “the leader in Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) integrating, training, and operations…” and also “a leader in providing real-time situational awareness to help its customers make the world smaller and safer.” (MAGAerospace) In the Present Day, Former Army Chief of Staff General Peter J. Schoomaker is (or was) employed by and/or affiliated with Basin Holdings, MAGAerospace, DynCorp, EWA-Government Systems Inc., CAE USA Inc., Aeroflex Inc. and the Special Operations Foundation. (Wikipedia: Peter J. Schoomaker)
The Rumsfeld Revolution and the Military Industrial Complex are subjects worthy of their own pursuits, and are not the focus of this research. Nor is Schoomaker, Montague, or Siska, beyond their parts in the story. The Army Chief of Staff isn’t in charge of conceiving the mission, or accomplishing it. His job is to be sure the men and women in uniform have the resources they need. Much of those resources are material, as has been discussed. What remains is the education and training of the men and women themselves. The word Pentathlete, in Montague’s reading, connotes a holistic leadership mentality. “The molding of Pentathlete leaders must begin with the mind...In order to achieve this vision we must focus on identifying, developing, and evaluating the essential characteristics of the leader that meet this ideal.” (Montague) For Siska and Hummel, an understanding of culture and language are important components of that ideal. (Siska, 107) For Schoomaker, “The education and training our Pentathlete officers and NCO’s who lead our soldiers continues to evolve...We must be, among other things, self aware, critical thinkers, and creative builders of leaders and teams, full spectrum warfighters, and decisive. We must be skilled in governance, statesmanship, and diplomacy, and knowledge of foreign language and culture. We must have integrity and character.” (Future)
What distinguishes rhetorical speech is the quality of being beyond rational dispute. In these terms, Schoomaker offers nothing new, but he isn’t wrong either. Some distinguished contemporary scholars who wrote on the subject of military leadership before, during, and after Schoomaker’s service as Army Chief of Staff are David Linderman, Janet Fix and Michael Wyly, and Richard Faulkner. Linderman, who was a Yale grad and worked for the Foreign Service and the State Department under Dwight Eisenhower, gave the John F. Morrison Lecture in Military History in 1988. In this lecture, he describes a longstanding tradition in which American soldiers are especially difficult to lead. “The United States never possessed an unquestioning soldiery and has never even approached the idea of Legions, those willing or compelled to expend themselves in the name of remote or ill-understood policy.” (Linderman, 1988) His argument, in short form, is that the states didn’t have the standing armies, nobilities, and other imperial structures which framed the European mindset. Americans were rebellious and innately skeptical of power because of the immediacy of big concepts such as ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ in the Revolutionary memory. Linderman offers the example of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who observed that “one must first explain, then give the order.” (Ibid)
Linderman says “A leader today must know so much more than citizens at large that this expertise becomes an important source of the others’ respect for him [her].” Here, Linderman concurs with Siska in his appraisal of the value of cultural education. “We have always had a diverse society, but its wildy heterogeneous and assertively multi-ethnic quality today requires of the Army Officer complex cross cultural understanding of a high order.” (Ibid) Writing in the Journal American Leadership, Janet Fix and Michael Duncan state that “In the 21st Century, with the nature of war changing, military leaders must understand modern warfare’s complexities…” and that these demands “also require skills never imagined by their military counterparts in the 20th century.” (Fix/Wyly, 2004)
Fix and Wyly outline two basic schools of thought concerning strategic superiority: Technical Superiority Theory and Mental Agility Theory. The first implies the kind of data-centric, science-based attitudes of Siska and Hummel. The second implies the kind of innovative cognition and judgement skills which Montague encourages. And with Linderman they share an eye for culture, but come from a different place. While Linderman and the rest are speaking to the value of cultural acquisition and appreciation, Wyly and Fix speak of “culture” as a vulnerable asset to be defended, as opposed to pursued, in the course of obtaining strategic advantage or diplomatic stability: “But Socrates was right that ‘guardians’ should protect a nation’s culture. And in the 21st century that will mean our troops must fight those who seek through terror to undermine public confidence in our nation.” (Fix/Wyly, 2004)
Richard Faulkner had this to say of officer staff in the first World War, that they were “inadequately or inappropriately trained officers and NCO’s, leaders inexperienced with the tools and techniques of modern war, organizations too ungainly to be controlled by novice leaders, the innate challenges of command and control....” (Faulkner, 2012) He further relates the opinion of James Rainey on the “problems on the battlefield [which] resulted from Pershing’s inability to transform his nebulous concept of “open warfare” into a sound doctrine that could be used by battlefield commanders.” In essence, these are not material or logistical problems. They are problems of leadership and education and communication and training and organization and vision. In all of these things, culture is the common denominator and the organizing principle.
Faulkner says of leadership that it is “the bedrock of all armies. It is the leader who forms the discipline and cohesion of the unit and directs it toward a collective effort to achieve the unit’s assigned mission.” (Ibid) But he also suggests the ideas about what leadership is exist in a state of motion. Among those which prevailed in the 18th century he lists gentility, noblesse, oblige, paternalism, deference, and “an apprenticeship approach to officership.” In the 19th Century, however, he observes “professionalism, specialist education, and the drive for scientific management and efficiency,” (Faulkner, 2012) In any form, education and the acquisition of real-world skills eclipsed personality traits and other abstractions as leaderly qualities. “...the proper education for officers generally meant attendence or graduation from a college or university.
“Army leaders maintained that college graduates generally possessed the proper attributes, geniality, and character required for good combat leadership.” (Faulkner, 2012) Both Schoomaker and Faulkner refer to Elihu Root in the course of their discussion of education and leadership. In Faulkner’s words, Root “ordered the army to establish a coherent and progressive system designed to educate an officer from his pre commission training to his ascension to senior field grade.” (Ibid.) Schoomaker claims Root “brought the Army into the 20th century.”
But the question emerges, what do they all mean by critical thinking? What constitutes good judgement, and how does one teach it? Are these really the things that make better soldiers, or leaders, for that matter? ‘Education’ itself can be as nebulous an idea as ‘pentathlete’ or ‘open-war’ or ‘homeland.’ What if the revelations of better judgement and critical thinking serve as delegitimizing forces by dissuading recruitment, by decreasing retention, and by undermining the overall confidence in the moral and ethical validity of the mission? More importantly, what if a decent, comprehensive, liberal arts education leads a generation of young people to the conclusion that the political objectives of the day are unworthy, unreachable, or unnecessary, or unwise? In a 2015 National Security Forum, General Mark Milley outlines a dizzying array of global narratives which he terms “operating environments,” that directly pertain to roles the United States has taken upon itself over the course of succeeding generations: Russia, the Middle East, China, North Korea, Iran, and ISIL. (Military Readiness) Which is more necessary to Schoomaker and Milley, that OCS grads possess a critical and objective working knowledge of the history of each conflict, or that they assent to support and assist America’s role in the missions it chooses?
This is the problem at the heart of this research. America has never had a Nuremberg. There have been severe and salient criticisms of the US in every single hot conflict it has engaged in since the Greatest Generation toppled the Third Reich. In Korea we advocated self-determination until it determined against us. In Vietnam we carpet-bombed women and children. In the Bay of Pigs we orchestrated a coup which led to a slaughter, which we then disavowed. We built Saddam Hussein’s empire to compete with Iran for control of OPEC, and then starved 5,000,000 Iraqis to death because Saddam wouldn’t play ball, and then we invaded his country an hung him! We did the same thing with the Mujahadeen to compete with Russia and now we’re nearly two decades into a war with their offspring in Afghanistan. Nevermind the three million muslims executed during the Bosnian crisis, as the west passively watched two Christian nations destroy everything between them with wrathful prejudice. It is never the soldier who must apologize for the decisions of the chain of command, and so it is never the soldier who must determine the ethical merit of those decisions, though the soldiers are often the ones left bearing the moral injuries. (Meagher)
Regardless of the enthusiasm in Schoomaker’s platitude, there is no place in This Man’s Army for open criticism of U.S. policy, let alone persuasive indictments and passionate calls for accountability. No matter how much Siska and Montague might wish it so, the Army will only tolerate Liberal Arts education and critical thought so far as it is obedient and useful. Insofar as America’s political system produces coherent and compassionate and cogent foreign policy decisions, the Army, for its part, can execute that policy without compromising its moral integrity. But in politics, what is ‘correct’ is not just a moving target, indeed it is often a hotly contested contradiction. Recall Milley’s index of operating environments. Each is accompanied by a corollary philosophical and political debate at home: Some oppose Russian influence and expansion while others may favor appeasement or resolution. On the Korean question, some advocate unification while others prefer a multi-state solution, as with Israel and Palestine. China is both an critical economic consumer and a civil rights nightmare. ISIS, like Al Qaeda and the Taliban, is both the least potent and most visible of all, a duality compounded by the historical validity of their position juxtaposed with the abject cruelty of their method.
These are all fuzzy concepts in the best of times to those with the leisure and learning to study them in depth. They each engender multiple perspectives, indeed in proportion to the degree of critical thought applied to them, and their discussion tends away from consensus, rather than towards it. But this isn’t the kind of “critical thought” Schoomaker is after, either. At best, he means highly localised judgement, more often characterised in retrospect as an outcome of success, rather than clearly identified as a contributing factor. It is the kind of judgement that persuades a Junior Grade to move his squad through a congested side street instead of a relatively clear, but exposed main street. At the end of the day, what qualifies as a “good judgement” is a reductive concept that neglects externalities like luck and intent. In other words, if two task groups depart A via different routes, only the one that arrives at B will be said to have demonstrated “good judgement,” in the subsequent telling, because “good judgement” doesn’t get a jeepload of people killed. It is inconsequential whether the group that made it truly chose a safer route, or were simply never attacked, to say nothing of countless other unknowable, but germain variables.
Furthermore, judgement is not exactly hierarchical. Whose bad judgement led to the loss of life in such a hypothetical scenario? Was it the Enemy Combatant, Squad Leader, the Division Commander, the Commanding Officer, the Commander in Chief, Congress, the electorate, or the individuals who made the pattern of life choices that led them into the service in the first place? Was it God? Or all of those ignorant and indifferent souls who did nothing and abstained? Or was it all of the above? The military does not dwell on such concepts as bewitch inquisitive students. Historically, it answers such challenges quickly with one of a few readily identifiable strategies: a cover-up based on plausible deniability, a standard yet emphatic apology, or an award ceremony. The Bay of Pigs produced all three! (Blair, 2011) Credibility is a highly fungible commodity in today’s ethical climate.
Schoomaker himself serves a sterling example of this fact. Imagine a man at the center of three perfect storms of ethical intrigue. His relationship with the Delta Force during the failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages that might have won Jimmy Carter a second term had it succeeded. His most famous mission was a failure, but curiously, one that permitted Ronald Reagan to negotiate, in advance of his own victory, the backchannel release of the hostages upon his inauguration, dirty diplomacy which drew heavy criticism. (Haddox, 1991) His highest assignment came years later, after his career had ended. A staff position granted by another embattled Republican about to flood the coffers of the defense industry for a decade while deceiving the American people. (Chatterjee) A position, not to mention, that requires Schoomaker ask for such money and resources loudly and regularly and, above all, persuasively. And in retirement, an array of stake-holding positions in the very industries which sell those resources. As men go, Schoomaker is either one of the most corrupt, or competent, or both, that ever lived.
Recall those “dangerous times,” mentioned earlier. When Urban II gave his famous Crusade speech at Clairemont, his first major points all involved establishing a sense of a credible threat. Doing so effectively enabled him to gather and wield immense power in the form of material and human resources. Woodrow Wilson began his famous War speech the same way. So did Winston Churchill in 1939. So did George Bush in 2003. There is a reason why they start this way. Similarly, there is a reason why Pentathlete is so useful to Schoomaker. Voters like thinking of their sons and daughters as Multiskilled Pentathlete Warriors. That language engenders pride and confidence. It conveys strength and courage. Voters find other kinds of language less attractive. Sacrifice is a useful example. It’s a permissible comfort for the bereaved, but not at all suitable language to describe the thousands of men and women in uniform who are still with mortal coil. Accomplice is another fascinating example. In a criminal felony investigation, it denotes anyone who participated in or contributed to some instance of criminal activity. Accomplice is positively the last word any voter wants to hear a general use to describe the service of a son or daughter.
In reality, the Pentathlete, according to Montague’s research, is a man who can ride a horse, swim, sword fight, shoot, and run fast. It is an exclusive term, which is another difference in Schomaker’s usage. A Pentathlete strives for singular recognition. He wins by outperforming his peers, and only thereby gains this recognition. Every single one of his peers in the competition has a winning attitude and a competitive work ethic, but the term ‘pentathlete’ specifically connotes winning, as well as these other qualities. Winning is far a more subjective concept in the modern geopolitical paradigm, often confused with turning a profit, or simply not dying as often as the enemy, and these, because the term so rarely has any credible use elsewhere. We did not ‘win’ Vietnam, Korea, Iran, Bosnia, Iraq, or Afghanistan, partly because of visibly objective examples of failure, but also partly because no meaningful, hypothetically desirable outcomes were ever realistically defined in the first place. One can not win a War on Terror while trafficking the language of fear, and doing so with one hand in the cookie jar.
In the end, the real demand for leadership, education, critical thought, cultural appreciation, innovation, and judgement lies outside the military. These qualities are needed by civilians perhaps now more than at any other time in history. Liberal Arts are especially critical. The ability to hear a lie in that which sounds true, to follow history with an eye for power, to humanize the “other,” and to approach complexity with patient diligence, these are skills which befit free men and citizens of a noble society.
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