Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing strategy from a solid foundation 7: a case study example of the consequences of a priori underlying assumptions 6

Posted in macroeconomics, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 11, 2015

This is my seventh installment to a series on strategy as it is developed in practice, and on where it is developed from (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 490 and loosely following for Parts 1-6.) And this is also Part 6 to an historical narrative-based case study that I have been developing here, drawn from the public sector and more specifically from United States policy and practice in maintaining troop levels in their military. My goal for this case study is to illustrate how policy and practice evolve and how both strategy and strategic goals are shaped by and can be changed by ongoing experience – and if not always for overall long-term goals than for how operational processes and their performance are measured in reaching towards them, which in practice can constitute functional shift in what constitutes those overall goals themselves.

I wrote in Part 6 of this series, about opportunity to serve in the United States military, historically, focusing there on the experience of members of minorities and more specifically on the experience of blacks and people of color. And at the end of that posting and after briefly recounting the story of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, I said that I would continue that discussion here with a brief and admittedly selective discussion of the Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd Infantry Regiment as they served in that war too.

When forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy surprise attacked the United States naval forces at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the response from the American people was immediate and strong, driven by a sense of absolute betrayal from a government that was claiming to be seeking peaceful resolution to differences, even as the bombs fell. That is literally true with the Japanese Ambassador to the United States meeting with senior officials of the United States Department of State to proclaim his country’s peaceful intentions even as his country was launching their attack.

There was genuine basis for concern that Japan might have intentions to launch similarly damaging attacks on other American resources, and possibly even on the West Coast of the Continental United States. And there was also a significant justifiable basis for concern that the Japanese government might have planted saboteurs and spies in the United States with them living in and hiding within the Japanese American communities of the American West Coast. But this more legitimate concern met and merged into an already present discriminatory bias on the part of way too many against people of Asian descent in the United States, and perhaps particularly in the West Coast states. The result was toxic with both new arrivals and Japanese Americans who had been born in the United States and whose parents had been too, being rounded up and forced into internment camps. But even in the face of this, many Japanese American men sought opportunity to fight in the US military in defense of their country. The 442nd Infantry Regiment was organized as a military unit that they could serve in. And this regimental combat team served with such distinction in the World War II European theatre of operations that they became known as the most heavily decorated combat unit in American history, winning eight Presidential Unit Citations and 21 Congressional Medals of Honor, along with a huge number of other honors and distinctions.

These Americans fought with incredible will and courage for a country that for many, had stripped their families of their homes and possessions, their jobs and their home communities and their day-to-day lives and had imprisoned them in camps. They are honored now, just as the Tuskegee Airmen are, and the Buffalo Soldiers who I have also written of in this series (see for example, Part 6). But as I noted in Part 6, we continue to struggle with the meaning of Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal” and with what “all” and “equal” can mean in the American context. And this struggle has recurringly played out in how American military forces are assembled and in determining who is even eligible to serve in what capacities.

I turn with that to the Vietnam War, known in Vietnam itself as the American War. This was a bitterly contested military action in the United States with both active supporters of US military involvement in Southeast Asia, and with active protest and dissent against that too. My goal here is not to offer a history of this war or of the forces and actions that led to it, or of its growth on America’s part from a small consultant and advisor-based mission to an active war with hundreds of thousands of American troops on the ground. My focus here, in keeping with the thrust of this case study is on how all of those troops were brought into the US military, and primarily into its Army – and how both that progression of increasing involvement and the overall strategy and history of this war and its outcome were ultimately shaped by the Press, and particularly by on the scene photo and television journalism – and both in Vietnam itself and in the United States as so many organized in protest of all of this.

Press coverage, in all of its real-time immediacy significantly shaped American public opinion regarding the war, and willingness to fight. Television brought this war directly into American living rooms in a way that had never been possible before. And that fact made this war a turning point event in American history, for how the public at large, at home would see and evaluate military action and policy.

Some Americans volunteered to serve in the US Army in Vietnam. Many more were drafted into service and even very definitively against their will and even in direct challenge to their own personal beliefs. Some were exempted from military service, or at least from direct combat assignment as conscientious objectors. But for much of this war, and really until it was beginning to close down from the American side, that was difficult to achieve unless a draftee petitioner was able to prove, for example, that they actively belonged to one of a select approved list of religious organizations. Simply claiming to be morally opposed to violence was not sufficient. Many more were exempted from military service from being able to claim full time student status, at least until the end of the war when troop levels were already dropping and a more openly inclusive lottery system was put into effect. One consequence of this was that for most of this war, draft age males who were of good health and who could not qualify as conscientious objectors were subject to the draft if they could not afford to be full time students. I note this for the have and have-not disparity that this policy created, where Vietnam War service was seen by many as a poor man’s burden – in many ways recapitulating the disparities of the US Civil War draft as discussed in Part 4 and with that discontent contributing its voice to the very active anti-Vietnam war protests that recurringly challenged US government policy.

The Paris Peace Accords, formally ending American involvement in military conflict in Vietnam, were signed on January 27, 1973. In many respects American policy, and certainly American policy as it pertains to the issues of determining and maintaining military personnel strength are still shaped by that war’s experience. And so is, I add, American policy as to how the press is to be allowed access to the front and to the scene of direct military conflict. After this war, if a reporter was to be given official access and protective support while in an area of conflict, they were more formally required to be embedded in a specific combat or support unit and they had to accept being limited as to what they could report and when and how, under new and more tightly controlling official policy guidelines and restrictions. In principle at least, there is nothing new in limiting the press and what they can report from the front, and certainly where news reporting might compromise military missions or troop safety, but this regimenting control of image and information flow from the front has been made much more comprehensive since then.

And moving forward one more time in this narrative, to the Wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, a decision was made to pursue an entirely all-volunteer recruitment approach for these conflicts, in raising and deploying American military forces. But the only way that this could be achieved was to simultaneously employ a stop-loss policy that rapidly came to mean that a large percentage of these volunteers could not leave military service, and even just leave high risk/high stress service at the end of the tour of service that they had signed up for. And in fact many were kept on in combat service, not for one or two tours, but for three, four and in some cases more. There are reasons why the incidence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been so high in returning veterans from these wars, and in soldiers while still in active service in them.

And at this point, I come to the final set of issues that I would raise and discuss in this case study narrative:

• The role of news and of the public press, historically, in shaping public opinion on military action, as just briefly touched upon above for more recent conflicts,
• How direct access to raw news and events observations have become progressively more and more possible, and even publically expected and certainly since the dawn of on-scene television reporting,
• And about how the rise of the internet and particularly of the interactive internet and social media have made all of us reporters as well as consumers of news and events reporting – thus disintermediating the news and reporting process and removing editorial filtering from that, and certainly as a requisite part of the news process.

I will at least begin to discuss this set of issues in my next series installment and will move on from there to consider more general conclusions and principles that arise in this case study, with a goal of tying its principle threads of discussion together. Then after that I will turn back to Part 1 of this series, where I began to present a more general approach to strategic alignment per se. And my primary goal in continuing this series as a whole from that point, will be to build from this historical narrative and accompanying discussion to continue developing a more general model approach of strategy and its alignment with affected community need and perception. And hopefully at least, I will also make clear why I chose to devote so many postings to this seeming-digression of an historical narrative as a case study, as a case in point example of how strategy has to be able to flexibly evolve – and at times very rapidly, to meet changing circumstances and to more effectively address unexpected consequences of policy that has been followed.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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