Unification—The Next Step

Oct. 1, 1956
The compromises that produced the National Security Act of 1947 after two years of controversial and often embittered Congressional hearings have been as effective as most compromises but no more so. That is, they got the Act passed, with at least surface concurrence from all services. But they left an obviously incomplete form of service integration that has already required major amendments in 1949 and 1953.

Dissatisfaction with the existing organization is widespread enough to suggest that a next step is inevitable, though how big a step and when it will be taken remain to be seen. It would be presumptuous for a field-grade officer, especially a woman, to be dogmatic about existing organization or current proposals, but perhaps she can usefully state the alternatives and try to forecast objections that will be raised.

First, let us consider who is proposing what.

In October 1955, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, in one of his characteristically explosive lectures before the Royal United Services Institution (see “Tradition vs. Progress,” AIR FORCE, November ’55), stated his considered opinion that a Chief of Staff of the armed forces is presently essential, displacing the Joint Chiefs of Staff (British equivalent: Chiefs of Staff Committee), and that a single-service, one-uniform organization is a probable future development. Lt. Gen. Sir Ian heavily relied, holds similar views. Vice Admiral Hughes-Hallet, R.N., a Conservative member of Parliament for Croydon, does not go quite so far. In a speech in the House of Commons on March 1, 1955, he recommended a merger of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, leaving the Army “outside.” This was similar to a proposal made about two years ago in Colliers magazine by former Secretary of the Air Force Thomas K. Finletter.

On the other hand Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor, in his recent book The Central Blue, expresses the conviction that at least in England even the addition of a Chairman to the British Chiefs of Staff Committee (and it should be remembered that the first appointee was an airman—Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir William Dickson) is an unsound departure from what he considers the smoothly working English committee system. I mention these four British names to indicate that proposals for tighter unification are neither an American phenomenon nor an AF project, much less an AF monopoly.

American Proposals and Line-Up

The first of the current spate of recommendations, in a N. Y. Herald Tribune article by former Air Secretary Finletter, offered the full treatment—one armed service, all in one uniform, with a single Chief of Staff and an Armed Forces General Staff. This is a significant development in the thinking of this thoughtful student of our defense structure, for Mr. Finletter had earlier opposed what he used to call a “monolithic” structure and had proposed the new two-service structure, the Air Force and Navy in one service and the Army in the other—a scheme that was given the silent treatment by the sailors and airmen whose marriage was thus recommended. Mr. Finletter’s Herald Tribune article indicates that the Pentagon frustrations with which he was familiar while in office, plus those he has vicariously experienced since 1953, have finally led him to the conclusion that there is no alternative to an ultimate single-service solution.

Air Force Association President Gill Robb Wilson, in the July ’56 issue of AIR FORCE Magazine (see “The Roles and Missions Muddle”) proposed a single service, “with the color of the suit.” Mr. Wilson proposed a single promotion list and freedom of transfer, but not necessarily one uniform. The following month, at the Association’s 1956 Convention in New Orleans, delegates unanimously adopted a Statement of Policy that called for freedom of transfer among the services as the first step toward a single service (see AIR FORCE, September ’56, page 38).

Gen. Thomas D. White, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, has indicated receptivity to similar proposals in a public speech, and it is difficult to believe that this could have been done without at least the tacit concurrence of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Nathan F. Twining. Thus, in the United States the initiative for one service, full indeed, did the movement for unification in the period from 1945 to 1947.

The skeptic will wonder whether or not this apparent Air Force party line is adopted out of belief that some selfish Air Force interest will be furthered. But it is difficult to see how this is so. The Air Force now gets the lion’s share of the appropriations and has the major responsibilities for D-Day missions—which in turn require expansion of the Air Force and generate requirements for history to indicate that, in a fully integrated military establishment, airmen would play a dominant role in competition with their senior brother officers from the ground and naval forces. An airman is yet to achieve chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and only the designation of Gen. Lauris Norstad as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, is an exception to the existing monopoly of the Army and Navy in the leadership of the major joint commands. So it will be difficult to convince the objective analyst that service motives lie behind Air Force sponsorship of full military integration.

What of the Army? The late Anthony Leviero of the New York Times, who had developed some rather unusual pipelines into the files of the Pentagon, wrote of an “Army Staff Paper,” which, after considering a half-dozen possible organizational changes, plumped for a single Chief of Staff in place of the Joint Chiefs of Staff while still retabling the three-service structure and their uniforms—roughly the same proposal as that of retired Air Force Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, in Newsweek. But this is only the professional Army, for Army Secretary Wilber M. Brucker is publicly opposed the conclusions of this paper, as has his superior, Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor and his usually vocal Chief of Research and Development, Lt. Gen. James M. Gavin, Jr., have maintained a discreet silence, but significantly have not disclaimed the “Army Staff Paper” reported on by Mr. Leviero.

And the Navy? Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh A. Burke has stated that he would want to examine very carefully the details of any proposal. Lest the proposers of change be unduly optimistic as to Navy support, be it remembered that this was the attitude of the late James V. Forrestal when he was Secretary of the Navy, and of senior Navy officers in the 1944 hearings on unification; this did not preclude later full-scale Navy opposition to all proposals for unification. The Navy’s insistence on its own individuality and its own way of doing things has been traditional. Things may be different now but if they are it will be news, and good news too.

Advantages and Objections

Since the substitution of an Armed Forces Chief of Staff for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a General Staff for the Joint Staff, is a feature of many of the current proposals, it is worth while to consider first this limited reform.

Principal Advantage: The ultimate military advice to civilian superiors in the executive establishment would come from a single responsible source instead of from the babel of conflicting voices with which the Joint Chiefs of Staff too often speak. Let two things be quickly stated: First, it is not suggested that the President, the Secretary of Defense, or the Congress should hear only from the Chief of Staff, any more than the equivalent is now true within the current military departments. It is standing operating procedure for the Secretary of the Army, Navy, or Air Force to get the individual views of many senior staff officers and major commanders on important issues. But after all of these have been heard, under a single-chief-of-staff system, civilians in the executive establishment and in Congress would have the benefit of the responsible views of one man to assist them in exercising the civilian control inherent in our constitutional system. And second, the conclusions of the Armed Forces Chief of Staff will, of course, be reached on the basis of careful, detailed staff work by officers with a composite background as broad as the problem itself. It will not be an arbitrary snap judgment any more than are the current decisions by the present military Chiefs of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.

Objection:That the Armed Forces Chief of Staff will become a Man-on-a-White-Horse, threatening civilian control. This objection has consistently been raised in opposition to every proposal for tightening the military structure, beginning with Secretary of War Elihu Root’s proposal for an Army General Staff. This bogey was a principal talking point in opposition to the National Security Act of 1947 and each of its amendments. The answer, heretofore, clearly endorsed by experience, is that the security of the American republic from military domination rests upon the ingrained revulsion of the American people, including the professional military, to any form of military dictatorship. Were there a real risk, this country would long ago have fallen a victim during those extended periods when six victorious generals (Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Taylor, Grant, and Eisenhower—not to mention the ebullient amateur, Teddy Roosevelt, who was perhaps more militaristic than any of the foregoing six) have been Presidents and constitutional Commanders-in-Chief of the armed services.

Objection:That no one man can have the breadth of experience needed to pass upon the problems of land, sea, and air forces. Since it is more than likely that this objection will be raised by men in dark blue uniforms, it is well to recall that all Chiefs of Naval Operations have to pass upon military problems involving carrier-based air, land-based naval air, battleships, cruisers, submarines, marine ground forces, tactical, marine air wings, and a few more. There was a good deal of implicit wisdom in Admiral “Bill” Halsey’s remark to General “Hap” Arnold during the unification controversy: “Just bring your strategic bombers into the Navy and we’ll have the whole show anyway, with built-in unification.” Since the recent excursion of the big carriers into the strategic bombing field the Navy would seem now to have an across-the-board variety of missions. Of course, the Chief of Naval Operations, like the proposed Armed Forces Chief of Staff, cannot have personal experience in this wide variety of weapon systems. Yet he operates, and there seems little reason to believe that the larger quantitative responsibilities of an Armed Forces Chief of Staff would be beyond the capabilities of our most competent and experienced officers of whatever weapon-system background.

Objection:That an Armed Forces Chief of Staff would be bound to favor the weapon system in which he is trained to the detriment of those in which he has less experience. This might have been plausible before the days when senior officers of all services held field commands of ground, sea, and air forces; but the reality of the objection is denied by the documented performance of such joint and combined commanders as Eisenhower, Nimitz, MacArthur, and Gruenther. And there is no reason to expect any different conclusion when the performance of General Norstad as SACEUR passes into history. As Army officers contemplate what has happened to their military personnel strength since 1953, it will be difficult to convince them that the Army general who now occupies the White House has shown undue preference for his service of origin.

Objection:That the Germans had an Armed Forces Chief of Staff and General Staff, and they lost two wars. We didn’t, and won two wars—so why shift? This also is a vintage chestnut. The following colloquy between Senator Hill and Admiral King in the unification hearings of 1945 is illuminating:

Senator Hill: Admiral, you spoke about Germany and her system. Germany had one department, a single department, did she not?

Admiral King: Yes.

Senator Hill: Well, Japan had two departments, did she not

Admiral King: Yes.

Senator Hill: And Italy had three departments, did she not?

Admiral King: Yes.

Senator Hill: And all three of those nations were defeated

Admiral King: Yes.

More recently, and in less facetious vein, General Spaatz has answered this objection in his Newsweek column: “The stock, argument against a general staff is that it was tried by the Germans and lost them two wars. The fact is that the Germans lost two wars not because of their general staff but in spite of it. In both cases, they were overwhelmed by superior military and economic strength. Considering their resources, they did remarkably well.”

There doubtless will be other objections raised, probably along lines that became familiar by repetition in the several series of hearings that preceded the passage of the National Security Act of 1947. (An unclassified “Analytical Digest of Testimony Before the Senate Military Affairs Committee; October 17 to December 17, 1945,” still available in Air Force files, provides a key to some thirty-seven objections then raised with answers given in testimony). The studious reader would be well advised to examine these hearings (or the “Analytical Digest”) and then compare the gloomy predictions with what has actually happened in the last nine years; he will get not only enlightenment but amusement.

The Full Treatment

It goes without saying that the single-service proposal includes an Armed Forces Chief of Staff and General Staff. So the advantages of, and objections to, the more limited proposal apply to the full treatment.

But it would appear that there are additional advantages to the full treatment, and there will certainly be additional objections.

Additional Advantage: With all the armed forces in a single service, there will be no jurisdictional lines between services and, therefore, squabbles over roles and missions will be no more frequent than they now are within the multi-weapon-systems structure of the present within the multi-weapon-systems structure of the present of military opinion will be eliminated, nor would this be desirable, but that the petty, futile, and paralyzing type of dispute which, like certain types of labor conflicts, concern only the question of who is going to do what task would almost certainly be eliminated as a major factor of controversy.

Additional Advantage: With all military personnel in one uniform, there would be a free flow of trained officers and men away from obsolescent weapon systems in the direction of weapon systems which technological advances increase in importance. Officers and men from the highest to the lowest rank would be capable of transfer as freely as occurred after Pearl Harbor when it became apparent that the naval war in the Pacific would be dominated by the carriers and not by battleships and cruisers, thus causing naval personnel strength from admiral on down to transfer from the dreadnaught battle line to carrier operations.

Never again would the nation be faced with the absurdity of 1950 when it proved impossible to man the Air Defense Command with naval fighter pilots highly experienced in air defense, thus requiring the Air Force to recruit and train fighter pilots while naval and marine officers for whose training the taxpayer had already paid were let go through reductions in force.

The rapid advance of military technology will cause now-dominant weapon systems to become obsolete and will bring into decisive importance new weapon systems now observable on the horizon and some that still defy the imagination. Organization should permit a flow of personnel from the vanishing to the ascendant mission. The priceless asset of experienced personnel must have organizational flexibility adequate to keep pace with the ingenuity of our scientists and engineers.

As President James R. Killian of MIT testified before the Symington Subcommittee on Airpower, “The military task no longer divides up into three mission areas, defined by the vehicle the fighting man rides in. . . . One of the most urgent needs in our whole defense organization is for men, whether they be in uniform or out, who understand the integration of (weapon) systems and the organizational implications inherent in our new-weapon technology.”

Objection:That placing all military personnel in one uniform would destroy the priceless ingredient of morale and esprit de corps. This raises the question, “What is the corps to which esprit attaches?” All members of the US armed forces are now, and will continue to be, Americans. This is a basic loyalty, a very big corps in which the esprit is unquestionable. What lesser corps demand esprit in the national interest is a question of judgment.

Take the first example that comes to mind—the Marines. They already have land and air units. Suppose ship units were added. Would that make a difference? And if it didn’t, is it likely that the only sensible solution is to put everyone in the Marines? Is a separate uniform necessary to esprit de corps? Consider the submariners—or the paratroopers, who, in the person of the present Chief of Staff of the Army and his predecessor, not to mention the present Chief of Research and Development, seem to be doing all right in the Army. Was a separate uniform necessary to give coherence to the Army Air Corps, or the Army Air Forces in World War II? Any reader of Cecil Woodham Smith’s fascinating volume The Reason Why will get a sense of the attachment of British regiments of the Nineteenth Century to their “regimentals”; but the Tommies of the Old Contemptibles in World War I, the Desert Rats of Montgomery’s Eighth Army, and the Gloucestershire Battalion in Korea suggest that “regimentals” were not all that important. Is it not a fact that apart from the national loyalty, the esprit de corps that counts is that of the combat unit to which the soldier, sailor, or airman is attached? Arleigh Burke’s DESRON 23, Curtis LeMay’s Twentieth Air Force, and Merrill’s Marauders needed no separate uniforms.

Experience would seem to indicate that that type of morale so vividly expressed in the Navy expressions “taut ship” and “happy ship” is the morale of a fighting unit and not of an administrative organization.

Objection:That free transfer of personnel between functions can be obtained by a simple act of Congress permitting such transfer; no single uniform or single service is required. Legalistically this is true, psychologically probably not. Men do not like to change political parties, nor young men from one college to another. Few who wear a service uniform would feel quite comfortable in severing the emotional and social relationships inherent in that uniform and taking on the uniform of a service that has to some extent been considered a rival. Where institutions have loyalties attached to them, here is a human reluctance to shift. So it is at least a possibility that putting all American military personnel in one uniform would make it as easy to shift from carrier-based air operations to air defense as it now is to shift from the Tactical Air Command to the Air Defense Command, from a cruiser division to the Air Defense Command, from a cruiser division to the “cans,” and from the infantry to a Nike battalion.

Economy? Whether any organizational change now proposed would make it cheaper for the taxpayer is something which the business experts, certainly not I, must discuss. Yet perhaps it would not be presumptuous for me to ask a couple of questions. If the free flow of personnel should bring it about that no officer or man felt that his career was tied to a particular weapon system would it not be likely that obsolescent weapon systems would be more quickly abandoned and the weapon systems of the next war more quickly adopted? If it should prove that a single service in one uniform would permit the nation to make better use of its resources of expensively trained personnel, would that not in itself produce substantial economies?

If an experiment is to be made in major organizational change, is not the moment propitious when international tensions are at least temporarily eased and no shooting war is going on? Also, is it not likely that this type of reform can best be put into effect under the leadership of a President in whose military wisdom and experience the nation justly has confidence?

Maj. Margaret V. Berry, who’s now at Headquarters USAFE, was a member of the first WAC class at Des Moines. She got her baptism of fire in interservice matters as a member of the B-36 Task Force in 1949. Later she was chosen to head the Paris administrative staff of the Four Chiefs of Air Staff Conference (US, United Kingdom, Canada, and France) in 1951, and served on other overseas missions, including the Joint Military Survey Group to Spain and two check-ups on the defensibility of SAC bases in Britain. For several years she headed the staff of the AF Secretary’s Special Consultants, and among other things worked on the Korean Evaluation Project and the amendments to the National Security Act of 1947. Before leaving for her current assignment, she’d been Special Assistant to the Commander of the First Air Force.