Book Review / Commentary on The Road Not Taken – Musings of an old Special Ops JAG on Military Legitimacy – 15 January 2018

Musings of an old Special Ops JAG on Military Legitimacy

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Max Boot has published a new book, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam. MG Lansdale, who miscast by Graham Greene as The Quiet American, was an inspiration to me while serving with Special Action Force Asia and later at the JFK Center and School for Special Warfare at Ft. Bragg.

Lansdale was a classic diplomat-warrior who understood that U.S. military success in hostile cultural environs like the Philippines in the 1950s and Vietnam in the 1960s (and in Afghanistan today) depends upon local perceptions of political and military legitimacy, and that superior military force is never a substitute for that legitimacy.

I wrote of this in 1996, citing Edward Lansdale, in Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium. It seems to me that the following from Chapter 5 is as relevant to military operations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa today as it was to Vietnam, and, unfortunately, those lessons learned in legitimacy are as ignored today as they were then.



Better a patient man than a warrior,

A man that controls his temper than one who takes a city.

Proverbs 16:32

Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.

Matthew 20:26

Earlier chapters have provided an overview of the concept of military legitimacy and how it relates to operations other than war. This chapter has its focus on the relevance of military legitimacy to leadership in operations other than war. The civil-military focus of these operations requires a unique kind of military leader–one who can combine the proficiency of a combat leader with the finesse of a diplomat: the diplomat warrior.1

Paradox of the military in a democracy

Some may consider the term diplomat warrior an oxymoron; it is true that diplomacy, traditionally a civilian endeavor, and military activities are not always compatible. But reconciling diplomacy with military operations other than war should be no more difficult than reconciling the paradox of a military organization within a democratic society, another prerequisite for military leadership.

Operations other than war require that the military leader be equally at home in a civilian or military environment. But there is a natural tension in civil-military relations that can affect military legitimacy. This tension is due to the tendency for military (collective) values to conflict with civilian (individual) values. Colonel Dennis R. Hunt, Professor of Law at the U.S. Military Academy, introduces cadets beginning the study of Constitutional Law to the potential conflict:

“To succeed as an officer you must comprehend the paradox of a military organization within a democratic society. The military is necessarily non-democratic and authoritarian, but it defends democratic principles and is manned with citizen soldiers drawn from a society which enjoys great personal liberties. You will be challenged to ensure that soldiers’ Constitutional rights are neither unjustly nor unnecessarily abridged in the course of accomplishing your mission and administering military law.”2

The military environment emphasizes collective values such as good order and discipline which are required in an authoritarian organization; but these military values necessarily conflict with individual rights such as the freedom of expression which are protected by the Constitution. The potential conflict between these military and civilian values threatens civil-military relations and military legitimacy.

There is evidence that misplaced concepts of duty and loyalty to authoritarian values have caused some officers to loose touch with civilian values grounded in the U.S. Constitution.3 This was illustrated in the Iran-Contra affair, when Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North put his loyalty to a mission of doubtful legality ahead of his duty to support the Constitution. In failing to cooperate with the Congress, he not only compromised his integrity, but also his mission. His actions doomed congressional support for the cause he had so zealously pursued.

Colonel North’s conduct has been described as a leadership failure that “…occurs when pragmatic but narrowly focused subordinates, in their zeal to get a job done or to please their boss, act illegally or unethically….”4 A noted military ethicist, Colonel Anthony E. Hartle, questioned Colonel North’s loyalty to the Constitution:

“Some critics have claimed of North that in his zeal to promote democracy abroad, he subverted it at home, specifically in subverting some of the fundamental tenets of the professional military ethic. North may have become so concerned about protecting foreign agents and contacts that he lost sight of his loyalty to American institutions and the Constitution.”

Colonel Hartle noted that when Colonel North, or any officer for that matter, puts loyalty to mission ahead of loyalty to the Constitution, it is a real threat to democracy:

“When the inefficiency and lack of responsiveness of democratic procedures become too great a luxury or danger, and persons other than the people’s elected representatives conclude that, because they understand the real priorities, democratic procedures must be set aside, then the republic is perhaps most endangered.”5

The Constitution is the ultimate standard of legitimacy for military officers. They must not only understand the Constitution, but upon commissioning take an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic; and bear true faith and allegiance to the same. Where there are conflicting values of duty and loyalty, the oath leaves no doubt that the ultimate duty and loyalty of the military officer must be to the Constitution as the foundation of the rule of law and the bedrock of military legitimacy.6

The dichotomy between military and civilian values is most evident in emerging democracies where there has been no traditional separation of military and political power. In the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and Latin America, military legitimacy depends upon a new generation of leadership to reshape authoritarian concepts of military professionalism and improve historically poor civil-military relations.7

The challenge of promoting the Constitutional values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in emerging democracies requires leadership that understands the importance of civil-military relations to military legitimacy. Leadership must be provided in civilian as well as military environments, which necessitates balancing the requirements of warfighting with a professional style that promotes civil-military relations.

The diplomat warrior

The requirements of military legitimacy in the new strategic environment call for a new style of leadership that depends more upon knowledge and the power of persuasion than on command authority. Leaders in operations other than war must be able to motivate others, both military and civilian, without arousing hostility–a Webster’s definition of diplomacy. Diplomacy is out of place in combat, where success is synonymous with hostility. But proficiency as a combat leader is not a sufficient qualification for leadership in operations other than war.

A former military advisor to Saudi Arabia has compared the contrasting leadership skills required in peace and war, and defined diplomatic leadership as leading from behind. General William H. Riley, Jr. noted that

“Leadership is defined as making it happen. Obviously, an aggressive, confrontational, results-at-any-cost mentality would be counterproductive with our Saudi counterparts. A General Patton would probably be a miserable failure in developing rapport and achieving progress with the Saudis. A take-the-hill kind of attitude that attempts to tally quick results will not work well in the Saudi environment. We should lead from behind and encourage our Saudi counterparts to take the prominent role in planning, coordinating, directing, and controlling their projects.”8

While the diplomatic style of leadership required of the military advisor contrasts sharply with the leadership traits required in combat, the two are not mutually exclusive; both styles of leadership are right (and legitimate) for their respective environments. Many combat leaders are versatile enough to be both great warriors and diplomats, but some are not; and others, like Colonel David H. Hackworth, do not care to be diplomats and should not be put in a position to jeopardize military legitimacy.

Colonel Hackworth, the most highly decorated combat soldier alive, is the quintessential undiplomatic warrior. His heroic but unabashedly brash military exploits have been chronicled in his book About Face. Colonel Hackworth recalled an earlier effort by the Army (circa 1954) to develop a

“…new breed [that was] kind of a warrior-diplomat; as bloodless ballistics seemed to be phasing out the role of fighters on future battlegrounds, the emphasis increased on the diplomatic side of soldiering.”9

Colonel Hackworth and his rowdy warriors wanted no part of military diplomacy. When Hackworth served as a MACV advisor in Vietnam he was openly cynical of his ARVN counterparts. His leadership style was direct and forceful, if not intimidating; and he had little use for the finesse required in diplomacy. In fairness to Colonel Hackworth, however, there was little comparison between the environment in Vietnam after 1968 and that of Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.

One officer who exemplified the qualities of the diplomat warrior in an advisory role was never a combat leader. Major General Edward Lansdale nevertheless had the confidence and respect of those he advised, including Ramon Magsaysay who was Defense Minister and later President of the Philippines. Lansdale helped Magsaysay successfully counter the Huk insurgency in the Philippines during the 1950s. Their counterinsurgency operations reflected a commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law that remains relevant today. Lansdale’s successful counterinsurgency philosophy was based on a sensitivity to the human, or social, dimension of conflict:

“Lansdale had real concern for insurgents and a great deal of sympathy for their goals. He was at one with his old friend, Magsaysay, who once said, ‘When a man is prepared to give up his life to overthrow his own government, he must first have suffered greatly.’ Lansdale was likewise in agreement with Magsaysay’s position that ‘those who have less in life must have more in law.'”10

Lansdale’s moral principles were the foundation of his concept of military legitimacy, and they exemplified those of the diplomat warrior. He considered any deed “which makes the soldier a brother of the people, as well as their protector,” a worthy one. And he cited the ancient Chinese general, Sun Tzu, who considered military humanitarian assistance as “moral law.” It was Sun Tzu who observed that “to fight and conquer is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence is to conquer without fighting.” Lansdale also cited a later Chinese leader, Mao Tse-tung, who required his soldiers to act in accordance with orders, not to take anything from the people, and not to allow private interests to injure public interests. Lansdale used these principles to illustrate his belief that in political warfare “the paramount object was to gain the loyalty of people who inhabit the land.”11

Lansdale combined the best qualities of the military ethic and professionalism with a respect for divergent views and a strong belief in individual rights and responsibility as a measure of integrity. He was equally at home in a military or civilian environment and was outspoken in his criticism of narrow-minded military leaders. Criticizing the emphasis on body count as a criteria for mission success and insensitivity to collateral damage in Vietnam, Lansdale challenged myopic military leaders to look at the moral dimension of their actions:

“True Americans, Lansdale warned, would avoid such actions. ‘Open your eyes where you serve,’ he ordered. Be good soldiers. Win over local populations. See that troops behave with true military courtesy. Keep always a high code of honor. Prize integrity. Accord others the dignity that is their birthright. Act as a friend. Have empathy and humility. Offer a smile and a greeting in the language of the host country. Practice what you preach. Only those who act in such ways are true Americans. This strength we must have, or all else we possess and do will be without lasting meaning.”12

Lansdale applied the above qualities in operations other than war before they were known as such. Their success demonstrated how the values of the Army Ethic–duty, loyalty, integrity, and selfless service–can help make the military a positive and constructive force in achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives during peacetime and conflict. When applied to civil-military relations, these traditional military values provide a context for ethical decision-making.

Vietnam was a crucible for the diplomat warrior, and until 1965 the Special Forces advisor reflected the Lansdale ideal. As late as 1969 there were diplomat warriors in remote hamlets of Vietnam still trying to salvage military and political legitimacy. One of these diplomat warriors wrote of his experiences in Once a Warrior King. He was invited back to Fort Bragg where he once received training as a military advisor to reflect on his experiences:

“I have seen the term in some of the materials here, the Diplomat Warrior, and I suppose the things we did might be covered by such a term. On the civilian side, we worked for the American embassy on rural development, and on the military side we were tactical advisors for MACV. Almost every day and night we conducted military operations; two of us on the team were almost always away on an ambush or daylight operation. During the day we also provided advice and guidance for the civilian leaders.”

The former warrior king provided some timely advice to the civil affairs audience:

“I would say, yes, weave yourself into the local society if it helps the mission, but do not become lost in it. That is a danger. Remember who you are, where you are going, and why you are going there.”

He emphasized that modern diplomat warriors should know the language, the culture, the objective, the resources available, and respect the people in their area of operations; but he noted that a belief in the democratic ideal is also required to sustain diplomat warriors:

“…out there in those remote, unheard of villages around the world, in those lonely nights when no one seems to care, in those difficult times when the bullets fly and the bombs explode, in those days when the heat and bugs and the inefficiency of it all seem almost to have the victory; in those times that spirit within must still be able to guide you and to help you guide others. You and those you have been sent to help must be able to see out there in front of you the gleam of freedom rising, the faint flicker of justice awaiting. If you can help lead a people, even in small steps, toward those objectives you will have served your country and humanity well.”13

The lessons of the former warrior king have been as relevant in Haiti as they were in Vietnam. One Special Forces commander was described in 1994 as “the contemporary version of a Roman procurator, the sole authority over the lives of three hundred thousand people living under primitive conditions in a mountainous, isolated four-hundred-square-kilometer administrative district.” In spite of many frustrations, Special Forces troops in Haiti have exemplified the spirit of the diplomat warrior:

They know why they’re in Haiti, even if the folks back home don’t. Without guile or quixotic naivete, and with a growing, if not yet full, appreciation for the political and moral ambiguities of the mission, they say it: “We’re here to free the oppressed.” De Oppresso Liber is the motto of the Special Forces.14

That motto exemplifies military legitimacy in operations other than war, and gives meaning to the national values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But as a leadership model the Special Forces soldier has been the exception rather than the rule. During the Cold War most civil-military operations overseas were considered special operations in LIC, the domain of Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations. While new Army doctrine incorporates peacetime civil-military activities into conventional operations other than war, the Army leadership model and the paradigm of the soldier and the state have not kept pace with that doctrine.

The soldier and the state

The traditional paradigm: the unpolitical soldier. The traditional paradigm of the soldier and the state and related concepts of military leadership and professionalism are based on a pure warrior ethic that calls for an unpolitical soldier, one clearly unsuited for civil-military operations in which political objectives predominate. If military leadership is to be reconciled with the requirements of legitimacy in operations other than war, this paradigm must be changed.

The author of the traditional paradigm is Samuel P. Huntington, the venerable Harvard professor who has described the current strategic environment as a clash of civilizations (see chapter 3, notes 9 & 10), an often hostile cultural environment that requires coordinated military, economic, political, and informational activities to achieve U.S. security objectives. In such an operational environment military leaders must be able to bridge the formidable gap between military and political activities.

While Huntington’s latest work implies the need for diplomat warriors in civil-military operations, his 1957 classic on The Soldier and the State minimized the importance of civil-military relations to military legitimacy, and described the military ethic as “basically corporative [collective] in spirit and fundamentally anti-individualistic.”15

Huntington argued that civil-military relations should be minimal to avoid polluting the warrior spirit. He was convinced that military professionalism depended upon military officers remaining isolated from the politics of the civilian society they served. For Huntington, professionalism was defined by duty and loyalty to a uniquely military ideal: a robotic officer sworn to mindlessly obey hierarchical military authority, rather than a politically savvy officer who understood the principles and values of the Constitution and civil-military relations.16

While advocating the segregation of military and civilian activities, Huntington recognized the danger of conflicting military and civilian values to military legitimacy–or, as he termed it–the equilibrium of objective civilian control. For Huntington the unavoidable conflicts between an isolated military and civilian values were a price the military must pay to maintain the purity of its warrior ideal. His hope was that the lack of civil-military relations would be compensated by a shift in civilian support for his military ethic.17

A new paradigm: the political soldier. If there were ever a trend of civilian values toward Huntington’s Cold War military ethic, it has since been reversed. The end of the evil empire and defense budget constraints have upset the old equilibrium. Change is certain, but if contemporary missions are any indication, change will continue to be in the direction of developing more civil-military capabilities such as those of Civil Affairs to balance traditional combat capabilities. This trend is reflected in the new Army doctrine on operations other than war.

Huntington was right about the need for an equilibrium between military and civilian values to ensure military effectiveness and legitimacy, but wrong in his predictions about changing civilian perceptions of military legitimacy. To achieve the equilibrium necessary to accommodate both military power and legitimacy in the new strategic environment, military values and concepts of professionalism must accommodate changing and sometimes conflicting civilian attitudes and values. The leadership paradigm of the diplomat warrior reflects a healthy balance of military and civilian values, a prerequisite for mission success in operations other than war.

The diplomat warrior is a political soldier who must understand the predominance of political objectives and the need for public support to achieve them. The diplomat warrior reflects the importance of civil-military relations to military legitimacy in operations other than war, where mission success requires that military leaders are knowledgeable in political affairs and work closely with civilians and foreign military personnel. An unlikely advocate, German General Ludwig Beck, warned of the dangers of military leaders isolated from politics, even in wartime:

“‘He who follows a false tradition of the unpolitical soldier and restricts himself to his military craft neglects an essential part of his sworn duty as a soldier in a democracy.’ [Beck] warns that an officer corps that restricts itself to matters of craft may become indistinguishable from those Wehrmacht officers–honorable men by their own lights–who in doing their duty to the very end only propelled Germany that much further into the darkness. And he challenges us to embrace a mature vision of professionalism, [in which soldiers] appreciate the role of politics broadly defined in motivating, defining, and guiding any genuinely effective military policy.”18

These views contrast sharply with those of traditionalists who hold fast to the Huntington paradigm of the pure warrior ethic. One traditionalist dramatized the danger of politicizing the military with a hypothetical military takeover, led by military zealots who had acquired an insatiable appetite for political power through extensive civil-military activities. The protagonist, a colonel who resisted the coup, warned his friends of the dangers of politicizing the military: “Demand that the armed forces focus exclusively on indisputably military duties.” The heroic colonel was in the mold of the pure warrior, isolated from the corrupting influence of civilian politics and values; he fit the Huntington paradigm of the (unpolitical) soldier and the state.19

Another traditionalist was less subtle in warning that deteriorating civilian values could corrupt the pure values of military professionalism. He saw civilian values as a direct threat to military values and issued a call to arms:

“The societal trends indicate a fundamental change in national values. The country’s primary value-influencing institutions are promoting altered values for future recruits. These altered values are significantly different than the Army’s values. The Army must preserve its integrity as an institution by resisting any tendency to accommodate these changed values.”20

If there is a danger to democracy, it will not come from a military integrated with the society it must serve, but from an isolated military elite. An isolated warrior class is likely to develop authoritarian values that conflict with the libertarian values of the society it must serve. If there were to be a military coup, it would likely be to conform society to the authoritarian military ideal.21

But the remote threat of a military takeover is not the reason to change the traditional paradigm; it is the need for diplomat warriors in operations other than war. The unpolitical soldier–the pure warrior–cannot fulfill the requirements for leadership in operations other than war.

Two schools of thought on leadership

The two paradigms of the soldier and the state reflect competing models of leadership which must be reconciled in the diplomat warrior. Nowhere is the traditional model of leadership held in higher esteem than at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. Since 1842 it has made leadership its hallmark, with the Citadel Man exemplifying the ideal citizen-soldier. That is, until 1993, when a female applied for admission to the all-male corps of cadets. In defending its single-gender tradition in the litigation that followed, The Citadel recommended a separate but equal leadership program for women, the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI).22


Columbia College was one of two women’s colleges in South Carolina named to co-sponsor WLI. But the dean of the Leadership Institute at Columbia College has resisted participation in WLI on the grounds that its traditional military model of leadership is incompatible with the model taught at her college:


“The central tenets of military leadership are conforming to clear directives from an officer, imitating the actions of a superior, standardization and regimentation, a “win-lose” operating mentality and unquestioned allegiance to the chain of command. Leadership education at Columbia College has a different philosophical base. It is not hierarchical, nor does it focus on regimentation or repetitive drill. Hallmarks of this model of leadership are entrenched in the operating principles of collaboration, shared governance, commitment to seek “win-win” solutions and decisions based on solid ethical premises.”23


A retired Army general took exception to the above description of military leadership:


“After reading Dr. Mary Frame’s explanation of military leadership, I was not sure what Army I served in for many years. She has a correct description of the old Soviet military leadership methods–always considered a weakness by Western military analysts.”24

The Army War College teaches a situational approach to leadership that includes both the directive style of leadership needed in combat as well as more supportive styles required for operations other than war. Successful leadership in diverse operational environments requires a mix of both styles; there is no one best style of leadership for war and peace.25 The Army, unlike The Citadel and Columbia College, is not a single-gender institution and cannot afford one-dimensional leadership. Its leaders must be flexible, equally at home in civilian and military environments and capable of employing both directive and supportive styles of leadership, depending on the situation.

The Army’s model of leadership is based on the concept of professionalism, the values of duty, loyalty, integrity, and selfless service, and the need to maintain good civil-military relations. As discussed earlier in this chapter, Huntington’s classic on the soldier and the state described military professionalism from the perspective of the traditional paradigm, with its directive style of leadership, authoritarian concepts of duty and loyalty, and isolation from civilian politics. The new paradigm of the political soldier has its focus on the Constitution and incorporates the supportive traits required in operations other than war, such as negotiation and diplomacy. Most of all, it encourages interaction between the military and the civilian society it serves to ensure healthy civil-military relations.

One of the best arguments for changing the old paradigm comes from its author, Samuel Huntington, whose description of the new strategic environment as one of clashing cultures makes his own traditional style of military leadership an anachronism, except in warfighting. For the military to be an effective instrument of national power in operations other than war it must have leaders whose concept of professionalism–their understanding of duty and loyalty—makes good civil-military relations a mission priority.

Notes to Chapter 5 of Military Legitimacy:

  1. The diplomat warrior is described in Barnes, “Military Legitimacy and the Diplomat Warrior”, Small Wars and Insurgencies (Spring/Summer 1993), at pp 16-19.
  2. Student Text, Military Law and Justice, (Required Readings in Military Science IV, Military Qualifications Standards I, Precommissioning Requirements, June 1992); joint proponents for the test publication are the Judge Advocate General’s School in Charlottesville, VA, and the Department of Law at the U.S. Military Academy.
  3. See Peter Maslowski, “Army Values and American Values”, Military Review (April 1990), p 10.
  4. See John E. Shephard, “Thomas Becket, Ollie North, and You: The Importance of an Ethical Command Climate”, Military Review (May 1991), pp 21, 26.
  5. Anthony E. Hartle, “The Ethical Odyssey of Oliver North”, Parameters, Summer 1993, pp 28, 32, 33. The Iran-Contra Affair is used as a case study on “covert war in peacetime” in chapter 10 of National Security Law, edited by Stephen Dycus et at. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1990).
  6. See Barnes, “Military Legitimacy and the Diplomat Warrior”, supra note 1, pp 5, 8-11, 18, 19.
  7. As to Eastern Europe, see Jacob W. Kipp, “Civil-Military Relations in Central and Eastern Europe”, Military Review (December 1992), p 27. As to Latin America, see Gabriel Marcella, “The Latin American Military, Low Intensity Conflict, and Democracy”, Winning the Peace: The Strategic Implications of Military Civic Action, edited by John W. DePauw and George A. Luz, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, PA, chapter 4.
  8. William H. Riley, Jr., “Challenges of a Military Advisor”, Military Review, November 1988, p. 34. General Riley’s article preceded Desert Storm so that General Shwarzkopf’s style of leadership was not considered.
  9. David H. Hackworth, About Face (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p 315.
  10. Cecil B. Currey, “Edward G. Landsdale: LIC and the Ugly American”, Military Review, May 1988, p 50.
  11. Ibid at pp 50-52.
  12. See references at note 1 to chapter 2.
  13. David Donovan is a pseudonym used by Dr. Terry Turner, the author of Once A Warrior King (N.Y.: Ballentine Books, 1985). Dr. Turner spoke to CA personnel at the John F. Kennedy Center for Special Warfare and School at Fort Bragg, N. C. in July 1993.
  14. Bob Shacochis, “The Immaculate Invasion”, Harper’s Magazine (February 1995). pp 44, 59.
  15. Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MASS, 1957), pp 64, 70-94.
  16. Ibid at p 84.
  17. Ibid at pp 94 and 457.
  18. A. J. Bacevich, “New Rules: Modern War and Military Professionalism”, Parameters, December 1990, pp 12, 18, 19.
  19. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012”, Parameters (Winter 1992-92), pp 2, 14.
  20. Robert L. Maginnis, “A Chasm of Values”, Military Review, February 1993, pp 2-11.
  21. The danger of an emerging warrior class is discussed by Ralph Peters, “The New Warrior Class”, Parameters (Summer 1994), p 16. In The Transformation of War, The Free Press (New York, 1991), Martin van Creveld extols warriors as those who love to fight: “they are only to happy to give up their nearest and dearest in favor of–war!” (p 227).
  22. The Citadel Alumni News (Fall 1994), pp 10, 11.
  23. Mary J. Frame, Ph.D., “Columbia College, The Citadel teach different styles of leadership”, The State, February 8, 1995, p A9.
  24. Thomas D. Ayers, Lt. Gen., U.S.A. Retired, Letters to the Editor, The State, February 17, 1995, p A14.
  25. Kenneth H. Blanchard, A Situational Approach to Managing People (Blanchard Training and Development, Inc., Escondido, CA, 1985), pp 2-4.

Notes relating to Max Boot’s The Road Not Taken (2018):

On Edward Lansdale, see

On the Boot’s book, see