CYNICISM – A Brief Look at a Troubling Topic

“Corrosion, you see, whether on iron or any other material, is something that never stops.  We can fix it when it happens, and we can try to prevent it, but all we can ever really do is slow it down.  That’s why we call it the pervasive menace.”[1]

                                                Dan Dumire, Corrosion Prevention and Contol, DoD

Are today’s career officers more cynical than officers of previous eras, and how much more corrosive is their cynicism?  It turns out these are impossible questions to answer.  They are also irrelevant.  No cynic cares whether things were equally or even more screwed up in the past.  Cynics live in the present.  What matters to them is what is problematic now – and today’s post-command and command-select career officers are cynical.

While some causes of cynicism are as old as soldiering, others are new and are intensifying.  Consequently, we should worry about what it means when officers on the command track in Special Operations Forces (SOF) openly acknowledge that their faith in Higher Command is eroding, or has eroded; when they consider the prospect of military success to be dim; and/or when they see little to no prospect of increased professional satisfaction lying ahead.  We should worry about what this will do to retention and recruitment.  We should also worry about cynicism’s long-term impacts on decision-making by those who do choose to stay in and are on the path to becoming senior leaders themselves, especially if internally generated, never mind societal, sources of cynicism worsen. 

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