The Good Idea Fairy (aka Ash Carter) as a Child

The Good Idea Fairy (aka Ash Carter) as a Child

We considered something less blunt than “getting dumber” for the title, but we wanted to be sure that officers could read it. Matthew Cancian in Joint Forces Quarterly starts off with the Marines, simply because he has their data handy. We’ve deleted the footnote references (you can always go to the link) for readability, and added some bold emphasis of our own.

According to data obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request, the intelligence of new Marine Corps officers has declined steadily since 1980. Two-thirds of the new officers commissioned in 2014 would be in the bottom one-third of the class of 1980; 41 percent of new officers in 2014 would not have qualified to be officers by the standards held at the time of World War II. Similarly, at the top of the distribution, there are fewer of the very intelligent officers who will eventually become senior leaders.

This trend has not been caused by Marine Corps policies; it is a reflection of the expansion of higher education in America. In 1980, 18.6 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were in college. Today, that number is close to 30 percent. The dramatic rise in college attendance has increased the pool of people eligible to become officers in the military (possession of a bachelor’s degree being one of the chief requirements to be commissioned as an officer in all branches), but it also means that possession of a college degree is a less significant indicator of intelligence now than it once was. Marine Corps officers have reflected this trend, declining in average intelligence along with the population of college graduates (see figure 1).cancian-figure1

Well, that’s a pretty well fitted curve. What it says to us is that a college degree alone is now nearly worthless as a signal of leadership-level intelligence. However, we also disagree that high intelligence is necessarily the mark of a leader. We’ve made fun before of beetle-browed officers who majored in football at Flyover State, but intelligence is more of a threshold item for a leader than an item where more is always better. Don’t believe us? Consider this thought experiment: the 2nd Ranger Battalion as led by the sociology and cultural anthropology postdocs at Columbia.

Yeah, we probably should have given you a trigger warning on that one.

We think Cancian’s theory of the cause of the intelligence decline he documents is highly probable. (To which we’d add the military’s absolute refusal to distinguish between highly cognitively loaded undergraduate degrees and entirely unloaded ones: a Berkeley B.S. in Physics ≠ a Berkeley B.A. in Grievance Studies, and the second candidate brings nothing of value to the armed services).

A similar decline in intelligence has likely occurred in the other Services’ officer corps, as this is a trend in the pool of all college graduates and not something specific to the Marine Corps. For example, the average Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score of a Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps graduate in 2014 was the same as that of a new Marine officer. In the Army, the test scores of previously enlisted officer candidates have been declining since at least the mid-1990s (although the Army attributes this decline to changes in accession sources, unlike this article, which views the issue as more broadly based).

The Army has long refused to subject officer candidates to the same psychometric testing as enlisted soldiers. The party line is that the Army has effectively outsourced intelligence selection to the colleges (which is why TrigglyPuff might be your next infantry platoon leader, if she cal lose 150 pounds). The cynic’s view is that the Army does not want the Joes finding out that Lieutenant Fuzz really is below average in the Brain Housing Group. Either way, the result is the same: lots of hard-of-thinking Lt. Fuzzes and Wink Curtises misleading their men because they’re just not bright enough.

This article focuses on the Marine Corps because it has administered the same test, the General Classification Test (GCT), for decades and because of its responsiveness to the Freedom of Information Act process.

Translation: the Marines gave Cancian the data he asked for (“responsiveness to the Freedom of Information Act”) and the other services told him to go copulate with a rolling doughnut — not in so many words, but in a bunch of OSS Simple Sabotage Manual-approved acts of obstruction, foot-dragging, feigned (or maybe not) stupidity and dumb insolence.

More study is needed to ascertain the degree to which this phenomenon presents across the Department of Defense. A good first step would be to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to all officer candidates in all Services, study what makes an effective officer, and implement long-term reforms to strengthen the officer corps of the 21st century.

via Officers Are Less Intelligent: What Does It Mean? > National Defense University Press > Joint Force Quarterly 81.

Cancian’s suggestions are so good that the probability of any uptake on them before Sol goes nova is functionally zero. The personnel system, itself a creaky construct of self-serving officers, the lowest-quality enlisted troops in the services, and layers of obsolete procedures and practices layered atop scriptural Regulations which perch in turn on the leadership-by-jerking-you-around that emanates from Congress, always seeks homeostasis.

army troubleshooting flowchartDecentralizing power and giving commanders more hire and fire authority, while eliminating those tens of thousands of clerk positions and introducing them to the joys of life in a mortar platoon, would go a long way. Otherwise, with a centrally managed, bureaucratic promotions system, and commanders’ hands tied with respect to their ability to man their units, you get Army Troubleshooting (left).

We can’t speak for the Marines or other services here, but the only-a-college-degree-but-any-college-degree requirement is just one instance of the Army’s obsession with easily-gamed and empty credentialism. While the Army has internalized credentialism in its processes, the original requirement comes from, where else? Congress, in DOPMA and ROPMA. Acceptance of low-content degrees is also driven by bean-counting Affirmative Action, and other Diversity is Our Vibrancy® programs that reduce all soldiers and officers to their skin color and ancestry. The Armed Forces would be better off never even noting or recording the race, religion and other personal characteristics of their volunteers.

This entry was posted in Lord Love a Duck, Unconventional Warfare on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

42 thoughts on “As Complexity Increases, Officers are Getting Dumber


Back in the stone(d) age(we’re talkin’ the middle ’60’s here) the CO of my AC&W squadron had a degree in English Lit. I wouldn’t have trusted the guy to change a light bulb in the tower… OTOH he seemed to know enough to let the troops do their jobs, so there was that.


One of the most intelligent man I have ever known and the best leader I ever had was my old Company Commander, and we were fortunate enough to have on our deployment. He had a music degree from a 2nd tier college that’s only known for producing teachers.


I note that the USMC is now moving away from the issue of handguns, M9 for now, who knows what piece of lowest-bidder plastic crap down the road, and theyt’ll be getting M4 carbines like the rest of the boys, girls and whatevers. Whether or not this will trickle-up to Field Grade or not remains to be seen; stay tuned.

Pardon my ignorance on the matter, But what is the quality of the Officers that come out of the military academies like west point and the other ones? I know I have heard good things and a lot of jokes about the guys who come out of those places, so I have no idea


My experience, which is now (gasp) 20 years out of date is that USMA vs ROTC grad quality was comparable. I’m an ROTC grad myself so I’m biased, and my experience was in a combat engineer batttalion where the majority of the officers had degrees in technical fields. Thinking back, of the idiot officers I knew in my battalion 1/4 was a USMA grad (lieutenant then selected for captain). The other three, two were ROTC grads, one an OCS grad. And I’m talking about gross idiocy- not “I’m a new LT and I got lost” or “LT messed up the demo calculations”.


It goes to each end of the spectrum no matter the commissioning route. Someone was still bottom of the class at West Point and his lieuy bar is the same as the guy at the academic top.

I think to a certain extant, the traditions of days gone have carried forward to where they need to be stopped. Land owning gentry or otherwise influential people were given their ranks. Sometimes they turned out to be first class leaders, others turned out to be turds. In early America we fought to some degree with merging that old system with promoting based on merit. If you read about von Steuben you can see it in his remarks. But, the former mark of an educated, thoughtful man-the college degree-is watered down to be almost unusable.

I was an enlisted guy, served long enough at least the majority of it as an NCO vs junior enlisted. Maybe that point of view changes my perception. My solution would be in order to have a truly professional force you have to promote from within. Some troops will only be that, just good troops and that’s fine. Some, excel and become good leaders and NCOs. This is where your WOs would come from. From there, the career officers and leaders are plucked and advanced. Of course that system could be tainted as well just as easy in order to check a box here or fill a quota there.


West Point does not produce mediocrities, in my experience. The West Point grads I worked for and around were either the best officers I’ve ever worked for… Or, they were the worst. There was no “in between”.

A large part of the problem that I see with the officer corps is that the officers who make it up are not solely selected for being men and women with a true “vocation” for the military. All too many of them are simply time-serving hacks looking for a career that’s not going to be too demanding, and that’s what the Army offers them. Not a tremendous difference between the enlisted who join solely for the bennies, and a lot of the officers.

The other aspect of the problem is that West Point has about as much to do with the active Army as your Cirque de Soliel has with your typical itinerant backwoods carnival attraction. The average West Pointer goes through a horrible culture shock when they get out to the “real Army”, and discover that what they’ve been taught ain’t quite what the Army actually does. A lot of them are never able to overcome their false expectations, and become rapidly disillusioned with the entire enterprise.

If I could be king for a day, I’d eliminate the entirety of our commissioning programs, West Point included. Then, I’d start my officer accessions from amongst the identified successful junior enlisted, and send them off to either a civilian college or West Point to get their college on, and bring them back as career officers. I’m a lot fonder of the ideals of the Prussian officer corps, where quality trumped quantity, than I am of how we handle this crap. You can’t make a shake-and-bake leader at any level; it’s a fundamental mistake to think that all leadership can be inculcated through schooling, either in the commissioned or enlisted ranks. I’d go back to take a look at how the hell the Wehrmacht managed to consistently out-fight us at the lowest levels, and carry forward through what the Israelis and other successful military forces have been doing since WWII. Our unfortunate approach, which is that college is an automatic filter for these positions, is a fundamental mistake. I’d rather have a dedicated junior officer who felt a true vocation for leadership at the company level, and who only had a high school diploma, than some half-ass college “hyphen-studies” graduate that thinks the ROTC program exists to get them a free college education and a ticket to the upper-middle class.

You get down to it, there’s not a hell of a lot of things at the company-level of leadership or management that really demand a college education.

Al T.

Kirk’s comments accurately reflect my experiences with USMA graduates, circa 1982 to 1992…


They really pump up people’s egos at the academies, but I realized at some point that a lot of the people just weren’t that smart or particularly good leaders. Also, I’m biased here, but army officers seem to be a cut below in the intelligence department.


Ken Burns’ TV Series on the Civil War was based on letters sent home from the troops, most of whom had at the most high school educations or just a few years of grade school. They were remarkably literate compared to what gets written by college grads today.

There has been some speculation that Victorians were smarter than the current generation.

I think a case can be made that a few smart tech people and the welfare state now make life quite a bit less challenging and that lack lets the dim whited proliferate.


You are making a false equivalency, mainly because the letters that got saved and kept were saved and kept by families that were both educated, and who had a respect for that sort of thing. You don’t see the lower end of the intelligence spectrum reflected in those things because most of those people were illiterate at the time. Trust me on this… The people of that time were no more intelligent than the people of today-What has changed, instead, is that the educational standards have been both degraded and spread out a lot further. Time was, if you were educated, you were educated. Now? Not so much. My grandmother left high school with a better and more rigorous education than most baccalaureates receive today-But, she was among the minority of her era who even attended high school. Most stopped at eighth grade level with their educations. She went on to teach at a one-room school in the hinterlands of Eastern Oregon, and only went to college after saving enough money after a few years of that to get her qualifications to teach high-school in an urban setting. Such were the times. The texts she used to teach with in that one room schoolhouse would have likely challenged a lot of today’s high school graduates, and made many of them cry…

She’s the main reason I hold modern education in such disdain, to be honest. Greek, Latin, the calculus… All that was required for her to graduate from high school. Compare/contrast with today? It is to laugh. Hard.


“The people of that time were no more intelligent than the people of today”

This article has some basic research suggesting Victorians were more intelligent that we are.

Your are most likely correct in your other points.

It would be nice to find a presidential candidate, or congressman for that matter, equal to those of the past – or even close. Compare Lincoln/ Douglas to Clinton/Trump or Obama/Romney to Adams/Jefferson to get a sense of how far we’ve fallen.

John M.

Some of that is, bluntly, a result of universal suffrage. Just on demographics alone, the Lincoln/Douglas electorate was smarter than the population as a whole, and smarter than our current electorate.

-John M.


>smarter than our current electorate.

They may be dumb, but some of them make up for it by voting twice!


I’d definitely say that the Western European Victorians were more functionally intelligent and educated than we generally are today. Compare the assumed literacy and education of even the most down market novel or big city newspaper of 1890 with those of today. Those old penny rags were full of complex sentences, multi syllable words, and content that assumed reader familiarity with the Bible, history, great literature, and geography.

I believe that part of the reason was that life required more practical, operating intelligence to survive, and that there was less stuff to know. Especially technical things- when your doctors haven’t quite figured out hand washing, there’s not so much biology to learn.

And schooling was crazy rigorous. When familiarity with a five foot shelf of books gave you a decent liberal education, teachers had the leisure to make sure you knew the material. I

always liked it that Cleese did this in a sergeant’s accent and not a public school one.


No. Just… No.

You are looking at the remains left over from the upper percentiles of the population, and extrapolating out to the rest. ‘Twasn’t so, McGee.

My direct ancestors were educated, in a lot of cases by self-education. They ran lumber mills and mines. The crap that you find where they’re writing about what the lower-end employees is no different than what you’d find today.

The big difference is, they didn’t have a popular culture that glorified ghetto behavior, and it was not somehow dishonorabe to have aspirations. The general run of people were probably actually less intelligent, due to nutritional and other problems in childhood.

The irony here is that we’re set for far better performance under today’s conditions, and we’re actually doing worse across the board due to the popularity of the ghetto subculture bullshit that’s become de rigueur across so much of the population.

John M.

Another way to put this is that our ancestors acquired in 8 years of schooling what most don’t currently acquire in 16. I have a number of theories about why that is.

-John M.

Tom Stone

The wars of the 20th Century eliminated a lot of the high quality breeding stock in Europe.

As to College grads, GMAFB, I have met more than a few that would fail a basic literacy test.

It may amuse some that when I went to work for a GOGO bank in the late 80’s they gave every new hire below the rank of VP a basic literacy and math test and while it helped there were still quite a few memos sent that were gibberish laced with mis spellings.


If not raw intelligence at least the system they are dropped into can cover a man’s faults. Off hand the type of discipline the Marine Corps chose negated the possible poor qualities of its officers.

Contrast that to what I witnessed at Ft. Sill, so we Marines were quartered in the shit section of the Ft next to the recruits’ training battalion. We go to the chow hall and there is a black Army 2nd Lt and a black SSGT just standing there pea funking it up like back on the block, the entire squad composed of a cross section of America were stunned to see such dipshittery. How can anything good come of that type of “leader?”


Oh God, I had to Google “TrigglyPuff”.

Hognose Post author

Sorry about that. Apply brain bleach stat.


Meh. If officers were ever smarter than the troops by anything worth noting, it was during a brief draft honeymoon from 1942 to 1945. The USMC bar of long-standing was a GCT of 110, not particularly impressive, and similarly required of enlisted electronic and technical wannabees. (For reference, it’s probably a whisker or two smarter than the current CinC, and 100 is considered the societal average.)

One looooong boring night as regimental Sgt of the Guard, the alpha roster was laying around, consisting of a bookthick alphabetical computer printout list of every swinging Richard in the 11th Marine Regt. Names, ranks, marksmanship scores, and a host of other data, including everyone’s GCT score. So I started flipping pages out of curiosity.

Without further details, suffice it to say that mine outstripped everyone in the regiment, (which, along with a buck, gets me coffee at Denny’s) and by a healthy margin, from E-1 to 0-6 inclusive, except for one other person: my own platoon commander, who exactly tied my score.

(And the officer and SNCO averages overall were nothing to write home about.)

Newly married, offered no retention bonus, promotions frozen indefinitely, no duty choice, no option to retrain, and no other incentives to stay in except four more years’ regular paychecks, and with a pending long slow circle of the Pacific imprisoned below the waterline for the upcoming six months with the chance of drowning added to the prison sentence, I was going to be out in a couple of months without any doubt at that point, and happily so.

My plt cmdr, the typical USMCR 1stLt, was himself denied augmentation into the regular Marine Corps, and he turned down transfer to supply or some other MOS, to count mess kits in Barstow and spend most of the rest of his career as some second-class base Sh*tty Little Jobs Officer; he separated as well shortly after I did.

I got bored a few years back, and looked him up on the internet. Lt. “Unworthy of retention” currently runs an entire state office for the FBI (which I’m given to understand gives him the assimilated equivalent rank of a military general officer). I mind my own business in the ER without any regrets.

Meanwhile the soopergeniuses selected to stay in currently preside(d) over the pussification of both the Marines, and the entire US military in general, without so much as a peep of protest from officer or SNCO ranks alike. The military may have gotten the short end of that deal, as did the nation, but clearly the rot had set in on high long before either of us joined or separated from it.

While brighter people come in handy for a host of missions and MOSs (like testing planes, SF, and running nuclear plants or building dams, just off the top of my head) and occasionally some few manage to squeeze into the military despite service-wide personnel management’s best efforts, as a rule of thumb, the military adjudges – lip service to leadership qualities notwithstanding – that it needs intelligence like a fish needs a bicycle, for officer and enlisted alike, as the memoirs of everyone from Washington to Grant to Patton to Schwarzkopf (and your recent selection from former Sgt. Romesha, MOH ) all attest. Intelligence frightens most of the knotheads in charge in the same way union workers fear the industrious: it makes them look bad by comparison. (And bright v. stupid, industrious v. lazy sets up that whole classic staffing matrix from von Moltke beautifully.)

So almost without exception, the really intelligent are knee-capped and back-stabbed as opportunity presents itself, and heaved over without a second’s hesitation, or simply sifted out along the way without any thought of utilizing them to their potential. Once in a lifetime, or a career, one may find a higher officer who cherry picks bright folks to actually get out of them all they’ve got, but it’s like finding hen’s teeth.

Much like most urban police departments, the .mil leadership apparently wants officers slightly brighter than the crooks/enemy/enlisted, but not bright enough to challenge the internal higher leadership of the organization. Brighter than the average citizen doesn’t ever enter into the equation.

But given that the military standard was long ago tied to possession of a college sheepskin, with no further reflection since on how debased that currency is currently, it only underlines the greater lesson:

intelligence is a finite commodity, but the population is increasing.

Hence the axiom to “Beware of stupid people in large groups.”


Just anecdotally I’d say the the decline in value inverse to the “worth” (just threw up a little) of so many 4-yr “disciplines” nowadays is reflected in professional/corporate head-hunters drug-use/suicide rate as they try to find someone, anyone, who can walk & chew gun at the same time.

RE your thought experiment: In your copious spare time you really should give that to someone who actually has some time & flesh that out as a screenplay that could be way better than Private Benjamin.


Combat Adj

From my limited recent experience (2003-2012), the intelligence of USMC officers is uniformly pretty good. They do select for a lot of jock types that look the part (the aforementioned football majors), but I encountered no absolute rocks in my time. I agree that the system is designed to select for threshold intelligence.

I don’t think the school or major necessarily makes any difference. The USNA grads with their mandatory Bachelors of Science degrees were not necessarily of any higher quality than anyone else. In my last unit, an LAR battalion, we had a platoon commander with a PhD in History from Cambridge (UK, not MA)! I think the relatively more even distribution of commissioning paths in the Marines is a real strength.

But then, I have actually do have a UC Berkeley BA (in Philosophy, not Grievance Studies!), so what do I know?

Hognose Post author

One of my former teammates was a Vietnam SF vet named Dave. He came back from the RVN and started at Berkely in Physics in 1968. I asked him how the campus unrest affected his studies and if he got any lip for being a Vietnam vet, and Dave said, “What unrest? They mostly didn’t mess with the science and engineering guys. If they seized a building, we’d just hold class somewhere else — outdoors if necessary. All of us were there for the education, and the clowns protesting mostly weren’t even students.” As far as lip for being a Vietnam vet, nobody knew he was a Vietnam vet. Years later he rejoined SF in a USAR or ARNG unit, and that’s where I met him.

He wound up as a lawyer, but at least he was a patent lawyer. Still, sometimes you lose one to the dark side….


My first assignment at Fort Sill, I had a gentleman over in the Heavy Junk section who was in his mid-thirties. He was a former adjunct professor from a mid-rank school, who’d burned out after not making tenure and his wife divorcing him. So, he joined the Army. As a bulldozer operator. He’d always wanted to be one, y’see…

One day in the motor pool, whilst conducting motor stables, he meets one of his former students in the guise of the new battalion motor officer, a young captain. Awwwwwkward… Particularly since the young captain had failed a couple of courses with him, nearly losing his ROTC scholarship. No animosity felt, on either side, but… Can you say “Socially really awkward…?”. Yeah.

Got really weird when “someone” decided that they really wanted O’Brien to use his chemistry skills over in the soil/concrete lab section we had set up to support construction there on Fort Sill, and he demurred, saying “Hey, I’m a dozer operator, not a soils guy…”. I don’t think the higher-ups ever figured out how to deal with him, to be honest.


I read a novel back in the early 1980s that made this same point, not about so much about intelligence but about social class. One of the characters mused that so many junior officers in the Vietnam era- he mentioned Calley by name- would never have been commissioned even as recently as 1945. This was part of a discussion of the historical observation that societies whose elite will not officer their armies are ripe for defeat, coup, or both.


It’s not so much that the elites who won’t man the ramparts result in defeat, but that the elites have become such that they are positive drags on the defense.

I don’t think there was likely very much difference between the raw human material of the early Roman Republic and the later, Fall of the Roman Empire manpower. What made the difference was the leadership-The early, Republican Romans may have been idiots, in a lot of cases (see oh-so-many-examples…), but they had the conviction of their cultural background going for them. End of the Empire, especially in the West? Not so much.

The “effeteness” doesn’t come from the bottom up; the fish rots from the head. We can watch it today, with all the loss of cultural confidence. You would not see the widespread adoption of the markers of ghetto trash culture, were we still confident in our basic culture. Because of the doubt and self-destruction of the elites, though? We’ve got rappers making millions of dollars, and middle-class kids who aspire to “be just like them…”. Thank the elites, who decided that all our “Western Civilization” was an exploitive crock, and ripped out the underpinnings.

I had a battalion S3, once, who was such a consummate asshole that when the OPFOR came for us, we all just waved them through, and pointed at the CP where he was trying to play Napoleon on the Berezina from, and told them to have fun. I kinda find I have that same feeling for the assholes running the country today-Should the enemy come over the wall, I’m probably going to point up the street to where they live, and wish them the best. They deserve it. The rest of the country? Not so much, but I do have a certain schadenfreude going for the electorate that put Bubba and the Bamster into office for two terms. They deserve what they have coming, I’m afraid.

John M.

The upper class imitating the lower class and the middle class imitating the upper class is a very old phenomenon.

-John M.

John M.

“This was part of a discussion of the historical observation that societies whose elite will not officer their armies are ripe for defeat, coup, or both.”

This is worth some think time. It strikes me that our elite used to be mostly hereditary and is now mostly cognitive. It is my impression that the hereditary elite used to have a stronger sense of duty toward the lower classes (or “our country”, if you prefer), which included military service.

Our new cognitive elite is mostly separate from the lower classes and feels no sense of duty toward them whatsoever. (Cue Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.)

The lower classes have noticed this, and the mutant twin movements of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, which have in turn birthed the mutant twins of Donald Trump and Bern, Baby, Bern.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.

-John M.


One of the problems with a meritocracy is that there is no system of inculcating a sense of noblesse oblige. Well, at least, in ours. I could see several ways of doing so.

Because our system encourages these assholes to think their shit doesn’t stink, we get what we get. It’s the flip side of the issues you have with an actual aristocracy. Instead of incompetent nincompoops that know how to die when the time comes, we get arrogant technocrats who think they know better than thousands of years of human tradition.

Irritating, but there it is. I don’t know the answer, but I can damn sure agree with you about the problems.

Hognose Post author

I knew one of Calley’s defense attorneys, and he said the same thing. He wanted to use a diminished responsibility defense because of Calley’s low IQ, but Calley would not permit it.


That’s not the first time I’ve heard that, either.

Calley is what you get as an officer when the rest of the actually suitable people in a generation don’t step up to the plate to do their duty. I don’t blame Calley, per se, but I do blame that draft-dodging sonofabitch who should have been there in his place. Same-same with Medina.

The thing that absolutely enrages me about Vietnam, looking back on it all? The professional military all told Kennedy and Johnson the same damn thing: Don’t get involved here. The Democrats ignored them, got us involved anyway, and then by some incredible PR ju-jitsu, turned the mess into a creation of the Republican Party and the military. Then, having gotten 50,000 Americans killed on this stupidity, they throw the whole thing away after it was all won, by betraying our sworn treaty obligations. Frankly, in any other country, there would have been a f**king coup, and the Democrats in Congress that created that whole sorry, sordid mess would have wound up decorating lamp posts along the Capitol Mall, right alongside the left-wing student agents of the Comintern…

Instead, we did nothing, gave the draft-dodgers amnesty, and let Teddy Kennedy have a career in betraying US interests. The fact that he died of semi-natural causes was a travesty, given his career. After what the did during the Reagan years, he should have swung from a rope. A sitting f**king Congressman, colluding with national enemies. Un-f**king-believable.

I find out I have a terminal disease, and still have enough health to go on a killing spree through a rather lengthy list I’ve had for years…? It’s gonna be a damn hard thing not to, I’m telling you.

Cap’n Mike

I learned a lot during my four year enlistment.

Later in life, I somehow felt stupider after earning my Bachelors degree.

It must have been all the progressive Professors and their crazy ideas.

Combat Adj

I was fortunate at Berkeley because the philosophy department was old-school and apolitical. And with the constant exposure to extreme leftism in the greater campus and community, I actually came out more conservative than I went in. I suspect that nowadays Berkeley is no worse than most colleges in that regard. Which is sad.


As an Army officer, good read. The comments are providing thought and entertainment as well, thanks. I don’t pound my chest and claim to be some prodigy for sure, I am willing though. I had a Specialist with an electrical engineering degree in my first unit, he got in trouble for making a working pair of NVGs from parts. We all would like to think we are smarter than a share of the population which I think is almost always true as there are different kinds of intelligence (like the kind that builds a cutting edge controlled item from parts when one got destroyed by an IED two years ago instead of just doing a FLIPL, result=BN gets locked down as its investegated…). This article has me thinking about what kind of intelligence is needed for officers though. The things I come back to are someone analytical, forward thinking, about 65% OCD, face value honest, and willing. I have always loved feedback from my NCOs though because its usually brutal, honest, and what you need to hear, good stuff here in the comments.

Hognose Post author

Great comment, Steve. Still laughing over SP4 Tentpeg and his creative approach to inventory. I am lucky, with a couple of exceptions I served exclusively with really good officers. And some of them went on to high command, to the amazement of all of us. (Including the GOs, who weren’t striking for that when they were company grades). I think it helped that I started out in SF when it was bad for an officer’s career, and so we got damned few Massengales until the branch was well established.


“but intelligence is more of a threshold item for a leader than an item where more is always better.”

Hognose, AFAIK, that’s unlikely. Lots of people have had the instinctive idea that beyond a certain threshold, a higher IQ shouldn’t give any additional benefit in job performance, so it’s been investigated – and found to be mistaken. For physicians, scientists (physicists, chemists, and the like), technicians of various sorts (and I think even professional athletes; I forget the details), being smarter (all else being equal) always seems to help, without limit. So unless you have some extra evidence, the safe bet is that the same pattern applies to military officers. Smarter helps.

“as led by the sociology and cultural anthropology postdocs at Columbia.”

If you got a hold of their SAT or GRE scores, you’d probably find that many of those folks aren’t actually all that smart, and of course, most of them also possess other behavioral traits which make them thoroughly unsuited for military leadership. I think all you’re really noticing is that lots of stuff OTHER than just brains is very important in military officers.

There’s one other additional possibility: For good communication, reputedly it’s important that a leader not be TOO much smarter than his men. (E.g., two standard deviations smarter might start to be a problem.) So I’m genuinely curious, in your military service, did you ever ACTUALLY see that problem occur? And if so, how rare was it compared to the opposite, an officer who was clearly too dumb to properly do his job?

Hognose Post author

I’m thinking of the case where high IQ is often correlated strongly with personality traits that can be inimical to leadership. Few charismatic leaders are extremely smart, and of those who are both charismatic and 99.x percentile intelligent, there are many tragic figures (Vidkun Quisling springs to mind; highest score ever in the military academy examination, ended up dancing on a gibbet).

I more often saw the problem of an officer who was at a loss to lead guys who were smarter than he was, when the officer had been told all his life he was special because he was smart. Especially in some of the more cognitively laden officer fields (engineering, intelligence, systems analysis). It seemed that officers who were +1 SD to the officer mean (so +1.5 to the gen pop, maybe) did a better job of leading bright troops than +2SD officers did. For some bright guys it’s just a challenge to lead even brighter guys. For a bright-normal it’s not a big deal because he expects a percentage to be smarter than him, and he’s not insecure about it and can lead them effectively and exploit their brains.

Does that make any sense?


“I’m thinking of the case where high IQ is often correlated strongly with personality traits that can be inimical to leadership.”

AFAIK, there isn’t actually any such correlation. You’re seeing something else, not that. (Unless I’m mistaken, of course; this stuff isn’t my field, just hobby-level reading for me.)

“Few charismatic leaders are extremely smart, and of those who are both charismatic and 99.x percentile intelligent,”

That’s a different thing. I don’t think charisma and natural leadership are very well studied, but clearly they’re quite different from intelligence – largely independent. If you aggressively filter on two mostly independent traits, very few people will pass both filters. But if you’re trying to predict who will be best at some task, filtering on two separate traits like that is NOT the right way to do it, not even when each trait is known to individiaully be important. The math doesn’t work that way.

Who was the best basketball player ever? Probably Michael Jordan. But at 6’6″, Jordan wasn’t actually all that tall for an NBA player, so sure, height is important, but beyond some cutoff level, it must not actually help you be a great basketball player. Right? *NO*, that’s totally wrong. Height ALWAYS helps at basketball, but other abilities are also extremely important. There are VERY few folks who are 7’6″ feet tall; the talent pool at 6’6″ is enormously larger. So if you do the math, you expect that the very best basketball players will always be tall, but not that much taller than the typical NBA player – just like Jordan. (Somewhere on the web there is a good explanation of this, with more info on the math, but I can’t find it again now.)

“when the officer had been told all his life he was special because he was smart.”

Anecdotally, that makes a LOT of sense. A rational IQ 120 guy is somewhat more likely to have already been FORCED to wake up to the fact that he doesn’t actually walk on water than say the IQ 130 guy. There are lots of little stories by smart folks mentioning things like, “Until I got to MIT, I had no idea how to work hard, I’d just been coasting on my natural ability.” It is rough for them at first, because they are not properly prepared. (Jeff Bezos of Amazon switched his major at Princeton out of physics when he realized he WASN’T as smart as the top physics students… Smart move, seeing as now he’s a billionare and they aren’t.) But college is SUPPOSED to push smart young men to the limits of their personal intellectual abilities, regardless of what those specific limits are. If it doesn’t, well, that’s a problem right there.

However, I bet that if someone researches the above effect, you’ll find that if it really exists at all, it’s weak, and that if all you know about an officer candidate is his IQ score, you’re always better off going with the guy with the higher score. (If you know more about him than just IQ, of course you should use that knowledge too.)

Interestingly, various analysts suspect that nerdy dorkiness is a recent cultural affect of middling-bright folks. (Perhaps something like IQ 110 to 125.) REALLY smart folks (top theoretical physicists, 145+, etc.) almost never are. Which makes sense, because the really super smart tend to be pretty good at everything whether they’re naturally all that interested in it or not, like the little games and rituals of social interaction.


IMHO a lot of the issue’s mentioned above make the Progressives/Cosmos/Tranzi’s at all levels jump for joy and call and text and write each other and say, “See! The party is advancing to the glorious future!”

I think this November is truly “May you live in interesting times.”

God bless America. Please.