Impossible and unavoidable, leads to lying

Social scientists and retired Military Officers Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras authored a study, Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession (Feb. 2015) on behalf of the Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It’s a must-read. It’s just so hilarious. And so on point.

Thinking back on my article yesterday, I remember a part of the study illustrating how impossible tasks plus the unavoidableness of those tasks leads to lying on our reports.

Impossible. To define impossible, the study cites a previous Army War College that found that, in 2002, a company commander needed 297 days in a calendar year to complete all directed training but that he reasonably possessed only 256 days in the year to do so. 256 ≈ (5/7) x 365.

By 2015, a Fort Leavenworth study revealed that the deficit grew such that a company commander needed to fit 20 months of training into a 12 month calendar. (“No time, literally, for all requirements” by Crispin Burke, 4 Apr. 2016,

Unavoidable. We follow orders; therefore, we adhere to the rules and regulations. We hold non-compliance as unacceptable.

How do we respond to an impossible order? We don’t disobey, directly. We treat the order like we would the enemy. Deception. We lie. We report green when maybe we’re really amber or red, a status less than optimal.

I majored in philosophy and legal studies – more specifically, general studies for my associate degree and paralegal studies for my bachelor’s. Not impressive. But it sufficed for my goals in life.

In one of my legal studies courses, I asked the instructor, “Is it possible that the volume of rules itself may qualify as unreasonable?” He replied, flatly, and with no further explanation, “No.”

The question sparked further discussion. Indirectly, he implied that of course the the reasonability of the rules themselves does come into question. As for the volume or complexity of the rules, no.

I think anyone who’s ever gotten tangled in red tape – and that should be all of us – would question both the volume and the complexity of the rules in addition the intent of the rules themselves. Especially when they’re impossible!