The discussions often flare with anger, particularly among many midlevel officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and face the prospect of additional tours of duty.
"This is about the moral bankruptcy of general officers who lived through the Vietnam era yet refused to advise our civilian leadership properly," said one Army major in the Special Forces who has served two combat tours. "I can only hope that my generation does better someday."
An Army major who is an intelligence specialist said: "The history I will take away from this is that the current crop of generals failed to stand up and say, 'We cannot do this mission.' They confused the cultural can-do attitude with their responsibilities as leaders to delay the start of the war until we had an adequate force. I think the backlash against the general officers will be seen in the resignation of officers" who might otherwise have stayed in uniform.
One Army colonel enrolled in a Defense Department university said an informal poll among his classmates indicated that about 25 percent believed that Mr. Rumsfeld should resign, and 75 percent believed that he should remain. But of the second group, two-thirds thought he should acknowledge errors that were made and "show that he is not the intolerant and inflexible person some paint him to be," the colonel said.
Many officers who blame Mr. Rumsfeld are not faulting President Bush — in contrast to the situation in the 1960's, when both President Lyndon B. Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara drew criticism over Vietnam from the officer corps. (Mr. McNamara, like Mr. Rumsfeld, was also resented from the outset for his attempts to reshape the military itself.)
But some are furiously criticizing both, along with the military leadership, like the Army major in the Special Forces. "I believe that a large number of officers hate Rumsfeld as much as I do, and would like to see him go," he said.
"The Army, however, went gently into that good night of Iraq without saying a word," he added, summarizing conversations with other officers. "For that reason, most of us know that we have to share the burden of responsibility for this tragedy. And at the end of the day, it wasn't Rumsfeld who sent us to war, it was the president. Officers know better than anyone else that the buck stops at the top. I think we are too deep into this for Rumsfeld's resignation to mean much.
"But this is all academic. Most officers would acknowledge that we cannot leave Iraq, regardless of their thoughts on the invasion. We destroyed the internal security of that state, so now we have to restore it. Otherwise, we will just return later, when it is even more terrible."
The debates are fueled by the desire to mete out blame for the situation in Iraq, a drawn-out war that has taken many military lives and has no clear end in sight. A midgrade officer who has served two tours in Iraq said a number of his cohorts were angered last month when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that "tactical errors, a thousand of them, I am sure," had been made in Iraq.
"We have not lost a single tactical engagement on the ground in Iraq," the officer said, noting that the definition of tactical missions is specific movements against an enemy target. "The mistakes have all been at the strategic and political levels."