On the heels of Misso and O’Keefe’s excellent piece calling for an increase to the already healthy pool of critical-but-constructive JO writing, “Stick Your Neck Out,” James Fallows at the Atlantic has published in an unfortunately different tack, “Two Young Officers on How the Country Let the Military Down, and Vice Versa,” showing the state of the military from a “I’m out” angry mic-drop perspective. Now, he has published a follow-up this morning, “A Reform the Military is Undertaking,” with some Junior Officer (JO) responses, but we all still need to have a chat.

Guys, I feel for the two officers’ sense of frustration – but this growing stream of solutionless exit-route bitterness is becoming too much a staple in corners of dialogue on the military. The vast forest is often missed for the particularly striking burning trees – and attention to the unofficial public debate seems to occur as an responsorial afterthought rather than the main thrust of our discussion. In some cases, you may even do a dis-service to a well-meaning JO whose writing may be shocking and a traffic generator, but fails to follow the advice of Brett Friedman on sound JO approaches to problem solving and writing.

If you find yourself with a fiery tome written by an O-2 or terminal O-3 who has been pounding away at their keyboard in well-meaning isolation – don’t do yourself and them the discredit by using it as a tool for pulling in clicks. Consider doing your and their credibility a favor, as a believer in the civil-military dialogue: put them in touch with someone you know in uniform, who you would trust to help that young JO add the tact and fact-checking necessary to make a truly incisive piece. Force them, before publishing, to grapple with the concrete realities that mold their institution and how they would see these realities shifted through implementable solutions. Remind them about the size of their institution with its indirect paths of change or glacial pace. You might suggest that, perhaps with time, their passion for change and continued service could see those or other changes come to pass. Hey, maybe just send them to one of us for a quick look-over?

Journalists, academics, enthusiasts… let’s have some real talk. If you want to write about the military, its culture, or the technical, tactical, operational, and strategic concerns of its members – you can always listen to the one’s who are still in, trying to understand, pursuing solutions, but are still sometimes frustrated (if that’s what you’re looking for). Some of you do listen, and you have our thanks – perhaps some of us have even bought you a beer as part of that civil-military dialogue. There exists whole constellations of critical-but-constructive JO’s and J(ish)O’s writing, with the occasional peppering of responses or even policy from GO/FO’s – all accessible to you every day:

reporter_-_bw_vintageI have said this before, if we want to build a better civil-military understanding, I beg you start paying attention to the debate happening in the public writings of those servicemembers you want to understand. Though there is a place for appreciating the pure critics and exit-route mic-droppers; their views should not be the main drumbeat of our dialogue. To be fair, many of us who write regularly are a self-selected group – there still remains a vast space in which to encourage JOs to write. Those in the public space who avail themselves for those writings are doing a service, but the cherry picking and lack of guidance in the production of shocking JO posts does no service to your legitimacy among those you wish to discuss, and misinforms – or only partially informs – the public you are attempting to explain us to.

You want controversy, you want to see the battle of ideas, you want characters, you want stories… they’re all out there. The shooting stars may grab attention, but the constellations in the night sky are how we should navigate.

Posted by LT Matthew Hipple in Uncategorized
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  • grandpabluewater


    • Matthew Hipple

      If I wasn’t, I’d go crazy.

      • grandpabluewater

        Being mad is one thing, being mad as a hatter is quite another. When you get back (from crazy) submit a trip report with your travel claim. Never went there, myself.

    • Matthew Hipple

      I can appreciate the critique about potentially being too… optimistic about the potential for constructive dialogue w/ effect (If one of us find ourselves in the favor of a navy-obsessed president as a short-cut, it will be readily apparent). That said, you have to build (and believe in) a culture and community of critical thinking if you want to raise the norm.

      A bit confused about the worries about comment deletion?

      • grandpabluewater

        Bemused yes, confused…”All of this has happened before”…not so much. This isn’t the only bus on the route.

        A “former naval person” would indeed be handy. Would Webb qualify, if he got in?

  • Roger Misso

    If you don’t stay in, you won’t be able to change what is bugging you and causing you to leave.

    …Unless you and all of your friends run for Congress. We also need that since many of these shoddy practices/culture is dictated by antiquated laws and perceptions.

    • Matthew Hipple

      But stick around long enough that by the time you hit congress – that shoulder-chip has been sanded into a more useful piece of definition.

  • ntenghtim

    For what it is worth, my advice is that you leave this type of journalism alone. The press does not like to be “steered” by anybody (but most
    especially the military/government). Reporters will always be attracted to the emotional “mic drop” moments…especially when they come from troubled veterans. This proclivity is a legacy of bad times that occurred well before you were born, when a series of wartime events took place that made us question ourselves and our mission…and the nation’s trust of the military was at an all-time low. The good news is that it isn’t where we are right now. I would suggest that the outbursts from these folks should remind us that wartime service is particularly tough – and when
    one of our citizen soldiers/sailors/marines or airmen bears witness about their combat experiences we should listen.

    To me this is a totally different type of editorial participation than you and others have proposed over the last year or so. I strongly concur with the recent emphasis on junior officer participation in the intellectual
    pursuit of mission improvement across the services. Recommend you continue to focus on continued encouragement of this type of participation and don’t sweat too much about those who have chosen to vent via the press. In the end, you have different audiences.

    • UltimaRatioRegis

      This proclivity goes back a lot farther than Vietnam, for which misrepresentation was hardly limited to the US Military. Remember, Westmoreland settled favorably a defamation suit against CBS (yes, the Dan Rather CBS) because of that network’s deliberate fabrications of the events in Southeast Asia regarding him and others. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last for CBS to be caught in a lie with the intent to defame someone or some entity they did not agree with.

      • Westrollland

        Are you serious? Westmoreland didn’t “settle” anything, he withdrew his case after it became clear that the jury was going to rule in favor of CBS. Moreover, the actual trial more or less confirmed the initial report’s claim that military intelligence coloured their reports for political effect.

        What on earth would make you remember the exact opposite of what is widely recorded to have happened?

  • UltimaRatioRegis

    It should be remembered that a great deal of academe and media types believe the way to close the “civil-military divide” is to have civilians keep moving to the Left, and have the military move even faster to the Left in order to catch up. Fallows, one might assume, is of that school.

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