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To the scribes, to the thinkers, to the families, to those in the arena…in honor of one who served our Navy well in each of these roles. http://www.neptunuslex.com/
Sunday, March 3 at 5pm (Eastern U.S.): Episode 165: USNI’s VADM Daly and Naval History in 100 Objects:
Institutions do not exist and excel simply because they “are.” They must be nurtured by dedicated individuals that find the right combination of stewardship and intellectual curiosity to ensure they continue to carry out their mission and leave a more viable entity for those who follow.
It must be informed by the past, though not shackled to it. It must be true to its nature, but not ossified in its operation. It must be ready for the future, but clearheaded on how to get there.
For the maritime professional in the United States, there is a rather unique institution that really has no counterpart here or in other nations; the United States Naval Institute. Our guest for the first half of the hour will be USNI’s CEO, Vice Admiral Peter Daly, USN (Ret). He will be with us to discuss USNI’s place in the maritime security arena and how ideas and concepts today inform and influence the direction of our Navy.
For the second half of the hour, we will shift focus back with Ensign Chris O’Keefe, USN who is the producer of the United States Naval Academy podcast series, “A History of the Navy in 100 Objects”, that uses objects from the Naval Academy’s museum to help tell the story of our Navy and the nation it serves.
By Mark Tempest
Join us at 5pm 17 Feb 13 for Episode 163: February Free For All :
Change is in the air as we look at sequester, a new SecDef, France in North Africa, preparing for the last fighting season in Afghanistan, and what looks like a long decade of budget stress.
Is this a pivot-point of opportunity, or just a winter of our naval discontent?
No guests, no set agenda – open floor and open phones. No one but Sal from “CDR Salamander” and EagleOne from “EagleSpeak” for the full hour. If there is a topic you want discussed, call in or roll it in to the chat room.
There are times in history, where there is a roll call. Col. John Boyd noted, “That’s when you have to make a decision: to be or to do.” With sequestration threatening to leverage the full trillion in cuts against our increasingly papered tiger, the dissenting brass must recognize this roll call. Not every fight is at arms in the field, some are quiet battles at home whose only answer is a sacrifice of power.
Those who say that sequestration “won’t happen” and “isn’t a threat” are wrong. Like FDR’s preparations for the oncoming war, the Navy’s preparations indicate the worst. From cutting 3rd/4th quarter ship and aircraft maintenance to reducing the Persian Gulf carrier presence to one, in order to survive, the navy must put itself in more danger than any terrorist threat has. A candidate for SecDef has been nominated who thinks the DoD is still bloated after the first 500 billion dollars in cuts. While the defense department prepares for a second 500 billion in cuts, the debt ceiling deal spent 60% of the savings on the first round for pork projects. Meanwhile, the military is asked to support increased global drone operations, defend from two nations whose entire military is designed to counter the US way of war, and pivot towards Asia. Of course, the Middle East has a firm grip on that pivot-foot. The strategic policy is sound, but the whole-sale undermining of the force meant to do it is unconscionable.
Last Friday, in the wake of the two-week-old announcement overturning the Combat Exclusion Policy, I attended a panel event about the removal of the CEP and its implications for the services. Having seen the damage that the CEP could—and did—do, I wrote about it both for a blog post and as a news article. The policy’s removal was both anticlimactic and embarrassingly necessary. It’s embarrassing that it took us this long—in a force that hinges on the high expectations and ambitions of hard-working people—to dispose of this policy. Despite an entire system set up to evaluate individuals on merit, the CEP codified the idea that ability mattered less than boy-or-girl.
But now that the CEP is—sort of—removed, what comes next? How do we as a military do this right, without overthinking things or treating people like children? The symposium was planned to address specific concerns about how the changes would impact the force, and to discuss past successes and failures both here and abroad. The main concerns included how to ensure that standards are set and remain high, how to avoid overthinking and micromanaging the process, possible impacts on unit cohesion, and more. It featured four different panels and 17 speakers. Most of the panel members were current or retired military; some are still on active duty and will deploy again shortly. Among the panelists were: Specialist Shoshana Johnson, USA (Ret); Major Mary Jennings Hegar, ANG; Sergeant Julia Bringloe, USA; Specialist Heidi Olson, USA; CAPT Joellen Oslund, USNR (Ret); Colonel Martha McSally, USAF (Ret); and Colonel Ingrid Gjerde, Norwegian Infantry.
Anyone interested in watching can view the videos here. The first and second panels were particularly interesting as they included testimony from American and foreign women who had experience in ground combat, among others.
Opponents of allowing women into ground combat roles have expressed concern that if units become co-ed, when under fire, men will forget their training and rush to help the women, risking mission and unit in the process. But panelist after panelist told otherwise. Major Hegar relayed how she and her crew crash-landed while on a mission in Afghanistan; while defending the crashed aircraft, they came under enemy fire. The crew fought back fiercely, as they had been trained to do. Her gender was not an issue. And why? Because they knew and trusted each other, had trained together and respected each other. Specialist Olson, Sergeant Bringloe, and Specialist Johnson emphasized the same points, echoing that the team is paramount, and that the vital piece was always the training: training as a unit allowed for development of the necessary rapport and respect, something that being “temporarily attached” does not provide.
Physical standards, specifically upper-body strength, have historically commanded the majority of the coverage in past discussions. But as most of the panelists pointed out, physical strength—especially upper-body strength—is only one part of the puzzle. Endurance, mental toughness, the ability to remain calm under fire—these cannot easily be taught yet are critically important, and none are gender-specific. I was sitting next to an infantry Marine in the audience, and on a break he mentioned that in Afghanistan, he’d seen a women break down while taking fire. Yet he’d also seen one of his own Marines fall apart and go into the fetal position, and he’d had to send others in after him, endangering them all. We often ignore the fact that while physical strength is one part of it, mental toughness is another. And mental toughness is not gender-specific.
But the physical aspect is undeniably part of it all. Greg Jacob, a prior infantry Marine, related how he had taken command of a company at the Marine Corps’ School of Infantry and found himself working with women for the first time. Amazed that they couldn’t do pull-ups easily, he started them on a pull-up program, and soon everyone was knocking out pull-ups together; the problem was that the women had never trained for them, since the PFT only required the flexed-arm hang. We can develop strength in people, and we can develop endurance. But we have to train to the standards, and to do that we must set—and not lower—high standards.
And as to endurance and toughness, the panelists’ experiences highlighted how those qualities also come in both men and women. One audience member, a prior Marine infantryman, relayed the tale of a deployment he had to Okinawa years ago. He explained that his battalion had performed a number of long marches in full gear, and as they were struggling up the mountains in the Northern Training Area, they were accompanied by older Okinawan women. These women carried large baskets of water and other supplies on their heads and backs, and generally arrived at the destination in much better shape than the Marines did.
The physical standards were a recurring item for discussion throughout the day. Comments in the press by General Dempsey about developing a “critical mass” and having “enough women” are worrisome, and speak to a different path than what is needed to do this right. As I wrote about in the news piece for USNI, standards for each job must be defined, if specific ones are called for, and those should not shift to accommodate anyone. If this means only one or two women serve in each unit, or none, so be it. Some men may get cut as well if the standards are stricter than, for example, the current standard to become an infantry Marine. But every panelist repeatedly urged our leadership to set and adhere to high standards.
As to fears about unit cohesion, so much of it comes down to leadership, and to training to standards and expectations. Co-ed units have been deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade now, and they are strong and successful. Many of the panelists—and many in the audience—had deployed in co-ed units, and those units served ably and confidently. Leadership is paramount, just as it is for everything else we do. Expecting this to be any different is naïve.
Much more was said, but I’ll stop there to keep this from going on longer. At the end of the day, the main suggestions mirrored the panel discussions. Set high standards and stick to them. Expect high performance. Train to higher standards. Treat those serving as functioning adults rather than children who require constant hand-holding. Exercise leadership; as in any unit, the signs are there when trouble is ahead. And so many concerns can be overcome with a small amount of common sense and practicality.
As to the CEP, good riddance. It was a policy proven obsolete time and time again. It caused the “temporary attachment” of women to all-male infantry units that they had little integration or training with prior to deployment, weakening links that did eventually develop, and drove a wedge between those serving, labeling some as less qualified based solely on how they were born vs. actual capabilities. In effect, the CEP held that Justin Bieber is more qualified than Venus Williams to perform the duties of an 0311 (I paraphrased this from Colonel McSally, who used it repeatedly). We’re much better off acknowledging that this is not the case at all.
Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr. was unquestionably one of the most influential and controversial officers in US Navy history. The challenges of his era, both in and outside the military, were significant and it is important for naval leaders today to study how ADM Zumwalt was able to effectively battle the naval bureaucracy to achieve significant results.
In the recent biography of Zumwalt, Larry Berman notes that Secretary of the Navy John Chafee and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird were looking for an officer to replace Admiral Thomas Moorer as CNO who would serve as an agent of change within the Navy. Specifically at the top of the list for the incoming CNO to address were the challenges of modernizing ships and weapon systems to counter the growing Soviet naval threat and to resolve long-standing personnel problems related to institutional discrimination, prolonged operations in Vietnam, and issues with the all-volunteer force.
While leading the brown water navy in Vietnam, Zumwalt was deep-selected over seven admirals and twenty-six vice admirals his senior for the position of CNO. “Admiral Z” served as the 19th Chief of Naval Operations during a tumultuous period in American history, July 1970 to June 1974.
Shortly after assuming the watch as CNO, Zumwalt established a small strategic study group that examined current and future navy possibilities. “Project Sixty” as the group was known was aptly named due to the 60 day limit imposed on the group by Zumwalt. Project Sixty identified four core missions of the Navy:
- Strategic Deterrence
- Sea Control
- Power Projection Ashore
- Naval Presence
The 1974 article “Missions of the US Navy” written by Vice Admiral Stansfield Turner in the Naval War College Review succinctly articulates the rationale behind these missions and their importance to the modernization of the Navy.
At the same time, Zumwalt circulated the 1950 article “A Case Study for Innovation” by Elting Morison among the admiralty. The article makes the connection between entrepreneurship and the social necessity essential for leading revolutionary change in the Navy. Morison uses the introduction of the continuous-aim firing weapon system in the US Navy during the early 1900s as the primary case study. The essence of the article is similar to recent works by current naval innovators. (See Armstrong, Kohlmann, Munson)
To address the ongoing “people” issues, Zumwalt formed several retention study groups consisting of junior officers and/or enlisted Sailors from various communities to address issues affecting Sailors and their families in the fleet. These groups reported directly to the CNO (and frequently the SECNAV). From his previous experience on the OPNAV staff, Zumwalt understood that ideas from these groups would get diluted if they went through the normal staffing process.
Finally, Zumwalt used his famous Z-Grams, 120 in all, to communicate his intent and guidance to all levels of command and directly to the Sailors in the fleet. The “zingers” excited the Navy (both positively and negatively) and attempted to instill a sense of fun and zest, as Zumwalt often described his experience in the Navy, back into naval service. Many of the Z-grams repealed previous regulations described as “Micky Mouse” regulations in Zumwalt’s memoirs “On Watch”. During his tenure as CNO, retention rose from below 10% in 1970 to 32.9% in 1974.
A 1993 assessment of Zumwalt’s efforts to institutionalize strategic change in the Navy by the Center for Naval Analysis noted the following important lessons about leading change:
- Be bold, be quick, and be specific in setting an agenda for change
- Get a mandate from above for that agenda
- Keep the focus clear and consistent on that agenda
- Vest the agenda into the structure of the organization
- Balance top-down management to overcome inertia with participatory management to develop sufficient consensus to counteract opposition
- Establish independent bodies for internal creative friction and review
- Establish independent internal watchdog agencies with the power to enforce compliance
- Encourage innovation to ensure that change transcends one CNO’s “watch”
Zumwalt’s accomplishments as Chief of Naval Operations were certainly controversial and many of his initiatives were reversed by subsequent CNOs. However, given the gravity of the issues facing the naval services today, much can be learned from his ability to make significant changes from within the system.
I met my wife because my school district allowed me to play soccer for her High School, as my High School didn’t have a soccer team. On the day we met I had my head shaved all the way around the sides and the in back, but I featured a huge flop of long brown hair on top that I would pull back into a pony tail when playing soccer on the field. I dressed in big baggy jean pants and often wore very large T-shirts or flannel shirts untucked. I frequently would wear either a pair of combat boots or good ole fashion ‘Chuck Taylor’s’ as a fashion statement… because it was the early 90s baby! and in the era of grunge that’s what a legit grunge nerd from the country who played sports in an inner city school in the south like me thought cool and tough was supposed to look like in order to avoid fights. Fortunately, or not, for me… during my Senior year the woman I would eventually marry told me she wouldn’t go on a date with me until I cut my hair and learned how to dress. She was blunt and honest the day she looked at me in the eyes, put her hand on my cheek, smiled, and told me that on the inside I was attractive to her, but on the outside I looked like a complete idiot and she would not be seen in public with me until that changed. Her honesty made me uncomfortable, and it forced me to make decisions, but sometimes things need to be said.
During the panel discussion on the Chinese Navy last week at the USNI West Conference in San Diego, Captain James Fanell, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Information Operations for US Pacific Fleet had some “bracing” comments about the Chinese Navy. When I quote “bracing” I am actually quoting Sam Roggeveen of the Australian Lowy Institute Interpreter blog.
What makes the comments “bracing” is that they are both blunt and honest in commentary. Sam noted the Captain’s comments like this:
Fanell’s language is, well, bracing. He calls China ‘hegemonic’ and says it displays ‘aggression’; he claims China ‘bullies adversaries’ and that it has become a ‘mistrusted principal threat’. Watch Captain Fanell’s presentation from about 21 minutes into the above video, or read below for some more select quotes:
- (China’s) expansion into the blue waters are largely about countering the US Pacific fleet.’
- The PLA Navy is going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare…Make no mistake: the PRC navy is focused on war at sea, and sinking an opposing fleet.’
- On China Marine Surveillance, which supervises and patrols China’s claimed maritime territory: ‘If you map out their harassments you will see that they form a curved front that has over time expanded out against the coast of China’s neighbours, becoming the infamous nine-dashed line, plus the entire East China Sea…China is negotiating for control of other nations’ resources off their coasts; what’s mine is mine, and we’ll negotiate what’s yours.’
- China Marine Surveillance cutters have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China’s expansive claims…China Marine Surveillance is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organisation’.
- In my opinion, China is knowingly, operationally and incrementally seizing maritime rights of its neighbours under the rubric of a maritime history that is not only contested in the international community but has largely been fabricated by Chinese government propaganda bureaus in order to “educate” the populous about China’s rich maritime history, clearly as a tool to sustain the Party’s control.’
Sam Roggeveen is right to describe Captain Fanell’s comments as “bracing,” because it has certainly been awhile since we have seen an American in a public forum speak the truth about China in this way. While we will never see an American diplomat speak like this, nor does the opinion of a US Navy Captain carry the weight of, say, a four star Admiral; this is still very powerful commentary when it comes from a man who is responsible for the evaluation of all intelligence gathered by Pacific Command every single day.
Is China’s expansion into the blue waters largely about countering the US Pacific fleet? Captain Fanell mentions in the very next sentence that his assessment is primarily informed by China’s development of specific platforms, naval armaments, and training. You don’t have to be an expert to come to similar conclusions, as there is only one ship in the world that China would spend vast resources towards developing an anti-ship ballistic missile to specifically mission kill – a US Navy nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Similar to the US, there are several places where Chinese naval tactics development are discussed openly in the context of information and technology from an academic perspective, and nearly every one of those discussions focuses on defeating the weaknesses specific to the US Navy. It’s noteworthy that the pundit class in state media believes the PLA Navy is vastly superior to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, thus only the US Navy is a peer to challenge. Personally, I think that is a bad assumption, but it is also unclear if the public pundits truly represent what PLA Navy officers believe in private. When one considers the tension between those two nations today, overconfidence can lead to frightening outcomes due to miscalculation, and nobody wants to see that.
Is the PLA Navy going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare? For the most part, yes, but I do question how we quantify the activities of China’s hospital ships. With that said, apparently all the PLA Navy practices in exercises is indeed combat with other naval vessels, and the exception other than the hospital ships people like to site actually appears to reinforce the rule. For example, it is often suggested that China’s anti-piracy deployments represent China’s embrace towards contributing maritime security to the global community. I used to believe that, and I would like to believe that, but how can I ignore the facts developed from years of consecutive deployments? The PLA Navy consistently deploys three ships to escort large commercial vessels that travel at a speed far too fast for pirates to effectively engage. The PLA Navy escorts these ships in an internationally recognized transit corridor that is already heavily patrolled by the international community and pirates largely avoid. The PLA Navy is protecting ships that already have armed private security personnel. For a nation that thrives on information campaigns and propaganda for domestic consumption by their people, there really is a remarkably limited number of stories that describe any actual anti-piracy work being done by those PLA Navy ships. As an observer, when I look at what the PLA Navy is doing with their anti-piracy patrols, all I can think about is what a fantastic place that is to monitor US Navy operations off of Yemen and EU naval operations off Somalia! After a few years of observing the PLA Navy in practice, I refuse to believe the primary reason the PLA Navy is cruising back and forth at high speed with three navel vessels is to protect commercial vessels that have less than zero chance of actually being attacked, much less hijacked by pirates. Therefore the PLA Navy is there for reasons we can only speculate, but given the nature and record of Chinese engagement both public and private globally, that speculation must include purposes of espionage. Everything about PLA Navy deployments in the name of anti-piracy looks like a long distance learning opportunity, and despite the steady propaganda stream from ships on that deployment, those activities show scant evidence that the PLA Navy convoy escort mission is truly about practicing anti-piracy.
Is China bullying neighbors for control of maritime territories? Even a casual reader of American newspapers or cable news realizes the answer to this is obviously yes, because that is what China’s neighbors are saying themselves. Even more noteworthy China doesn’t apologize for their behavior, they simply make more threats. The pattern of escalation continues to increase as well, most recently involving PLA Navy warships marking a Japanese naval vessel and helicopter with radar lock suggesting potential missile engagement. In that context of belligerent aggression for maritime territory, Captain Fanell describes the China Marine Surveillance cutters as having “no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China’s expansive claims” and claims the organization “is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organization.” It is a bold claim few have made publicly before, but it does raise the question – what other purpose does the CMS serve? In an article published December 29, 2012 Major General Luo Yuan, deputy secretary general of the China Society of Military Science made it clear that China’s so-called “self-restraint” might not last much longer. The context is very clear, China is who is restraining themselves from others who are occupying maritime territories of China, in China’s opinion.
As I observe Captain Fanell giving his personal opinion (and Sam Roggeveen does note in this article that Captain Fanell’s opinions are that of a Captain, not the US Navy officially), I see his comments as an honest evaluation of Chinese activities at sea that also makes me a bit uncomfortable. It is too bad we have to get such refreshing blunt talk from a Navy Captain based in Hawaii as opposed to a Flag officer in DC, because the approach of publicly skirting what China is doing without calling them out is not containing or limiting the belligerent behavior of China when they engage their neighbors in disputed maritime territories – indeed every month it appears China has escalated tactically a little more. I was shocked and a little unnerved today when I saw an anti-war editorial in the Global Times English edition, because I can’t remember the last time I saw such a thing. An anti-war editorial in Global Times is the equivalent of an editorial in Newsmax downplaying the threat of a nuclear Iran; it’s that extraordinary and unexpected. And its mere presence raises a serious questions: how close is China to war with Japan if Global Times is publishing an anti-war editorial?
In terms of how the Chinese handle their propaganda, is that not a significant deescalation step? Is the tension becoming too comfortable?
At every level of government and business in the United States, and likely most of our allies, America is being subjected to a relentless and persistent cyber espionage campaign with the theft of technology and information at the forefront of the efforts, and the Chinese government – despite having the worlds most sophisticated and actively engaged internal internet security and monitoring technology in the world – does nothing to stop it. Over the long term, unless you honestly believe China will buck every historical trend and sustain growth indefinitely, the United States sits in a very favorable position relative to China and is in a very comfortable position to allow China to mature as the nation continues to rise economically and militarily. In the short term however, particularly as the tensions of demographics, energy, and environment start to bubble over the surface in China over the next five years, we need to ask ourselves if there is any danger of China looking for a distraction with an external neighbor as those internal problems start to really bubble over. History tells us that the rise of every nation to any legitimate form of regional or global power usually leaves a trail of blood. Is there strong evidence coming from China today that suggests the rise of China in the 21st century will be an exception? I pray it will different this time, but given the trends of coercion, disruption, theft, and belligerence I see no reason to expect the exception.
It is past time for the United States to start being more honest about China in public like Captain Fanell was at WEST, even if it does make people uncomfortable, otherwise our political leaders are going to find themselves in a war no one expected to come; the business community will find themselves in a war they are incapable of supporting; the American public will find themselves in a war they do not understand, and even if it is a small war it will still be felt globally; so it is unlikely anyone is prepared to deal with a war that includes the worlds two largest trading nations. With Japan and China each fielding multiple ships to the same regions with several hundred sailors on both sides serving on those ships, recognize that even a single small naval battle between those two nations could kill a lot of people very quickly.
Nobody wants to see a confrontation between China and the US, but where is the evidence that both countries are playing by the same rule sets? When folks operate by different rules on the road, eventually there is an accident.
No, I not writing words of encouragement to veterans suffering with PTSD; though they are out there and probably need it. No, I am not writing to veterans who are suicidal; though they are out there and probably need it. No, I am writing to those who are sick of the drumbeat of articles, news stories, or listening to the empathy addict down the street that just won’t shut up about how much she cares and only wants to hear things that validate her preconceived notions.
If you are irritated, skeptical, and suspicious of the whole chattering – you’re in good company, and history and facts are on your side. Ignore the compassion trolls, it is ok to push back. We are not broken vessels, and those who maliciously imply that we are such things are no better than those who would spit in your face, as their goals are the same – to degrade your status as a equal.
A starting point for any post on this topic has to be B.G. Burkett’s book, Stolen Valor : How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History. There was a pattern set after the Vietnam War that tried to paint veterans as broken vessels. If you have not read Stolen Valor, then go order your copy now. What was done then is being done now – it even looks the same.
Almost a decade ago, a lot of people heard the first few beats of what is now steady and loud. From the murder of Chief Kyle to the kidnapping of children, to the poseurs written about in the homeless articles in your local papers, it is there.
It comes from two sources; one honorable and one malicious. The honorable sources are those who want to help those who serve or have served, but don’t know how to. They tend to look for things to be saved, victims to be helped – and using a legitimate case or two of veterans who have transition challenges as a template, start to see all veterans in that template. There are also those who know someone who has real PTSD or has suicidal thought, and then applies the classic logic error of applying the specific to the general (I saw a duck with a green head today; therefor all ducks have green heads). They are well meaning and should be respected for wanting to help, but if they go too far, their compassion can be counterproductive by feeding the other half of the problem; the anti-military malicious.
We all know the type; the only time they have any respect for those in the military is when they can use them to attack the nation and military they were part of. They also are resentful of the respect those in the military are given in civic culture, and want to do whatever they can to bring that respect down; to marginalize the veteran.
If the veteran is a victim; he is to be pitied. If he is to be pitied, then he must be helped by his betters. If he has to be helped by his betters to function in society, then he is not an equally contributing member of society. If he is not an equally contributing member of society, he can be marginalized. If he can be marginalized, he can be dismissed and his input ignored. If he can be marginalized politically and his contribution to public discourse ignored, then he cannot compete in the marketplace of ideas and influence. If he cannot compete, then he has no power.
That attitude manifests itself in strange places now and then. MSNBC talking head Chris Mathews is a case in point. Reflecting on Sen. McCain’s (R-AZ) aggressive questioning of Chuck Hagel last week, Matthews reflected on McCain’s performance of his Constitutional duties thus;
“Let me start tonight with this — why is John McCain so angry?” Matthews said. “Forty years after the Vietnam POWs came home, the most famous of them is angrier than ever. Why is America — why are we fighting the Vietnam War all over again in the United States Senate? The ticked-off vitriol against Chuck Hagel, what is it about? Is it for show? Is it about something Hagel said in the cloakroom?”
“Is it about the basic unfairness of Vietnam itself, that some went and some didn’t?” he continued. “Is it about Lyndon Johnson’s inability to either win that war or end it? What is it that burns so deeply in John McCain these days?”
“Well, tonight, we dig into the deep well of resentment burning in John McCain’s patriotic heart — a resentment not against the North Vietnamese who imprisoned and tortured him all those years, not against George W. Bush and his political henchmen who tried to stain McCain’s reputation back in 2000 — but against a guy who fought against fear and rallied against wounds, just like he did in the same army of America’s long nightmare in Vietnam, Chuck Hagel. A nightmare, by the way, whose flashbacks must haunt still the mind and heart of John Sidney McCain. … I’m absolutely convinced we’re watching a flashback.”
Quod erat demonstrandum. If they will do that to a Senator and once Presidential candidate – what message does that send to other veterans?
Like I mentioned earlier, a book has been written on the topic, so let me just pick one little vibe out of the zeitgeist; veterans suicides. Just googlesearch it; you’ll get the idea.
In a great, fact-based reply, let’s go to Greg Jaffe’s superb article in the Washington Post. He wanders in to a few fever-swamps of the zeitgeist, but is otherwise a solid article if you read closely and critically.
Every day about 22 veterans in the United States kill themselves, a rate that is about 20 percent higher than the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2007 estimate, according to a two-year study by a VA researcher.
The VA study indicates that more than two-thirds of the veterans who commit suicide are 50 or older, suggesting that the increase in veterans’ suicides is not primarily driven by those returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Has the war fought as of late been one fought by residents of The Villages? No.
“There is a perception that we have a veterans’ suicide epidemic on our hands. I don’t think that is true,” said Robert Bossarte, an epidemiologist with the VA who did the study. “The rate is going up in the country, and veterans are a part of it.” The number of suicides overall in the United States increased by nearly 11 percent between 2007 and 2010, the study says.
As a result, the percentage of veterans who die by suicide has decreased slightly since 1999, even though the total number of veterans who kill themselves has gone up, the study says.
Statistics are tough; the truth is in the details. See if you catch it.
The veterans’ suicide rate is about three times the overall national rate, but about the same percentage of male veterans in their 50s kill themselves as do non-veteran men of that age, according to the VA data.
Ok. Females make up ~15% of the military, and for those involved in combat, then males are well in to the 90%. American males kill themselves at a rate four-times that of females. The military heavily skews male. Starting to see where their story starts to get wobbly?
Sooooo….. anyone who has made even a blogger-in-PJs effort will soon see that you cannot compare veterans suicide rates to that of the general population unless you want to skew the numbers for effect.
Are we also controlling for age, race, socio-economic background, etc … all highly significant factors in suicide? No, of course not. That would get in the way of a good story and/or the non-profit that pays a hefty six-figure salary.
In many cases you have read, you have either lazy journalism, advocacy journalism, or the deliberate contribution to the smearing of veterans – something that has been a regular feature for the last 40 years.
Yes, the compassion trolls will get grumpy at you, and the compassion addicts will think you are a cold and heartless sociopath (she will probably whisper to others that your behavior is just a manifestation of your own PTSD), but they are not the problem – only useful idiots to those who are the problem and deserve your push back – the smear merchants.
Is there a problem with PTSD and veteran suicide? Sure there is – but this constant picking at a sensitive spot until you make it worse does not help fix anything. At worst, it plants seeds of ideas in to the nogg’n of the vulnerable who may act. At the least harmful it impacts the ability of veterans to get civilian jobs when they get out. After all, who wants to hire a bunch of traumatized, suicidal, time bombs? Yea, that is a topic for another day.
Until then, let’s see serious studies done by serious statisticians – a study that publishes all the data and variables with the regression analysis. Age, sex, race, ethnicity, regional origin, education level, combat exposure … all those and more.
While we wait for that – buy or re-read Stolen Valor – and push back some. It’s not just you
SECDEF Panetta was just in London speaking at King’s College. He touched on many significant points for the trans-Atlantic relationship going forward into the rest of the 21st Century. However, in relation to my last blog post, he closed with a significant statement,
As I retire from my own career in public service, I recognize that there is a generational shift underway. There will probably not be another U.S. secretary of defense with direct memories of World War II. Many of those entering military service today — and many of the young students here in this audience — were born years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet across the generations, the transatlantic alliance remains the rock upon which we will build our future security and our future prosperity.
Generations are changing, and the rock upon which Churchill and the next generation built is not the same one that will be recognized tomorrow. It’s there as a foundation, but one that is a few stories below where we are today. It’s becoming abstract, a page in history, not something that was lived. And that is a significant cultural change.
Our decision making cannot take for granted something as significant as the Second World War, or even the Cold War, as living memory. Obviously, at the SECDEF level such a notion is not being taken for granted. But, still, the cultural shifts currently underway amount to a buried lede. A clear-eyed recognition of what is underway is important for decision makers at all levels, in my opinion, as this shift is something we must manage if we are to maintain a leadership role in the World.
History is dead; long live history.
In Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars, the author highlights the president’s frustration with the military advice he received leading up to the surge in Afghanistan. Woodward recounts an exchange between the president and the chairman of the joint chiefs:
Obama: You guys just presented me with four options, two of which are not realistic… Of the remaining two, 40,000 and 30,000 to 35,000 are about the same… You have essentially given me one option. You’re not really giving me any options…. We were going to meet here today to talk about three options.
Mullen: No, I think what we’ve tried to do here is present a range of options, but we believe Stan’s [McChrystal] is the best. (p. 278)
The issue of presidential dissatisfaction with military advice is not a new one; problems in the Kennedy, Johnson, Ford and Carter administrations are well documented. As a result, improving military advice to civilian authority was one of the fundamental goals of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (G-N).
At the heart of the problem, political leaders often seek options for the best use of military force while military leaders present advice in the form of a recommended course of action, derived from a consensus-based planning process. Former DASD for Plans Dr. Janine Davidson masterfully describes this problematic relationship in her forthcoming article in Presidential Studies Quarterly (Winter 2013). She concludes, “Ultimately, the output of the military’s planning process fails to deliver the type of nuanced advice in the form of creative options that the president needs.”
Davidson attributes the “broken dialogue” to three sources of civil-military friction. The first source relates to the difference in expectations of civil-military control. Two differing schools of thought help frame this issue. Military leaders are more likely to be part of the Samuel Huntington school while political leaders are likely to subscribe to the Eliot Cohen school.
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