The United States Naval Institute rarely has contentious ballots.

We, the USNI Editorial Board, the USNI membership, and others, have now experienced one of those rare instances.

It is rare, because of the uncharacteristic lack of open debate concerning the historic motion to propose a change in the USNI mission statement. This motion has the potential to change the character of the institution: its exceptional standing among naval strategists throughout the world, its financial future, and the inevitable second and third order consequences unforeseen at the beginning of such a strategic change in direction. Freedom of thought and expression has been a central tenet of the Naval Institute itself and why, in part, we are witnessing the current passionate and vocal opposition to changing USNI’s mission statement. We welcome this discussion.

As the Editorial Board of the U.S. Naval Institute, we have a responsibility in as objective a manner as possible to review submissions for articles and provide advice to the Institute editors. We recognize that every submission is important and try to provide guidance on those articles that meet the standards of Proceedings, regardless of how controversial they may be, since it is that quality that most often stirs debate, gives pause to readers to think and, we hope, to respond in future issues. We also strive to promote the Institute’s role to provide an independent defense forum with articles representing all sides of the issues. Proceedings provides a vital and, we believe, a unique opportunity for well-articulated dialogue and encourage experienced writers to share their knowledge and newer writers to enter the arena of debate and share their own unique vision for the future of our sea services and, more broadly, our national security.

Therefore, we, the USNI Editorial Board, are submitting this letter to express our desire that the United States Naval Institute remain an independent forum – as it has since 1873. We strongly recommend that the reasons behind the mission statement change be provided to the membership through any USNI forum whether that is through Proceedings, the USNI blog, the USNI website and/or directly to the members via an email. As important as topic this is, an open, respectful debate regarding the benefits and challenges of such a change would help all members make an informed decision whether they vote “yea” or “nay.”

We understand that there are compelling reasons both for and against changing the mission statement.

What we do not understand is why the membership has not been able to hear, debate, and decide collectively what the outcome should be for such a historic determination.

As the noted author Norman Polmar wrote in a recent letter, one of his objections to the change was that the phrase “an independent forum advocating” is self-contradictory. We agree. Individuals may advocate certain points in their articles, but the independence of the Naval Institute allows for those views to be heard.

The opposition to the mission statement change has been argued by such noted individuals as former U.S. Naval Institute Chief Executive Officer Rear Admiral Tom Marfiak, USN (Ret), USNI award-winning author CAPT Victor Addison USN (Ret), Member of the U.S. Naval Institute Board of Directors Dr. Jack London, and Vice Admiral Bob Dunn, USN (Ret).

The independence of the Institute is paramount; without that openness, the Institute risks simply becoming an organ of whatever entity, whatever program, is deemed permissible by only a few, whomever those may be. It would be difficult to find a member or an author who is not a proponent of U.S. sea power, but we must remain open to those who define it differently or who might disagree with it. If we do not, then we remain stagnant in our thoughts, and in the 21st century with all its traditional, non-traditional and unforeseen challenges, that is a concept we can ill afford.

We wish to state for the record that we, the Editorial Board, vote “no” to the proposed mission statement change.

Editorial Board Members

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  • KhakiPants

    BZ Editorial Board!

  • Byron

    Stand by for heavy rolls.

    Question for the Board: are you starting to get the feeling that proposing this change was a *bad* idea? Do you have any idea how many people regulary read blogs like USNI blog, CDR Salamander’s, SteelJaw Scribe, and others? Or that the opposition is now spreading across Facebook? You, the Board are fast becoming a very tiny minority opinion. I humbly submit that you forget the vote and you spike this silly idea.

  • JohnByron

    This forceful statement by the Editorial Board must be sent to every member … by postal mail, by email, and as part of or an insert in the April mailing of Proceedings and Naval History. Must!

    A means must be provided for those members who have already voted to cancel their ballot and revote, that or a complete do-over of the entire election, By-Laws change included and with opportunity for a member-nominated alternate slate of candidates for the Board of Directors.

    Paraphrasing Jefferson, an informed membership is the only true repository of the Institute’s will. The Board of Directors’ deliberate withholding (since last July!) from the Institute’s membership all notice of this proposed profound course change speaks loudly of its distance from the members it was elected to serve.

    We members hold the ownership stake in this. We own the brand equity, the lines-of-business, Beach Hall, the good will of writers and donors and the international naval community; we employ the Institute’s great staff, write its books, carry on the debates in its two great magazines, make its conferences relevant and alive.

    Now is the time for us to honorably and forcefully protect our interest in this unique institution and pay our debt to the future by first voting down this disastrous change and then taking back the Institute from the rogue Directors to dreamed it up.

  • Horatius

    In regards to the current Board of Directors:

    In 1947 those who could have had a powerful say in the structure or mission of the Institute (if they had so chosen) had also recently had a hand in winning the greatest sea war that had ever been fought–or that may ever be fought.

    The service at that time was also facing a near-existential threat in the national halls of power, one which eventually resulted in the “Revolt of the Admirals”.

    And yet, at this time of great trevails for the concept of sea power, when there were men at the helm of both Navy and USNI who were not just knowledgable about global sea power, but who had had a large hand in creating the American version thereof–these capable and learned men did not turn the Institute into something like RAND or into an advocacy organization (and remember, NLUS alredy existed at that time. The template was there if it was wanted.)

    I argue that there may have been reasons for this, good reasons, relating to both the good of the service and good of the Institute. It may be that they just may never have even thought of such an act–and that should also serve as a warning for us. One can be too political an animal.

    I thus bluntly wonder, if the greatest band of fighting Admirals the Navy will (hopefully**) ever have, at the moment of the greatest budgetary crisis the moden Navy has ever had–if these fine men forebore to interfere with the basic working concept of the Institute at that time, then what special genius for sea power (both in execution and in explication) has the current Board of Directors that should lead us to defer to them without question, and what special need, what special crisis, is now so critical that demans such change?

    The world wonders.

    **”Hopefully”, because elsewhise the requirement to have one day a greater band of fighting Admirals is, at the miminum, another sea war. Which is, naturally, not wanted. For it should always be desired that when it comes to the ability to practice the art of war, it is far better (for the nation) to be able to confidently live one’s life as a never-realized but always-ready potential than to have the chance for one’s qualities for and in desperate struggles to become firmly established facts.

  • Jay

    I voted no to the mission statement change. I recommend keeping the vote — scrapping it now would further inflame the blog torch & pitchfork/conspiracy crowd. Would be interesting to see the results of the vote — when the decision is finalized & published.

  • J. Scott

    I voted NO—-the proposed change to the mission statement is wrong-headed.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    I am a Life Member of this august institution. Over the course of my career, when I was deemed fit for polite (non-Naval Air) company, I had the good fortune to work with members of all service branches. One universal theme that came up was their envy of the fact that “we” had USNI and they lamented that while they had advocacy groups, they really had nothing like “Proceedings” where members could discuss, without fear, everything from the smallest niche issues to thoughts on grand strategy. While I deeply lament the fact that due to the actions of a few petty-minded seniors many JO’s now shy away from writing and membership, I take even deeper umbrage at the actions of the Board.

    I currently serve on the Board of Directors of one international and one national organization. I have recently left a six-year term on the Board of Trustees of a religious institution, so I have no small acquaintance with how a Board must conduct itself. I am also well aware how changes in what we now call “Mission Statements,” aim and direction of respected organizations are to be proposed, discussed, voted upon and implemented.

    The manner in which this has been done is decidedly not that way. The course of action of a few members, opposed by others to be sure, reflect upon their backgrounds: What may seem ethical and moral on Wall Street and in the FOGO Club are NOT the actions of a Board who’s true duty must be to serve as responsible custodians of the Institute, the membership, the heritage and the reputation of the USNI before the rest of the world. If they want a naval advocacy group, then I most sincerely invite them to become deeply involved in the governance of the Navy League of the United States and stop attempting to drive the Naval Institute into shoal waters.

    In short, to the ladies and gentlemen who have attempted this monumental change: This is NOT your private club to be the tool of your own egos; it is the Naval Institute. I most strenuously demur that this is in any way a proper course to be taking and I strongly object to the manner in which it has been attempted to be done. I believe you all know the way to the exit, and I expect you to take it forthwith.

  • BZ Ed. Board.

    Having served on the BOD/Ed. Board for three years, not too long ago, I can feel the drift towards “corporate,” he past few years.

    Thanks, Curt Haggard
    ETCM(SS) (USN, Ret.)

  • CDR Tom O’Malley, USN (Ret)

    BZ to the board!

  • sid
  • Fouled Anchor

    Outstanding letter! Thank you Editorial Board members.

    If approved, this change could (quite likely would) lead to the demise of this fine organization, and that would be a shame.

  • JohnByron

    This is what a Pulitzer Prize journalist has to say about the Editorial Board (courageous), Proceedings (gotta read what he says – wow), and the Board of Directors (‘foolish plan’).

    If the Board of Directors were alive today, it would pay attention to this…

  • John T. Kuehn, CDR USN (retired)

    I echo the BZs above to the board. Let’s remain independent!

    Dr. John T. Kuehn
    Army Command and General Staff College
    Fort Leavenworth Kansas

  • Bob

    In all of the publicity regarding this proposed change, one voice – or group of voices – remains suspiciously absent. Where are the those advocating this change? Why are they so unwilling to put forth their points, engage in discussion and defend their position?

    If, in fact, their position is indefensible, then perhaps they should also do the honorable thing, recognize their mistake and admit, in a public forum, they will also vote “No” against their own proposal.

    Failure to do otherwise reeks of dishonor and cowardice.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    @ Bob: Or they have already determined that despite the sound and fury generated on the web in multiple forums, there will enough ballots ignored by the majority of recipients that they will still prevail by declaring the uncast ballots as “not opposed?”

  • Susan

    I read Proceedings. I’m not in the Navy, never have been, but grew up in a naval family and have read it for as long as I can remember. I can only offer my simplistic civilian perspective.

    Many years ago there was an article in Proceedings that I found tremendously interesting. I’m going to guess it was over 10 years ago and I remember it very well. At that time I was doing some research and when speaking with an editor at Proceedings who was assisiting me, I mentioned how worthwhile that piece was. He said, “that was quite controversial and almost didn’t make it in.” Being a little naive (thankfully) about what will deemed as controversial, I was surprised.

    I can only think that the change might prohibit that kind of controversy, the inclusions of thoughtful, well-researched articles that may have pointed a flaw in the way the Navy was working at the time.

    Please vote to keep the USNI independent of politics, trends and personal interests. Otherwise I may not have a reasonable idea as to what happened to the Scorpion. All I know is I would have missed out on something if I’d never been able to read that article.

  • Byron

    Well, said, Susan!

  • Fouled Anchor

    Right on Susan!

    I really want to hear an explanation from the Board of Directors.

    What happened? What did some of you read that offended you so much that this is your response? What critique was so damning (and probably dead on) that it scared you into this idea?

    The members of the Naval Institute deserve and are demanding an explanation. It is your responsibility to provide such.

  • William Horn

    There is something wrong with our Institute if a ballot can be mailed out to the membership for a significant change in the long-standing mission statement without even a note as to its importance. Where was at least a brief outline of the pros and cons of the change? Has the membership been informed that our CEO Gen Wilkinson will be leaving? This Board of Directors has seemingly forgotten that ours is an association of dedicated naval professionals, and seems to think that forthright communication with us is unnecessary in their quest for personal prestige and praise.

  • Fouled Anchor

    “…CEO Gen Wilkinson will be leaving?”


  • Richard A. Dirks

    This 52-year Life Member has voted against the entire Board of Directors slate, for the entire Editorial Board slate, and against the proposed change of mission.