Tags: WEST 2012
Maybe, I don’t want to be an officer. More so, maybe I shouldn’t be one. You guys seem to make it hard on yourselves to ask questions – to read, think and write. Enlisted types, when we do a version of ‘read, think and write’ we either are innocuous or irrelevant because of our rank, or are surprising (and thus welcomed) because of no one expecting us to think ‘big thoughts.’ But, whatever the case, us thinking aloud isn’t something that can cause officers to react. I’d dare say that it is almost safer for us enlisted types to think out loud because of our status in the military hierarchy.
In thinking back across the modicum of experience I have, I can only find one example of where someone (an officer) reacted negatively to me asking questions. It was a CAPT who was riding the SAN ANTONIO for one reason, or another. We were on the smoke deck, and I was attempting to talk to him about my Mobile Sea Base idea I had for the SAN (anyone read the news lately? I totally called this back in 2007). I don’t think the CAPT was as much bothered by my asking questions, as he just wanted from freakin’ peace and quiet while he smoked his cigar on the smoke deck. Whatever his motivations, it’s the only time I can recall ever being concerned about asking questions.
As many of you know, the Naval Institute invited me to the West ’12 Conference this year. One of the panels I attended was titled “Junior Warfighters: What Issues Keep Them Awake at Night?” the panel was comprised of O-3s and an O-4. I asked them questions, and the discussion turned to writing and publishing their thoughts. The answers I received were far outside of my perspective, and did not settle well with me. I couldn’t understand why they were telling me of their concerns for repercussions from their writing. They aren’t the first officers I’ve heard voice such a concern – quite the opposite actually. I have heard others say as such so often, that I’ve started to wonder if it was actually an excuse for not writing.
I watched the video made from the panel this morning, I asked if they had tried to get published, if they thought that publishing under a pen name would improve the discourse or be helpful in any way. But, again, the answers I was given were too far outside my perspective. I was told that it is important for a person to stand behind their words and thus not use a pen name. In addition to their concern for repercussions from publishing, the two perspectives caused a certain dissonance for me, I couldn’t get my mind around it. But, in talking about it on facebook, I think I’ve begun to understand.
No one reads, thinks and writes in a vacuum. I’ve often wondered (as have many others) why it is that the young seem to be the greatest source of innovation in the World. But, in coming to understand the answers I received at West I’ve also come to understand that a significant part of why the young innovate so much is that we do read, think and write in a vacuum in a greater sense than those older than us. We generally have fewer responsibilities – maybe a spouse, possibly no children, limited (if any) command authority. It seems to me to be one of the sublimely ironic absurdities of life that we give authority to those who have the experience to support keen discretion and wise decision making. But that to inherently have such qualities, one must have first lived a life, learned the resulting lessons and there-by limited their ability to fully engage in innovative discourse.
What this realization has lead me to is to wonder what this means for me. I’m a single guy, no kids, and no command authority; yet when I write these blogs, and talk publicly, I have a tacit sense of what I can and cannot say – I have tact. But, should I have less tact, in a sense? I don’t mean that I think that I should be bluntly provocative or that I should be writing the intellectual version of tabloids in my writing. But, that I should be even more bold to say some things, and even say things I know that others wish to say, but can’t due to other responsibilities their life choices have resulted in. Just as it tends to be the most junior personnel who have to scrub down a ship after a CBRN attack, shouldn’t it be the junior person who writes the words that cause senior personnel pause? After all, I am ultimately only responsible to myself. I do not have to worry about my words grossly affecting anyone else I could be responsible for. If the guy with kids to take care of can’t do it; the officer who would be judged more critically than I would can’t do it, or anyone with significant responsibilities can’t do it. But, somebody HAS to do it. Who better than someone like me?
I didn’t invoke John Boyd during the panel, though his ghost was probably cursing up a storm if it were present. But, Boyd’s example is replete with what it takes to fully engage in the discourse. Robert Croam’s biography doesn’t ignore the type of father or husband Boyd was – Boyd sacrificed a lot to be who he was. I cannot expect anyone (not even myself) to make the hard decisions he made.
Which only leaves me with the thought that we need a new dichotomy across the age axis in our Navy. We have the enlisted-officer dichotomy in the Navy that serves us extremely well. We should also formalize the age dichotomy so that our junior personnel can take advantage of their lack of responsibilities and station, so that they can think, read and write the things we need to stay innovative and ahead of any competitor.