Archive for the 'Army' Category
Please join us at 5pm EST on 6 November 2016 for Midrats Episode 567: Goldwater–Nichols; Problems and Solutions
The systems that trains, mans, and equips our military – and provides guidance and support to their civilian masters is broadly shaped by Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. There is much discussion that in the middle of the second decade of the 21st Century, is there a better system to serve our national security requirements than one designed at the height of the 20th Century’s Cold War?
Using his article in War on the Rocks, Don’t Rush to “Fix” Goldwater-Nichols as a starting point, our guest for the full hour to discuss this and other related issues will be Justin Johnson of The Heritage Foundation.
Johnson spent over a decade working on defense and foreign policy issues on Capitol Hill before coming to the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense were I am now a defense and foreign policy analyst at Allison Center for National Security and Foreign Policy.
Johnson received a master’s degree from the Naval War College with a particular focus on terrorism and the maritime domain. He is also a member of the 2013-2014 Future Leaders Program at the Foreign Policy Initiative, the 2011-12 class of Next Generation National Security Leaders at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the 2012 class of the Heritage Foundation’s Marshall Fellows.
Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Johnson grew up in Iowa before moving to Eastern Europe. After living in Germany, Belarus and the Czech Republic, Johnson attended Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia where he studied philosophy and art.
Institutions are just like people in some ways. When situations allow, there is a drift towards the easy and the comfortable. Not the most efficient and productive – that would be ideal – but towards the point where there is a conservation of effort satisfactory enough to get by but still get the job mostly done.
Without external stresses, firm leadership or an institutional bias towards creative destruction, difficult progress will lose out to comfort.
We can build our own myths to explain why things are the way they are. They don’t have to be correct at war, just comfortable at peace.
David Vergon over at army.mil has a nice summary of some comments by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Jr., USA that are refreshing to see – as are most things from McMaster.
His comments are Army specific, but the thought process would do every service good. What are our myths? Our pleasant self-delusions? The sweet little lies we tell each other to make us avoid uncomfortable realities?
I encourage you to read McMaster’s comments in full for the context of each four myths, but below I’ll just provide the four myths he believes the Army has when it comes to ground combat vehicles. It is refreshingly direct and blunt, putting some of the statements of his peers in direct contrast to his own.
The Army needs to make “clear and compelling arguments” for capabilities that advanced ground combat vehicles will bring to the fight with their effective mobile protective firepower, he said.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to make the case when there are myths that are still circulating out there, he commented, pointing to four persisting myths.
Existing platforms are already the best in the world and are sufficient for future conflicts.
The next war won’t be fundamentally different from previous ones and will be resolved through long-range, stand-off capabilities.
Combat vehicles have a limited role in restricted environments and dense urban areas.
Combat vehicles are too expensive.
This is good. This is creative friction practiced at a high level.
As you read it, think to yourself, “Who is the aviation Vice Admiral who will make a similar myth critique of our aviation myths? Who is the surface Vice Admiral and submarine Vice Admiral who will do the same?”
Too often, our senior leaders and their PAOs sound more like defense industry PR representatives and talking points, than the customers of the defense industry, or just another thought-pod in a monoculture field of cloned thought-pods planted and harvested with each POM.
Again, McMaster sets a template.
Recently, we asked LTG H. R. McMaster, USA, to host a Q&A with Fox News commentator MG Bob Scales, USA (Ret.), author of Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk. Part I of their exchange appeared on the USNI Blog yesterday. Part II of their conversation follows.
McMaster: You begin chapter 11 with the observation that “good soldiers perform best under good leaders.” What attributes are most important in XXI century military leaders and how should the services develop those leaders?
Scales: First, I’d be clear about what type of leader we are talking about. In the military there are two: tactical leaders and strategic leaders. Thus XXI century leader development would follow two tracks: The tactical track would seek to find those with the technical and tactical right stuff, essentially those with the intuitive abilities, physical fitness and courage to lead men in close combat. They would be the doers, those who make the military engine run and who know how to maneuver and lead tactical units. The strategic track would consist of carefully selected men and women who have the right strategic stuff: the ability to think in time, conjure what might be rather than what is; and be willing to participate in a decades long program of study and practice that would prepare them to be leaders at the highest national strategic level. Preparation would consist of civilian graduate school, political and combatant command internships and time as an instructor at a service school or civilian university. Such a program would be highly competitive and very selective producing about 100 superbly qualified officers to be promoted to senior colonel and general officer. These would not be not progressive programs. Tacticians are tacticians and strategists are strategists.
McMaster: Popular culture tends to water down and coarsen what it means to be a warrior. Soldiers are often portrayed as fragile, traumatized human beings. Hollywood tells us little about the soldier’s calling or commitment to his or her fellow soldiers or what compels him or her to act courageously, endure hardships, take risks, or make sacrifices. You write about what it takes to steel soldiers and units to overcome fear and fight in environments of uncertainty and persistent danger. Will you share your thoughts on the human dimension of combat and why Americans should try to understand the social, psychological, and moral requirements to fight and win?
Scales: War is innately a human not a technological enterprise. The lower the level of the fight, the more human it becomes. I invented the term “Human Dimension” in 1992 when writing my book Certain Victory as a means of closing a hidden void in the conduct of the Gulf War that technology couldn’t alone explain. The idea came to me when listening to GEN Barry McCaffrey’s testimony before Congress when he opined that we still would have beaten Saddam even if we exchanged equipment with him. I found this observation both profound and true. It was the soldier not the equipment that provided the margin for certain victory. I also discovered that we knew too little about the soldier in combat. We knew we were better but how were we better? What was the evidence?
My Desert Storm research team set to work to find specifically what makes us better. In fact, we asked why western armies were better than native armies in general at higher-level mechanized warfare. Much of the answer was cultural. Only western militaries produce noncommissioned officers; western armies know how to self-select leaders without regard to social distinctions; western soldiers tend to bond more easily with peers and they are practiced with all forms of technology. But we discovered that such explanations were not enough. As good as we were the social, behavioral and cognitive sciences could make us much, much better. Unfortunately, our initial efforts to better exploit the human dimension fell of the rails after 9/11. This is always the problem with terms that become too popular and are overused and exploited. In this case the term Human Dimension was intentionally and cynically diluted and misdirected by uninformed bureaucrats who didn’t understand the concept and how it could be exploited. We wanted to make better performing soldiers by exploiting the human sciences, seemingly a simple enough enterprise. But in time the “spirituality” team got involved trying to show that fighting prowess depended on being a Christian. Later the cultural awareness crowd hijacked the human dimension to push for putting sociologists in the field to inform tactical leaders about native cultures in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, in about 2006 well-intended psychologists and physicians hijacked the human dimension effort and applied it to the Army’s “resiliency” effort. Suddenly the human dimension moniker was about treating damaged soldiers rather than making healthy soldiers more deadly in combat. I still believe that the greatest potential for increasing the fighting prowess of our close combat forces comes from exploiting the human sciences. I write about how this might be done in my book.
Click here to view MG Scales’ September 19th talk about Scales on War at the Heritage Foundation.
Recently, we asked LTG H. R. McMaster, USA, to host a Q&A with Fox News commentator MG Bob Scales, USA (Ret.), author of Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk. Part I of their exchange follows.
McMaster: Your call for a historical-behavioral approach to military strategy and defense policy is consistent with Graham Allison’s and Niall Ferguson’s recent essay in the Atlantic in which they call for a board of historical advisors to advise the president to improve the wisdom of foreign policy. What is the value to contemporary affairs and why do you think it is underappreciated?
Scales: Not only do I think Presidents need historians to provide advice I believe the military does as well. War is the only profession that’s episodic. Soldiers don’t practice war (thankfully) as much as they study it. Thus the intellectual backbone of our profession should be the study of past wars. Sadly, it is not. Reluctance to study war among our senior leaders is, in a way, understandable. A newly appointed general has spent half his or her life (or more) actively engaged in fighting or preparing to fight a war. It’s reasonable for a serving officer to question the merits of study when he’s fully engaged in practicing the profession. As we witnessed with the British Army in the late nineteenth century these habits are hard to break. Imperial officers published under a pseudonym for fear of being labeled an intellectual. Conversation in the officer’s mess was about sport, not tactics. And the British paid a painful price when they were unable to adapt intellectually once they shifted from a native to an industrial age European enemy. The lesson is clear. We must artificially induce our young officers to shift from the visceral to the vicarious, an unnatural act for a contemporary Army on active service.
McMaster: The military seems to be increasingly disconnected from those in whose name they fight and serve. A very small percentage of Americans serve and few seem to understand the requirements for military readiness, especially what it takes to fight and win in ground combat, what you call the “crucible of courage.” You make a strong case for maintaining the all-volunteer force, but do you agree that this is a problem? And how might the bonds between the American people and its military be strengthened and how might Americans become more familiar with the requirements for national defense?
Scales: No I don’t agree this is a problem. The military, and the Army in particular, is a fighting force, not a civilizing agent. Strengthening bonds between the fighting force and the people might make soldiers feel better about what they do but social bonding will not make them better fighters. We are the only Western democracy that has never been ruled by its Army. We should strive to maintain that separation such that we are never temped. Part of the passion on this issue is due to internally imposed self pity. I witnessed the phenomenon after Vietnam when many senior leaders blamed their failures on a media driven “stab in the back.” Watching this low level Dr. Strangelove period in our history was emotionally destructive to a young officer like me. We serve so that Americans don’t have to think of us…or fear being us. It’s enough for me to have someone say: “thank you for your service,” even though I know they probably mean “thank you for doing this so that my son can go to graduate school.” No, this new emerging mantra of self-pity mainly comes from retired officers who decry the dangers of civil-military separation. You hear words like, “99 percent of America never served” or “two thirds of American youth can’t pass the military physical, etc…” Many of these same generals call in the wilderness for universal service. The military has more important things to concern them. Let’s get on with learning and practicing our profession and leave the [discussion] about the civil military divide to academics.
McMaster: And, as you point out in Scales On War, Americans have a tendency to want to simplify the problem of future armed conflict and solve complex land-based problems from stand-off range. While stand-off capabilities will remain important to national defense, the war against ISIS, a terrorist proto-state that does not even have an air force or a navy, seems to validate your point that fighting and winning in war requires land forces that possess the will, capability, and capacity to defeat an enemy, secure territory, protect populations, and consolidate military gains politically. Why do you think there is a tendency to undervalue the need for ready land forces and how might you and others administer a corrective to flawed thinking in that connection?
Scales: Much of our attitude about defense is baked into our social DNA. We still view ourselves as an Island nation that can choose to advance or retreat, join or leave a conflict at will. Since there is no occupying force on our land we can fight in faraway places not worrying about our loved ones being threatened. So it should come as no surprise that killing bloodlessly at a distance should from the nexus of our policy. This would all be fine if our enemies didn’t have a brain. But they do. And because of our fixation on distant killing they have an equally baked-in strategy for defeating our style of war: meet Americans in distant an unpleasant places, defend their hegemonies by making defeat too painful and then broadcast our pain to the American people such that they will tire of the exercise and demand that the troops come home. It works every time. The most vulnerable and assailable of American forces are Soldiers and Marines. So ground forces are the enemy’s point of attack and our most vulnerable center of gravity. Trying to convince our policymakers that the nation should expend more resources on those most likely to die is a hard sell to those who fear that if we buy ground forces we are only more likely to use (and lose) them. Thus, buying air and sea forces is an easy sell. Buying ground forces is hard…
McMaster: The subtitle of your book is “The future of America’s military at risk.” The active Army is more committed than ever and is undergoing a reduction in size from 570,000 to 450,000 while the modernization budget has fallen by 74% since 2008, creating a bow wave in deferred Army modernization. You observe that your grandchildren will fight with Reagan-era weapons. As a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report concluded, the recent Army modernization drawdown is a triple whammy for the Army because these cuts in force structure and modernization are larger in percentage than previous cuts and the two previous drawdowns came after the Army had already modernized much of the force. And you warn against a “silent creeping atrophy that sends the Army into another tragic dark age.” What might be done prevent that and reduce risk to the nation?
Scales: Social and political activism, pure and simple. The default position for defense policy makers is to buy more high tech air and sea platforms. In peacetime there is no down side to this policy: high paying jobs in the U.S. are created; the research and development community is enriched; the public sees powerful bright shiny objects floating or flying by that give them a warm sense of security; most of the big stuff is kept at home, relatively safe; images of bright young technicians and digital warriors relieves the people from thinking about the true nature of war; black and white digital images of explosions from drone strikes make Americans believe that we are taking the fight to the enemy without looking more closely at images of what the explosions leave behind. The counter narrative is tough: soldiers and marines lying dead after an IED strike; a ground level image of dead and wounded innocents lying amid the rubble. So those of us who advocate for the soldier and marine have to go the extra mile to explain and educate our fellow citizens about the consequences of neglect. History is our most effective media weapon. Those who advocate for no more “boots on the ground” lose the argument when folks like us tell and re-tell the stories of soldiers and marines who died due to the neglect of their fellow citizens. But to be effective the message must be delivered with unrelenting force and drama such that Joe citizen can’t turn away. Problem is that ground service leaders, particularly Army leaders, simply aren’t very good at telling this story. If we want our Army to avoid breaking next time then it’s the responsibility of today’s ground service leaders to craft the narrative and project it to everyone in Washington who writes the checks. Our greatest allies are not the solons on the Hill; it’s the American people. Get to them directly. Convince them that their blue-collar sons and daughters will be at risk if life and death decisions are left inside the Beltway. Let’s build on what I have written in this book to write a greater narrative crafted by our most senior Army leaders. Speak to mister and missus America. Explain the consequences to their children of institutional neglect and ask them to demand that the Army gets its share of our national resources so that their children will not die in another debacle like Task Force Smith in Korea.
McMaster: The American public is largely disconnected from ongoing wars. How many Americans, for example, could name the three main Taliban groups that their soldiers have been fighting for fifteen years? You stress the interactive nature of war, but so little of the coverage of today’s conflicts cover that interaction. Reports focus mainly on discreet strikes or raids, friendly casualties, or announcements about the numbers of troops deployed. Do you think there is a problem with the media coverage of the wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan-Pakistan? If so, how would you change the way wars are covered?
Scales: I work for the media, in my case, Fox News. A senior media official told me a few months ago that when we both started at Fox in 2002 over 60% of the discretionary broadcast time was devoted to war. Now it’s less than 5%. But, that’s OK. We are essentially an Island nation that can voluntarily choose to join or leave foreign engagements. This is a privilege very few other nations can claim. Thus is should be no surprise that Americans can choose to watch whatever they want on TV depending on how world events affect them and they, thankfully, don’t have to worry that events affect them very much. I do lament that too often that the news gets things technically wrong or that the news fails to add context to events so that conflict is too often depicted as a stop action video game to our youth. But at the end of the day the media is a consumable product and the consumer decides how to buy it. If Joe or Jane America want to watch reality TV rather than war news that’s their privilege and we who sacrificed gave that privilege to them. And we did it (and do it) without expecting a great deal of thanks in return.
McMaster: There is a tendency in the United States to confuse the study of war and warfare with militarism. Thinking clearly about the problem of war and warfare, however, is both an unfortunate necessity and the best way to prevent it. As the English theologian, writer, and philosopher G.K. Chesterton observed, “War is not the best way of settling differences, but it is the only way of preventing them being settled for you.” What is your advice to the Academy? Is there a role for universities in improving not only our thinking about defense, but also the connection between our society and its soldiers?
Scales: I’m a product (and a victim) of the academy so I know a little about this. In the distant past the academy was a willing gold mine of imbedded wisdom that the military mined with profit. It’s hard to believe now but before the 60s social revolution professors provided useful advice and did meaningful research that added depth and new ideas to our defense intellectual communities. This was in many ways a partnership. Most of these academics were World War II veterans and, although most were politically liberal, they understood war and its consequences and they viewed America as a bulwark against international evil. Today it’s different. If the academy writes about the military it’s normally about social issues within the ranks or it’s generally condemnatory in nature. There is very little in the literature about the “acts” of war. Thus most young military intellects have to be homegrown, service sponsored, and come from Army funded graduate schools. This must change. I hope it will as the revolutionary age elders of the sixties leave the academy. But nothing will change until the atmospherics change. One way to force change is to create a true military academic partnership in universities known for war studies. Here’s how it might work:
- The Army chooses a cluster of about 10-15 named universities that receive funds for educating ROTC cadets and officers attending graduate school as well as funds for defense research.
- These schools should be geographically dispersed and of the highest quality. If possible they would already have a vibrant defense studies graduate program. Some of the best are Texas A and M; Notre Dame; Ohio State; Stanford; Princeton; Florida State; University of North Carolina; Duke; etc.
- The Army pays for a program or a Community of Practice, essentially a subordinate unit of a department or school such as the Wilson Center or the Hudson Institute. The community would consist of ROTC students, military graduate students, civilian graduate students sponsored in part by the Army, War College Fellows, contracted civilian researchers, traditional faculty and senior military PhD students scheduled to be tenured faculty at West Point or the War College.
- Together this internal community would work with and mentor each other to provide a powerful intellectual and fiscal power on the campus. Some link would be necessary with the staff and war colleges and think tanks specific to the Army such as the Arroyo Center. The Commandant of the army War College would run the program and report directly to the Chief of Staff.
- The Army would schedule all of its signature seminar and senior meetings at one of these communities. I would also add an Army Press, affiliated with one of the better-known University Presses. The relationship might be similar to the Naval Institute Press at Annapolis or the Belknap Press at Harvard.
- The product of these university defense intellectual communities would be a generation of soldiers and civilian scholars who have a balanced education and cultural experience. My hope is that, in time, these communities would spawn a new age of civil-military collaboration useful for both the military and the nation.
Part II of this Q&A session between LTG McMaster, USA and MG Scales, USA (Ret.) can be viewed here.
Click here to view MG Scales’ September 19th talk about Scales on War at the Heritage Foundation.
Please join us at 5pm (US EDT) on 18 September 2016 for Midrats Episode 350: 21st Century Patton, With J. Furman Daniel III:
Put the popular, and mostly accurate, image of the flamboyant General Patton, USAgiven to us by popular culture to the side for a moment.
Consider the other side of the man; the strategic thinker, student of military history, and innovator for decades. This week’s episode will focus on that side of the man.
For the full hour we will have as our guest J. Furman Daniel, III, the editor of the next book in the 21st Century Foundations series: 21st Century Patton.
Furman is an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona. He holds a BA (with honors) from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Georgetown University.
Writing professional articles has a long history in all the U.S. military services. American naval publications date as far back as the 1830s. While military personnel are commonly lauded for their willingness to take physical risks in defense of the nation, sometimes we are less open to taking the intellectual risks involved in the betterment of our profession. In #RTSW 2 we discussed the fear some writers have that they might embarrass themselves through a small mistake or problem in a professional article. Taking an intellectual or academic risk is far different than strapping into an aircraft, rigging to dive the boat, or free-falling out of a perfectly good airplane.
The reality is there are a number of things military authors do which are sort of embarrassing from an editor’s perspective. Military personnel hold themselves up as professionals, but occasionally behave like inexperienced freshman undergraduates when it comes time to submit an article for publication. Most of the issues can be addressed by acting like the professional we all claim to be. These are not actually hard things to do, but generally fall into the GI Joe category of knowledge.
Follow the contributors guidelines. Seriously. If the journal or publication says they take feature articles with a maximum word count of 3000 words, do not send them 4500 words. Some will give you some latitude, maybe 10% overage, but not always. It is not the editor’s job to turn your over-length piece into something appropriate. You are telling them either you could not be bothered to check the guidelines, you have never read their publication, you just don’t care, or you think you are so brilliant the rules don’t apply to your ideas. None of these interpretations will help you impress anyone.
From my experience as an editor this is an across the board issue. Frankly, most junior personnel tend to follow the rules, but sometimes they don’t understand the difference between “departments” at some journals. Some mid-grade officers, senior officers, and Flags, however, have issues understanding the rules apply to them. One would hope the professors from our PME institutions who encourage officers to use their school papers for articles would help them understand how it works. Yet, I have also seen PME professors who submit articles which are thousands of words over maximum, so sometimes they are part of the problem.
Papers and assignments written in the professional military education system, or from academic work, are a great source of material for articles. I have used the work I wrote for class in a number of articles I have published. But, a school paper and an article are not the same thing. We’ve already covered the length issue, but this is a common problem with academic papers. There are also differences in style and tone, occasionally in formatting, and in the types of arguments that will fit at certain publications. Do not simply send your PME paper to an editor. Always rewrite and reformat the paper to ensure it fits the publication you are sending it to. The editors will still help you make it better, but it is on the author to make the first effort of getting it right for the publication in question. It should not require mentioning, but the editor is also not interested with the grade you got on the paper. No need to share, the work should stand on its own.
Ensure you are sending the right submission to the right publication. If a certain publication has a name for a “department,” or type of article, don’t use that same name at a different publication. For example, Proceedings has opinion pieces called “Nobody Asked Me But…” An author who sends a commentary submission to War on the Rocks or The Bridge “for your Nobody Asked Me But section” is immediately off on the wrong foot.
Simple freelance manuscript format is the best way to approach an editor. Do not try and impress with multiple fonts, complicated formatting, etc. Depending on what software they are working with, your fancy format may get thrown off anyway. You aren’t applying for a job in desktop publishing, the words in the article are what matter and speak for themselves. Name, contact info, word count, title, one font, double spaced, simple paragraph format. Use bold, underline, or italics to set things off, but only sparingly. It is designed for fiction authors, but William Shunn’s website gives a good image of how to set things up. Avoid pdf’s to the best of your ability, because the editor will probably want to digitally mark up the piece.
The concept of authorship is directly tied to the question of personal integrity in the academic world. Almost every university or institution of higher learning has an authorship policy statement (read Yale’s here). Fundamentally “authorship” is the question: who belongs on the byline of an article? Who should get credit? This is a question every senior officer looking to publish an article must ask themselves when they think about the staff process which might have helped them produce the article. Senior officers and civilian leaders sometimes have speechwriters who help them. At what point, and in what venues, should they get mentioned for written work? Is a shared byline proper? Or is a mention in the author bio at the end of the article the right place? “LCDR Jones contributed to the writing of this article.” Perhaps a junior officer on the staff amassed the research and wrote the first draft of sections of the piece. Do they deserve some credit? These questions don’t always apply, but in colleges and universities this is a key ethical question. If we are going to pursue professional integrity in the military services, and consider it intellectually, it makes sense for us to examine authorship as well.
Professional articles on military subjects are not the place for personal attacks or for antagonism. Even if the spark which got you writing was disagreement with someone else’s idea, take a step back and make sure you are writing about ideas and content and you are not being antagonistic. Sometimes this is unintentional, and requires you to look at your own work closely. Also, some publications do not publish this kind of tit-for-tat writing, so expect rejections if you are writing something focused on being critical. You should be focused on new ideas and solutions. It is ok to be constructively critical of another writer, thinker, or publication, but avoid personal or professional antagonism: try and follow Dennett’s rules. Aim at the ideas, not the people, and give credit where credit is due.
Cite Your Work
Footnotes, endnotes, hyperlinks…they matter. They help prove you have done the research and reading discussed earlier in this series. More importantly, perhaps, they acknowledge the hard work of others who have tackled the same or similar subjects and on whose shoulders your work stands. They offer the editor and the reader a chance to check up on you. None of us form our ideas or opinions in a vacuum. Even senior officers haven’t come to all their knowledge through experience or epiphany. We should acknowledge that through good use of notes and links. This does not mean every article must be peppered with quotes from Clausewitz or Mahan. You do not have to tackle the great masters. Sometimes it makes you look silly. I know from experience.
Say something in your article. Identifying a problem is certainly a contribution, but often times it is not enough. It only becomes a good article when you also suggest a solution or a path to a solution. You have to argue for something, not just report on a situation. In the first post in this series we talked about John Adams’ call to “dare to read, think, speak, and write.” Professional articles are at their best when they remember that first word. Writers must dare.
Take It or Leave It
This series of three posts has tried to offer a starting point for military professionals and members of the national security community who want to take up the call to contribute to our profession, all call which was recently echoed by the CNO and Lt O’Keefe. The observations offered are intended as a little bit of what naval folks call gouge to get started. Like all gouge, the advice offered is worth exactly what you have paid to read it. These are simple observations from my past several years both writing and editing on military and naval subjects. Individual experience will vary. As we say in the navy, if you live by the gouge you’ll likely die by the gouge. But it least it gives us somewhere to start.
This post is the third in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
Chief of Naval Operations Richardson has put out a call for more naval professionals to contribute to their profession through writing. Other Flag Officers have followed his lead and there is a rising movement across the joint force. The first post in this series examined how someone can develop an idea into a professional article. The next two posts will look to offer a clearer picture of what a writer should expect once their article is written: from submission to when it is out in print or online.
The advice in this series is based on professional writing for a print or online magazine/journal. People interested in blogging can certainly also learn from these ideas. But blogging has a slightly different place in our digital society, and frequently has different (sometimes looser) standards. As seen from the fact this series is published on a pair of blogs (USNI and the Military Writer’s Guild), I see a lot of value in both approaches.
One of the most intimidating things about publishing a professional contribution is fear the author will get something wrong, or embarrass themselves through small mistakes. The reality is a typo, an improperly used italics formatting, or a misspelled name is not something most editors care about. If the problems are repeated and glaring, that is different, but a couple of small mistakes are not very important.
Personally, this is why I like working with journals and magazines more than unedited blogs, or blogs run from personal websites. My work always benefits from the critical eye of a dedicated editor, whether a paid employee of a publication or sometimes a volunteer. That kind of sanity check has kept me from embarrassing myself when the editor asks “hey, are you sure that is right?” or “what is your citation or link for this fact?” From fixing typos, to helping improve the writing in terms of style or house format, and challenging flawed logic or argument, editors have always made my work better. Once the article or essay has made it through them, or their editorial board, there’s a much smaller chance I am embarrassing myself.
Finding a Publication
With a completed draft on the computer screen, it is time to decide where to submit the article. There are many, many options. For naval writers there are the big time naval professional journals like Proceedings and Naval War College Review, to the magazines published by community organizations like Tailhook and the Naval Helicopter Association. The other services have similar venues like Military Review, The Gazette, or branch publications like Armor. There are also the online publications about defense and national security issues. Authors must realize each and every publication has its own niche and its own style. Your manuscript should aim to fit their unique niche and style.
There are two good rules of thumb for selecting where to send the article. First, make sure you’ve read articles from the publication you want to target and ensure your article is the kind of thing they publish. Second, find the publication’s “contributor guidelines.” They all have them, and the editors actually put hard work into getting them just right. Here is the link to Proceedings, and here is War on the Rocks, to give you an idea of what they include. Frequently, these pages are also a wealth of advice on good writing. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. (Yes, I just stomped my foot and yelled at you.) Do not let the word “guidelines” fool you, these are the rules for the publication. The quickest way to get rejected by an editor is to send them something clearly violating the rules they have put out in the open. And don’t blast the article out to multiple publications at the same time. Pick one, submit, and be patient. Give the editors a couple days to acknowledge your submission, and even more time before you demand an answer. Some have review processes which take months. Even if the article is rejected, you frequently will get constructive feedback that will help you make it better before sending it to the next publication.
You may decide you are interested in a less formal arrangement, and go with a blog such as USNI Blog or work with junior folks like at CIMSEC. But deciding where to send your article should be a conscious choice based on knowledge of what they publish and how you fit into their corner of national security or professional discussion. You do not need a personal introduction to an editor. Find the email address for submissions, write a brief introductory email (include who you are, title of the article, length, and where you see it fitting into the publication), attach the article (or just make a pitch if that is what the guidelines say), and hit send.
Working with Editors
Editors are here to make our work better. Sometimes, we don’t like to hear their criticism, but it is really crucial we listen and consider it. You can push back against an editor’s changes or suggestions, but you should be able to explain why. Also, you can ask an editor to explain the reasons they have made or suggested a certain change. The writer-editor relationship should have plenty of back and forth, with give and take from both sides.
A professional editor will also never talk about the details of the work they do with you. For example, the Editorial Board at the Naval Institute has very strict privilege rules covering what is discussed in the boardroom. Some new writers fear editors will bad mouth them to other publications or with other writers, but that has never been my experience. In fact, I’ve had many editors try and help me by suggesting other publications which might be a “better fit” if they have rejected my work. Editors have also offered to make introductions to other publications for me. While talking with an editor isn’t quite like talking with a Chaplain, respected outlets are run by respectable people. Publishers always want you to come back with good material, because it is how they keep their journal up and running.
The vast majority of material published today ends up online. Even print journals like Proceedings place their articles on their website. Along with this comes the dreaded “comments section.” Realize there is no obligation for you to read the comments section. Frankly, most of the time I try and ignore it. For each ego stroking reassurance you have offered a brilliant analysis, there’s a troll looking for a fight or a pedantic fact checker ignoring the actual point. Sometimes, a genuine expert in your subject might respond with good insight. When I am tempted to look, and I discover someone like that, I have been known to contact them directly to learn more, but not engage in the furball of likes and unlikes and replies. Most publications want their authors to engage, on more than one occasion staff at USNI have suggested I dive in. However, the key for any author is to realize engaging with commenters is entirely a personal choice. There is no requirement to do it, and there is no requirement you ignore it.
A number of professional naval journals have had a history of allowing the use of pen names. Many excellent digital commentators, like our friend Cdr Salamander, use them with skill and for excellent reasons. The first thing to realize is most publications have a specific policy on the use of pseudonyms. They probably are not going to break their own rules for you, and you better know what they are before you try and submit as “W.T. Door” or “Sailor Timmy.” Many blogs also have a policy on it as well. If you decide you need to use a pen name to protect yourself, you may be limiting how seriously your work will be taken and limiting the kinds of publications you can approach.
Personally, I have also found my writing is far better when I do it under my own name. There is less of a temptation to resort to snark and sarcasm and greater incentive to make sure the research is fully and rigorously sourced. Since we have been talking about writing for professional journals and magazines, it is uncommon for them to resort to pen names. If you are publishing in a respected journal or online publication the odds are you want some credit for your ideas, and for having the guts to get them out there, anyway.
This post is the second in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
The June issue of Proceedings offered a call from CNO Admiral Richardson, and his speechwriter Lt. Ashley O’Keefe, encouraging naval professionals to engage with their service through the act of professional writing. The CNO has not discovered a new idea, but instead lends his voice to something a number of recent senior officers have called for, from Stavridis to Winnefeld. Even some “not so senior” officers have suggested the same. Others have written indications and warnings about the risks the voyage entails.
There have been a long list of professionals throughout our history who have participated in the development of naval affairs in this way, from Maury to Mahan, Nimitz to Zumwalt. And while the spark for this post came from the CNO and the Navy, the other services have a history here too: from soldiers in the 19th century to leaders like Patton in the 20th century. However, the repeated calls to arms over time, or perhaps calls to pens, have missed something. How do you do it?
Our Navy is a technically oriented service. This is also generally true of the other services to greater or lesser degrees. Our educational policies focus on engineering and technical study, and rarely encourage us to learn how to communicate in writing beyond a bare minimum. In our staff positions we use briefing slides and other communication methods which inspire partial thoughts, quick hits, and incomplete sentences and no concept of paragraph structure or style. For cultures raised on procedural compliance and powerpoint, what is the procedure for writing a professional article? Some simple steps inspired by the words in the Naval Institute’s mission can help set our course.
The mission of USNI is to:
Provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to global security. [emphasis added]
The bold words are borrowed from President John Adams. In his 1765 pamphlet “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” Adams examined monarchy and feudalism and compared them to the growing movement for freedom and liberty in the American colonies. The future president called for Americans who valued liberty to develop their knowledge, and their argument, by daring to read, think, speak, and write on the subject. It was a clarion call, but it also hinted at a certain amount of process. Adams was a careful writer and it is quite possible he put these words in a very specific order. Following his counsel can help professionals chart their process for developing an article which contributes to understanding of our profession.
In order to make a contribution to the field of military, naval, or national security knowledge, you have to know the state of the field. The way to do this is by reading. If you have come up with an interesting analogy for a current debate the only way to know if someone has made the argument before is by reading the field. If you wonder what counter-arguments may be against your position, that also comes with reading the field. Articles in journals like Proceedings, Military Review, or Naval War College Review, online publications like War on the Rocks and The Bridge, blogs like Next War, all contribute to the state of the field. Not only will reading them give you new information, and new ideas, but they also tell you what others have said before. It can save you from the embarrassing retort: “yeah, Lieutenant Commander Jones said it six months ago and had a better argument.” (Not that you have to be entirely original, but knowing the field helps you understand where you fit.)
It is not just articles and online posts we should be reading. Books have long given us the deep knowledge needed to understand where the profession has been and where it may head in the future. There is a common refrain in the modern world that we simply do not have time for books. The watch schedule keeps us too busy. Digital media has affected our attention span. Military service is demanding, and we need time with our families. Yet we find time for physical exercise, while we discount intellectual exercise. According to some studies the average college graduate reads around 300 words a minute. If we read 15 minutes each evening, it totals up to 18-20 books a year. The excuse there is “no time” would never be accepted when we failed the PFT. Accept the challenge to read more widely. Maybe this sounds “high brow” or too “egg headed” but as President Truman, a WWI Army veteran, said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
Once a servicemember or natsec professional has an idea of the subject they want to write about, has done some research and reading about it, and has come up with the initial kernel of an argument, they must spend some time thinking about it. This advice probably goes against the grain of what digital media incentivises, or what social media seems to encourage. However, the point of this effort is to make a contribution to the field of military and naval affairs or national security, not to rush into being a “thought leader” in the crashing tide of the blogosphere. Thinking hard about the subject you intend to tackle includes attempting to employ the skills of critical thinking.
Critical thinking gets a lot of attention these days and there are numerous competing definitions of what it means. Unfortunately, too many people seem to think “critical thinking” means “thinking about important or critical things.” That’s not the case. Instead we need level criticism at ourselves and our ideas. We need to examine our ideas with depth, and rigor, in order to get to the heart of whatever issue we want to write about. This includes becoming a critic of yourself and your own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. As you develop the concept for your article, be exacting and penetrating with the evidence you have amassed either through research or your own experience.
Having researched, considered experience, and critically examined the subject in your own mind, it is important to get a sanity check from someone else. In the academic world, this is part of the reason there is peer review before journal articles are published. In the professional and popular press, editors and editorial boards will judge your work with a dispassionate eye. The best way to ensure your argument makes sense, and you have developed a sound approach before contacting an editor, is to talk about it with other people.
Speaking about your idea can take a number of forms. It can happen with a pint in your hand at a pub with a mentor or group of respected friends. In the lost days of our Officer Clubs this was actually a common way of helping people develop professional ideas. It could also involve a cup of coffee. Seek out a mentor who you trust, whether a senior officer or a former professor or co-worker, and see what sticks in your conversation with them. Speaking also does not have to be taken literally, even if some of us work better in the give and take of live conversation. It can take the form of an email or social media exchange. The goal is to introduce new criticisms the writer has not considered, or clarifying the way to express the ideas.
Sit down and write the article. Just do it. Don’t allow the blank page on the computer screen to intimidate. One of the benefits of having thought through the idea systematically, and then spoken about it with a trusted friend or mentor, is you have already started to develop the words to express the idea. As many successful authors have told us, from Stephen King and Anne Lamott to Ernest Hemingway: the first draft is going to be bad. It does not matter. Sit at the keyboard and bang away until you have said everything you want to say.
Once the words are on the page, raw and terrible as they might be, the writer has crossed a major hurdle. After that, it is a matter of editing, organizing, and rewriting, which should be easier than putting the idea down the first time. The editing does not need to be rushed, and the mentor or friend you spoke with probably will be excited to take a look at the article and help make suggestions to improve it. You have already made them feel like a part of the process. When the draft is something which reads well, and you’re happy with it, then it is time to start looking for a place to publish it. Good editors, strong editorial boards, and the review process they use will help strengthen the piece even more. Be ready to make more adjustments to help clarify any issues they discover.
The RTSW Loop
The steps of RTSW might be seen as a sort of OODA loop for professional writing. In some ways it is similar to Boyd’s strato-tactical ideal. For example, each element can send you back to a previous spot. Speaking with a mentor may send you to a book or article you had not heard of before which you need to read, or the process of writing may cause you to return to your thinking and reorganize your approach. But there are also differences with Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act sequence, most notably speed. Speed can be your enemy when writing a good professional article. There is no hurry. Please do not try to beat the rush of modern media, this can lead to shallow writing, weak argument, and poorly sourced facts. Doing it right may take time, and multiple rounds of the “RTSW loop,” but that only makes the article stronger and a better contribution.
Writing for publication can be a rewarding challenge. It is also something a legion of Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and security professionals have done throughout history. Many discover the process of writing clarifies their thinking. It also develops our communication skills, our critical faculties through practice, and our leadership ability. All of these make us better military professionals. Writing for publication is not something we should do because we need another FITREP or evaluation bullet, or because we think we can impress our boss. We don’t do it simply because the CNO says so. It is something we do in order to move our profession forward and to improve our service or our nation’s security. So, it is time to dare. Dare to read, think, speak, and write.
The author would like to thank Cdr Mike Flynn and his Naval Academy summer school class on “Professional Writing” for their invitation to join them for a day of class, where the author had a chance to speak about and refine some of these ideas.
This post is the first in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
The House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) that would “prohibit funds to implement Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 4715.21 on Climate Change Adaption and Resilience.” It is a short-sighted and ill-conceived action that will jeopardize U.S. military effectiveness.
Successful, prudent planning requires considering all pertinent variables. For that reason, DoD needs the ability to factor climate change as a variable at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. If Congress wishes to limit the scope or cost of a specific program it should do so, but it must not limit the ability of the military to plan.
Having served as the senior environmental executive for the United States Air Force in the George W. Bush Administration, I would like to address this, both as someone who had the responsibility to plan for and respond to environmental contingencies, and as a Republican needing to work with a Democrat Congress to effectively govern.
The fact that the climate changes is not a political issue, it is reality. It has been changing for millennia. While the cause may be debated by some, the reality is that climates evolve and such developments have a major impact on security interests. You don’t have to believe that the cause is man-made. You can believe it is part of an ongoing cycle and point to whatever study you want to back up your point of view.
Irrespective of the cause, the climate changes and those changes affect the weather, sea level, crop production and migration patterns. Rising sea levels have displaced populations, land failing to produce crops due to drought has exacerbated already complex Syrian issues, and ocean temperature killing coral is moving fishing grounds further into the South China Sea; all of these can lead to conflict and must be prepared for. These are key variables that are affected by climate change and impact everything from broad strategy to discrete tactics.
In a statement, Representative Buck said, “The military, the intelligence community [and] the domestic national security agencies should be focused on ISIS and not on climate change.”
To understand the importance of climate and weather in very concrete terms, one only needs to look back at the critical value of a weather forecast for the D-Day landings. To bring off the invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower needed a full moon, a low tide, little cloud cover, light winds and low seas. (The low tide was necessary to allow soldiers to see, avoid, and disarm the mined obstacles that the Germans had placed in the surf.) He could have had the full moon and low tide on June 5, 6, or 7. He could have had the low tide without the full moon on June 19 or 20. But what about the weather?
The landing was originally scheduled for June 5, but was moved to June 6 based upon a weather forecast and succeeded not because of the brilliant work of any solitary forecaster, but because a group of forecasters imitated the weather. They jostled, yelled, scribbled, and cast malevolent looks at one another. They fought it out and voted. And in the end, they were just right enough.
Imagine, if Congress, in 1944, had said that the military and the allied forces should be focused on the Germans and not on the weather, then passed an amendment that prohibited identifying and assessing the effects of the weather. Well, that is pretty much what Representative Buck’s amendment does in a 21st-century context.
The fact that the climate changes is a significant variable that needs to be considered by our military planners. Given the sophistication of modeling and analytic capability available to our military, being able to understand and predict broad patterns in the climate cannot be underestimated. It is a strategic advantage that will play out in tactics against the range of current and potential adversaries.
If you actually read Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 4715.2 [.pdf], you will find that it is not about pushing a “radical green agenda” as Representative Buck asserts. DoD Directives flow from policy and assign responsibilities for carrying out that policy. In this case, the DoD policy is to ensure that the DoD is able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of climate change in order to maintain an effective and efficient U.S. military.
Nowhere in the Directive is there language that speaks to the cause or reason for the climate changing. It is focused solely on identification and assessment of the effects of climate change on the DoD mission; taking those effects into consideration when developing plans and implementing procedures; and anticipating and managing any risks that develop as a result of climate change to build resilience.
Military planning is an art that requires an in-depth understanding of numerous critical elements or factors that may impact on the mission — both positively and negatively — and an assessment/analysis of how those elements or factors can be either negated, overcome or exploited to give the Commander the advantage required in the execution of the mission. The inability to take into account the changing climate would be catastrophic limitation. This limitation would be compounded by the fact that most of our efforts, against ISIS and other potential adversaries are carried out though multinational coalitions. U.S. joint strategic plans and contingency plans prepared in support of multinational efforts are developed, reviewed, and approved exclusively within U.S. operational channels. Currently, Combatant Commands are integrating climate-related impacts into their planning cycles to reduce the national security implications associated with climate change. This includes monitoring, analysis, and integration of climate related risks into existing overall risk management measures, as appropriate for each combatant command. The Buck Amendment would tie the hands of not only our Combatant Commanders and military planners, but render the United States ineffective in joint planning and operations.
If the purpose of the amendment is to limit spending on overly expensive showcase projects like the Navy’s Great Green Fleet, there are better ways to do that than prohibiting the assessment and analysis of a key long-term variable in our nation’s ability to fight and win.
For example, in 2007 and 2008 when the nation was facing oil prices of $140 per barrel, the Air Force undertook an effort to use domestically produced synthetic fuel in our aircraft to reduce the need for foreign oil. We made a conscious policy decision that the program would be market-based and that the Air Force would do only those things in our control that would create the conditions for success, but not to subsidize uneconomic alternatives.
The Air Force successfully certified every aircraft and associated system to be able to fly on a 50/50 blend of synthetic fuel, and we made a commitment to buy half of our domestic fuel requirement as a synfuel blend as long as the price of the synthetic fuel was competitive with conventional fuel.
At the same time, there were those in Congress who were concerned about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of synthetic fuels from coal, but rather than completely stop the program, they passed Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which restricts the federal government’s procurement of alternative fuels that exceed the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional petroleum based fuels. While not ideal from the Air Force perspective, it was a proper and constructive use of Congressional prerogatives; it was congruent with the Air Force commitment to be good stewards of the environment, and simultaneously allowed the Air Force to move forward with our testing and certification.
Rather than Representative Buck’s draconian approach to prohibit funds to implement Department of Defense Directive 4715.21 and not allow planners to identify and assess the effects of climate change on the DoD mission, it is wholly appropriate for Congress to require that all efforts with regard to climate change be market-based and that the prices paid for biofuels and other alternative energy sources be competitive with the least cost alternative.
DoD’s ability to successfully counter terrorism, defeat a near-peer adversary, or respond to a natural disaster depends on its ability to collect, analyze and assess data regarding all contingencies, including changes in the climate. To limit that ability puts the lives or our sons and daughters who wear the cloth of our nation at risk.
Per last month’s post on the USNI Blog, the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, challenged veterans to “stay connected with those they served with” as an answer to help stop “young Marines from killing themselves.”
Strengthening personal moral bonds between veterans is part of the answer. So is strengthening moral bonds between U.S. Presidents, members of Congress and those they order to war. From 1798 to 2016, Congress made 11 declarations of war and 11 statutory authorizations for the use of military force. Congress did not authorize the Korean War. President Truman committed American troops to war in Korea citing U.N. authorizations and resolutions.
National moral bonds in the U.S. were strongest during World War II. The president requested and the Congress declared war against Japan and Germany. Three of President Franklin Roosevelt’s sons served with distinction in combat during World War II. James Roosevelt earned a Silver Star and promotion to brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps. Elliot Roosevelt enlisted in the Army Air Corps, flying 300 aerial combat missions as a pilot and commander and retiring as a brigadier general. John Roosevelt earned a Bronze Star as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Americans committed themselves to the personal and national sacrifices necessary for unconditional military victories over Japan and Germany. Their sacrifices included a draft, rationing, and military industrialization instead of commercial industrialization. From 1941 to 1945 more than 16 million Americans, about 12% of the U.S. population, served in the military and over 405,000 military members were killed.
From 1950 to 2016, the moral bonds between Presidents, members of Congress, most Americans and those ordered to fight their wars have become increasingly tenuous and sporadic. Presidential and Congressional strategies to avoid domestic political risks by incrementally side-stepping their constitutional duties repeatedly failed to produce military victories. Neither have they increased national security nor global security.
The most recent statutory authorizations in 2001 and 2002 started two ill defined and open-ended wars lasting more than three times as long as the declared wars with Japan and Germany.
Instead of spreading the cause of democracy these wars are destabilizing the Middle East and North Africa while forcing Europe to absorb tens of thousands of refugees. The sons and daughters of Presidents at war no longer wear the cloth of the nation and lead their fellow Americans to victory in combat against the nation’s declared enemies. The percentage of veterans in Congress continues to decline:
- 18.7% in the 114th Congress (2015-2016)
- 64% in the 97th Congress (1981-1982)
- 73% in the 92nd Congress (1971-1972)
Presently, less than 1% of the U.S. population serve in the military. Most Americans connect with their military with a “thank you for your service” and heart-felt applause for military members and patriotic ceremonies at major sporting events.
The political and media attention presently given to our wounded and post war veterans is necessary but not sufficient. Strong and enduring national moral bonds are created and sustained before, during and after our wars. They require Presidents and members of Congress to lead a majority of Americans in fulfilling the moral obligations necessary to win wars. The difficulties in fulfilling these obligations necessarily constrain wars. They require that all Americans return to sharing wartime risks and sacrifices, not just the 1% in uniform.
Next — Changing the Veteran Narrative: Moral Injury