Archive for the 'Books' Category
Please join us at 5pm EST on 4 December 2016 for Midrats Episode 361: Where Youth and Laughter Go; With “The Cutting Edge” in Afghanistan
For the full hour this Sunday our guest will be Lieutenant Colonel Seth W. B. Folsom, USMC the author of Where Youth and Laughter Go. Described by USNI Books:
Where Youth and Laughter Go completes LtCol Seth Folsom’s recounting of his personal experiences in command over a decade of war. It is the culminating chapter of a trilogy that began with The Highway War: A Marine Company Commander in Iraq in 2006 and continued with In the Gray Area: A Marine Advisor Team at War in 2010.
The chronicle of Folsom’s command of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, “The Cutting Edge,” and his harrowing deployment to Afghanistan’s volatile Sangin District presents a deeper look into the complexities and perils of modern counterinsurgency operations in America’s longest war.
We will discuss not just his latest book, but also larger issues related to command, the nature of the war in Afghanistan, and the Long War.
Please join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here.
OK, there isn’t a “21st Century Thucydides” coming out as part of the exceptional USNI Press 21st Century Foundations series, but work with me a bit here.
If we are going to review the great minds of the 19th and 20th Centuries, then why not from the 400s BC? The Peloponnesian War lasted 30 years. We are 15 years in to a low degree but still very real war against expansionist Islamic fundamentalism and rising powers to the left and right of us. There has to be something there.
Why look at what happened between two city-states at the dawn of Western history? Take awhile to read Mark Gilchrist’s article at RCD, Why Thucydides Still Matters;
Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is a book that all who seek to understand the influence of war must read.
…reading The Peloponnesian War we come to realise the complexities of modern life have not rendered everything experienced by past generations irrelevant to the problems of today. In fact, as he intended, Thucydides provides a sound basis from which to discover how best to approach the complex problems facing contemporary strategists through allowing us to better understand war’s continuities and discontinuities.
Thucydides charts the impact of war on the character of the states involved. He uses Athens’ transformation as a cautionary tale about what war will do to a state unprepared for its influence and of the cost of applying power unwisely or unjustly in the pursuit of a political objective. His writing is grounded in the understanding that war’s nature is inextricably linked to human nature, which in turn shapes the strategic and military culture that manifest in war’s character and the political objectives for which it is fought. Through a narrative approach, his work serves as a warning about the moral decline of society over the course of protracted war.
As we try to understand today why Russia does what it does, why China is motivated to push where she is pushing, it is helpful to recall that human nature, at its base, has not changed for thousands of years;
Thucydides tells us there is a tipping point where a rising power becomes too powerful to contain. By this point, conflict between near equals may present as an inevitability, particularly when junior allies are agitating for action from the dominant partner. In such circumstances, war’s political objective can be heavily influenced by fearing the costs of not going to war as much as a fear of war itself.
About 2/3 of the way through Gilchrist’s article, I was reminded of another one on Thucydides I read over a decade ago by one of the premier classicists of our day, Professor Victor Davis Hanson, in his 2003 review in Commentary Magazine of Donald Kagan’s book, The Peloponnesian War.
As he is want to do, Hanson uses every opportunity to grab his reader by the lapels and plead with them to know that the keys to the unlocking all their questions are there, and have been for thousands of years.
The Peloponnesian War, then, is not really so ancient. Even if some classicists think that Athens’s war with Sparta was relatively uninteresting, outsiders still write books with titles like War and Democracy: A Comparative Study of the Korean War and the Peloponnesian War or Hegemonic Rivalry: From Thucydides to the Nuclear Age. The conflict continues to be evoked in the present—its supposed lessons both astutely and clumsily applied to most of our own wars of the last century.
Why is this ancient war between tiny Athens and Sparta still so often used and misused? First, it was long—twenty-seven years—and it lined up the entire Greek world into opposite armed camps. Second, the two antagonists were antithetical in nearly every respect, and thus the bipolar fighting was proclaimed to be a final arbiter of their respective values—political and cultural values that still divide us today. Third, it started in Greece’s great Golden Age, and its attendant calamity was felt to have ended for good that period of great promise. Fourth, players in the war were the greats of Hellenic civilization—Socrates, Pericles, Euripides, Alcibiades, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and others—and their lives and work reflect that seminal experience. Fifth, Athens lost, casting into doubt ever since not merely the power but also the morality of democracy, especially when it executed Socrates in the war’s aftermath. Sixth—and at last we arrive at the theme of the Oxford Classical Dictionary’s brief entry on the war—Greece’s preeminent historian, Thucydides, was not merely an analytical and systematic writer of a great extant history; he was also a brilliant philosopher who tried to lend to the events of the war a value that transcended his own time, making his history of ideas “a possession for all time” that could furnish lessons for men at war in any age. Thucydides’ man of the ages is a pretty savage creature whose known murderous proclivities are kept in check—albeit just barely—by an often tenuous and hard-to-maintain civilization.
During moments of big change – and we are about to go through one in the course of the next few months – many will wonder; what is coming next? What should we look for? What have others done?
To see the future, you have to be comfortable with and acceptable of the past.
Most wars, of course, do not end like they start. Before Shiloh (April 6–8, 1862), for example, Grant thought one great battle would win the Civil War. After the battle he realized that years, thousands of lives, and millions of dollars in capital were needed to ruin rather than defeat a recalcitrant Confederacy. So too the Spartans marched into Attica in Spring 431 BC thinking that a year or two of old-style ravaging of fields would bring them victory; seven years later neither side was closer to victory, and they still had another twenty far-worse seasons to go.
The Peloponnesian War itself proved to be a colossal paradox. Sparta had the most feared infantry in the Greek world. Yet it was Sparta’s newly created navy that finally won the great battles of the war. Democratic Athens sent almost 40,000 allied soldiers to their deaths trying to capture far-off Syracuse, the largest democracy in the Greek world—even as thousands more of her enemies were to plunder her property with impunity less than twenty miles outside her walls from the base at Decelea. Alcibiades at times proved the savior of Athens, Sparta, and Persia—and their collective spoiler as well. Athens started the war off with gold piled high in its majestic Parthenon; it ended the conflict broke and unable even to flute the final columns of the Propylae, the monumental gateway to the still unfinished temples on the acropolis. Sparta fielded the most terrifying army in Greece, and yet most of its opponents fell not in pitched battle, but rather either to disease, at sea, or in guerrilla-style killing.
So, get to the bookshelf. Put down the fiction and reach deep.
Others have been here before. They’ve learned lessons you didn’t even know existed. All you need to gather this treasure of knowledge is time to read and open eyes to see.
Kagan’s abridged Peloponnesian War is still important because the solid judgment of its author remains throughout. No one—not a majestic Pericles, a fiery Cleon, or the chameleon Alcibiades—can fool Don Kagan; he appreciates the genius of bad men he does not like, and praises the inspiration of rogues he despises. Bad plans like Sicily can work if implemented well; good ideas of good men failed in the Delium campaign for bad luck and the simple want of common sense. Things about radical Athens bother him, but not to such a degree that he denies its energy and dynamism. He admires Spartan discipline, but hardly the blinkered society that was at the bottom of it all. If democracy was often murderous, oligarchy and tyranny brought the same violence but without the grandeur.
Finally and most importantly, Kagan has no condescension for his subjects. Cleon and Brasidas, Nicias and Lysander are not silly squabbling ancient peoples in need of modern enlightenment, but men of universal appetites to be taken on their own terms, just like us whose occasional crackpot ideas, fears, jealousies, and sins can sometimes—if the thin veneer of civilization is suddenly stripped away—lead into something absolutely godawful. If you don’t agree, ask the Serbians, Rwandans, Afghans—or those with cell phones and briefcases who politely boarded planes to butcher thousands.
Nothing is new; only new to you.
Recently, we asked Dr. John Ballard, Dean of the National Defense College in the United Arab Emirates, to host a Q&A with Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, author of The Dust of Kandahar: A Diplomat Among Warriors in Afghanistan. Their exchange follows.
Professor Ballard: Ambassador, your book really helps readers understand the Afghan conflict from the perspective of a diplomat and development expert. How did you view your mission or main objective(s) when you arrived in Afghanistan in 2008?
Ambassador Addleton: I expected to engage in three very different worlds, one involving responsibility for 140 Embassy officers assigned to fourteen locations across southern Afghanistan; a second related to the ISAF military presence in Kandahar and beyond; and a third focused on Afghans from various walks of life including government official, tribal leaders and religious figures. At some level I wanted to connect to all three worlds, where possible attempting to explain them to each other. From the beginning, I consciously worked to “humanize” each encounter, looking beyond our mutual stereotypes while also trying to help move Afghanistan toward a better and less violent place.
Professor Ballard: Thank you. That is very interesting. What kind of preparation did you receive before arriving in Afghanistan Ambassador?
Ambassador Addleton: I enrolled in a couple of required short courses on Afghanistan offered by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Washington, D.C. I attended the “crash and bang” course in West Virginia, learning how to drive a Humvee, break a road block and tie a tourniquet. And I participated in the pre-deployment Third Infantry Division planning exercise at Fort Stewart, GA. I was already familiar with some aspects of Afghanistan, having visited the country several times over the years and served in neighboring Pakistan as well as in Central Asia. I also read and talked to people who had served in Afghanistan beforehand.
Professor Ballard: Still, for someone going to war for the first time at age 55, what you saw in and around Kandahar must have been shocking. Ambassador, in your book you seem to be quite impressed with some of the aspects of military customs and culture that you saw, as “a diplomat among warriors” what impressed you most about the young men and women of today’s military?
Ambassador Addleton: My oldest son was serving in the U.S. Air Force during my time in Kandahar and my second son plans to enlist during the coming months. However, the military culture and traditions that I witnessed in Afghanistan were indeed entirely new to me. More than anything, I was struck by the sacrifice as well as the cost of war, having attended dozens of Purple Heart pinnings, ramp ceremonies and memorial services across southern Afghan during my deployment there. I was impressed with the efforts made to honor that sacrifice, despite the ambiguous nature of the war in Afghanistan. And I was struck by the youth of many of those around me.
Professor Ballard: Ambassador, you write quite movingly about the service and supreme sacrifice paid by the five colleagues who walked with you outside the Zabul PRT on 6 April 2013, how did their loss affect your approach to your work?
Ambassador Addleton: The attack in Zabul occurred eight months into my twelve-month assignment in southern Afghanistan. I accompanied the remains of my colleagues on the long flight to Dover and then returned to Kandahar Air Field two days later to complete the remaining twenty weeks of my allotted time. I continued to engage in outreach and meet Afghans. But the drawdown in civilians serving in southern Afghanistan gathered pace and my own movements were in some instances further restricted. My biggest concern during those remaining months was the safety of my colleagues – I lived in dread that something might happen to one of them.
Professor Ballard: That is absolutely understandable, many of us underwent changed attitudes when we experienced the loss of those working closely with us in war. You noted at one point that the battleplans you saw developed seemed impressive, but that notable portions of Afghan reality were missing. How could we have improved our civ-mil coordination in Afghanistan?
Ambassador Addleton: ISAF was the dominant foreign presence during the year that I spent in southern Afghanistan. The number of civilians was miniscule by comparison. Yet they did play an important role in engaging with Afghans, both politically and with respect to development. At Kandahar Air Field, Embassy staff were closely integrated with the military’s civil affairs structure; they were similarly integrated with military counterparts at the provincial and district level, even as the number of locations where expatriate civilians deployed outside of Kandahar went into steep decline. Having traveled in Afghanistan during the 1970s as a teenager, I was astonished at the remoteness of some of the places where we had attempted to establish a military as well as a civilian presence. It seemed incredibly ambitious and even audacious to me. But increasingly (and appropriately) it was the Afghans that were taking the lead – guided to some extent and in mostly positive ways by the example set by the ISAF forces that preceded them.
Professor Ballard: Your view that the approach was extremely ambitious is a very insightful perspective. You address issues of poor governance frequently in your book, but also of meeting several capable Afghan leaders, do you think Afghanistan can develop leaders who will confront the corruption that you encountered so frequently?
Ambassador Addleton: I tried to place myself into the shoes of those Afghans with whom I interacted – what was their personal history, what was their life experience, what motivated them, what were their hopes and fears about the future? At times, I thought of ISAF as yet another tribe, imposing themselves on the political, economic and social landscape of Afghanistan even while having to adapt and change because of it. Competition is a reality among male Afghans, worked out first within the family and then at the level of clan, tribe and country. Leaders inevitably emerge within that context, based on long-held precepts of courage, honor and respect that would be regarded as hallmarks of effective leadership anywhere, not just in Afghanistan. At the same time, there is a fierce and never-ending competition for scarce resources that undoubtedly drives corruption in Afghanistan. The magnitude of resources deployed by ISAF as well as the perception that its presence would be fleeting drove many Afghans to look for ways to benefit from it before it became too late.
Professor Ballard: That is certainly understandable; as you know the issue of stating an end date was very controversial. In 2013, you agreed that the number of ISAF soldiers should be greatly reduced, but felt the slope for our departure was too steep—becoming an unseemly “rush for the exit.” How might we have gotten it right?
Ambassador Addleton: By 2013 the Afghan military was already increasingly in the lead and accounted for at least 80 percent of the casualty figures from southern Afghanistan. At the same time, a continued ISAF presence provided training to Afghan security forces while sending a message to the Taliban and others that Afghanistan was not on the verge of being “abandoned.” My focus was more on the American civilian presence which, while already small, was being drawn down at a much faster pace than our own military. The issue of the appropriate “balance” between “planning” and “implementation” is a permanent fixture in any bureaucracy. However, at times it seemed that the parameters within which we were asked to operate were always subject to change – to such an extent that our latest “plan” was already obsolete, even before it reached Kabul for further review. My concern was that the combination of uncertainty and constantly shifting timelines would damage our credibility, strengthening the hand of those Taliban seeking total victory.
Professor Ballard: You wrote that “even now you cannot leave Afghanistan behind,” what do you see in the future for Afghanistan? You write of tactical successes but a murky strategic future, do you think America’s efforts have helped it?
Ambassador Addleton: During my last months in Afghanistan I often told local counterparts that the ISAF chapter of their history was coming to a close and it would now be up to them to write the next one. Some embraced this idea while others were skeptical about it, asserting that “it is our neighbors who will write the next chapter for us”. Now a new chapter is indeed being written, albeit with a continued though modest ISAF presence in several parts of the country outside of Kabul including Kandahar. Whatever else might be said, Afghanistan has changed dramatically and irrevocably over the last fifteen years, not only in Kabul but also elsewhere. The most obvious signs include the cell phone revolution and unheralded yet significant improvements in health and education. Although the security that Afghans long for has yet to be established, the Afghan military appears to be more resilient than perhaps some expected. Afghanistan’s narrative is still being written. But, at the very least, efforts by the United States and its allies have given Afghans a chance for a different kind future, one not dominated entirely by the Taliban.
Professor Ballard: Thank you for your book and for sharing more of your insights in this discussion Ambassador. For my part, those of us who served in Iraq and Afghanistan will always be thankful for the committed service of men and women such as yourself from other departments of the U.S. government. If nothing else these conflicts have taught us that modern war has to be a whole-of-government endeavor engaging the minds of professionals from a variety of perspectives. The Dust of Kandahar is an important contribution to our understanding of this least-well-understood of our recent conflicts.
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.
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.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 12 June 2016 for Midrats Episode 336: “21st Century Knox and The Historical Imperative”:
As part of our ongoing series of interviews with the editors of each
addition to the 21st Century Foundations series, we will have David Kohnen the editor of the latest in the series, 21st Century Knox, on for the full hour.
Kohnen described the focus of the book, Commodore Dudley Wright Knox, USN, as someone who, “… challended fellow naval professionals to recognize the inherent relevance of history in examining contemporary problems. In his writings, Knox cited historical examples when strategists foolishly anticipated the unknown future without first pursuing a detailed understanding of the past.”
David Kohen earned a PhD with the Laughton Chair of Naval History at the University of London, King’s College. He is the author of Commanders Winn and Knowles: Winning the U-boat War with Intelligence as well as other works.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 15 May 2016 for Midrats Episode 332: August Cole, Co-Author of Ghost Fleet
The best fiction doesn’t just entertain, it informs and causes the reader to think.
Our guest for the full hour this week is August Cole, the co-author with P.W. Singer of one of the best received military fiction novels on the last year, Ghost Fleet: An Novel of the Next World War.
August is an author and analyst specializing in national security issues.
He is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council where he directs The Art of the Future Project, which explores narrative fiction and visual media for insight into the future of conflict. He is a non-resident fellow at the Modern War Institute at the United States Military Academy (West Point). He is also writer-in-residence at Avascent, an independent strategy and management consulting firm focused on government-oriented industries.
He also edited the Atlantic Council science fiction collection, War Stories From the Future, published in November 2015. The anthology featured his short story ANTFARM about the intersection of swarm-warfare, additive manufacturing and crowd-sourced intelligence.
He is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Washington and an editor and a reporter for MarketWatch.com.
By Mark Tempest
From Mr. Midshipman Easy
The greatest error now in our service, is the disregard shown to the feelings of the junior
officers in the language of their superiors: that an improvement has taken place I grant, but that it still exists, to a degree injurious to the service, I know too well. The articles of war, as our hero was informed by his captain, were equally binding on officers and crew; but what a dead letter do they become if officers are permitted to break them with impunity! The captain of a ship will turn the hands up to punishment, read the article of war for the transgressing of which the punishment is inflicted, and to show at that time their high respect for the articles of war, the captain and every officer take off their hats. The moment the hands are piped down, the second article of war, which forbids all swearing, etcetera, in derogation of God’s honour, is immediately disregarded. We are not strait-laced,–we care little about an oath as a mere _expletive_; we refer now to swearing at _others_, to insulting their feelings grossly by coarse and intemperate language. We would never interfere with a man for damning his own eyes, but we deny the right of his damning those of another.
But it remembered that these are not the observations of a junior officer smarting under insult–they are the result of deep and calm reflection. We have arrived to that grade, that, although we have the power to inflict, we are too high to receive insult, but we have not forgotten how our young blood has boiled when wanton, reckless, and cruel torture has been heaped upon our feelings, merely because, as a junior officer, we were not in a position to retaliate, or even to reply. And another evil is, that this great error is disseminated. In observing on it, in one of our works, called Peter Simple, we have put the following true observation in the mouth of O’Brien. Peter observes, in his simple, right-minded way:
“I should think, O’Brien, that the very circumstance of having had your feelings so often wounded by such language when you were a junior officer would make you doubly careful not to use it towards others, when you had advanced in the service?”
“Peter, that’s just the first feeling, which wears away after a time, till at last, your own sense of indignation becomes blunted, and becomes indifferent to it; you forget, also, that you wound the feelings of others, and carry the habit with, you, to the great injury and disgrace of the service.”
Let it not be supposed that in making these remarks we want to cause litigation, or insubordination. On the contrary, we assert that this error is the cause, and eventually will be much more the cause, of insubordination; for as the junior officers who enter the service are improved, so will they resist it. The complaint here is more against the officers, than the captains, whose power has been perhaps already too much curtailed by late regulations: that power must remain, for although there may be some few who are so perverted as to make those whom they command uncomfortable, in justice to the service we are proud to assert that the majority acknowledge, by their conduct, that the greatest charm attached to power is to be able to make so many people happy.
About Captain Frederick Marryat, While he was an early 19th Century man in many regards and attitudes, he certainly got the above correct. References to the “article of war” are to the Royal Navy’s articles of the day.
Nothing sticks in your memory like a “screamer” whether in the service or in a civilian job, especially that part about “we were not is position to retaliate, or even to reply.”