Archive for the 'History' Category

30th

21st Century Thucydides

November 2016

By

513760d6c5bdc3fcc7768baf991682a6OK, 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.[1] 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.



Please join us on at 5pm EST on 13 Nov 2016 for Midrats Episode 568: Seapower as a National Imperative, with Bryan McGrath:

Why a Navy? Why a strong Navy? Why is a strong Navy an essential

requirement for the United States Navy?

From its ability to project national will, to it hidden hand in the economics of every citizen’s life, why is it so critical that we have a Navy second to none.

To discuss this and more – especially in light of the election – will be returning guest, Bryan McGrath, Commander, US Navy (Retired).

Bryan McGrath grew up in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1987. He was commissioned upon graduation in the United States Navy, and served as a Surface Warfare Officer until his retirement in 2008. At sea, he served primarily in cruisers and destroyers, rising to command of the Destroyer USS BULKELEY (DDG 84). During his command tour, he won the Surface Navy Association’s Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Award for Inspirational Leadership, and the BULKELEY was awarded the USS ARIZONA Memorial Trophy signifying the fleet’s most combat ready unit. Ashore, Bryan enjoyed four tours in Washington DC, including his final tour in which he acted as Team Leader and primary author of our nation’s 2007 maritime strategy entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”

Since retirement, Bryan has become active in presidential politics, serving first as the Navy Policy Team lead for the Romney Campaign in 2012, and then as the Navy and Marine Corps Policy lead for the Rubio Campaign in 2016.

He is the Assistant Director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower, and he is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a small defense consulting firm.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here or pick the show up later from our iTunes or Stitcher pages.



Please join us at 5pm EDT on 30 Oct 16 for Midrats Episode 356: Fall Free For All Spooktacular!

Midrats is back live! With a week left to go till the election, I am sure you are about done with all the political talk, so join us at 5pm Eastern this Sunday, October 30th as we cover the the globe on the breaking national security and maritime issues that have come up over the last month.

From FORD to KUZNETSOV; from The Baltic to Yemen we’ll have it covered.

As always with our Free For Alls; it is open mic an open mind. Call in with your issues and questions, or join us in the chat room.

Join us live if you can, or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also get the show later by visiting our iTunes page or at Stitcher



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, USA
given 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.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also download the show later from our iTunes page here or from our Stitcher page here.



Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 347: Baltic Security with Bruce Acker and Dan Lynch

With a resurgent Russia, the security environment from former Soviet Republics to the traditionally neutral nations of Finland and Sweden has changed dramatically.

What are those changes and how are they changing how these nations see their place in the larger Western security infrastructure? We’re going to look at how thing are changing in how they work and see each other, NATO, and what they need to do to provide for both their and collective defense.

Our guests for the full hour will be Colonel Bruce Acker, USAF (ret) and Captain Dan Lynch, USN (Ret).

Bruce is currently a Defense Strategy Consultant in Stockholm Sweden. He spent 30 years on active duty starting as a Air Defense Weapons flight test engineer upon graduation from the Air Force Academy, and subsequently served in Space, Missile Warning, and Missile Launch operations culminating as a Minuteman ICBM squadron Commander. Following staff tours managing future Air Force and Defense Space systems programs, he broadened to political military assignments as the US Air Attaché to Malaysia and as the US Defense Attaché and Senior Defense Official in Stockholm. Col Acker has published articles on regional security issues in the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences journal as well as leading National daily newspapers.

Dan is currently beginning his fifth year on the maritime faculty of the Swedish Defense University in Stockholm. He spent over 35 years on active duty starting as an enlisted Marine and upon graduation from the Naval Academy selected Naval Aviation where he commanded a VP squadron and a patrol and reconnaissance wing. Following major command, he served on the staff of the US ambassador to NATO in Brussels and retired after his last tour as the Naval Attache to Stockholm.

Due to the location of our guests, the show was recorded earlier today. Listen to the show to at 5pm or pick it up later by clicking here. You can also get the show later from our iTunes page or from our Stitcher page.



Pilot Officer WIlliam Fiske, RAF

Pilot Officer William Fiske, Royal Air Force

Seventy-six years ago today, Pilot Officer William “Billy” Fiske scrambled to his Hurricane along with his fellow pilots at RAF Tangmere to intercept a formation of German Junkers over the English Channel. His squadron destroyed 8 German aircraft, but a gunner badly damaged Fiske’s aircraft and put a bullet through his fuel tank. Rather than bail out, in one final piece of extraordinary skill, he managed to nurse his burning Hurricane back to the airfield, and bring it down through a steep dive into a belly landing. Fiske had to be recovered from his aircraft and died the next day of wounds he sustained over the Channel.

Plt Off Billy Fiske was the first U.S. citizen to travel to the UK on the onset of WWII to join the RAF and was one of 7 American pilots to take part in the Battle of Britain. Fiske was a member of 601(County of London) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force — the “Millionaire’s Squadron.”

The son of a wealthy New York banker, Fiske was a celebrity in his own country before traveling to the UK. He was the driver of the first five-man U.S. bobsled team to win the Olympics in 1928, and, at 16 years old, was the youngest gold medalist in any winter sport (eclipsed only in 1992). He carried the U.S. flag at the opening ceremony of the 1932 Olympics and again led the U.S. team to a gold medal. Fiske was also a cresta champion and was well known for jumps from the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel’s bar chandelier in St. Moritz.

Billy Fiske and the 1932 Olympic Bobsled Team

Billy Fiske and the 1932 Olympic Bobsled Team

He studied at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, then worked at the London office of New York banking company Dillon, Reed & Co, and he married Rose Bingham, the Countess of Warwick, in 1938. In 1939 he was recalled to work in New York, but at the outbreak of the war, pretended to be Canadian and enrolled in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, being promoted to Pilot Officer in March 1940.

In a letter to his sister Peggy, written around the time he volunteered, he explained his thinking. The English, he wrote, had “been damn good to me in good times so naturally I feel I ought to try and help out in bad if I can. There are absolutely no heroics in my motives, I’m probably twice as scared as the next man, but if anything happens to me I at least can feel I have done the right thing in spite of the worry to my family – which I certainly couldn’t feel if I was to sit in New York making dough.”

800px-Billy_Fiske_IIIc copyIn 1941 a plaque was unveiled to him in St Paul’s Cathedral which is inscribed: An American citizen who died that England might live. The U.S. Bobsled Federation has also dedicated the Billy Fiske Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the national champion four-man bobsled team each year.

The United States is currently relocating its Embassy in London to a new site, much of which will be a park and accessible to the general public. This is a wonderful opportunity to honor the memory of Pilot Officer William “Billy” Fiske, a U.S. citizen and the first American to fly in the Battle of Britain, with a statue in the park, highlighting the close service and historical links between our nations and Air Forces.

Given Billy Fiske’s status in the United States, as a double Olympic gold medalist, and his close ties to the UK, including his education, marriage and subsequent enrollment in the RAF, a statue to this recognized hero would be a fitting tribute to him, and to the enduring relationship between both nations and Air Forces in the UK’s greatest hour of need. An American, in an RAF uniform, who died for Britain, would provide a distinct tie between both countries, and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy, particularly with the inclusion of a public park, would provide a fitting venue.

Hawker Hurricane. U.S. Naval Institute

Hawker Hurricane. U.S. Naval Institute

Late this year and early next year, Embassy staff will relocate from the Embassy in Mayfair to a new site south of the River Thames. The Nine Elms district, a South Bank industrial zone under intense redevelopment, offers a unique setting for the new Embassy. With an estimated 1000 daily visitors, the Embassy project is expected to establish a strong framework for the urbanization of Nine Elms. Contributing to this revitalization is a civic plaza and park, connecting the Thames embankment and Nine Elms Lane to a new pedestrian green way, linking Vauxhall to Battersea. The Embassy will sit at the centre of the site, with the surrounding park containing a pond, walkways, seating, and landscape along its edges, all open to the public, in contrast to the usual high walls and fences. This park offers a terrific opportunity to showcase U.S. ingenuity, art and culture, as well as providing a venue to commemorate its history and the special relationship with the UK and to recognize one of “The Few.”

“The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen, who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and devotion.”

 “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

— Winston Churchill, 20th August 1940

 



 

Laptop_picture_with_notepad

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.

R…T…S…W

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.

Read.

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.”

Think.

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.

Speak.

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.

Write.

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.



FVAP

Photo Credit: FVAP

“All qualified electors of this state who shall be in the actual military service of the United States or of this state…shall be entitled to exercise the right of suffrage at any general election…at the several posts, camps, or places where the regiment or battery of artillery may be…”

Wisconsin State Law, Section One

Passed September 25, 1862

Voting while serving in the military was not always as easy as it is today. For a long time, if a soldier or sailor was away from their hometown, they simply didn’t vote. It wasn’t until the Civil War when most states confronted the challenging issue of voting in the military. In the run-up to the 1862 congressional election, there were many questions about how to handle voting for a significant number of military members that were far from home.

The first two states that led the way with passing military suffrage laws were Wisconsin and Minnesota. In Wisconsin, their state constitution was interpreted to allow military members to vote outside of state boundaries, and just before the 1862 election a bill was passed that, “directed officers in the army camps to conduct the vote…and to forward to the governor and the secretary of state for final tabulation the results of the vote.” Just two days later, Minnesota passed a law allowing any soldier who had enlisted at least ten days prior to the election, “to vote wherever he might be. Having done so, he should place his marked ballot in an envelope, then seal said envelope with wax, and mail to the judges of his district.” With those simple pieces of legislation behind them, the first military absentee ballots were cast!

In 1863, several more states followed suit. By 1864, most state governments had provisions enabling their residents serving outside their state to vote in various forms. Some states chose to allow voting by proxy, some followed Wisconsin and Minnesota’s example and allowed absentee voting for the first time, and others even sent election commissioners to their state units to verify voting procedures and tally results. However, several states, purely for political reasons, chose not to enact legislation until 1865, too late for their soldiers’ votes to count in the 1864 presidential election.

Civil War Voting

Photo Credit: Missouri State Historical Society

Union Soldiers voting in the field during the Civil War

Fortunately, we have come a long way since the Civil War and the United States has passed a number of laws protecting a servicemember’s right to vote. The 1955 Federal Voting Assistance Act urged states to pass laws to improve voting procedures for the military, by simplifying the absentee process, creating a uniform ballot, and providing adequate time for ballots to be returned. The 1975 Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act repealed and updated the 1955 law, guaranteeing absentee registration for citizens outside the United States. The 1986 Uniformed Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Rights Act (UOCAVA) directed states to provide overseas personnel with the ability to vote in all elections, specifically protecting members of the uniformed services and their families. As a result of UOCAVA, states must provide requested absentee ballots at least 45 days prior to an election. Finally, the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) required the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) to ensure that military servicemembers assigned to voting assistance positions have the “time and the resources needed to provide voting related services.”

These changes have helped ensure that members of the military have every opportunity to register and to vote in elections. As a direct result, servicemembers have increasingly registered to vote and turned out in higher percentages than their civilian counterparts. Here are some of the military voting turnout rates over the last 40 years:

-1976: <40% (15% less than the civilian turnout rate)

-1984: 55% (military exceeded the civilian turnout for the first time)

-1992: 67% (compared to 55% civilian turnout rate)

-1996: 64% (compared to 49% civilian turnout rate)

-2000: 69% (compared to 54% civilian turnout rate)

-2004: 79% (compared to 60% civilian turnout rate)

In the 2008 presidential election, the overall voter turnout rate for the country was 61.7% – the highest since 1964. In the 2012 presidential election, the military again turned out and voted in higher percentages than the civilian populace.

Most recently in the 2014 congressional election, data from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) showed that in the 2014 congressional elections 71% of Active Duty Military members registered to vote. Conversely, only 58% of civilians of the same demographics (age, gender, education, region, family status, etc.), registered. However, when it came to actually voting in the 2014 election, active duty members had a voter participation rate of only 23%, compared to 25% of those not in the military.

The 2014 results should not overshadow the fact that as an overall group, the military and veterans have increasingly become more likely to register and to vote in elections. Our job now is to continue to encourage everyone to exercise his or her right to vote. The bottom line is that in today’s day and age, even if you are deployed to a combat zone, underway on a ship halfway across the world, or stationed at a base abroad, there is virtually no excuse for not being able to vote. There are great informational tools out there and most states allow you to handle just about everything online – some even allow you to utilize an online ballot!

A great website to refer to for state by state guidelines on how to register to vote, how to request an absentee ballot, and how to check the status of your ballot is https://www.fvap.gov.

Alexander Hamilton wrote in April 1784 that, “A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law. It is that right, by which we exist a free people.” Hamilton went on to note that voting is a citizen’s, “right to a share in the government. That portion of the sovereignty, to which each individual is entitled, can never be too highly prized. It is that for which we have fought and bled.”

This is something we should be talking about in our squadrons, on our ships, and within our units. By not voting, even if you think there are no good choices, you are ceding your voice to someone else. The only way we as a democracy can move forward and truly represent the will of the people is for the people to vote. This is an area where the military has led in the past, and must surely lead in the future.



Please join us at 5pm EDT (US) for Midrats Episode 342: Turkey ,Erdoğan & its Miltary – with Ryan Evans:

The events of the last week in Turkey brought that critically important nation in to focus, and we are going to do the same thing for this week’s episode of Midrats.

Turkey has a history of military coups as a byproduct of an ongoing drive to be a modern secular nation against the current of a deeply Islamic people. This week we are going to look at how Turkey found itself at another coup attempt, the response, and the possible impact for Turkey and its relationship with NATO, Russia, Europe, and its neighbors.

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Ryan Evans.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk- Father of Modern Turkey


Ryan Evans is a widely published commentator and recovering academic. He deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan from 2010 – 2011 as a Social Scientist on a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team that was OPCON/TACON to the British-led Task Force Helmand. He has worked as assistant director at the Center for the National Interest, a research fellow at the Center for National Policy, and for the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London. He is a Fellow of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society and received his MA from the King’s College London War Studies Department.

Join us live if you can or listen later by clicking here. Or pick the show up later from either our iTunes page here or our Stitcher page here.



Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 17 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 341 “Russia in 2016 with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg

From the sacking of the Baltic Fleet leadership, fighting in Syria, to developments from Central Asia to the Pacific – Russia in 2016 is on the move.

To discuss the who, what, where, and why of Russia in 2016, our guest for the full hour will be Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.

Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here or later by visiting our iTunes or Stitcher pages.



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