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While I look askew at social media, I also avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. You could potentially make the same argument against blogs, national security or otherwise. Indeed, a blog is not fundamentally different from Twitter or Tumblr, which began by billing themselves as "micro blogs." While Tom doesn't have a Twitter or Facebook account (as far as I know), he maintains discourse with his own set of followers in the livefyre forum. In a way, it's his own personal Twitter/Facebook. The internet was invented with the idea of promoting greater communication among human beings. It is a vast network with the potential to liberate educational materials from for-profit institutions and expand the outlook and knowledge of all mankind to an exponential degree. Lincoln received a president's education with a horn book and a coal shovel. Imagine what he would have been with an iPad and an internet connection.
Alas, we decided to use that vast network as a giant repository of pornography and cat videos.
I wouldn't confuse the tool with how it's used. Avoiding it entirely is just as bad as misusing it. The underpinning challenge we face in most of our conflicts these days (as evidenced by today's lede by Aidan Foster-- "What the hell was that all about?) is reaching common understanding. You can't do that without communication and education. People are grousing about how JJ Abrams has militarized Gene Roddenberry's dream of starships going boldly and peacefully in search of adventure and enlightenment. Why should we be any less critical of how we've dumbed down a real invention that was meant to provide all mankind easy access to our accumulated knowledge?
1 day, 21 hours ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
It occurs to me how schizophrenic American society is today in its relationship to violence. As the rest of the world sees us, we are a country of bellicose jingoists. But from the inside out we are exactly the opposite-- fearful and politically ambivalent. While we drone away at Pakistan and go bump in the night throughout Africa without hesitation, we are immediately cowed by the possibility of a terrorist in the midst of suburbia. We completely surrender to every "recommendation" of our own government and shutter ourselves in, literally shutting down a major center of commerce to the tune an estimated $300 million loss. Meanwhile, though we cite "threats to our freedom" as the impetus for spilling American blood and treasure across Africa and the Middle East, we find no such patriotic zeal to inspire efforts at securing these very freedoms from a government that, at present, seems at least reckless and at worst imperious in its ever-expanding efforts at "increasing security" at the expense of individual liberties.
Long before "body parts," I grew tired of the word "injury." In countless news reports from the front, we have heard "x-number dead and y-number injured." It's a muting phrase, written by those who have never heard, let alone considered, the observation of some that "the living shall envy the dead." "Injury" is just a word. For many, the reality is much worse. People burned so badly that people cringe at the sight of them in public. People missing two and three limbs. People who have been stripped of their genitalia and must live with a lifelong sense that they've lost their manhood. These aspects of "injury" are not part of our national dialogue in foreign affairs. Meanwhile, the past year has seen a spate of articles about how we have childproofed our homes and playgrounds so much that children are actually being stunted in their development. We are virtually afraid of our own shadows. We talk about skewing our children's decision-making and judgments of choices and consequences. We should be talking about our own paradigms.
It bothered me that the photos of Jeff Bauman were not more widely distributed after the Boston Bombings. The same press corps that only a year ago justified distributing a photo of a dying Marine against his family's wishes felt by and large that the images of Bauman needed to be censored and obscured with the initial web-based caveat "warning: graphic image."
Just to be clear, Jeff Bauman is alive. Joshua Bernard is dead. It is a warped calculus that says one is more graphic than the other. Hand a mother the AK-47 or the M-4 that killed her son, and then ask her what a "weapon of mass destruction" is. What she tells you will not fit into the tidy bin of our government's definition. It will be messy, and you won't be able to get it off of you for a long time.
We are a society that has lost all perspective on its relationship with violence. We have no sense, either individually or as a country, of the consequences of our actions. Four Americans died in a bombing in Helmand yesterday. No one hears about this anymore. No one would really care if they did. Our society really and truly looks at it as a rerun. More people will mourn Angelina Jolie's breasts.
That's harsh. It's also true.
We cannot have anything resembling a rational discourse about violence anymore. It is not the gruesome nature of Bauman's injuries that keeps us from viewing them. It is that, if we did look at them closely and reflectively, we would be forced to admit that we have visited the same terrible injuries on tens of thousands of other people around the world in the last decade, and have genuinely little benefit to show for it. A recent discussion on this blog argued that democracies are more apt to incite wars. Perhaps democracy is not the evil in and of itself that promotes that trend, rather certain aspects of it. That democracies rely on a certain voluntary participation by its citizens, and therefore excuse people from the kind of investment that springs from a sense of obligation, is the problem. That the targeted killing program has swollen under the auspices of drones may validate the idea. It is another example of war without consequence; killing without risk.
I don't think the words can really make people feel it as much as a photo. We can say "body parts," but what we really need to do is look at them. We need to see the anguish of bereaved mothers and the agony of our own people. And then we need to acknowledge that when we say something "is worth dying for," we mean that people on both sides of the conflict will die. They will die in horrible, wretched ways. If you can't look at Jeff Bauman and say "this issue is worth causing that kind of pain and suffering to someone," then perhaps it's time to consider alternative measures.
1 week, 1 day ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
Also to be thrown out: Whoever did the layout for the intro page. You lost your entire Mac-based readership on that one, regardless of their browser. Works on Android. Haven't tried it on PC.
2 weeks, 6 days ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
Observation: Ms. Sky says that 200 people were killed. The linked reference says 50 were killed and 110 wounded. Sort of makes a difference, especially since 200 people being killed would likely indicate many more wounded, according to trends.
Not trying to belittle 50 dead, but 200 is approaching Mogadishu-proportion urban clustertastrophe.
3 weeks ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
@Diogo Jimmy Morgado Sure. And "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" is irrelevant in the Middle East in the 21st Century.
The more things change...
4 weeks, 1 day ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
The "pivot to Asia" should be cognitive and philosophical as well as strategic and logistical. Considering just how poorly we adapt to cultural paradigms and the differences in Asia, the brainprint may be more important than our footprint. Suggestions:"Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse Tung." Can't go wrong with that one.
Either "The Code of the Samurai" or "The Hagakure" or "The 47 Ronin." It would be nice to have something to talk about with a Japanese peer and Musashi is a little too deep to give you anything really meaningful to say.
"Ho Chi Minh on Revolution: Selected Writings." I have not read that one but I flipped through it in a store once. I passed because it didn't seem relevant to modern times, but now that I think about it, it would probably be a good look into the minds of leaders in other low-level conflicts in the area. And "Heart of Darkness" for anyone about to do an AFRICOM rotation.
1 month ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
@Aelove @HUNTERS @Gold Star Father Don't get me started about the DODDS union and overseas teachers. I worked as a substitute in Vicenza. The quality of teaching there was abysmal.
@Lieber Clarksville has benefitted from the creep of suburban sprawl from Nashville to an extent, but the city council should be credited for its aggressive pursuit of businesses. Compare them to Hopkinsville just on the other side of the border. It's obvious which town is more prosperous. Hopkinsville acts like a military town. Clarksville knows it's small (fifth largest city in TN, though), but it also understands that it doesn't have to act small. It has a college and works hard to keep an active downtown scene.
@Lieber I would argue that Clarksville is in the process of growing its own metropolis. Observe what happened in Colorado Springs throughout the 1990's and 2000's. It was very much a military town, but leveraged the presence of those bases to foster other industries.
I have been a deployed husband, a rear-d officer during deployment, and am now a military spouse. In my view, a major barrier to improving conditions is the paradigm in which it is being discussed here. Spousal employment has nothing to do with assignments, service culture, or the leadership of generals. As the man from Arkansas once said, it's the economy.
This is a pure supply and demand situation, and a sorely managed one at that. One does not need to look hard at the "main drag" outside any major post to get the gist of the market. You have military equipment retailers, payday loan sharks, gas stations, auto "bling" shops and strip clubs. And of course just over the hill is the glow of the lights of the Wal-Mart parking lot. So whether you're male or female, your job prospects are limited to the service and retail sectors.
This is not just a problem outside Lejeune or Bragg. You'll see this landscape repeated at Fort Campbell and Peterson Air Force Base. I was particularly shocked to see it plant itself in San Diego. Here you have a rich cosmopolitan culture, and yet right outside Miramar, Pendleton, and the Naval Barracks all the familiar establishments have found a way to spring up. It's about as out of place as a refugee camp, yet there it is. I can think of no better example of the persistence of the military's endemic market. Imagine 20-inch spinner rims on the wheels of merchant wagons trailing the Roman legions and it sort of clicks.
Still, the military isn't to blame. It is no mystery to the local governments and chambers of commerce that military spouses represent a capable and unused workforce. That these remain an untapped resource indicates an unimaginative municipal leadership without initiative. But, given the transient nature of military spouses, those governments have little reason for initiative.
In fact, cities that do make the effort to integrate military spouses into efforts to grow the local economy benefit greatly. Clarksville, Tennessee is a good example. They've brought in a semiconductor plant and aggressively sought a BMW facility as well, though they lost the bid. It is not a town that is content to rely on its base for economic support. That left it well positioned to absorb the hit the local economy took when the initial deployments in 2001 sucked away all those soldiers and jobless spouses from the market. Cities that view their military populations only as a revenue source suffer horribly every time the troops deploy. You could also argue that they suffer in different ways when the troops come home. A civilian population with no connection to the community lends itself to crime, domestic violence, and other issues. It's not just about spouses, either. Some of these consequences trickle down to the kids.
Viewing this as a "military wide" problem obscures the issue by broadening it along the wrong horizon. It's more of a "local wide" issue. Spouses, junior officers and the services all lose in this deal, but they are not the only casualties. There is a wide spectrum of solutions available to military towns. Indeed, getting out of the pigeon hole of being a military town is essential to the well being of all involved parties.
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1 month, 1 week ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
It should be recognized that Col Bush publicly admitted to the reason for his dismissal in front of his Airmen. Considering the personally and professionally embarrassing nature of the circumstances, that makes him a class act. In some ways, it's sad to see him relieved because he was so forthright about his failings. Maybe he's got a spare tire, but there's a lot of integrity and character there, as well. If more military leaders conducted themselves the way he did, perhaps physical fitness wouldn't be as big an issue in the first place.
The observation that there are many senior leaders with questionable girth brings up an uncomfortable problem in how standards are maintained. Most units conduct their PT tests and weight/tape measurements internally. Most of the time that means you have an E-6 or E-5 measuring an O-6 or E-9; not exactly the most conducive environment for honestly upholding standards. It's tantamount to undue command influence. Also take into account just how easy it is to fudge the numbers and measurements given the poor guidance and methods afforded units to conduct these tests. Give me a set of calipers and the Army body composition measurement guidelines, and I will show you a whole new way to play "The Biggest Loser." This probably speaks doubly to Bush's character. Not only did he tell his people why he was leaving, but he didn't take advantage of opportunities to sweep it under the rug.
2 months ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
It should be recognized that Col Bush publicly admitted to the reason for his dismissal in front of his Airmen. Considering the personally and professionally embarrassing nature of the circumstances, that makes him a class act. In some ways, it's sad to see him relieved because he was so forthright about his failings. Maybe he's got a spare tire, but there's a lot of integrity and character there, as well. If more military leaders conducted themselves the way he did, perhaps physical fitness wouldn't be as big an issue in the first place.The observation that there are many senior leaders with questionable girth brings up an uncomfortable problem in how standards are maintained. Most units conduct their PT tests and weight/tape measurements internally. Most of the time that means you have an E-6 or E-5 measuring an O-6 or E-9; not exactly the most conducive environment for honestly upholding standards. It's tantamount to undue command influence. Also take into account just how easy it is to fudge the numbers and measurements given the poor guidance and methods afforded units to conduct these tests. Give me a set of calipers and the Army body composition measurement guidelines, and I will show you a whole new way to play "The Biggest Loser." This probably speaks doubly to Bush's character. Not only did he tell his people why he was leaving, but he didn't take advantage of opportunities to sweep it under the rug.
The answer to the question is "no." And asking it not only trivializes the losses suffered by people like Gold Star Father, but also the people who continue to suffer under the rule of dictators throughout the world. The proposition that the ouster of a tyrant could be an "accidental good" is more disturbing than event the kind of realpolitik spoken by Kissinger and Bismarck behind closed doors. Though they had low regard for blood and treasure, at least they calculated the returns on the investment. To presume that Saddam's fall is something of a consolation or a smaller silver lining is a horrible means of diminishing the plight of dictatorships around the world, and it invites a mindset that considers strategic planning like writing the script to "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" or "Risky Business."
America invades Iraq to eradicate WMDs and stop terrorist partnership with dictatorships. Hijinks ensue, tens of thousands die, even more are scarred and ruined, trillions of dollars are wasted, but in the end we get Saddam and the Americans learn a valuable lesson about life. It's an uplifting comedy the whole family can enjoy.
We never would have invaded Iraq to get Saddam had the country not been gripped by irrational fear of anthrax and terrorism. Not to save the tortured. Not to liberate the oppressed. Not out of any sentiment that can be considered in the smallest way altruistic. We went out of fear and toward vengeance. To argue that there was some good bred of that sentiment at the end of the day is shameless attempt to cut an escape hatch for the national conscience. We should not be let off the hook that easily. The political leadership screwed up the assessment, the people failed to be involved, the media didn't perform their due diligence, and the military failed to plan adequately. Before Americans failed in Iraq, they failed in America. You don't get to hold Saddam up as a get out of jail free card for that.
3 months, 2 weeks ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
@fg42 @CATtheSON @tomricks This all fascinates me, because I am absolutely sure there was no mention of the bureaucratic structure of the chains of command and authority, let alone how they contributed to keeping this guy from being grounded. In comparison to what's been presented here, the story was put in a much more Aesop fable format. That's disappointing, since leaders rarely fail in clear-cut moral situations. It's when things start getting murky that we lose our perspective on how to proceed. The complexity of these situations should be appreciated, as the devil truly is in the details.
It got to the point for me that I began to think McCain was going to pull a major plot twist by announcing he was his own best evidence that installing a SefDef just because he's a 'Nam vet is a bad idea. I also thought it would have been fair for Hagel to ask if McCain was right or wrong to support the invasion to begin with. It's not that I don't like McCain anymore. I've just concluded that he's way too erratic. If he was a unit commander instead of a Senator, I'd call him toxic. Maybe he's a toxic Senator. I think we confuse the idea of "the Jewish" lobby and the Israeli lobby. It works much more in the favor of Israel to be called the Jewish lobby, because of the association with the Holocaust. It's easier to argue with someone when you can insinuate every statement they make is anti-Semitic. I think the notion is starting to get old within the American Jewish community, though. They're starting to figure out that the Israeli agenda is not necessarily aligned with their principles and beliefs. What I have never been able to understand is how the Republicans (and many Democrats) have been able to uphold the "Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East" narrative when in reality Saudi Arabia has always been our go-to guy. Not a lot of photos of Bush or Obama holding hands with members of the Knesset. House of Saud is a different story.
This used to be a major case study in leadership classes at the Air Force Academy. The co-pilot who went with him that day was the last guy in the squadron who'd fly with him. He had three kids. All the others found ways to make excuses to avoid showing up. It's my memory that most cadets concluded in the discussion that the co-pilot was wrong as well, because he contributed to the behavior as much as anyone. He tolerated the behavior.
3 months, 3 weeks ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
@HUNTERS Seeing as how suicide has crept into the SOF and caregiver ranks, it seems that caring is now the disease. Commanders appear largely innoculated.
4 months, 1 week ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
I talked to a psychologist once who worked with the Marines in 3/5. They said that "You go in there to see some of these guys, and it unexpectedly just starts coming out. You get it all over you. You feel like you have to take a shower at the end of the day, and you're exhausted from carrying it around."
This man is a combat casualty as surely as if the enemy had shot him. And we left him to die on his own no less than cowards abandoning their own on the battlefield.
Soldiers. Senior commanders. Now those who are supposed to give care for the condition itself. How many does it take?
@fg42 @HUNTERS @Gold Star Father
This is a surreal paradigm to me. Why do we need a czar? We have a commander-in-chief. All it would take is for this man to stand before his secretary of defense and his JCS and order them to stop this. Tell them point-blank that it's a failure-not-optional proposition. We put a man on the moon because a President said to do it.
I can't remember how many 48 and 72-hour days I worked during my time in the service because I had to make the mission happen. I was given orders and I followed them. I was given objectives and I met them. This ethic diminishes gradually as you go up the chain of command. Imagine how an O-5 would react if one of his Lieutenants reacted to his orders the same way that Generals and Colonels regarded their orders? "Yes sir, I understand and I'm genuinely concerned about that. I'll do my best to make it happen but I can't make guarantees because the situation is complex and dynamic."
Equally surreal to me, and related to Tom's oblique references to the NRA and gun-control debate, is how the President regards these kinds of issues. There's a great report on CNN this weekend on shooting death statistics among young people in America. We kill something like 5,000 kids in our country every year, most of them minorities. But it takes 22 dead white elementary kids to get our black President from Chicago (Chicago!) really revved up about gun violence. In the same fashion, both Bush and Obama have gone to Dover and saluted the solitary flag-draped coffins coming home from combat, and they've sworn to pour billions of dollars into more effective technology to keep troops alive. But again, you look at that figure of 30,000 veteran suicides and we're completely deaf to it.
4 months, 1 week ago on Conversation @ http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/01/10/commanders_now_authorized_to_ask_suicidal_soldiers_if_they_have_guns