The Civilian-Military Divide: General Kelly is a Canary in the Coal Mine

One portion of Gen Kelly’s remarks yesterday have gotten some notice, but I think it is important to highlight them and discuss their import.

Josh Marshall identified this portion of Gen Kelly’s remarks as specifically worrisome:

We don’t look down upon those of you who that haven’t served. In fact, in a way we’re a little bit sorry because you’ll have never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our service men and women do — not for any other reason than they love this country. So just think of that.

Marshall goes on to provide his interpretation of this portion of Gen Kelly’s statement:

Kelly made a similar point when he refused to take questions from any reporter who was not either from a Gold Star family themselves or personally knew someone who was. You may not even deserve your civic freedoms, the right to talk, to ask question, unless you are near to military sacrifice.

On the other side of the political spectrum, David Frum made a similar observation.

And despite all the correct concern and condemnation over further upsetting a grieving family, as well as the subsequent disparagement of a member of the House of Representatives, which when debunked, was doubled down on, there is a larger issue buried in all the noise, smoke, and fire: the civilian-military divide.

GEN Dempsey, when he was the Commanding General of Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) commissioned a study of the Army as profession after a decade of war. GEN Dempsey was concerned, as were a number of subject matter experts in military professional ethics, that after a decade of persistent conflict the profession was at risk of being degraded by the corrosive effects of war. This project became known as the US Army Profession of Arms Study*. A white paper was compiled and issued, followed up by a lot of staff work, and then the final report. The Profession of Arms is defined as:

The Army is an American Profession of Arms, a vocation comprised of experts certified in the ethical application of land combat power, serving under civilian authority, entrusted to defend the Constitution and the rights and interests of the American people.

In the “Our Ethic” section of the study is the following description (emphasis mine):

The nature of military professional ethics. As the Army moves forward into future conflict, it will continue to rely on an all volunteer force. The framework of the Army Ethic must provide a consistent theory of military ethics that grounds the martial virtues in more general moral concepts and lessens any gap between the Army and the society it serves and which provides its recruits.

Gen Kelly’s unfortunate remarks about service and how those who have served view those who haven’t run counter to how the Profession of Arms defines its own professional ethic. More importantly it provides a flashing warning sign of the potential for a civilian-military divide that separates those who have chosen to join the All Volunteer Force (for whatever reason) and those who haven’t. Including those who have undertaken other forms of public service. While we’ve seen this type of divide emphasized in the discussion over policing and the use of force by law enforcement, Gen Kelly’s statements yesterday were, perhaps, the most explicit example of the civilian-military divide I’ve seen or heard in the past decade.

One of the most important discussions we had in the my seminar’s seminar room at USAWC, which we also engaged in within the USAWC team assigned to work on the Profession of Arms study, was the discussion of how an All Volunteer Force during a time of extended war and conflict relates to the vastly larger society of civilians. There was great concern that if a gap was allowed to develop, grow, and harden that the All Volunteer Force, especially those who make a career of their military service, will grow so estranged from the rest of American society as to not just become a distinct sub-culture, but one that threatens the very state and society it is sworn to defend.

And this isn’t just some hyperbolic concern. We often joked that the US military is America’s largest set of centrally planned and run gated communities. While a lot of military personnel, especially as they achieve higher ranks throughout their career arc, will choose to live off post (on the economy), it is quite possible to live, work, shop, socialize, and play on post while never leaving it. While few who serve do this, there is a tendency to associate within the profession as one’s coworkers and colleagues become one’s friends through shared work and experiences. Including combat.

This is also not a recent or new concern. In 2011 Time dedicated its cover and the bulk of an issue to the civilian-military divide.

The U.S. military and American society are drifting apart. It’s tough inside the civilian world to discern the drift. But troops in all the military services sense it, smell it — and talk about it. So do their superiors. We have a professional military of volunteers that has been stoically at war for more than a decade. But as the wars have droned on, the troops waging them are increasingly an Army apart.

The civilian-military gap has taken on an edge recently, driven by the lack of sacrifice — either in blood or treasure — demanded of the rest of us compared to what the troops are giving.

Military leaders know the gap is widening, which leads to important questions: is this a bad thing? If it is, should we care? And if we should care, what can be done to reverse it? “I have this deep existential angst about a military organization within a democratic society that’s as isolated from the rest of that society as our military is becoming,” says Michael Desch, a political scientist and military expert at Notre Dame. “The gap can make civilian control of the military harder to achieve.”

That may be a reach, but senior officers sense the parting. “I have been struck in my travels at the lack of what I would call in-depth understanding of what we’ve been through,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Time before he retired last month after 43 years in uniform. It’s almost like the American Foreign Legion. “We come from fewer and fewer places — we’ve BRAC’ed our way out of significant portions of the country,” Mullen said, referring to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission process that has shuttered hundreds of military posts across wide swaths of the nation. “Long term, if the military drifts away from its people in this country, that is a catastrophic outcome we as a country can’t tolerate.”

Click across and read the whole thing, it is really worth the few minutes.

This has been an ugly week in the US. It started with a needless, self inflicted wound by a President who does not speak well off the cuff and does not seem able to accept responsibility or tolerate being questioned. It got uglier when the President, feeling goaded into responding, responded in a way that deepened the injury. Including to not only the bereaved family he called, but also several others. And it moved well into I cannot believe this is happening in the US in 2017 territory with Gen Kelly’s attempt at damage control.

Despite all the ugliness some good can come of the week. Gen Kelly’s remarks yesterday are a canary in the civilian-military coal mine. War is corrosive to a military and a self governing republic. It eats away morale and effectiveness. And it drives a wedge between those who have chosen to serve, or if there’s a draft those chosen to serve by the state, and the non-serving in uniform citizenry who they are protecting and defending through their service to the Constitution. If any good can come from this week, perhaps it is a renewed discussion of civilian-military relations. As well as the nature of voluntary military service in a self governing republic. And a long overdue debate about if the US is indeed facing existential threats from al Qaeda or ISIS or the DPRK or Iran, then perhaps we need to actually declare war and actually mobilize the citizenry to fight the declared war.

* I was a contributor to the Profession of Arms study as part of the USAWC team assigned to look at the strategic issues of the profession. My specific responsibilities were to assist the USAWC Team Lead with conceptualizing the cultural aspects of what a profession is, what it means to be a member of a profession and how the norms and values of a profession are transmitted, taught, and learned.



Open Thread: Richard Spencer, Public Emergency

Richard Spencer is a slimy opportunist who jumped on the “us whites are an imperiled minority” gravy train when Trump’s candidacy demonstrated there was an opening for other grifters. The half-bright cowards and losers who draft into his tailwind can actually be dangerous. Per the Washington Post, “‘Kill them’: Three men charged in shooting after Richard Spencer speech”:

About 90 minutes after Richard Spencer’s speech Thursday at the University of Florida — which generated so much controversy that the governor declared a state of emergency days before the event — a silver Jeep pulled up to six to eight protesters near a bus stop and confronted them, according to Gainesville Police Department spokesman Sgt. Ben Tobias.

The men, whom police identified as white nationalists, threatened the group, making Nazi salutes and shouting chants about Hitler, police said.

One of the people in the group, who were in their 20s and heading home after protesting, hit the Jeep with a baton. It pulled over.

Tyler Tenbrink, 28, of Richmond, Tex., jumped out with a gun, authorities said. According to the Alachua County sheriff’s arrest report, Colton Fears, 28, and William Fears, 30, of Pasadena, Tex., encouraged Tenbrink to shoot, yelling, “I’m going to f—— kill you,” “Kill them” and “Shoot them.”

Tenbrink fired a single shot that missed the people, police said, and hit a nearby building…

Three guys with guns, versus ‘six to eight’ protestors — truly, the flower of white manhood.

Spencer’s publicity grab seems to have gone off about as expected. Lois Beckett, in the Guardian:

The white supremacist Richard Spencer took the stage at the University of Florida on Thursday after his supporters threatened to sue if he was not allowed to speak.

But minutes after he began to talk, the majority of the crowd of hundreds in the auditorium stood together, raised their fists, and started chanting “Go home, Spencer! Go home, Spencer!”

For the next hour, most of the crowd stayed standing, booing and chanting over Spencer’s remarks as he angrily compared the crowd to a mob and to “immature preschoolers who aren’t ready for ideas that might get a bit challenging”.

“You can’t hide,” the audience chanted back at him, “You support genocide!”

Over the screams and boos, Spencer answered a series of audience questions but spent much of his time berating the crowd, many of them University of Florida students, for heckling him.

“You are trying to shut down a dissident intellectual,” Spencer told the roaring crowd. He reproached them for not appreciating “the most important free speech event of your lifetime”.

At one point, Spencer did a quick little caper onstage, dancing along to the chants against him and waving his arms sardonically…

Spencer is Sideshow Dick — except the Simpsons cartoon character had better writers.
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President Obama’s Speech On Behalf of Ralph Northam

Figured it made sense to bookend my blogging day with President Obama’s speech on behalf of Ralph Northam from earlier this evening. The video is all teed up for President Obama’s remarks.

Open thread!



When You’re A “Star”, They Have to Let You Do It…

Props to Mr. Crews for speaking out, because his experience is further proof: It’s not about sex for powerful predators, it’s about the rush of knowing that they can treat “the help” like pets or furniture.

Liz Meriwether, at NYMag‘s The Cut, “I’m A Coward”:

Years ago, I went to a meeting in a hotel room with a powerful man. We started talking. He asked me about my sexual past, and I laughed and told some funny stories. I expect to talk about relationships and love and sex in meetings, since that’s what I write about. It was just the way he was asking me — he was pushing for details. I was suddenly aware of how alone I was in that room. Then he pointed to the bed next to us and said, “You know there’s a bed in here.” Like a young Dorothy Parker, with eloquence and wit beyond my years, I responded: “Yeah. I see that! Cool bed, man!”

Eventually the meeting was over, and he walked me to the door of the suite. I was starting to feel relieved it was over, when he suddenly grabbed my shoulders and held me in front of the gilded hallway mirror. I couldn’t move. He was watching me through the mirror. I could barely bring my head up. He said, “Look. Look at yourself. Do you see how beautiful you are?”

It was at that moment that I did something insane. I started laughing. Like, uproariously laughing. It was not a fun laugh. It was one of those crazy, terrifying laughs. Suddenly, I was Laura Linney in an Oscar clip. I turned my head and looked at him, still laughing, and said, “This is my worst nightmare!” That must have surprised him or offended him, because then he let me go. I headed for the door, walked through the lobby of the hotel, and didn’t stop walking until I was back inside my apartment downtown. I walked the way I walk in dreams, without feeling my feet on the ground. I was buzzing. I didn’t feel real.

It must have been my fault. It must have been something I said. Was I flirting with him? I shouldn’t have told that story. I shouldn’t have gone to his hotel room. What can I do about it? Who do I tell? I don’t have enough money for a lawyer. I don’t want to suddenly become unemployable because of something he chose to do to me. Was it that big of a deal? Did I make it up? It wasn’t an assault — it was just, like, an aggressive mirror hold. There are no laws against forcing people to look at themselves in the mirror. I’m fine. I’m tough. I’m one of the guys. It was just a weird thing that happened, and now it’s over, and I’m fine. What if I said something and he stopped me from getting another job? So I made a decision: I chose to stay quiet. I kept working with him. As I said, I’m a coward…
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Everyone Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep: All is Well. Sort of. Maybe…

As they say in the Ranger Regiment: “That’s a technique!”

Edited for Clarification:

It is important to remember that Sherman is relating what he has been told by a senior Republican in DC about what that individual believes to knows the discussions have been. But that people are speculating that this might happen is an important indicator of just how bad the problem is.

I got nothing!



An Important Lesson (To Be) Learned from the Mandalay Bay Shooting

There is an important self defense lesson learned/to be learned from the Mandalay Bay Shooting: under certain conditions self defense, armed or empty hand, is not an option. Instead self preservation is. Some fun was had in comments this morning about social media faux tough guy Dan Bilzerian’s live streaming of his panic stricken response to being caught in the field of fire during the Mandalay Bay Shooting. Bilzerian’s response was all too human, and understandable, given the circumstances and is only the stuff of ridicule because of the persona he created for self promotion. But it is one of the many examples from Sunday’s tragic events that teach us all something important regarding self defense, especially armed self defense. Specifically there are some situations were any form of self defense, let alone armed self defense, is simply not an option. Moving as quickly as possible to cover/safety is the best option.

Even if a significant minority of the concert goers on Sunday were armed, there was no way they could effectively respond to the violent assault. There are several reasons for this. Among them is that Paddock gave himself an asymmetric advantage in his attack. He selected high ground – a room on the 32nd floor; a clear field of fire; a massed group of targets; rifles modified to simulate/approximate fully automatic fire (12 of the 19 recovered in his hotel room had bump fire stocks); and electronic surveillance of the approaches to his room, which allowed him to defeat attempts by hotel security. He shot the guard willing to risk entry to stop him. This kept the police from quickly breach the room to stop him. Instead they waited for SWAT to arrive on scene and conduct the breach. Under these conditions armed self defense is useless.

Even if an armed concert goer or passerby could have quickly ascertained where the shots were coming from, unless armed with a rifle and carrying significant ammunition, there was no way to lay down sustained suppressive fire to stop Paddock from continuing to fire on the crowd. There was almost no place with effective cover to set up to return fire without exposing oneself to Paddock’s assault. And most everyday carriers, concealed or open depending on jurisdiction, carry handguns. While the possible options for everyday carry are large, let’s stipulate that everyone had compact double stack handguns even though this is unlikely the case in reality. These would be auto-loading from a magazine, semi-automatic handguns. With magazine capacities between 13 and 15 rounds depending on the caliber (9mm Parabellum/9X19 usually run 15 rounds, .40 S&W and .357 SIG about 12; and .45 ACP about 10 on average*) Let’s also stipulate that they’re carrying two backup magazines. So that’s 45 rounds, give or take, 46 if carrying with a round chambered (one in the pipe). These guns also have 4 inch barrels in length with a 6 inch site radius on average – depending on the make and model of the gun. Making a 400 yard shot, from ground level to the 32nd floor, at night, in a stress situation with a handgun is effectively impossible. Maybe Jerry Miculek or one of the other professional shooters could pull it off, but that would be about it. And that’s a big maybe as handguns just aren’t designed to accurately shoot that far, especially from ground level on to an elevated target. This is what rifles are for.

While the debate on whether having an armed citizenry actually deters or defeats crime will rage on, as well as the debate over the proper meaning of the 2nd Amendment and how it should be understood and incorporated into 21st Century America, the real lesson learned/to be learned from the Mandalay Bay shooting is that armed self defense is useless as a response to this type of shooting. We can extrapolate that it would also be useless in a similarly designed terrorist attack. And make no mistake terrorist groups and potential terrorists, regardless of their ideology, doctrine, theology, dogma, and/or other motivation or group affiliation, will learn this lesson and potentially try to recreate this type of attack scenario.

What was more useful was self preservation and assisting others with surviving the assault. Getting out of the kill zone as quickly as possible or getting to effective cover was the best option for surviving the Mandalay Bay attack. And those willing to place themselves at risk to help others to do so were also more useful than anyone trying to shoot back. For instance, Jonathon Smith as just one example

Stay frosty!

* Edited for clarity: I initially entered the magazine capcities for full size not compact handguns and have subsequently corrected this.



Open Thread: Heck of A PR Job, Repubs!

By the time this posts, Trump will probably have said some equally infuriating, hateful things about the mass casualty event in Las Vegas. But still

Even the Mad Bitcher is getting an uncomfortable sensation in his exquisitely tuned antennae!

It’s not just “optics”…


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