Before we begin the updates, I would like to congratulate Eric C on a life-changing award he received in December. Time magazine bestowed Eric C with their esteemed “Time Person of the Year” award. This is our fourth win between the two of us. (Michael C has previously won for “The American Fighting Man” and “You”, while Eric C has now won for “You” and “The Protester”.)
It’s been a while since we’ve done an “On V Update to Old Ideas”, so this will be the first of two updates this week, with a third coming shortly:
David Kahneman is Everywhere
Since our last update, one of our posts went “milblog/foreign affairs” viral. “Getting Rid of The Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency” garnered responses ranging from the enthusiastic and thought provoking to the dismissive. In a few weeks, we will launch round two of “On Violence Criticizing Gratitude Theory and the Army’s Lack of Cultural Empathy,” where we will respond to our critics. We tend to avoid immediately responding to blog posts because that leads to a downward spiral of post, counter-post, counter-counter-post and counter-counter-counter-post and readers just sigh.
Daniel Kahneman, whose evidence we cited, meanwhile, seems to be everywhere from Vanity Fair to Kings of War to Fareed Zakaria GPS. Hearing and reading him in multiple other media sources, all we can say is our entirely uncontroversial banality stands: warfare is as influenced by emotion as it is by rational thinking. Now, if only we can get the military theorists and strategists to start using that idea in modeling and doctrine...
Update to Hating Other People’s Soldiers
Mike Few summed up in one paragraph--in his ForeignPolicy.com article, “This isn’t the COIN you’re looking for”--our three posts on “Everyone Hates Everyone Else’s Soldiers”, “Who Watches the Watchmen?” and “From the On V 2048 Archives”:
“2. Generally speaking, people view foreign armies as occupiers. The populace's reaction to attempts at winning hearts and minds is often taken to be support, but in reality, these reactions show deference, perceived legitimacy, and temporary respect whose impact is fleeting and fluid.”
Well put, Mike F.
Update to Officers Avoiding Punishment
In Eric C’s post on the final scene in A Few Good Men, he wrote, “Our military punishes enlisted soldiers, and excuses officers. The higher up an officer, the less likely he/she is to get punished.” To prove our point, Time’s “Battleland” blog reports that the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Cowpens, Holly Graf, who was relieved for “cruelty”, still retired with an honorable discharge. Just a shame.
Statistics, Damned Statistics and Anecdotes: Disgruntled Veteran Edition
Last spring, we wrote that the proper conclusion to Twain’s pithy aphorism, “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”, should read, “lies, damned lies and anecdotes.” We particularly singled out terrorism and firearms as debates marred by anecdotes.
Well, friend of the blog Alex Horton linked to an article on the Gunpowder and Lead blog which made this exact point about disgruntled veterans. Essentially, the media portrays violent veterans as “crazy” or “PTSD riddled”, and the population assumes this applies to all veterans. In our words, society substitutes an anecdote--the stray, violent veteran--for the statistic--which shows that veterans are not that violent compared to the population.
Updates to Wikileaks and Top Secret America
Instead of moving towards a better, less secretive system, the government--especially the intelligence community--continues to cling to its over-classification. Here are the latest examples of the hypocritical and nonsensical system of classification at work:
1. According to On the Media, the CIA tried to censor retired FBI agent Ali Soufan’s book because it contained classified information. The New York Times was able to find every redaction already revealed online.
2. Out of curiosity, the ACLU asked the State Department, via FOIA request, for cables that Wikileaks had already leaked. Instead of simply handing over the documents, the State Department redacted large portions. Now anyone can go find out exactly what the State Department wants kept secret, and what they don’t--essentially giving other governments and intelligence agencies a road map to what the government considers valuable.
3. Finally, the new Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal film that will tell the story of the Osama bin Laden raid has been plagued by accusations from republican lawmakers that the Obama administration leaked confidential information to the filmmakers. Will the Obama administration drag the leaker through hell like Thomas Drake? (They won’t, and we wrote about that here.)
Lying is Getting Tougher, Still
A McClatchy newsreporter accused the Marine Corps of inflating the story of Dakota Meyer, a Medal of Honor recipient, in order to increase his chances of winning that prestigious medal. In full disclosure, my previous unit--the 2nd of the 503rd, the greatest unit in the history of armed combat--was present at the time this event (without me), and my platoon worked in this exact district the previous deployment.
As we have said before, lying (and exaggerating) is getting tougher. That doesn’t mean people will stop trying.