Network Science Center Trip Report: 27 interviews & traveling 92.4% of the Earth

Brigadier Mark Holmes, Australian Army

If anyone cared to ask me about my maiden research voyage on behalf the West Point Network Science Center, I think my response would primarily revolve around the words “flight” and “interview,” as that’s about all I remember from the two weeks!

Flight-wise, the numbers are astounding, even to me: I crossed 18 time zones as well as the international date line twice which equates to 23,018 miles (as the title states equals 92.4% of the Earth’s circumference).  This feat (if you can call it that) required 48 hours and 45 minutes in-flight.  When I passed on that information to a friend, he promptly asked, “why did you stop a little over 7% short?” and then mumbled under his breath “quitter.”

Interview-wise, we find a more positive story (for me, at least).  I interviewed 27 total individuals, of which 6 were academics and 21 were general and flag officers (14 Australian, 13 New Zealander).  Of the 21 senior military officers, 9 were retired, 12 were active.  And, further, of those 21, 9 were Brigadier Generals, 11 were Major Generals, and one was a Lieutenant General (Note: the Australians and New Zealanders prefer to title their military officers a little differently than in this U.S. – I have listed the U.S. equivalent rank).

By now you’re certainly wondering what I was doing research on so far from the Death Star (a.k.a. Castle Greyskull, a.k.a. West Point).  In order to get in to see so many senior military figures, I had to submit formal requests via the Defense Attaches in each respective U.S. Embassy. Below one can read a short selection from those documents:


Research Description & Central Research Question

This research will analyze historical and contemporary senior general officers in the Anglosphere community in order to quantify and qualify the evolution in idea networks for senior general officers over time.  This study will employ primary and secondary historical research, interview general officers and scholars, and organize data using the network science quantitative approach in order to discern if there has been a perceptible shift in international military networking amongst senior general officers.  If so, what implication does this hold for generals themselves as well as future international military cooperation?
To translate into layman’s terms, if you’re a general officer, there aren’t a whole lot of “you.”  So general officers can’t just bounce an idea off of anyone – they tend to seek out other general officers.  In an age of cheap(er) telecommunications and low(er) cost air travel, this group of people has an opportunity to widen and deepen the network of people they use to learn from or use as a sounding board.  So I thought this might be a useful study, and, since I had to close off the study somewhere, I thought the Anglosphere (traditionally conceived of as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States) would be a relevant international grouping of nations.
And so I flew.  To the far side of the planet.  And before I really even got anywhere, Ben Affleck started the journey by teaching me something about the value of weak ties in networking:
In the in-flight movie Argo, Alan Arkin’s character (Lester Siegel) goes with Ben Affleck’s character (Tony Mendez) to a buy a screenplay for what is meant to be a fictitious film.  Mendez leaves Siegel alone to browbeat the producer that owns a particular script that Siegel wants, and Siegel gains leverage in the negotiation through an affiliation with Warren Beatty.
When Siegel emerges from the producer’s office having gotten what he wanted, Mendez asks Siegel: “You really know Warren Beatty?”  
Siegel responds, “Yes, I do.  I took a leak next to him once at the Golden Globes.”
Ok, so I know Argois fictionalized, but the story upon which it is based comes from real events.  To some degree, this story is emblematic of what I’m studying – just how valuable are weak ties?  Of course, instead of the movie industry, I’m concerned with a different context – national security.
In following posts, I’ll write about my initial impressions of the massive amount of data I collected in those interviews (71 handwritten pages of notes!) – and how I think I’ll move forward to gather more.
Oh, and, no, I did not see any cool, exotic animals which start with the letter “K” (i.e. kangaroo or kiwi).  Sorry to disappoint.
But it wasn’t all bad.  See pictures below.

Black Swans on Lake Burley Griffin (named after the American architect that designed Canberra) – in the background is the Australian National Carillon
Wellington International Airport: 0430 day of departure – the start of a 41 hour day – at least Gollum is behind me!
In New Zealand, power companies aren’t monopolies – this is a great ad for “PowerShop”

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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