“Row Well and Live”: A Military Cliche That Deserves to Die

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

“Row well and live” is a perfect slogan if you happen to work at the DMV. But that saying has no place in a modern military headquarters, and to suggest it as guidance to young military officers is inaccurate and inappropriate.

But, somehow, I just keep bumping into this pernicious phrase. Like a zombie extra on The Walking Dead, this motto just stumbles forward, well after rigor mortis has set in, alternating groans between “urghhhh” and “Row well and live.”

I’ve kicked this dead horse before, so I’ll try to be brief and merely throw another shovel-full of fresh dirt on this rotten corpse of an expression. Continue reading ““Row Well and Live”: A Military Cliche That Deserves to Die”

Reel War at the Oscars: Lessons for Warriors from the Red Carpet

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

He’s turning ninety, so he’s seen a lot of war. Even at thirteen and a half inches tall, with a golden body weighing only eight and a half pounds—Oscar’s been around and has some stories to tell.

The little statuette, of course, nicknamed “Oscar” (which may or may not be due to his having resembled someone’s “Uncle Oscar”), is more formally referred to as the “Academy Award of Merit.” Twenty-four of these will be handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Sunday night at Hollywood’s annual gathering to applaud great artistic and technical achievement. The competition is fierce among the fifty-ninenominated movies; it’s almost surprising there hasn’t been more real blood on the red carpet beyond James Cameron nearly bludgeoning Harvey Weinstein with his Oscar twenty years ago.

The Oscars also have a distinct martial heritage. The first Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role was given to Emil Jannings, in part for his role in the 1928 silent film The Last Command, set during the Russian Revolution, a story that was inspired by a real-life general in the Imperial Russian Army named Theodore A. Lodigensky who fled the communist revolution and opened a restaurant in New York City (Lodigensky would also go on to play an “ex-military man” in several silent films himself). Continue reading “Reel War at the Oscars: Lessons for Warriors from the Red Carpet”

Yes, Unfortunately, Sometimes Militaries Must ‘Destroy the town to save it’

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

Fifty years ago this week, during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, a US Army major famously remarked to a journalist, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” Pilloried for its callousness, one fellow officer who claimed to have been present even said it went “down in history as an example of some of the insanity that was Vietnam.”

Myself an Army major, I know how crazy it sounds to most people. And, yet, while I am on the record as strongly opposed to empty platitudes like “the purpose of the military is to kill people and break things” (the military’s purpose is to protect and defend), I also know this infamous quotation from fifty years ago reflects one of the harsh, paradoxical realities of war: sometimes, unfortunately, militaries must destroy in order to save. Continue reading “Yes, Unfortunately, Sometimes Militaries Must ‘Destroy the town to save it’”

On Talks with North Korea: The Parable of the Mountain Rabbit

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

I think a lot about the Korean peninsula. When news emerges from there, I take note. Like recently, when both the commandant of the Marine Corps and the secretary of defense made ominous statements that signal the serious likelihood of another Korean war—these made me a little uncomfortable.

Or, when North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un decided, as he did last week, to make a public address opening the door to diplomacy, words that have been accepted and furthered by the South Korean prime minister. Today’s talks in Panmunjom (the village that straddles the DMZ between the two countries) are the first between the countries in two years and have a long-shot potential to forestall war. Continue reading “On Talks with North Korea: The Parable of the Mountain Rabbit”

36 Black Swans, Gray Swans, and Pink Flamingoes to Watch in 2018

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

While driving along the shore of Lake Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island in September 2011, I saw them for the first time.

Black Swans.

My wife and I pulled over, jumped out, and spent a half hour with the darkly elegant cousins of the waterfowl we were accustomed to in North America. Black swans, of course, were at one time presumed not to exist (so much so there was a Latin phrase coined to cement their perceived non-existence)—until later eras, when travel to Australia and New Zealand (where they are commonly found) revealed their earthly presence.

Since then, a famous book has popularized “black swans” as a commonly used metaphor for the disproportionate effects of previously unobserved, high-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare events (in Rumsfeldian parlance, “unknown unknowns”). Continue reading “36 Black Swans, Gray Swans, and Pink Flamingoes to Watch in 2018”

Four Moments of Warrior Wisdom from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

It’s here. Unless you’ve been slumming it on Dagobah or hanging around some empty desert planet, you probably noticed Star Wars: The Last Jedi consumed all of Earth’s attention this past weekend. Even the early returns indicate the movie will make a ton of money, and critics already love the show.

But for those responsible for real wars, there’s more to this picture than 153 minutes of eye candy. There are four moments, four lines, four quotations—embedded in the script—that would speak wisdom for those warriors willing to listen. What follows (don’t worry, no spoilers) is a brief recounting of these pockets of profound knowledge. Continue reading “Four Moments of Warrior Wisdom from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi””

From Princesses to Generals: Leia and the Evolution of Women at War

*Note: This essay, co-written with Erica Iverson, was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

“She wasn’t looking for a knight, she was looking for a sword,” wrote the poet Atticus, who might have been thinking of Star Wars’ Leia Organa. Over the forty years of the Star Wars franchise, Leia went from princess to general at the same time American military women were looking to wield their own weapons.

It wasn’t easy, but both found their swords. And they’re not done fighting. Continue reading “From Princesses to Generals: Leia and the Evolution of Women at War”