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”

Can’t separate the Olympics from global politics

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on February 19, 2018. It can also be found online here.

I love the Olympics, in part because they seem to defy reality as a place where dreams really do come true.

But geopolitics doesn’t stop while the Olympics are on – countries always use the Games to jostle for power, position, and prestige. Hitler’s 1936 Games come to mind, or the U.S. decision not to attend the 1980 Games in Moscow, and the subsequent Soviet decision to skip the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

The geopolitical maneuvering continues at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang – not surprising considering they’re so close to the DMZ that separates the North from South Korea. Tensions are high, as the North’s missile and nuclear tests have grown in number, range, and quality, poised to threaten not just Seoul and Tokyo, but the U.S. homeland as well. Continue reading “Can’t separate the Olympics from global politics”

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’”

How the US ‘Goliath’ can win against it ‘David’ adversaries

*Note: This essay was published in the Los Angeles Times print edition on January 30, 2018. It can also be found online here.

Fifty years ago, the stunning Tet Offensive shattered the American war effort in Vietnam. But its impact wasn’t limited to Vietnam — it created a shadow that has darkened American military strategy ever since.

On Jan. 31, 1968, 84,000 North Vietnamese troops attacked 100 cities across U.S.-backed South Vietnam, including the key targets of Hue, Da Nang and Saigon. They aimed to spark a widespread uprising, which didn’t happen. Continue reading “How the US ‘Goliath’ can win against it ‘David’ adversaries”

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”

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””

Enough with Political Endorsements from Retired Military Officers

*Note: This essay was published at War on the Rocks on November 27, 2017. It can be found online here (or PDF). 

Recently, Dan Helmer, a West Point graduate running for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, released a list of eight retired generals and admirals he calls his “National Security Advisory Committee.” At the top is retired Lt. Gen. Dan Christman, who formerly served as superintendent at West Point (akin to a college president) while I was a cadet. I looked up to him then.

But I’m not so sure about that now.

Christman’s and other public endorsements from retired military officers are legal, but are nonetheless inappropriate and harm both the military and country. Most Americans are naturally prone to see these retired officers — especially retired admirals and generals — as representing the entire military. As such, one person’s individual endorsement necessarily trades on the military’s reputation in service of a party, ideology, or candidate. This pulls the military into partisan politics.

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.