Why it matters that Google’s gone AWOL

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on September 13, 2018. It can also be found online here.

The empty chair representing Google at last week’s Congressional testimony in Washington spoke volumes. The nation called, and Google opted out.

This might otherwise be excused as an oversight. But it came on the heels of Google’s decision to step away from work with the Department of Defense by backing out of a Pentagon contract (Project Maven) the company had signed to improve image detection for defense surveillance platforms. The cancelled project was spurred on by thousands of Google employees petitioning their chief executive, arguing that continued work with the Department of Defense would “irreparably damage Google’s brand” and that the company should stay out of the “business of war.”

It seems that one of America’s most important companies has gone AWOL.

Continue reading “Why it matters that Google’s gone AWOL”

At the Commonwealth Club of California with Max Brooks – on Strategy Strikes Back

On Monday, June 25, 2018, I had a great time in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club of California with my friend & co-editor Max Brooks talking about our book Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict.

Here are the links to the audio podcast and the video from the event.

American Strategic Myths Through the Lens of Star Wars

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(Please don’t ask me to describe the above image, which is the logo or calling card for the Midrats podcast!)

On June 3, 2018, I talked myths and legends and Star Wars and the American military with the guys at the Midrats podcast. You can find it here, Episode #439.

Star Wars and American Strategic Myths

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

Over the weekend, millions of Americans partook in a powerful strategic myth by heading to see the next offering from the Star Wars franchise: Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Considering its generational range and cultural reach, Star Wars may be the most important story about war since Thucydides wrote The Peloponnesian War. And it’s influence on the military has been profound: from forward-stationed soldiers calling their counter-mortar protection “R2-D2” to former four-star generals letting phrases like “disturbance in the Force” slip into their interviews; a recent, $10 billion Pentagon contract had been nicknamed “JEDI,” while, most notably, the Strategic Defense Initiative, a Reagan-era space-based missile defense program, quickly earned a catchier nickname: “Star Wars.”

While some will inevitably dismiss the films as fairy tales or space operas, their immense grip on the American imagination means that understanding them, and other myths, is important to unlocking American attitudes toward war and strategy. Continue reading “Star Wars and American Strategic Myths”

Can science fiction help us prepare for 21st-century warfare?

*Note: This essay was published in the Los Angeles Times print edition on May 28, 2018. It can also be found online here.

The novelist Margaret Atwood recently caused a stir when, during an interview with Variety, she said that the 9/11 hijackers “got the idea” to fly planes into buildings from watching “Star Wars.”

Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and other dystopian classics, did not have the facts right. The 19 hijackers were not inspired by “Star Wars.” Al Qaeda wasn’t reenacting the destruction of the Death Star.

But the premise of Atwood’s comment was not at all far-fetched. Literature and film have long sought to capture the realities of war, and, in turn, they have influenced thinking about war. There is a direct relationship between real war and “reel” war. Continue reading “Can science fiction help us prepare for 21st-century warfare?”

A Fallen and Forgotten Doughboy’s Legacy

*Note: This essay was published in the Wall Street Journal print edition on May 25, 2018. It can also be found online here.

The closest I came to getting killed in Iraq was during the summer of 2005. I spotted an enemy fighter firing a rocket-propelled grenade right at my Humvee. Somehow he missed, but for a moment I was sure I wasn’t going home.

Whenever something like that happened, afterward came a mental flash. In my mind’s eye, I’d see my funeral or look down on my corpse. Soldiers think about mortality more than most. I still do. We also think—especially over Memorial Day weekend—about those who died on other battlefields. Continue reading “A Fallen and Forgotten Doughboy’s Legacy”