The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2037

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

The memoir that follows takes us on a “darkly imagined excursion into the future.”

In it, an unknown brigadier general, identity sanitized through encryption, recounts “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2037,” a series of trends that caused the evitable to become inevitable. Our brigadier general traces the start to the years after 2012, with a severe erosion of the nonpartisan ethic within the officer corps, which led to open political party affiliation, and finally a planned incursion into America’s political process to restore domestic civilian control and roll back a foreign military invasion.

This coup is fiction, a respectful twenty-fifth anniversary re-boot of Charles Dunlap’s 1992 essay. Like that work, this essay is a “literary device intended to dramatize my concern over certain contemporary developments facing the armed forces and is emphatically not a prediction.” One book employing such future-fiction-as-history described its value as a way to better understand and avert an undesirable future. Another has written that one of fiction’s great abilities is to help us examine some potential consequences of trends already in motion. Today’s US Army chief of staff has said fiction is “something that we pay close attention to” for its value in understanding the future. It is in the spirit of avoiding such a disturbing and dangerous calamity that this essay is presented to the reader. Continue reading “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2037”

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.

To reduce wrongful shootings, police can learn from our soldiers

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on September 4, 2017. It can also be found online here.

Sometimes, police must shoot to keep the peace. When used effectively, this results in safer cities. When done wrongfully, it inflames society.

The question is how police can best wield deadly force. The 2015 Colorado state law mandating local law enforcement report and review shootings is a good start. In Minneapolis, where a police officer fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman, the acting chief has announced police must turn on body cameras for “any call.”

But this technological solution treats the symptoms of police shootings that countrywide cause roughly 1,000 civilian deaths each year.

The problem is deeper: to reduce wrongful shootings, cops should reinforce an ethical code that, like soldiers, accepts deadly risk as inherent to their professional responsibility. Continue reading “To reduce wrongful shootings, police can learn from our soldiers”

Why veterans do belong on university campuses like UCCS

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on August 30, 2017. It can also be found online here.

I’m a veteran and I belong on a university campus. Both today, as a dissertation student, and someday, as a professor.

Last week a vocal minority calling itself the “Social Justice Collective,” in an unsanctioned newsletter posted on bulletin boards at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, declared this is bad for everybody, that “in order to protect our academic institutions we must ban veterans from four-year universities.”

To be sure, like all broad-based groups, veterans aren’t perfect. And this newsletter’s particularly distasteful argument is easy enough to dismiss. But it does provide an opportunity for former soldiers and fellow citizens alike to evaluate and upend some of what this newsletter claims are fundamental incompatibilities. Continue reading “Why veterans do belong on university campuses like UCCS”

The Mike Flynn Problem is Actually a Profession of Arms Problem

*Note: This essay was originally published at War on the Rocks on March 16, 2017 and is available online here (or PDF). 

When twelve stars tell you to knock it off, there’s a problem.

At several points throughout this past presidential campaign, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn’s partisan political behavior, while legal, was so out-of-line for a member of the profession of arms that a trio of the nation’s elite retired officers reached out informally and publicly to tell Flynn to cease and desist. Flynn’s old commander and comrade, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, quietly urged restraint, and two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote open letters to mark their disapproval: Gen. Martin Dempsey explained to the American people that Flynn’s inappropriate actions violated the profession’s “apolitical tradition,” and Adm. Michael Mullen amplified the same sentiment, that “for retired senior officers to take leading and vocal roles as clearly partisan figures is a violation of the ethos and professionalism of apolitical military service.”

Yet, despite three enormous red-and-white flags waving “stop,” Flynn, as a commission-holding retired military officer, continued to violate these apolitical values — etched in code, written in policy, deep in history, and reinforced every two years by service-supported voting education and assistance programs — yet, when pressed in an interview about this very criticism, Flynn responded combatively: “What’s Marty Dempsey going to do?” While troubling on its own, Flynn’s defiance raises a larger, more important question: What’s the profession of arms going to do?

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

Stars and Stripes, Forever?: Why New Zealand’s Flag Choice Matters

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

New Zealand is a small country of giants. My wife and I grew to love “the land of the long white cloud” while living in Wellington for two years, having been sent there for graduate school by the U.S. Army. Enamored so much, that my wife, without irony, still calls New Zealand “the place where dreams are made,” and it really did seem like a dream: Our first daughter was born there, we hiked the Milford Track, enjoyed flat whites and the All Blacks, grew to love wine, sheep, sea, sky and even acquired a taste for the rugged loveliness of Wellington’s windy coastline. Continue reading “Stars and Stripes, Forever?: Why New Zealand’s Flag Choice Matters”

A Very Unequal Dialogue: Debating Civil-Military Relations with Tom Ricks


*Note: What follows is the beginning of an essay of mine (“A Very Unequal Dialogue”) on the current state of civil-military relations, which is available in full over at The Best Defense. 

Tom disagrees with my recent assessment that the recent New America Foundation/Arizona State University Future of War Conference underrepresented the uniformed military, resulting in a stunted, unbalanced product.  In response, I’ll do three things; first, we’ll look at the numbers. Second, I’ll explain why this is imbalance undermines the conference’s efficacy.  Third, I’ll get into some personal anecdotes that describe how these civil-military themes play out at the individual level.  What a reader will find is that the civil-military gap is unacceptably wide in the intellectual sphere, and even the kindest expressions of gratitude cannot effectively bridge this expanse.  My takeaway from the Future of War Conference: the military is to be thanked and not heard. Continue reading “A Very Unequal Dialogue: Debating Civil-Military Relations with Tom Ricks”