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”

Abundant Vulnerability: Why Military Millennials Might Be America’s Achilles’ Heel

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

“Be strong enough to know when you are weak,” Gen. Douglas MacArthur once advised. But what matters more is to know how and where you’re vulnerable.

During the Cold War, the director of the US Office of Net Assessment, Andrew Marshall, found America had a “distinct and meaningful advantage” in that the “bulk of the Soviet forces were composed of conscripts” who were “poorly trained and lacking technical know-how.” Marshall’s insight was to use the Soviet soldiers’ relative deprivation against them. In a military based on a thoroughly mechanized, road-mobile doctrine, the fact that the average Soviet recruit didn’t grow up with cars provided a weakness to be exploited.

Today, America’s military suffers the inverse vulnerability—abundance. The average American recruit, typically of the millennial generation, has always had access to an overflow of information and resources; ubiquitous smartphones, plentiful cars and computers. In the age of information warfare, when the enemy threatens to hit the kill switch, this is America’s Achilles’ heel. Continue reading “Abundant Vulnerability: Why Military Millennials Might Be America’s Achilles’ Heel”

In Search of Seamless Interoperability in Korea: The First Year of the ROK-US Combined Division

*Note: This essay was published at War on the Rocks on June 24, 2016. It can also be found online here (or PDF). 

“You had better get back to Korea,” the messenger whispered in U.S. Army Colonel W.H.S. Wright’s ear.

Wright sat on a Tokyo church pew on Sunday, June 25, 1950, about to put his family on a U.S.-bound plane, when the North Koreans attacked the Republic of Korea. Wright immediately flew back to Seoul’s smoky confusion to command the Korean Military Advisory Group’s (KMAG) 472 American soldiers assigned to build the new ROK Army. Without warning, the next day the entire ROK Army headquarters moved south. Then Wright received a dispatch from Washington promising military reinforcement and the ROK Army headquarters returned to Seoul. The two organizations were reunited.

It did not last long. After dark that night, Wright learned all South Korean Army units (including the headquarters for a second time) were withdrawing south through Seoul. Before Wright could react, a “tremendous explosion” knocked him to the ground.  The R.O.K. Army destroyed the only bridge over Seoul’s Han River, which stranded KMAG on the wrong (north) side. Wright ordered KMAG to withdrawal south, yet, with no way to cross the river, the US soldiers struggled until, at the last moment, South Korean Army Colonel Lee Chi Up led them to a large raft and to relative safety from North Korean forces.

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.


Soju Soldiers: KATUSAs, GIs, and the Search for the Bottom of the Bottle

Note: This essay was published at War on the Rocks on March 29, 2016. It can also be found online here (or PDF). 

Bringing death to 11 percent of the known world (and terrifying the other 89 percent) is apparently thirsty work, so the Mongols brought booze. Top shelf, at that, all the way from Persia to Korea circa 1300. It was called arak then, and the distilleries cranking out the hard stuff were first established near modern-day Kaesong, the little village that separates the two Koreas, and home to a much haggled-over industrial complex. The drink’s modern descendent is still called arakju around that border town, but countrywide it’s more commonly known as soju (or “burn liquor”). It’s grain- or sweet potato-based, typically about 20 percent ABV, and was the world’s best-selling spirit in 2014. Yes, soju. It’s as ubiquitous in Korea as Wheaties are in the states, except they use soju instead of milk and nobody ever touches the cereal.

Ever since the Khan’s horsebacked hordes rode into Korea 700 years ago, soju has had a distinctly military flavor (although strawberry’s not bad either). The most popular way to drink it in South Korea is to drop a shot glass into beer, a practice known as poktanju, which translates to “bomb drink,” and may or may not be a dig at the North Korean nuclear program. Speaking of which, Kim Jong Un supposedly prefers whiskey and cognac over soju, a fact that makes me start to question his fitness to lead the Korean people. Perhaps to make up for this cultural slight, the North Korean navy features a Soju-class of guided missile patrol boats.

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

For Memorial Day: How Kiwis Remember

Image of the Wellington (New Zealand) Cenotaph, courtesy of Wikipedia

**Note: what follows is a written reflection (with a few minor modifications) from my experience at an ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day Dawn Service at the Wellington (New Zealand) Cenotaph on April 24, 2011.  As we pay our respects on Memorial Day, it seemed appropriate to consider how our friends and allies commemorate the fallen.**

I have just returned from the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at the Wellington Cenotaph with good friends from the NZ Defence Force. It was a touching ceremony, lasting about a half an hour, starting about 5:45am. The time, in and of itself, is striking…the American equivalent for veteran remembrance is, of course, Veteran’s (and/or Memorial) Day. Veteran’s Day celebrates the armistice reached for World War I, famously at the 11th hour (11:00am) on the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11th). ANZAC Day is a day of remembrance of those that gave their lives in the unsuccessful landings at Gallipoli. Continue reading “For Memorial Day: How Kiwis Remember”