Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hotly Contested Views

Leaders should expect their views to be hotly contested. In many instances the counterpoints will be expressed thoughtfully and at length—but also unsparingly. Such exchanges nevertheless can be productive, because it is often through engaging opposing perspectives that truth can emerge. Spirited debate is a hallmark of America’s military success.

Other times, the feedback is markedly less civil. In an era of anonymous blogs, it is especially easy for nameless detractors to spew venom without accountability. This new anonymity runs counter to the core value of integrity that is common to all our services.

Major General, USAF Deputy Judge Advocate General
in his paper The Contact Sport Senior Leaders Must Play

Note: Have the courage to own your opinions. Leave your name with your comments.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Sadly, some of General Dunlap's peers aren't similarly appreciative of the need for constructive, healthy or in "traditional" media. I work with some of them (and they wear both uniforms and mufti).

I would argue that he could find abundant intelligent, constructive debates posed pseudonymously because of authors' legitimate concerns over direct (or subtle) retribution that can result even from legitimate debate. The more flawed the commander or person of influence, the higher the potential for retribution. It's hard enough working for folks like that, and I don't blame anybody for exercising their right to self-preservation.

Equally sad is that flamboyant, non-constructive debates are also enabled by pseudonynmous or anonymous posters. The result is typically screed or noise.

There is a third case to consider: those who have legitimate personal or reasons for limiting their online persona, yet still have constructive content to offer.

Interestingly, the more sensitive the subject (diversity, DADT, perceptions on the competency of a given administration), the more shrill the anonymous commentary becomes.

Discerning readers should be able to figure out the difference between these categories of posters, and separate the signal from the noise --without or without real names.

LCDR Bob Morrison said...

I agree. If you can't use your name, at least pick a nom de guerre so us old guys can sort out the players. It gets hard to tell one anonymous from another!

Rarerelentlessgrace said...

I generally agree with MG Dunlap's sentiments about expressing honest opinions, although I also have to agree with the anonymous poster here that not every military leader is so tolerant of dissent, which sometimes leaves you in the difficult position of doing a cost-benefit analysis every time you open your mouth. And I simply don't agree that posting something thoughtful and well-considered is contrary to the military virtue of integrity.

My appreciation for MG Dunlap's overall point was undercut by this howler: he cites GEN Schwartz's urban fight/airpower article as an example of prescient insight and bold honesty. I haven't read GEN Schwartz's article and I like most of what I know about the man, but his statement that "by using this approach, one may control and adversary without necessarily introducing a large ground-combat force, thus minimizing casualties while achieving the desired effects" proved to be catastrophically wrong in Iraq. Airpower in general (and ISR in particular) are crucial enablers in the urban fight, but they are hardly a replacement for a ground combat force. Furthermore, it's hardly bold or iconoclastic for an Air Force officer to suggest that we need to use airpower more often.

This is not to deride the competence of GEN Schwartz or the overall point that MG Dunlap is making. In fairness to GEN Schwartz, precious few in the American military really understood counterinsurgency in 2000. But for Dunlap to cite this here and now (hilariously giving the Air Force credit for the peace in Iraq by saying "it was not until the United States embraced in 2007 the very concepts that General Schwartz wrote about seven years earlier that it began to achieve real success in its Iraq operations") suggests that he doesn't have a clue about what's really going on.

Anyway, that pulled me right out of sagely nodding in agreement with the article. There have been some very gutsy paradigm-challenging articles published by active-duty officers in recent years, but the vast majority of them have come from Army and Marine Corps officers. The Air Force . . . not so much. But for that reason, I'm all the more glad to see this article.

Anonymous said...


I have mentioned this subject in this blog prior to this time and it still remains my opinion, that if you can not take credit or abuse for your words, you most likely should have not put those words in a public forum. It matters not what your excuse or reason may be, but you might consider common sense and common talk, and not try to snow the readers into thinking you might be an intellectual, or pretending to be one. A spell checker for such words as (pseudonynmous) might be a better investment for you, and could no doubt protect you from that, flawed commander or person of influence, sometime in the future

Your obedient servant,

E. A. Hughes, FTCM(SS)
US Navy (retired)