Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ignorance of the Ivory Tower: What Do the Profs Know About the Military

I woke up to find a piece that castigates the academic world for being ignorant about the armed forces.  My reaction was:

Tom Ricks, who posted this questionable piece, pushed back:
 I will try to be concise, but it will be hard.  I will first address Professor Adrian Lewis's claims about the state of the military these days.  I will then address the larger problem--that this generalization about academics and their expertise about the military is so very flawed.
  1. Sure, the US armed forces are smaller than during the Cold War. I can't insta-survey professors who study International Relations, but my guess is that most would already know that.  The real question is: do we have the right force at this moment?  Do we need to be spending ever so much more money on the US military?  There are good and reasonable arguments to be had on both sides of this question.
  2. War is awful, sure. Deterrence is far better than war.  But what does it take to deter American adversaries?  It could cost less than we spend given how much money is wasted in defense procurement, that the money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not produced lasting outcomes, etc.  So, saying that our current force is cheaper than war says nothing about whether we are spending the right amount now.
  3. Ah, the spinoff argument. An oldie but a goodie. The question is not whether there are great spinoffs from military research, but whether money invested elsewhere might be as or more productive.  I have no idea since I am not a technology prof, but, again, I am sure we can find studies on either side.
  4. Who is arguing that military stuff doesn't wear out and/or become obsolete? 
  5. Defense industries employ lots of Americans and? I would like to think that the US spends money on defense to defend the US and its allies and not as a jobs program.  I have expressed elsewhere my annoyance about justifying Canadian defence spending via jobs.  Lots of ways for governments to create jobs--military spending just sells better politically.  It is not necessarily better.
  6. Sea lanes.  Sure, who is arguing that the US do away with a blue navy?
  7. Lewis mentions that the allies have "outsourced their security to the US", which I think is a particularly biased and relatively ignorant way to put it.  Do most spend less than the US?  Sure. Is it in American interests to foster stability in Europe and East Asia? Yeah.  Have the NATO allies bled and died for American causes? Hell yeah.  
Lewis concludes by saying that the his school and some of its faculty greatly support the armed forces, so #notallacademics.  So, let's start there: is it the job of academics to support the armed forces?  I don't think so.  Indeed, one of the big challenges of the past 20 years or so is that the mantra of "support our troops" has perhaps prevented us from asking critical questions about the performance of the US military (and the same applies to the Canadian armed forces and those of many democracies).  Only very recently have people started raising questions about the annual declaration made by the general exiting Afghanistan about how well that war is going. 

Are academics ignorant of the US armed forces?  Well, which academics?  I would not expect chemistry professors and creative writing professors to know much.  But how about those who study International Relations?  How about those who study Civil-Military Relations? One of the things to note is that Lewis is a Professor of History, which is significant as military and diplomatic history has been on retreat for quite sometime in the History discipline, so that might be a source of his frustration.  In Political Science and International Relations, however, civil-military relations and the study of security is on the rise. The last few conferences have seen more and more panels on civ-mil, and the last two decades have seen a big growth in the number of journals focusing on security issues, which means more people studying military stuff.

Almost two years ago, I was pushed by Tom Ricks to list good, relevant work that should be of interest to those who read military history, and I came up with a short list easily.  There is plenty of expertise on the US armed forces and those of other countries.  To give a related example, I am currently working on a major grant application that would fund a network that would bring together Canadian scholars who study defence (c for Canada) and security issues with the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, research centres across Canada, think tanks, and other actors.  It involves over 100 professors, and, yes, Canada is 1/10th the size of the US.  Can we extrapolate to suggest that a similar network in the US might have 1000?  Is there more interest in the US military in the US than the Canadian military in Canada?  Probably since, as Professor Lewis argued, there is a hell of lot of money and activity involving the US military.

My twitter feed has already gotten the usual pushback that privilege veterans as having exclusive or superior expertise to academics who have never served in the armed forces.  Now that is an ignorant argument, as it denies the expertise that can be generated through extensive study and analysis. A tree might have a really great understanding of itself and its immediate neighbors, but it will not have a great understanding of the forest or of other forests.

While veterans on twitter complain about academics not having military experience, I have met (anecdotal data!) many senior officers who search out for academic expertise because they know that knowing more is better than knowing less.  When Admiral (ret.) Stavridis was SACEUR, he passed around the PDF of the Dave and Steve NATO book because it shed light on what his officers were experiencing in Afghanistan.  Officers have this obsession with reading lists, including the retired general who was known as the Warrior Monk, because they understand that repeating old mistakes is a bad idea.

Which leads to the big question: who has the time and the incentive to systematically study the armed forces?  Not military folks who have day jobs.  Retired veterans may have the time, but do they have sufficient experience beyond their MOS and sufficient training to think and research rigorously?  Academics have the time, the training, and the curiosity to study the US (and other) armed forces. But not all academics, just those who are focused on this stuff.  It is a great tragedy that military history may be devalued these days, but, after meeting so many young civ-mil scholars over the past couple of years (check out the Naval War College for a secret stash), I can say that the present and future of the political science of the armed forces is in great shape. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

DC Sucketh Runneth Over

So, Henry Cavill is out as Superman.   John Rogers had a nice series of tweets explaining what Warner Brothers' problem is--they don't like the DC characters/universe, so they can't get into it and make it work.  The fun thing is the wild speculation on the next Superman.  And, of course, there is wagering.  I got an email from a sports book which gave the following odds:

Next Superman Actor
American Odds
Fractional Odds
Michael B. Jordan
Armie Hammer
Henry Golding
Benjamin Walker
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Will Smith
Tyler Hoechlin
Ryan Gosling
Nicholas Cage
Ben Affleck
Mark Wahlberg
Idris Elba

I think the odds on MBJ are way too low.  There is no way that he is almost even odds.  I think most of the names here are jokes, and I would definitely bet the field (that none of the above is the winner).

As a Marvel guy who loves the DC shows on TV, there seems to be a simple solution: get the TV people to make a movie or three.  But that is too damn obvious.

Anyhow, I will continue to make mine Marvel as the only Marvel movies I didn't like very much or at all were Thor 2, the Hulks, Age of Ultron.... and that's about it.  The TV shows are more of a mix.

And as Stan would say, Excelsior!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Unified US? Hard to Remember

I didn't think I was going to write a 9/11 post as I thought I have said pretty much everything over the years and that my feelings today are very similar to last year's second Angriest 9/11.  But then I was discussing with friends visits to NYC after that date.  Some still can't go to Ground Zero because it hurts so much.  I have been there, but the visit that struck me when thinking about it was a train ride to NYC in April of 2002.

As I have regaled many a time, I spent 2001-2002 in DC on a fellowship that put me in the Pentagon that year and on that fateful day.  The fellowship was funded by the Council on Foreign Relations, and every spring they have an event that brings recent/current crops of Fellows to meet the members and discuss what they learned.  So, I took the train from DC to NYC, and was stunned when I got off the train: all of the posters and signs sent by kids (and, I guess, adults) from all over the country.  These contained messages of love and condolences to New Yorkers who bore most (but not all) of the pain from the attacks on 9/11. 

What strikes me about that memory is that the US was not divided but actually quite unified.  We shared a single experience--watching the towers fall in NYC and seeing first responders giving up their lives either immediately (so many firefighters and cops died when the towers fell) or the long term (they willingly exposed themselves to toxins that have killed many of them).  It did bring us together but too briefly. 

Sure, the unity had a dark side--quick decisions to pass counterproductive laws like the Patriot Act and creating the Department of Fatherland Homeland Security.  But it brought people together. As much as I disliked Bush, he handled that day pretty well, including calling on Americans not to hate Muslims. 

Now?  The US is not as divided as it was during the Civil War, but, damn, it feels close.  Something like 35% of the US continues to drink Fox's and Trump's koolaid, ignoring the reality that is in front of them.  Willing to sell out the US for court seats and tax cuts, and I can't help but get angry.  The unity would surely not last--rallies around the flag do not last--but the divisiveness, particularly after Obama was elected and the GOP decided that fighting Obama on everything was more important than the national interest, has been so intense.  I know I am adding more to it by casting blame in one direction, but I can't help it.  One side is racist, xenophobic. and homophobic, elected a misogynist, and has been inciting violence while embracing Nazis.  There is no equivalance, no both sides are to blame here.  The Democrats have made mistakes, but their party hasn't fallen off the edge into the abyss of conspiracy theory and hate-mongering.  Fox has done its best to divide us, and it has worked.  We now have a President who makes no pretense of being the President of all Americans--he is just the President of his base. 

It didn't have to be this way--this was not inevitable.  As that noted philospher Albus Dumbledore said, there will come a time to choose between what is easy and what is right.  And, yes, the GOP and Fox chose the easy path.  In response, we must follow the harder path, to resist Trumpism and white supremacism.  Those who gave up their lives on 9/11 were of many races, religions, and even nationalities, and we owe it to them to live by the highest ideals of what the US can be, not the lowest appeals to our darkest past.

Of course, some might say I am politicizing 9/11.  Is seventeen years too soon?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Explaining Your Dissertation, Obama Edition

That this video came out this week is great timing: one of the things I seek to teach in my Dissertation Proposal Workshop that starts next week is to get the students to learn to explain their dissertation in the following increments:
  • one sentence: this is the most that many will want to hear at a cocktail party or in a cafe (not Obama, he wants more)
  • a minute: this is what one will have a chance when meeting other academics
  • five minutes: at a poster session or in a group of folks who are interested in the general topic
  • fifteen minutes: the average conference presentation length
  • thirty-forty minutes: the basic job talk length.
This guy did pretty well, given that President Obama is a former law prof, and is aware of the general topic.  That this guy is an English major, well, he's doomed, but he did fine for someone three chapters into a dissertation.

Where he muffed it?  Explaining his objective: the job market.  Too bad he didn't read my post last month.  I guess this was not the time and place to push back against the person hosting Obama who seemed to think one could stick around and get a job in the same state.  Good luck with that.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Just Do What?

I finally saw the big Nike ad.  When I first heard about it, I thought the uproar was about Kaepernick, but this reaction poll makes it clear that Nike really hit the racist nerves. Yeah, the Kaepernick anthem thing is about race, but so much discussion of it confuses the issue.  The figures in this article make it abundantly clear what is going on.

First, watch the video with the reaction info:

Note that the big dips are not just when Kaepernick shows up but when the ad features Lebron James and Serena Williams.  Why would they cause people to feel less positive?  One could guess it is about Lebron's political efforts but Serena? 

Then, look at the breakdowns:


 Turns out Gen x is nearly as racist as the boomers...  Not great.

And yes, our partisan polarization may just be about race:

 Deplorable, you might say. 

Clarifies things mightily.  The noise about Kaepernick is not about patriotism and the troops but part of a larger divide in our society.  I would like to see a similar analyses of Obama's speech yesterday, but I am pretty sure most of the lines would be so flat as to make the exercise pointless.

I don't think Nike was super-brave to do this ad, but I do appreciate the company for being smart enough to now where its market is (young and diverse).  The Democrats have a similar market, and I hope they are smart enough to figure out how to message to it.