Jun 10

(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.

And as we now have to clarify in each one of these posts, we don’t actually think that the military is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist, liberal, progressive, what have you.)

Michael C and I are writing the “Our Communist Military” series to point out contradictions. Logical inconsistencies. Cognitive dissonances. Believing one thing, but acting another way.

To me (Eric C), the biggest, most stunningly-obvious example of this contradiction is Tricare, the military’s mostly-free health care system.

Which isn’t shocking if you’ve been in the military, but is shocking if you read conservative milblogs. They hate--absolutely hate!--Obamacare. This Ain’t Hell decries Obamacare and “government-run healthcare” here, here, and here. A Soldier’s Perspective has a whole post on taking candy away from kids at Halloween to teach them about redistribution.

Angered after the initial round of blowback we got from “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs”, I started thinking about the military’s government-run health care system, and I had some questions. Like...

First off, what do we mean by government-run health care?

I mean zero co-pay health care provided at zero cost to the employees in the military. Free for every employee--and nearly free for dependents and retirees--it’s the single best health care package for any employee in America.

Why does our red blooded, freedom-loving American military have a free health care system?

Simple. Protecting our country is an incredibly dangerous job. By definition, soldiers put their lives and bodies on the line. We don’t want to make people pay for getting injured, maimed or paralyzed while serving their country.

Other professions are dangerous (like crab fishing). Why do people do those jobs without similar health care packages?

Because they pay well. Arguably, the military could save money by going to this system: pay soldiers a lot more and make them get their own insurance.

Why don’t we go to that system?

Because it’d be political suicide.

Which brings us to logical inconsistency number one, the actual reason we provide government-run health care to our soldiers: what politician wants to tell a soldier who lost his legs in service of his country that he has to pay for the amputation himself? Especially since 30% of bankruptcies come from health care costs. We don’t want our soldiers going bankrupt paying for injuries they receive on the battlefield.

So we’ve instituted free health care for millions of Americans er, soldiers.

Has Congress tried to change this system?

All the time.

Any attempt by Congress to change the Pentagon’s health care system--especially increasing co-pays for dependents or retirees--is instantly pounced upon by conservatives (especially milblogs) as screwing the troops. This Ain’t Hell has a post titled, “Your “free health care” will get more expensive” followed up by “Your free healthcare just got more expensive”.

So conservatives endorse the military’s government-run health care system?”

Actually, they don’t.


Because they believe that Tricare (or government-run health care) doesn’t work. Tricare is a reward we offer our soldiers, except...Tricare is terrible. Don’t take my word for it, because I’ve never used it. Take these three examples, responses to our posts in this series so far:

“And TRICARE? An example of state-run healthcare if there ever was one. Its not as simple as walking in and getting treated as most of us know. Its a great example of Britian's NHS and we see it in the VA. Have a serious issue with your health? Wait years to get that MRI that would detect the problems in your body... then wait another couple of months while the Army decides the best way to fix it... then at least a year to find out if you're going to have a job in a year.”

From Doctrine man’s facebook

“I experienced the military healthcare system as an army brat where I sat in the E.R. for six hours with two broken bones in my arm when I was eight. I also witnessed the incompetence of a botched caesarian section with my second son. My wife still bears the scars and nerve damage twelve years later. The system is garbage and you’re not allowed to sue for malpractice. When Tricare expanded options to include private doctors in the late 90s, troops flocked to this option in spite of higher out of pocket costs.”

R.A. Mathis 

“After having Tricare who would want Govt Healthcare? (I once had a soldier whom had a scalpel sewn inside him after surgery)”


Which brings us to the crux of this post...

If Tricare/government-run health care is incompetent and terrible, why do we punish our soldiers by forcing them to use it?

If Tricare works, it means government-run health care works. If it doesn’t, it means we’re punishing our soldiers by forcing them to use it, hurting the heroes who protect our freedoms from Nazis, communists and terrorists by making them use government-run health care.

We can’t get rid of it, though, without conservatives (especially milblogs) accusing the President and Democrats of hating the troops.

Which forces me to ask...   

Why don’t conservative pundits and politicians and VA groups push for a Department of Defense voucher system? Or a privatized insurance program? Or any option other than government-run health care?

The military, according to conservative/anti-Obamacare logic, should provide insurance to its soldiers, like other companies. Better yet, why not move to a voucher system, like the one Paul Ryan proposed for Medicare? If those are truly better free market options, let’s use them.

And how can you complain about Obamacare--literally write that Obamacare will destroy this country--without arguing against the health care system you used when you were in the military? Without arguing that we need to get rid of it?

These are all inconsistencies. We love the troops, so we give them universal, no-cost health care. But universal no-cost health care doesn’t work, but we don’t offer alternatives. And so on. it’s just another inconsistency.

I’ll close with the words of John Lilyea:

“It doesn’t matter how much the increase is, it’s 100% higher than ‘none’ which is what the government promised when we decided to make a career out of the military and make the sacrifices we made in exchange for this benefit.”

Yeah, health care should be free.

Apr 03

(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.

And as we now have to clarify in each one of these posts, we don’t actually think that the military is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist, liberal, progressive, what have you.)

Yesterday, I told three different stories about bosses--coaches or military commanders--implementing group punishment. (The comments section added even more examples.) In each case, group punishment utterly failed to change behavior.

For “Our Communist Military”, should this be any surprise? Free market advocates absolutely understand why group punishment doesn’t work: it abdicates individual responsibility.

Take the most accountable/responsible system in our economy: sales. Virtually no sales forces uses group bonuses. Sales people are rewarded individually. Know why? ‘Cause it wouldn’t work. Eric C--who supervises a sales floor--has a theory: a great salesperson could show up to work in a bathrobe. If he’s an earner, no one will say nada.

Individual accountability works. For a football team at any level, the one thing every player cares about above all else is playing time, the currency of amateur sports. If a player who committed a personal foul lost his starting spot the next game, he would stop committing personal fouls. So would everyone else on the team.

In my brigade’s case, individual accountability would mean chaptering (expelling/firing) soldiers who got DUIs. In fact, while our brigade commander was implementing harsher and harsher group punishments, he refused to boot any soldiers. His reasoning--we assumed--was because he didn’t want to deploy short-handed. Getting rid of troublesome soldiers--and legitimately discouraging bad behavior--clashes with the need to field a full brigade before deployment.

So how does this relate to violence, foreign affairs and counter-insurgency? Because despite clinging to the value of individual accountability in economics and criminal justice, many military theorists suddenly embrace group punishment when it comes to warfare or military science.

1. Discipline in units. Group punishment wasn’t created in my brigade. Actually, the Army instills the value/vice of group punishment at the very beginning of every soldier’s career. Enlisted soldiers (who become NCOs) meet it head on during boot camp. Plebes, first year students at West Point, learn the “value” of group punishment during their first summer. It therefore becomes the de facto method of punishment for most leaders in the Army.

And since it doesn’t work, that makes the Army (and Marine Corps, which I assume uses group punishment plenty) less effective.

2. Fighting counter-insurgencies. Many commanders deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq wanted to punish villages, cities, and regions which allowed insurgencies in their midsts. This often led to the idea that, “Hey, if we withhold reconstruction money from Sunni villages, maybe they will expel the Al Qaeda insurgents on their own.” When they don’t, commanders safely lump all the people of that region as “terrorists”.

This attitude has been extended to larger international spheres too...

3. Because some countries let terrorists live around them. The most prevalent example of this is The Sovereignty Solution. I haven’t written about this book yet because I have way more thoughts than will fit into one blog post (or several). In fact, I could write an entire paper on it.

To boil its thesis down into an overly simplified sentence, The Sovereignty Solution recommends holding an entire nation’s population responsible for the actions of individuals living within it. If they or their government refuse to punish terrorists, the U.S. will do it for them. While the U.S. government wouldn’t specifically target civilians in their effort to pursue terrorists, according to the “Sovereignty Solution”, it wouldn’t avoid them either. By allowing terrorists in their midst, civilians are just as culpable. This would motivate populations to suddenly expel all the terrorists.

I hate the concept of group punishment, because it doesn’t work. But I really hate when it is used to support or allow the killing of innocents, as if that would change their behavior. According to The Sovereignty Solution, lack of knowledge or malice is trumped by knowing or living by a bad guy. Imagine if America applied that to Bernie Madoff. Or politicians who are corrupt. Or some of our allies around the world.

This last reason is what really worries me about group punishment. It just won’t work on the international stage the way economic sanctions--another form of group punishment--rarely work. And it won’t stop terrorism.

Feb 13

In Monday’s post, I argued that America should paint our warships headed to the Persian Gulf in rainbow patterns, à la Easter eggs. In short, disruptive camouflage would make Iranian asymmetric naval attacks harder to pull off. (Listen to this 99% Invisible podcast to understand the historical origins of “razzle dazzle” paint jobs.)

Of course, this will never happen. Not because it won’t work. No, innovative--neé disruptive?--ideas, like rainbow camouflage, die quick deaths in our risk-averse U.S. military establishment. In fact, the failure of innovative ideas like “razzle dazzle” combines several On Violence themes over the last few years.


1. The Pentagon/Military is inherently conservative.

Not in a political sense (though it is), but in a bureaucratic, traditionalist sense. I started my last post remarking that most armies prepare for the last war. In the U.S. Navy’s case, none of its current officers were even alive during the last true naval war. As I wrote here, I worry that our navy--filled with large, cumbersome but deadly aircraft carriers, battleships and frigates--might lose ships to Iranian small boats because warfare at sea evolved but our navy’s doctrine hasn’t. Even though small little changes like razzle dazzle camouflage could help, a conservative military won’t see the need for it until after the shooting starts.
As the 99% Invisible podcast described dazzle camouflage’s reception in World War I, “plenty of people who hated dazzle camouflage...traditional navy men mostly”. Not much has changed.

2. In the military, looks matter.

Consider this the triumph of style over substance. I’ve written about this explicitly here (about uniforms and “looking good”) and here (the obsession with shined boots).

So even if dazzle paint jobs saved lives, some Navy officers would ape their predecessors and object on the grounds that it would make their ships look silly.
3. Even if a bold admiral found the courage to adopt “razzle dazzle” it would pay [fill in over-priced defense contractor here] way too much to do it.

Wouldn’t Lockheed-Martin, General Dynamics or Northrop-Grumman compete to earn the contract, but conveniently find ways to keep the minimum paint job price over a 100 million dollars? And then wouldn’t the price keep inflating as they failed to meet the time requirements, which they already charged extra for? And wouldn’t the Pentagon insist on testing every possible variety of paint in every condition, then demand more tests?

In the end, the Pentagon can’t afford to be entrepreneurial.

4. All of the entrepreneurial officers have already left the Pentagon.

I wrote about this in “Why I Got Out: That’s Just the Way It Is”. But I am just one officer who got out expressing his displeasure. An outgoing Marine lieutenant on Thomas Ricks’ blog summed it up, “I’m leaving the corps because it doesn’t much value ideas”. This other Rick’s post has a great summation of all the articles bemoaning the intellectual state of our officer corps. And Tim Kane has an entire book on the topic that just came out.

It’s not hard to see how the Pentagon sucks the entrepreneurial spirit from its commanders. Imagine how many hurdles a Navy admiral would have to clear to paint his ships in razzle dazzle, even if he knew it would save lives. How many officers in the Pentagon would have to sign off on this? How much of his career would be on the line? And would he be considered a rabble rouser who didn’t just toe the line?

The answers: Dozens (and congress), his entire career is at risk, and absolutely. So, yep entrepreneurship is dead in the military.

In the end, winning wars is about making better decisions more often than your opponents.

This might be the new theme of On Violence for 2013. Here is a Robert Rubin quote from his book In an Uncertain World that perfectly sums up this thinking:

“An important corollary to recognizing that decisions are about probabilities is that decisions should not be judged by outcomes but by the quality of the decision-making...Any individual decision can be badly thought through, but be successful, or exceedingly well thought through, but be unsuccessful, because the recognized possibility of failure in fact occurs. But over time, more thoughtful decision-making will lead to better overall results, and more thoughtful decision-making can be encouraged by evaluating decisions on how well they were made rather than on outcome.”

In other words, processes should trump results. It seems counter-intuitive, but it makes sense. Especially in warfare, the side with better processes that makes better decisions more often will win more...on average.

Razzle dazzle represents the failure to embrace better decisions. On its own, razzle dazzle won’t win the war with Iran. But it could lead Iranian small boats into making poor decisions. Combined with our Navy making better decisions--on average--and razzle dazzle could save U.S. lives.

And I frankly can’t see how “razzle dazzle” could hurt the U.S. war effort. Painting ships colors which make them hard to identify at sea has almost all upside, besides the financial cost. Being harder to spot at sea helps no matter what type of war you are fighting, and that includes conventional wars with radar guided missiles.

Considering the enormous Pentagon budget, I can’t see why we can’t spend a few million dollars making ships harder to target at sea. I mean, besides the lack of willingness to embrace innovation within the Pentagon.

Feb 11

Eric C and I love the free market. Economics, historical experience and classically-liberal political thought all demonstrate that the free market, through competition, weeds out weaker competitors in favor of better, more efficient, more effective rivals.

War weeds out weaker competition too. Unfortunately, only war weeds out weaker competition; peacetime militaries mostly have to guess whether or not they’ve prepared adequately/properly for the next war. Doubly unfortunately, most armies hate change. Conservatism and tradition, embodied by bureaucracy, rule the day.

Today, I want to describe an innovation (admittedly, a 100 year old innovation) in naval camouflage that I think could save lives--possibly hundreds of American’s lives--that will never, ever in a million years happen:

The Navy should paint its warships rainbow colors.

Okay, okay, okay. You probably expect me to make a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” joke right about now, and I’m not going to give it to you, because I am 100% serious. In addition to multi-colored hues, I believe the U.S. Navy should paint all its ships in zig-zags, stripes and swirls.

It’s called disruptive camouflage. Instead of blending with the background, you confuse your enemy. Think zebras. At first, its like, “Man, zebras suck at camouflage. They blend into nothing. That’s the worst camouflage ever.” Unless they’re not trying to blend into the background, but each other...that might actually trick lions.

Disruptive camouflage works in naval warfare. In World War I, when German U-boats surfaced to fire torpedoes at enemy ships and cargo vessels, they only had a few seconds to determine the distance and direction of these ships. They would then dive again to avoid being spotted, resurface, locate the enemy ship and fire. Since torpedoes traveled slowly, U-boats had to lead their targets by several nautical miles, trying to predict where their prey would end up in a few minutes time.

Seems tricky, right?

Well, British and American warships knew that U-boats needed to predict within eight degrees the direction of their victims, so they developed some counter-measures. Since blending in with the ocean is pretty much impossible, they tried to confuse their opponents instead.

By painting zigzags of different colors all over their battleships, when the U-boats surfaced, they could spot the American and British vessels; they just didn’t know where they were going. Or how far away they were. The different colors, swirls, zigzags and shapes made vessels appear to be traveling forward or backwards, slower or faster. When the U-boats resurfaced, they would often be aiming in the complete wrong direction, and would have to start the entire aiming process over.

Eric C’s favorite model of disruptive camouflage is the “fake wake”. On the back of a boat, the painters would paint a large white wake as if the boat was steaming full speed in the opposite direction. Instead, it sailed off going forward.

The Navy called this camouflage, “razzle dazzle”. Since every second counted, the longer it took a U-boat to aim and fire, the more chances the allied ship had of discovering the U-boat and radioing for help. This 99% Invisible podcast keyed me into this entire phenomenon, and how, as host Roman Mars narrates, the US Navy looked like “a flock of sea-going Easter eggs” or “a cubist nightmare”.
I can hear the skeptics. The clever Navy officer has an easy counter to Michael C, faux naval surface warfare expert. “Yeah, Michael C, razzle dazzle worked when the enemy manually fired torpedoes. Our missiles and torpedoes rely on sonar and radar. Razzle dazzle won’t help a damn bit.”

The hypothetical Navy officer would be right...if all America cared about was fighting high-intensity warfare against the Chinese or Russians. In that case, naval warfare would happen at distances of hundreds of miles, and each side would use advanced imagery and surveillance to find naval flotillas. However, I think a war with either of those two counties is incredibly unlikely, despite how much the defense establishment prepares for that scenario.

But the single most likely nation the U.S. might fight a war against, especially a naval war, in the next year--or next five years--is Iran. As this post from last year lays out, Iran plans to prey on the U.S. Navy’s geographical limitations with low-tech weaponry. They will use mini-subs, speed boats and anti-ship cruise missiles to swarm our ships in very shallow and narrow waterways.

While razzle dazzle won’t help in a high intensity naval war, it could help in an asymmetric war like this. A suicide boat is essentially a surface torpedo. In the effort to swarm larger U.S. ships, timing is everything. Every second Iran’s small boats remain undetected is another second likelier they are to sink a U.S. ship. Imagine entire flotillas of Iranian vessels setting out in the wrong direction, finding themselves further away from their targets rather than closer because of American razzle dazzle camouflage. This could mean the difference between the U.S. Navy sinking a couple dozen Iranian small boats or an American aircraft carrier (with 6,000 sailors) sinking.

I’m a realist (not in foreign policy terms) though. I know I will never see razzle dazzle paint jobs on U.S. Navy vessels. I’ll address why on Wednesday.

Feb 06

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

On Violence is pro-democracy. Shockingly, not just here in America, but around the world too. As a result, we believe the U.S. should encourage pro-democracy movements. And this doesn’t just apply to the countries we hate (the way Republicans are pro-democracy in Iran), but countries we are allied with too. (The way those same Republicans avoid mentioning that Saudi Arabia has a king. A king! What is this, the Middle Ages?)

So we feel like we have to deal with the “fallout” of the Arab Spring, the poorly-named “Arab Winter” (or, as Wikipedia dubs it, “Reactions to Innocence of Muslims”). Today, we have a few random thoughts. Tomorrow, we’ll have even more.

Point 1: How is it possible that people still don’t get what free speech is?

Prohibiting speech is not the same as condemning speech. During the election, the Romney campaign lambasted the Obama administration for opposing free speech when the Egyptian embassy condemned the anti-Islamic video that touched off anti-America protests in Egypt and Libya. Unfortunately, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach. If President Obama hadn’t condemned the video, the Romney administration would have said President Obama let hate speech slide.

Remember, people--even government employees--are allowed to say people shouldn’t say things. It only inhibits free speech if they prosecute them, or threaten to prosecute them. Conservatives and liberals both confuse this point, and embrace it, depending on the political winds.

Point 2: Many foreigners (in dictatorships) really don’t get what free speech is.

One of the most fascinating angles to the whole poorly-named Arab Winter was that people living in dictatorships assume that every piece of media is cleared by the government. From their point of view, America, by allowing Innocence of Muslims to exist, agreed with the content of the film.

Point 3: This is the ugly side of revolutions

We hate predictions so we try to not make too many of them. Last year, Michael C tried to do a “prediction audit” on the blog, and we didn’t have a lot to write about.
Except, in this case, we kind of called it. Discussing the Arab Spring, we pointed out that most revolutions are violent, yet most people advocating revolutions don’t realize this. The Arab Winter fits that trend. This shouldn’t shock anyone who has ever studied the history of revolutions; the American Revolution arguably wasn’t complete until our nation slaughtered 600,000 of its own people in a civil war.

Freedom has a price. In addition to America’s Revolutionary War and Civil War, the U.S. had to launch an entire Civil Rights movement. England had Cromwell take over as a dictator...with mass persecutions. France created the guillotine during its revolution...then had revolutions every dozen and a half years for a century. Germany had Hitler take over during the Great Depression.

Democracy isn’t always pleasant, but it is more pleasant than any other form of government. As the Arab Spring evolves, partisans on both sides should take deep breaths; international relations liberals should temper their expectations; realists should withhold their judgement. In either case, having strong democratic partners in the Middle East will provide more freedom, security and prosperity than dictators, but it will take time.
Point 4: Oh, and we mean ugly.

How ugly was the response to Innocence of Muslims?

Protesters stormed and wrecked numerous American embassies. Many people died. From Wikipedia:

“On September 13, protests occurred at the U.S. embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, resulting in the deaths of four protesters and injuries to thirty-five protesters and guards. On September 14, the U.S. consulate in Chennai was attacked, resulting in injuries to twenty-five protesters. Protesters in Tunis, Tunisia, climbed the U.S. embassy walls and set trees on fire. At least four people were killed and forty-six injured during protests in Tunis on September 15. Further protests were held at U.S. diplomatic missions and other locations in the days following the initial attacks. Related protests and attacks resulted in numerous deaths and injuries across the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

So sad. So ugly.

Feb 04

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

Thought 1: Top Secret America Ensnares Its Own

The FBI ended up confiscating some 20,000-30,000 documents related to the whole Petraeus investigation. Simply staggering. But why did they have to collect so many?

Because the FBI hoped to catch General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell in the most over-prosecuted crimes in Top Secret America: storing classified information on unclassified computer systems. The horror!

Our national security system grossly over-classifies any and every document it produces. And it produces too many of those documents in the first place. As a result, completely innocuous documents end up on unclassified systems. Most of the time, the military only prosecutes whistleblowers who anger the current administration; not spies, terrorists or respected generals.

Worse, the media (and prosecutors) fail to distinguish between Top Secret and Secret documents, when really only the former are “secret”. Everyone in the military has a security clearance. I firmly believe that any “Foreign Intelligence Service” worth its salt (China, Russia and Israel) has hacked into our “secret” SIPR computer network.

Thought 2: Hagiography...the Most Popular Word of the Year

I feel like the media went tripping over itself to immediately label Paula Broadwell’s book, All In, a “hagiography”--which I’m guessing most people can’t actually define. Hagiography is the technical term for a biography of a saint (Wikipedia tells me).

The earliest use of “hagiography” after the Petraeus scandal came on the 9th of November, as far as I can tell, in Slate. It was then repeated on the 10th, 11th, 13th, and 16th in places from Foreign Policy to The Guardian to Commentary to Business Insider. This is far from an exhaustive list.
Why weren’t more critics this critical when it was first published? To his credit, Spencer Ackerman actually labeled the biography a hagiography when it was first released due to a critical AP review. (Kind of incredible considering this later article.) Still most commentators waited for a sex scandal to dismiss the book.

Thought 3: The Petraeus Scandal and the Patriot Act

Fortunately for America, this sex scandal will have a good side effect: we might start dismantling America’s crazy post-9/11 laws.

As this Slate post makes clear, this scandal has raised some disturbing questions: Why did the FBI investigate Petraeus? Did they obtain warrants? If no crimes were committed, how did the scandal break?

The FBI has so much power, and so little terrorism to catch, they investigate regular citizens, not just scary looking foreigners. As Glenn Greenwald notes, “...it appears that the FBI not only devoted substantial resources, but also engaged in highly invasive surveillance, for no reason other than to do a personal favor for a friend of one of its agents, to find out who was very mildly harassing her by email.” As Joan Walsh writes, “Once people get over the latest pageant of human frailty on display in the Petraeus story, maybe they’ll realize how much privacy we’ve all given up in the last decade, under both political parties.”

Which will (hopefully) lead to real world consequences. As On the Media explains, the revelation that the FBI can investigate anyone on little to no suspicioun may prompt politicians to act, since they might see themselves in Petraeus’ place.
Thought 4: The Military Will Learn The Wrong Lesson From the Media

Tom Rick’s blog has a great prediction about the lessons the military will learn:

“Talking to reporters always will cost you down the road. So hold the media at arm's length. Or more. Don't engage unless ordered to do so.”

Jan 28

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)


I don’t want to write about this. Honestly, I don’t. If you’re like, wow, this is the fourth post this week on the sex scandal, these guys are really obsessed with this thing. We’re not. We hate sex scandals. As a nation, aren’t we past this yet?

No, we’re not. So here are my thoughts on a general who put the “biog” in biography. And don’t worry, we’ve got thoughts on Benghazi and the poorly-named “Arab Winter” next week:

Thought 1: The actual Petraeus sex scandal.

Since we began On V, Michael C and I have wanted to write about nepotism in the military. Too many generals just happen to have well-placed fathers and uncles with stars on their shoulders.

Or fathers-in-law. General Petraeus, as I found out when the scandal broke, married the daughter of West Point’s well-connected, four star General superintendent in the early 1970s.

To me, this feels like the real sex scandal.

Thought 2: Why is everyone so surprised?

A number of reporters were shocked (shocked!) that a man of Petraeus’ stature and demeanor could have an affair. I wasn’t. I sort of assume that every mega-successful man (in every nation on Earth) is cheating on his wife...or at least the revelation that he is doesn’t surprise me. There’s not one Senator, Congressman, President, CEO, celebrity or General that, if it came out they were having an affair, I’d be like, “Wow.” (That includes Mitt Romney and Tim Tebow.)

Doubly so if the successful person in question is nerdy. Tiger Woods--a loner, obsessed with sport’s nerdiest game--all of a sudden becomes a multi-millionaire celebrity. Of course he cheated on his wife; he’s making up for a sex-deprived youth. (Girls in high school are not impressed by a star golfer. Porn stars? They love a dude worth over $300 million.)

Petraeus--nerdy, dedicated, obsessed, not exactly the best looking guy in the world--all of a sudden becomes one of the most famous men in America. And he cheated on his wife.

Does this surprise you? At all? It shouldn’t.

Thought 3: The most annoying quote I heard during this scandal.

On Meet the Press, David Gregory said, “I want to return to the personal aspect of Director Petraeus who had to resign because of his affair with Paula Broadwell.”

No, he didn’t. He didn’t have to resign, because he didn’t do anything illegal. He chose to resign, because he was embarrassed. There’s a difference.

Thought 4: I blame partisans.

Honestly? My first reaction to this Petraeus scandal was, “Thank God. Now he can’t run for president.”

And that’s the problem. Republicans and Democrats love taking down their rival politicians. And the media helps them do it. That’s why these scandals keep continuing. Democrats delight in taking down Republicans (Newt Gingrich, Chris Lee, John Ensign, David Vitter, Mark Foley, Mark Sanford and most famously, Larry Craig.) Republicans delight in taking Democrats down (the ur-sex scandal Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, John Wu, Gary Condit and the entire Kennedy family).

In our modern, politicized media, each side of the aisle now has news channels, magazines and websites chasing, promoting and reminding us about the sordid details. Both sides need to knock it off. In the end, it doesn’t make the country or the government any better, and that’s the real problem.

Finally, an apology.

Frankly, I didn’t want to write about this scandal. I hate the media’s obsession with sex scandals. And I’d write about that, except that’s pretty well-worn ground as well.

Yet, as we wrote last Monday, there weren’t that many interesting events in 2012, and the Petraeus scandal does have a lot of interesting angles to it, like over-classification to warrantless FBI searches to military morality. Since we’re spending a few weeks discussing a sex scandal, I just just wanted you to know that I’m aware of how cliched the whole thing is and how, by extension, we’re perpetuating this cycle.

I’m sorry.

Jan 24

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

During my deployment to Iraq, the highlight of my day (besides churning through a DVD or two of The Wire before bed every night) was reading the Stars and Stripes “Letters” section. It looks like a traditional letter section. It reads like a traditional letter section. But it is anything but a normal letter section.

At that time--summer of 2010--”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” understandably dominated the political debates and news coverage in Stars and Stripes. And whenever one side published an op-ed, the Stripes letter section would reverberate for weeks with the response.

Then the chaplains entered the the fray...

For example, First Lieutenant (Chaplain) David Wooten compared the the Army to a family, writing, “Simply put, it is impossible for a family that embraces homosexuality to function normally.” That line caused letters to flood in for weeks.
Then, retired Colonel (Chaplain) Alexander Webster fired off an entire opinion piece on the irreparable harm sure to come if America repealed DADT. His best line says that rescinding DADT will, “shred the social and moral fabric of our armed forces.
According to the chaplain’s pre-DADT-repeal writing, getting rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would rend the moral fabric of America’s armed forces, filleting it into an ungodly, immoral, unethical horde of unrepentant sinners. Since Congress did repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”--and the military continued to function just fine--I haven’t felt the need to complain about the rhetorical inconsistencies of a handful of uber-vocal chaplains.

Until l’affaire Petraeus, which again brought the Army’s sex life to the front page. The New York Times ran the headline, “Petraeus Resignation Highlights Concern Over Military Officer Ethics.” The best example was Fox News digging up the over-hyped and patently false, “deployment sex pact”. (The idea that spouses leaving for Afghanistan agree to allow infidelity for the length of deployment. They don’t.)

I hadn’t realized that not only are our men and women in uniform required to defend the nation; apparently they must also be chaste warrior monks, chivalrous knights in shining khaki.
It turns out our soldiers are human. They aren’t as moral as our chaplains would have you believe, or as evil as anti-war advocates argued in previous wars. As I wrote before in “Where did God go in Afghanistan?”, our military looks like a cross-section of young America, about as moral and ethical as the country it serves.

I have one story that captures this best. Once my men and I were talking about pay. I said that a hundred dollars was a lot of money to me. My men responded that a hundred dollars isn’t a lot to a specialist (a junior soldier). Someone said, “Yeah, because a specialist will burn through that in an hour in a strip club.” Upon further discussion, we determined that the average specialist would probably go through a hundred bucks in a strip club in about fifteen minutes.

To be blunt, our soldiers go to strip clubs...just like regular Americans. Our soldiers have sex outside of marriage...just like regular Americans. As a result, strip clubs cling to military bases like venereal disease clung to World War II GIs. According to these two websites, soldiers have historically had wicked bad STD problems.

They curse...just like regular Americans. For example...

“The [Generation Kill] miniseries DVD extras include a discussion with the real Marines, during which this phenomenon is brought up: Ray Person tells a story about meeting people who, despite his own ability to validate the material, refused to believe American serviceman would even swear so much.”

From the entry on Generation Kill at TVtropes.org

They get in fights...just like regular Americans. And they always have. Sebastian Junger captures this pretty well in War:

“There were four platoons in the company, and of them all, Second Platoon was considered the best-trained and in some ways the worst-disciplined. The platoon had a reputation for producing terrible garrison soldiers men who drink and fight and get arrested for disorderly conduct and mayhem but who are extraordinarily good at war. Soldiers make a distinction between the petty tyrannies of garrison life and the very real ordeals of combat, and poor garrison soldiers like to think it's impossible to be good at both.”

To be clear, because people will misread this, the military isn’t any more or less moral than any other organization in America. It’s simply a collection of (mostly young) people who want to serve their country. And young people curse, get in fights and go to strip clubs. The military isn’t, and shouldn’t try to be, a bastion of morality. Or a bastion for America’s truly religious. It is and should be a volunteer force of men and women--of all colors and religions and cultures--who want to fight to defend America.

Chaplains and journalists should understand that.

(By the way, in my experience, chaplains rock. I say again, chaplains were a bright spot of my time in the military. But these were chaplains that didn’t usually didn’t write letters to Stars and Stripes.)