Friday, January 28, 2011

On ROTC in the Ivy League

With DADT going the way of the dodo, much of the Ivy League is searching for new reasons not to have ROTC on campus. (Sidenote: I predict barring women from combat arms branches will be a popular talking point in the Ivory Tower for the next couple years). There are always academic and philosophical reasons trotted out of course, but let's face it - this is nothing more than a prominent marker in the American upper classes' continual distancing of itself from the military and military service.

Andrew Exum, also known as Abu Muqawama, makes the case on his blog that it's not the elite universities' fault per se, but more a result of the military focusing its efforts on schools where it'll have more of an recruiting effect. And there's some truth in that, though it's a classic chicken v. egg argument - what came first, the military ignoring the bluebloods or the bluebloods ignoring the military? Conveniently, Ex glosses over that these restrictions are still in place because of the schools' stated policies, not because of any military regulation.  If the universities were to lift these restrictions, there's no way to say whether the military would institute ROTC programs at which schools, but at least the option to do so would exist. And, in my mind, this would be a step in the direction of re-democratizing our armed forces. Let the number-crunchers decide if it's worth it or not, not tenured progressives still living the Vietnam debate. (Says the guy hoping to become a tenured professor someday.)

Wake Forest isn't Ivy League, but it's a damn good school. (More like the Magnolia League, you dig?) It's got a solid Army ROTC program that is never very big, but produces some of the finest ROTC graduates every year. (This writer notwithstanding.) Hell, in my four years there, there were six different cadets with full-bird colonels or generals as fathers - not a coincidence, I've since realized. Our sister programs at Duke, Davidson, UVA, and UNC-Chapel Hill are also good examples of how ROTC programs can and do work at elite universities. And given the lessons supposedly learned in our officer corps from the past eight years at war, shouldn't we be seeking out as many of the best and brightest as possible, even if they are just four-year short-timers? Does the military want to produce another generation of officers just like the old one, or do they want to develop and cultivate the best officer corps it possibly can? (A question for a different debate, and without a clear answer, I realize.) The Ivy League shouldn't just be a farm for future Spooks, especially if the military is serious about developing leaders capable of leading both in traditional warfare and in asymmetric warfare. (One last additional note: All the schools mentioned above, from the Ivys to the Magnolias, are national brands, and attract students accordingly. So the traditional "military-friendly South" v. "anti-military Northeast" rebuttal doesn't fly here, in my opinion.)

Along these lines - a group of Columbia Vets have an online petition going, in the hopes of returning ROTC to Columbia's campus. I encourage you all to sign it, if you feel so inclined.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spirit of America in The Wall Street Journal

Click here for The Wall Street Journal article, or here if you're too lazy to sign up for a free online subscription.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pilgrim's Progress: An essay in The New York Times

I wrote an essay entitled "Pilgrim's Progress" for The New York Times. They posted it on their blog Home Fires. Give it a read, if you get a chance.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kaboom giveaway - tell me a yoke, any yoke

A couple weeks ago, I gave out four copies of Kaboom on Twitter. Good way to spread the word while clearing out apartment space - a win-win. Afterwards though, I received an email from a longtime blog follower who pointed out, rather nicely, that they deserved to participate in giveaways, too. Fair enough.


Tell me a joke in the comments section. Preferably a military-related joke, but it doesn't have to be - Irish jokes, women jokes, and bad Asian driver jokes are also encouraged. Top ... 3ish? ... jokes will receive a free, signed copy of Kaboom, inscribed to whomever the winners desire. Contest runs through Friday afternoon, and yes, I'm the only judge. (In Mills Lane voice - "I'll allow it!")

Some hints:
1) I like irony, but love understatement.
2) I'm a sucker for self-aware cheesiness.
3) I'm definitely not above gallows humor (anyone whose read Kaboom knows that, but, in theory at least, this is for people who haven't yet read the book), but crudity for the sake of crudity isn't going to do much.

Happy wisecracking!

Update, 1/22: Winners posted in comments section. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Friday, January 14, 2011

An Iraq War veteran talks to a college student

Funny, in that sad cause it's true kind of way

Monday, January 10, 2011

Will Accord for Change

Times are indeed tough in this economic climate. Last seen at Jabba the Hut's palace, disappearing into the sarlacc's mouth, Boba Fett the bounty hunter reappeared today at the 14th Street subway station. Playing the accordion. And playing it well.

Selections from The Last of the Mohicans and Back to the Future soundtracks proved fan favorites.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Spirit of America blog update

Why yes dear readers, I am aware I've updated this blog more in the past three days than I did in the six months previous. It's a combination of free time, Snowpocalypses, winter lager, and The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. A perfect recipe for writing. And for cabin fever.

Anyways ...

My good friend Chris Hellie and his comrade in arms, Matt Valkovic, continue to blog from Afghanistan for the non-profit organization Spirit of America. In emails exchanged with Chris, it sounds like the A-Stan is a lot alike Iraq, just up to the point when someone is tempted to actually compare it to Iraq. If that makes no sense, good - counterinsurgency isn't supposed to. It's one of the central tenets of COIN, I think it's in the manual somewhere.

Anyways ...

The Spirit of America blog has a new post up, written by Chris and Matt, profiling a Marine lieutenant serving as his battalion's information officer. (The blog piece comes complete with an icy badass Marine glare! Seriously, for all its faults, the Army at least let us smile for photos). As the writers point out, LT Mills is an example of a mover and a shaker who's impacting postmodern warfare directly from the ground. Check it out, and consider contributing to Spirit of America, if you're in the position to do so.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Reading Moonbow

Reading Rainbow was a weird PBS show that attempted to peer pressure my generation into literacy during the 80s and 90s. Sometimes Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego followed it, which partly redeemed the aforementioned show, because if the stupid kids don't get phonics, there ain't nuthin' television gonna' do to fix it. Geography and sexy spies in trench coats though - that's something everyone can enjoy.

A moonbow is a weird natural wonder that Wikipedia can better explain than me. (Science hurts the brain.)  The one and only moonbow I ever saw occurred on the Big Island of Hawaii, in early 2007, during a training exercise and right after I took over my scout platoon. I found it poignant, charming, and worth writing in my journal about. Then my NCOs gave me dip for the first time and I got dizzy and went to bed in the back of my Stryker. (Didn't vomit, though! Take that, Kodiak snuff.)

Anyways, that has nothing to do with anything. I just needed an intro for the book list I'm about to pontificate about. So here goes, a list of books I've read/am reading, all thanks to that wonderful month of freedom known as Christmas winter break.

1) The Gods of Diyala, by Caleb Cage and Gregory Tomlin - Full disclosure - Caleb is also from Reno, and he and I met up at his brothers' pub a couple weeks ago to talk Iraq memoirist-from-Reno-talk. And as great a guy as Caleb is, I wouldn't blow smoke up the Interwebz's backside unless I thought his book deserved it - and it does. Set in Diyala Province in Iraq in 2004, Cage and Tomlin chronicle their companies' deployment, and Good Christ, I'm glad they did. Some things in the Army are universal, like the Suck, soldiers' dark humor, and bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy. But this book opened my eyes to the aimlessness of the early Iraq War in ways no other book has, to include Evan Wright's Generation Kill and Nate Fick's Nate Fick is Super Awesome. (Just kidding. I've heard from anyone that knows Fick that he's a great dude and a better leader. And his book is very good. I'll definitely vote for him for Senator of America someday. What? That's not snark, I mean that!) Anyways, buy The Gods of Diyala if you want to understand how and why the protracted shift to counterinsurgency was so essential. It's like a ground view of Tom Ricks' Fiasco, complete with an ironic title mocking a way too earnest company commander. (Bringing this paragraph full-circle, Ricks now works for Fick at the think tank Center for a New American Security.)

2) The Farther Shore, by Matthew Eck - This book was recommended by the blog On Violence, and they were spot on with such. A veteran of Somalia, Eck's novel brings a literary voice to postmodern warfare in a way I've not seen yet. It's lean, and it's style screams of "What Would Hemingway Do!" rewrites, but all literature is derivative, to be fair. The end gets a little trippy, but personally, I really enjoyed it, considering I lived the symbolism Eck conveys. Those Hurt Locker fucks would've been much better off making a movie from this. 

3) The Man Who Never Returned, by Peter Quinn. A work of fiction, The Man Who Never Returned  revisits the unsolved disappearance of Justice Joseph Force Crater in New 1930-New York City. This is a Depression-era mystery laced with NYC mystique and nostalgia. Further, the writing is really, really good - Quinn possesses that quintessential Irish gift of gab and is able to transcribe such on paper. (Not as easy as you might think, by the way.) I've lived in this city for 18 months now, and am only now beginning to appreciate the historical importance of it - literally every neighborhood block deserves its own Wikipedia entry. Quinn brought me to a place I didn't even know I imagined until I started reading. It's a plot-driven novel, so I don't write to write about any details for fear of giving it away, but highly recommended. 

4) Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential, 'America's Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine, by Henry E. Scott. America's obsession with pop culture isn't a new thing. TMZ has always existed, even before the Internet, even before the paparazzi, and well, even before TMZ. Scott delves into the history of the scandal magazine of the golden age, a rag called Confidential - a magazine that once proclaimed "Why Joe DiMaggio is Striking Out with Marilyn Monroe!" (Punny. Very, very punny.) Hollywood lives have, apparently, always been sordid, and our society's obsessions with them have always been prevalent. Scott's journalistic background shines through, and he manages to write about some really interesting, messy details with a clean distance. The treatment of Sammy Davis, Jr., both in the press and out of it, were my favorite anecdotes of the book. All things must end though, and such a fate was destined for Confidential, as well.

5) The Mullah's Storm, by Thomas Young. Fiction about GWOT is (finallly) starting to churn out, and Young's novel brings all the immediacy and relevance of a thriller with it. Set in modern Afghanistan, it starts with a transport plane going down in the middle of a harrowing blizzard in the Hindu Kush. Young's own experiences as an Air Force give the book an authentic voice, and keeps the story from drifting into "suspension of disbelief" territory. In an author's note, Young writes that "When you write fiction, your best work may come from what scares you the most ... The Mullah's Storm is an imagining of that fear [for me]." Job well done, Mr. Young, because The Mullah's Storm is now my fear too, and I'm not even a pilot.

6) The Pugilist at Rest, by Thom Jones. A collection of short stories, Jones went from an unknown to a The New Yorker darling instantaneously in the early 90s, after he sent in a short story also entitled "The Pugilist at Rest." (Wonder where he got the title for the book.) That story and "I Want to Live!" are reason enough to pick up this book, though I must warn you - Jones's writings are dark and blunt in ways that may make you uncomfortable. Like, have to put the book down and get a Jack and Coke uncomfortable. Definitely not a pick-me-up type of thing, but a bona fide exercise in modern literature and an exploration of the deepest crevices human existence can offer.

That's about all I got for now ... I guess I'm the Jon Gruden of book reviews! I enjoyed all of these reads for a variety of reasons. Bring me my Crown of Hyperbole, Mike Tirico! (To be fair, there were two books I read in the past month that I didn't like, one of which I absolutely abhorred for its' lack of self-awareness and pomp and circumstance, but I'm not going to bring this post to Negative-Town.)

Next on the docket - Gregory Martin's memoir Mountain City, about his upbringing in rural Nevada, and Raymond Carver's Cathedral, because let's face it, anyone who writes short stories wants to be Raymond Carver, sans alcoholism. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Re: Officer Retention

Great article in The Atlantic about officer retention in the military. The author takes a very quantifiable and economic approach to the questions of bureaucracy and meritocracy in the officer corps, which I haven't seen done before. Well worth a read, despite the length.

One minor quibble, however - though we former officers like to pretend we were all honorable stoics in our days of service, of course quality of life impacted our decisions to leave active duty. It's both crazy and naive to think (or argue) otherwise. But considering the survey consisted of only West Pointers (many of whom, it seems, now work in the corporate world), I'm not really surprised he got the universal response that he did. Conduct a survey of former military officers that now work in their pajamas by typing words into a box, the responses might be a little different. Certainly more colorful. Just sayin'.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"The Subway Chronicles" in Mason's Road

Happy 2011, interwebz. Check out my short story "The Subway Chronicles" in Mason's Road, if you get a chance.