Military bloggers are surprisingly often poets, or take the time to host poets. Here are a few poems I've seen lately. Some of them are very good. Many of them speak to the sacrifices of the military life, which are felt most keenly during the holidays.

"On A Cold, Snow Night" treats a child, watching a sentry.

"A Military Christmas" shows the hardships of the military calling, even when all goes well.

"Freedom Isn't Free, It's Priceless" shows what it is like when things do not go well. It is by the mother of Lance Corporal Torrey Gray, killed this April in Iraq.

This isn't a poem, but it ought to be.

"A Soldier's Christmas" is written in the form of "The Night Before Christmas."

I'm sure there are others. If you've seen one you'd like added, email me or leave it in the comments.

UPDATE: Bill suggests "Merry Christmas, My Friend" or "A Soldier's Silent Night," available as a sound file, here.


Small Wars, II:

There has been some talk lately about how there are relatively few "conservatives" in academia. Some have suggested that academic culture is biased against conservatives; others, that conservatives by nature are anti-intellectual, or more interested in money than in "the life of the mind."

The real answer lies elsewhere. Read this passage from the new Small Wars Manual:

It is ironic that as our Western civilization becomes increasingly a digitized world, the surrounding geopolitical landscape is becoming progressively less "digital" and more "analog."

For purposes of this analogy, we combine several definitions to say that digital is a description of data that is stored or transmitted as a sequence of discrete symbols from a finite set. And, a discrete set is countable or countably infinite. We define analog as relating to, or being a device in which, data are represented by continuously variable, measurable, physical quantities. For example, the digital watch indicates the exact time and the analog watch, while indicating the time, requires you to add or subtract in order to state the exact time. And, while the digital watch's time is exact, the analog watch's face indicates time in general relation to the upcoming hour or half hour, and so on.

We are a digital culture. We expect our questions to be answered yes or no. We want our problems fixed now. We want our world neatly and discretely categorized into good and bad boxes. We do not always want to know how answers on one issue generally relate to another issue.

The U.S. military has not been exempt from this quest for precision answers with quantifiable facts that can be added or subtracted to give an exact, perfectly repeatable answer. This is clear from its increasingly heavy emphasis on operations research, modeling, and simulation. While these disciplines are of undeniable value, it is important that we not conveniently accept the neatly quantified "digital" (more rigorous) analysis over the less tangible, less quantifiable, common sense judgment call when dealing with systems and processes that are highly complex and often non-linear. Especially in a world of small wars, the palette is shades of gray and not the more categorical black or white—one or zero.

By their fundamental nature, small wars require an approach more art than science, more analog than digital.
World War II and the Gulf War in 1991 were both digital wars. We declared war; diplomacy took a back seat, and the military had the clear-cut objective of defeating the enemy armed forces—neat and discrete.

On the other hand, Beirut, Somalia, and Kosovo were analog wars. We were to "create conditions," "stop the suffering," and "prevent ethnic cleansing." Diplomacy continued to operate and military activities were shaped predominantly by political and diplomatic imperatives. The roles and missions of the military constantly varied given the dynamic interplay of political, diplomatic, and economic forces. Unlike World War II and the Gulf War, it was not easy to tell who the bad guy was. Indeed, the good guy one day could easily become the bad guy the next day because of changes, real or perceived, "on the street." Thus, the reduced size of the area or smaller number of belligerents does not necessarily simplify the warfighting tasks.

It is our digital culture that makes ours an impatient culture. We want clear results, and we want them now. Fast food and breaking news are our sustenance. Patience is not our cultural virtue, and working in an uncertain environment with fog and deception leads to our critical vulnerability in small wars: resolve. The greatest and most significant danger we have in entering a small war is the potential for an asymmetry of wills. We must decide before embarking upon any small war whether we can withstand the pressures of our own impatience.

Just two days ago we talked about the JASON panel, named after Jason and the Argonauts of Ancient Greek legend, and its piece on information war. This month we also saw the passage of the Defense Science Board's Strategic Communications paper into the clear. At the end of November, there was this article on the "Cambrian Project," whereby DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) intends to use evolutionary theory and state of the art computer systems to project threats and responses.

These three groups are part of a parallel structure for the "life of the mind," one directed pointedly at the preservation of America and the furthering of our national aspiration of a world based on human liberty. JASON overlaps with academia, but DARPA and the DSB are largely independent of it. Add to those the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), far larger and more successfully secretive than the better-known CIA; the military services' intelligence agencies (AIA, MCIA, etc.); the NSA (National Security Agency); the military academies, the War College, and a host of lesser-known players.

The life of the mind is alive and well on the right. It is simply differently directed.
Small Wars:

Reader Tom sends a link to a draft version of the new USMC Small Wars Manual. Unlike many USMC manuals, it states that it does not intend to supersede the previous verison -- in this case, a version last compiled in the 1940s.

This is wise. The 1940 Small Wars Manual was the product of a very different Marine Corps. The 1940 manual was a voice for the accumulated knowledge of two generations of Marines who had never seen a year without an expedition to fight a small war somewhere. Every Marine should read it.

On the other hand, a supplement is needed. The Marine Corps of 1940 had very little concept of "air support," for example, as the Second World War had not yet begun for America. Integrated air-land force is now fundamental to USMC operations. The information revolution is likewise producing major changes in how we fight, changes that are ongoing as we speak.

You may wish to read both, if you haven't seen them before.

BLACKFIVE: Want to Send a Marine A Letter?

Seasons Greetings:

BlackFive has a piece today entitled "Want to Send a Marine a Letter?" HQMC has apparently instituted a new system to get supportive letters from home out to the troops, in time for the holiday season. These are physical letters, so the Marine has something to hold and carry with him into battle if need be.

If you know a specific Marine, you can send to him; if you do not, there is a system for sending messages to express your support for the Marines generally.

Thanks, B-5, for helping to publicize this. I had not heard of it myself, and am glad to see it.

Spirit of America

SOA Wrapup:

The Spirit of America "Friends of Iraq Blogger Challenge" has ended. You can see the results at that link.

The result that really matters is the final total: $90,116 raised by bloggers to help the people of Iraq, to uplift the poor, and to aid the cause of friendship between our peoples. That kind of cash will go a long way out there.

Thanks again to everyone who helped out the Leatherneck Bloggers, and our eventual teammates with the Pajamahdeen. But thanks especially for helping out the greater cause. The competition was all in fun, but the real cause is a very serious matter. All of you who gave have reason to be proud.


Just In Time For...

Drill Sgt. Rob at AnAmericanSoldier has composed a Christmas list for the deploying soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. I don't have anything to add except to second his recommendation of the Applegate-Fairbairn folder. I also carry one everywhere, these last couple of years, and it's an excellent choice.

Yahoo! News - Ala. Judge Wears Ten Commandments on Robe

Oh, My:

Now this is something you don't see every day:

A judge refused to delay a trial Tuesday when an attorney objected to his wearing a judicial robe with the Ten Commandments embroidered on the front in gold.

Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan showed up Monday at his Covington County courtroom in southern Alabama wearing the robe. Attorneys who try cases at the courthouse said they had not seen him wearing it before. The commandments were described as being big enough to read by anyone near the judge.

Attorney Riley Powell, defending a client charged with DUI, filed a motion objecting to the robe and asking that the case be continued. He said McKathan denied both motions.

"I feel this creates a distraction that affects my client," Powell said.

Yeah, I bet. While the ten commandments don't actually say anything specific about DUI, which was the offense in question, there are certain parts of Deuteronomy that would make me nervous if I were the defendent in this case. "What does it mean, 'And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die'?"


Information-Based Warfighting:

We've all read about the extraordinary impact of information flow on the new, American model of war. In spite of all that has been accomplished, there is much left to be done to optimize our success.

One of the chief problems is the system of information classification. This has been the subject of a new report called HORIZONTAL INTEGRATION: Broader Access Models for Realizing Information Dominance. The authors identify a key problem:

Information flow to the warfighter is perceived by many to be -- and we concur in this judgment -- excessively constricted.
This is because the old system, of secrets and top secrets, doesn't reflect the reality of today's information needs.
These soldiers have high expectations for warfighting technologies in general, and information technologies in particular. The consumer of intelligence is no longer an O4 "behind the green door." She is an E4 behind the (camo-) green door of a humvee -- and it is moving.
One of the interesting results of this impasse is that soldiers are refusing to classify documents at all. Data from Predator overflights, for example, is unclassified -- the soldiers protect it with an ad hoc system they've developed. A tremendous amount of intelligence both in the military and otherwise is now "sensitive, but unclassified," a designation that has no particular meaning. No one knows exactly what kind of material belongs in this category.

A new system is needed, one that reflects our current reality. The authors of this report lay out three principles, which are revolutionary:

1) Sort out what the risk of intelligence getting out would be.
When risk factors can’t be measured directly, they can often be plausibly estimated
("guessed"); and subsequent experience can then be used to derive increasingly
better estimates.
2) Decide how many lost secrets we can afford.
As a nation we can afford to lose X secret and Y top secret documents per year. We can afford a Z probability that a particular technical capability or HUMINT source is compromised. If we set X,Y,Z, . . . all to exactly zero, then all operations stop, because all operations entail some nonzero risk. What, then, are acceptable ranges of values for X, Y,Z and a long list of similar parameters?
3) Design a system that can be expected to result in exactly that much lost secrecy, but no more.

The idea is radical: to accept and justify a system of classification that reliably fails to protect secrets. The trade off, which the authors think is more than worth the loss in secrecy, is better availability of information to the warfighter.
Ensure that information is distributed all the way up to the acceptable risk level. This is a very fundamental point. We have been living with systems that try to minimize risk. That is the wrong metric! We actually want to maximize information flow, subject to the overall constraint of not exceeding the acceptable risk levels set according to principle number 2, above. This means that instead of minimizing risk, we actually want to ensure that it is increased to its tolerable maximum (but no higher).
Emphasis in original.

They have a specific proposal as well as these general principles, but it is the principles themselves that are the most interesting. This is a model for information-based warfighting that is as bold as the fighters themselves. It is worthy of them.

UPDATE: A commenter points out that Secrecy News ran an article on this same thing yesterday. You can compare their take to mine; by and large, they were impressed by the same parts of the report.

Viral Freedom

Viral Freedom:

The Spirit of America contests is in its last hours! The Leatherneck Bloggers have merged with Team Pajamahdeen in an effort to overtake those goldbricks at the Fighting Fusileers for Freedom(!).

If you can't kick in to help out freedom and democracy, at least you can help us put the hurt on our fellow Milbloggers. The gap is closing!

SoAGrim's Hall


Thanks to everyone who has donated to the Leatherneck Bloggers today. I don't know if it's just one of you, or a whole bunch of you, but our "score" has pretty much doubled in the last three hours.

Whoever you are, your generosity will make a difference. LtCol Couvillon is right: the Spirit of America project is a "silver bullet." It builds goodwill, as well as providing the foundations for prosperity and success in the new Iraqi republic. The projects they are on run the gamut from the simple to the majestic: from sewing machines for Ramadi women who need an income, to supporting Seabee and Marine efforts to train and equip tradesmen, to the "Viral Freedom" project we've talked about.

Whatever else happens in Iraq, these are families that will remember what we did for them. If you support our mission in Iraq, this is one of the best ways to ensure that the things our Marines, sailors, soliders and airmen are fighting for come into reality. If you don't support the mission, you can still surely wish a long-suffering people a better life. Either way, Spirit of America is a direct road to making it happen.

Thanks to everyone who has given. I wish I knew your names, so I could thank you directly. I'm proud that our humble team has done so well. We are one of the smallest teams, but we're in the top four for overall donations. Like the Marine Corps itself, we're doing more with less. That's owed to all of you, and I appreciate it.

Belmont Club


Wretchard's got one for you today. Here's something to ponder:

"The genius of the founding fathers," European Commission President Romano Prodi commented in a speech at the Institute d'Etudes Politiques in Paris (May 29, 2001), 'lay in translating extremely high political ambitions . . . into a series of more specific, almost technical decisions. This indirect approach made further action possible. Rapprochement took place gradually. From confrontation we moved to willingness to cooperate in the economic sphere and then on to integration."
Yeah? It all makes sense, if you remember that your founding fathers were George S. Patton and Winston Churchill.

If you've got some reason to pretend that isn't so, it all falls apart.

The New Yorker: Fact

"The Picture Problem"

The New Yorker recently ran an article which provides more insight into the problems of intelligence. In this case, it's a kind of intelligence that seems quite solid -- pictures, which you can see with your own eyes.

You can build a high-tech camera, capable of taking pictures in the middle of the night, in other words, but the system works only if the camera is pointed in the right place, and even then the pictures are not self-explanatory. They need to be interpreted, and the human task of interpretation is often a bigger obstacle than the technical task of picture-taking. This was the lesson of the Scud hunt: pictures promise to clarify but often confuse.
In exploring just how that can be true, the author casts a wide net: USAF hunting in the "Scud Box" during the Gulf war, the trouble with mammograms, the tremendous sacrifice and utter failure of WWII bombing runs on German ball-bearing factories, and the reasons why Colin Powell's UN presentation on Iraqi WMD went wrong.

Take a few minutes to read it. You'll find it fascinating, and be better informed as to some of the problems of intelligence too.

Asia Times - Asia's most trusted news source

The Asia Times on CIA Reform:

This article treats a perceived collapse of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the hope for its recovery under Porter Goss. They are "shading to cautiously optimistic" on his prospects.

What do Goss and his new DDO Jose Rodriguez aim to do to fix the clandestine service? "More stars on the wall," said a DO officer, referring to the stars placed on the wall of the lobby in CIA headquarters at Langley for every CIA officer killed in the line of duty. What must change, according to Goss, is the agency's "culture of risk aversion". He wants the DO to "launch a more aggressive campaign to use undercover officers to penetrate terrorist groups and hostile governments" - a high-risk strategy to increase drastically the number and use of non-official cover (NOC) officers instead of the current practice of deploying the majority of DO officers as diplomats assigned to US embassies with the benefit of diplomatic immunity as they attempt to recruit and gather intelligence from foreigners.
That is what we need the CIA's Directorate of Operations to do. The rest of the article outlines how the culture of risk aversion came into place, and why.

It is not hard to understand. Those nameless stars represent a sacrifice as final and terrible as the one represented by the Tomb of the Unknowns. Yet these risks must be run, if the agency is to provide us with the intelligence we need to make right decisions and correct assessments.