Saturday, January 28, 2006

Annapolis: After Action Report

Yup, saw the movie last night.
Bottom line -- save yourself dollars, time and GRIEF -- do not bother to see this movie.
It has taken its place as easily the worst movie about the Naval Academy ever.
Let's take a contrarian approach -- are there any compelling reasons why I SHOULD see this movie?
Maybe my neighbor is going to see it and then zap me with some smartass question or comment?  I can assure you that this movie is very likely going to die off very quickly.  It is pretty unlikely that your neighbor is going to be attracted to go see it, even if he is tempted to be looking for material to zap you with.
I'm a BGO and maybe my potential candidates are going to want to see the movie?  For you folks, this may be required viewing.  (This is the sort of thing that hazardous duty pay was created for!)  You probably are going to have to see the movie so that you are prepared to do damage control.  I'm not funning you on this, you will have to do LOTS of damage control.  Applications may go down after this Hollywood depredation.
I'm a masochist?  By all means, go see the movie tonight.
So, are there any socially redeeming values to the movie?  NO, none, zero, zip, nada.
Firstie Cole has a couple of lonely lines that get at what the Naval Academy is supposed to be about, but they are quickly washed away with the next wave of junk.
It turns out that all of the movie reviews written over the last few days have been far, far too kind.
The Alumni Association folks who got the preview viewing this week should be receiving Form 2s from Black Jack Scoville for failure to sound GQ about this movie.
I've already run on here much further than this movie deserved.
Guess we'll have to wait for the next generation for a good current movie about the Naval Academy.  But, as I implied before the movie, I don't think a good movie can be made about the Naval Academy in this day and age.  As I guessed, on a certain level, the movie is too real.  It portrays certain aspects that are reality in today's Naval Academy.  It is not a pretty sight.
C'est la vie, John Howland

Sunday, January 01, 2006

JOs and The American Experiment

  This article came to us from a variety of sources.  Thanks to all who thought to pass it along.
  The author, Robert Kaplan, makes some very important points that tend to get lost in the hoopla.
  The article illustrates a variant of the law of unintended consequences.  Mr. Kaplan is talking about the children of the Baby Boomers, a generation that failed in Vietnam.  And, a generation that is fluttering now re Iraq.  Yet the children of those Boomers are the ones that are giving us renewed hope every day that America might be able to create something good in collusion with ordinary, patriotic Iraqis.  It is a profound dynamic to witness.  And, the Boomers are well advised to get out of the way and let their children do their magic.
  The article also illustrates a dynamic that to the extent we can share God's Gift to Man -- Freedom (a paraphrase from President Bush), we ourselves are rejuvenated in our understanding of and faith in The American Experiment.
  Finally, the article illustrates one of the reasons why, as we enter our second year, USNA At Large exists.  USNA At Large is devoted to trying to assist in the process of ensuring that Naval Academy graduates are as prepared for their roles as core combat leaders as they can possibly be.
  This is an excellent article to start off the New Year.
    For The American Experiment, John Howland
A long read.   Worthwhile piece on what junior officers are
accomplishing in Iraq and what it may foretell for them and our
country in later life.

From my USNA classmates

Bill Aston


The Future of America - in Iraq
Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2005 The Future of America -- in Iraq By Robert D. Kaplan
If you want to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels.
I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions.
For several weeks, I observed these young officers working behind the scenes to organize the election in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. They arranged for the sniffer dogs at the polling stations and security for the ballots right up to the moment Iraqi officials counted them. They arranged the outer ring of U.S. military security, with inner ones of Iraqi soldiers and police at each polling station, even as they were careful to give the Iraqis credit for what they, in fact, were doing. The massive logistical exercise of holding an election in a city of 2.1 million people was further complicated by the fact that the location of many polling stations changed at the last minute to prevent terrorist attacks. Throughout Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become veritable mayors of micro-regions, meeting with local sheiks, setting up waste-removal programs to employ young men, dealing with complaints about cuts in electricity and so on. They have learned to arbitrate tribal politics, to speak articulately and to sit through endless speeches without losing patience.
I watched Lt. John Turner of Indianapolis get up on his knees from a carpet while sipping tea with a former neighborhood /mukhtar/ and plead softly: "Sir, I am willing to die for a country that is not my own. So will you resume your position as /mukhtar/? Brave men must stand forward. Iraq's wealth is not oil but its civilization. Trust me by the projects I bring, not by my words."
Turner, a D student in high school, got straightened out as an enlisted man in the Coast Guard before earning a degree from Purdue and becoming an Army officer. He is one of what Col. Michael Shields, commander of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Mosul, calls his "young soldier-statesmen." Regardless of whether you support or oppose the U.S. engagement in Iraq, you should be aware that that country has had a startling effect on a new generation of soldiers often from troubled backgrounds, whose infantry training has provided no framework for building democracy from scratch.
At a Thanksgiving evangelical service, one NCO told the young crowd to cheers: "The Pilgrims during the first winter in the New World suffered a 54% casualty rate from disease and cold. That's a casualty rate that would render any of our units combat ineffective. But did the Pilgrims sail back to England? Did they give up? No. This country isn't a quitter. It doesn't withdraw."
Not withdrawing means bringing stability and liberal values to a society in which people have been trained to be subjects, not citizens. Young commanders in Iraq are experiencing in the bluntest terms the intractable cultural and political realities of a world that the U.S. seeks to remake in its own image, even as their own life struggles ? as well as their religious faith, which is generally deeper than that of secular elites ? make them not only refuse to give up but to feel betrayed by those who would.
To label them conservative is to miss the point. Having ground-truthed the difficulty of implanting democracy in a place with no experience of it, Iraq has stripped them of any ideology they might have had. At the same time, they have become emotionally involved with building Iraqi democracy. They have developed a distrust of an American media that have not, in their eyes, recorded advances they feel they have made in reducing the level of combat or getting a nascent electoral system started.
In a vast country of 23 million people, they rarely see the car bombings that kill a few dozen every day and are reported on the news at home. But they daily see the progress in front of their eyes. What these officers represent is the frontier ethos of applied wisdom, the combination of pragmatism and idealism that allowed for 19th century westward expansion, the clearing of land and the building of towns.
Military men, with their impatience with ideas that cannot be field tested, are a vibrant illustration of this ethos, especially as so many of them have grown up in rural America (and many I spoke to came from family farms). Now their deep engagement in civilian development matters in nation building has extended the meaning of the continental frontier overseas.
They are not imperialists, if by that we mean that they would support unilaterally invading a country again with a large number of troops. But they are absolutely committed to U.S. success in Iraq, no matter the cost to themselves. And as they trickle out of the service in coming years and rise to prominence in civilian life, the ability of the home front in these difficult days not to pity them, but to sustain them in their mission, could have enormous consequences for the future of American politics.
Robert D. Kaplan is author of "Imperial Grunts" (Random House, 2005).