Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year's Resolution

Boycott Tom Ricks. Like a lot of people, I've still been reading his blog in spite of how angry it makes me (and if you don't know why, Schmedlap has a great post on why he took Tom off his blogroll). This has been difficult road for me as Fiasco was a very influential book in my life and helped direct what I wanted to do after I left the Army. But enough is enough.

Tom couldn't have timed this post any better - at least in regard to my establishing a resolution for 2010. I'll put this as succinctly as possible for you Tom: you weren't right. At least by this argument. In his "shut down the service academies" series, he has raised a number of issues that could improve how those institutions produce better officers. But in his (yet another) unreleased report, the statements are damning to both USMA grads and scholarship ROTC grads because they are getting out of the service "at an unacceptable rate." First of all, that statement isn't aimed at USMA alone, but his beloved ROTC as well, so how on earth does that prove his point? And the last part of this post talks about the decline in officer quality due to the increased percentage of OCS-commissioned officers. I'm not going to refute any of the findings in this "report" (especially since there are only a few sentences quoted), but it takes a unique level of idiocy to think this proves that USMA should be shut down. Call me crazy, but if the graduates of the most expensive commissioning institutions are getting out in droves and that is causing a decline in officer quality, then maybe the problem isn't with the commissioning sources but how the Active Army retains those graduates.

And how does one define "unacceptable rate"? The Army (and other services) make a deal with those it educates: we'll pay for school and you owe us time that we think benefits both parties. If the Army thinks it is getting screwed because West Pointers and ROTC grads are getting out before they should, then the Army needs to make their active commitment longer. It's that simple. Or make Army service more acceptable over the length of a career.

I say that last bit because it simply isn't for most junior officers. Like many of my cohort, of my six-year Army career, I spent three of those years in theater. To say nothing of time spent away from home doing training at home station and at training centers. I don't have any regrets about doing those things, but I certainly couldn't have kept that pace up for another fourteen years. Especially considering that if I had stayed in I would have been guaranteed a fourth tour in a combat zone within eighteen months of my return from my third. And the impact? My kids had no idea who I was by the time I got out and it destroyed my marriage. If you were to survey the year groups of officers around mine, you would find my story to be the norm, not the exception.

So yes, we got out in droves. We all had a great education payed for by the taxpayers. The Army received years of combat service out of us in return. I'll say that again: years of combat service. Everyone wins. Does the future look a little bleak for both parties? It sure does - the effects of that blistering pace of operational use will be felt by me for the rest of my life, just as the Army is going to struggle to maintain an adequate officer corps until it rethinks how it does business.

Maybe Tom thinks that because the Army paid all that money for us, we should have to give more. I've given a lot (and I've given so little compared to so many) so I think he's about as wrong as one can be. And I, like many, still contribute to our national defense - just not in the ways that we used to.

I don't like to write negative posts, but this just had to be said. The Best Defense has been a shining example of how to make poor arguments about things the writer knows nothing about. I highly doubt Tom reads this blog, but if he does I have one piece of advice for him: stop blogging. It is destroying your legacy and you are making yourself irrelevant to serious discussion. I'm sure he disagrees with me on that, but it doesn't really matter. Whether or not he continues to blog is of no consequence to me. In the interest of stemming the proliferation of grey hairs on my head, I certainly won't ever read his stuff again.


  1. Hear, hear! Ricks has such great contacts, and yet he decides to write so casually about important topics. He needs to either change his blogging style or just stop embarrassing himself.

  2. Interesting. Mr Ricks has stung you with his comments. You are correct that Mr Ricks' conclusions are not supported by the limited evidence he offers. But you must not forget that he is a journalist: never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And there is something about the nature of blogging that is different, less formal and considered, than 'regular' work. Didn't Abu Muqawama recognise this in his recent epiphany? I don't think Mr Ricks blogging will 'destroy his legacy.'

    But by refusing to read material by a writer who once hurt your feelings are you not well on the way to making yourself 'irrelevant to serious discussion'? I suggest you engage Mr Ricks rather than hiding from him. And you can buy dye for those grey hairs if it really bothers you.


  3. "Boycott" seems a bit much.

    There is a limited amount of time in the day available for reading stuff. Ricks's blog doesn't make the cut. If someone stumbled upon something interesting at his blog and provides a link to it, then I'll click on the link. But, for daily reading, no thanks. There is far better stuff out there that gets higher priority from me.

  4. I just clicked on the link to the Ricks post and read it. Now I would like to amend my previous comment.

    Change "I'll click on the link" to "if I have a ton of free time and if I am given a really good reason to click on the link, then I might click on it and read Ricks's nonsense."

  5. Is it really as bad as that? Ricks' blog seems reasonable enough for a casual reporter-to-layperson discourse. Also, as mentioned above, commenters - or blog posts such as this - can pipe up and correct misinformation. I can understand not reading, but boycotting? I got to Ink Spots via a political blog that linked to AM (which led me to comment at AM for some time and then follow you all over here). It is possible to educate in this way. Online sites are merely tools - it's up to the reader to make something useful of the experience, and that is not something that can be judged by the post or the comments to said post (although, you can get a pretty good idea from the quality....)

    *To the substance of his post, I don't see how shutting down a service academy would necessarily solve the problems Ricks is highlighting? All the same issues might still exist even if students are "farmed out" to institutions that are already in place. A strain exists because of the situation, and, if as you say, the rates are the same for the ROTC program, then the data doesn't match the proposed solution?

    **It's hard to read some of this stuff. I mean, about the strains and all.

  6. I guess I ought to first clarify what I meant by boycott. He doesn't really sell anything so I mean that I'm not going to read his blog anymore. I may take the Schmedlap TTP and say that if someone sends me something from him to read, I'll probably click on the link. But I will no longer read his blog on my own.

    And yes, Mahdu, I think it is that bad. It's not even so much the topics anymore as the complete lack of logic backed up with a whole lot of self-righteousness. That post didn't make any sense and I'd have to say it is certainly not the first or twentieth post of his that I've seen like that. But, by God, it proves him right! In his own mind at least.

    I should also clarify that "anger" is not what I feel when reading his blog, but "exasperation" at the aforementioned mixture of logic avoidance/self-righteousness. Especially coming from a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who used to be the among the best in his field. I apologize for not making myself clear.

    And to Tripper - thanks for your comment. I hope I've addressed some of that in this clarification. As for engaging Tom personally, I will say that I have and to his credit, the man answers every email he receives. So I have not been hiding from him. Let's just say that those engagements were less than satisfactory for gaining an understanding of the less-than-formal writing he does on Best Defense.

  7. Not that I plan on emailing him, but - just curious - did you write him via a .mil address? I'm curious if he responds to all .mil emails or all emails, period. I'm guessing he gets a ton of email, so that is impressive. I'm notorious for late responses to email from friends and family, let alone strangers.

    When I was a firebrand young LT, I wrote to Hackworth several times - using an anonymous yahoo account. I can say now, with much relief, that most of my emails were gripes about his articles and not about my chain of command. But he always responded and it was always evident that he actually read the email, even if it was a tad long and rambling. I always thought that was pretty cool because my decision to join the Army was entirely the result of reading his autobiography.

  8. No, it was from my gmail account. So it seems to be all emails - which is indeed impressive.

  9. Tom Ricks is NOT a journalist. He is a paid fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in Washington, D.C.

    He is a researcher, a wonk, a spokesman, a thinker and, for all I know, a space monster from another planet but he is NO LONGER a journalist.

    That doesn't mean that you shouldn't read him, only that you should not invest in his opinions the same level of trust you once put into the fully vetted stories at the Washington Post.

    Ricks wrote his most recent books at two think tanks -- "The Gamble" came while at CNAS -- so buyer beware there, too.

    Carl Prine

  10. I thought Ricks was still a reporter? I guess I just don't pay enough attention to his blog, or who writes the actual articles at WP.

    I view blogging as a process and the readership is as much a part of the whole process as the authors, so when I evaluate a site I look at what's written, what's "underwritten," so to speak, and the in-going and out-going links. Okay, I don't really do that, I don't have the time. But, in theory....


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