"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Sunday, October 26, 2014

PYB Described as a "Constitutional Jesus"

It was meant as an insult, but it was taken as a compliment.

In the past several days, out in the military social media sphere, an online forum has taken on the question of its relevancy and decline.  Tony Carr provided some input, and that was translated into a thread on the forum by one of its participants.  It did not take long for your humble blogger to be accused of bringing up the issue on that forum, despite my not participating in that forum.  If a minority viewpoint pops up talking about fidelity to our oath, the person is assumed to be me under a new account, and they become a target.  As do I by non-existent association.

So the discussion turned to PYB with the usual vitriol against me for having a differing opinion and challenging other officers to take public service seriously.  The vitriol is standard for an officer who crosses the thick blue line.

Yesterday, one of the board's participants called me a "Constitutional Jesus" and another member, an officer I have flown numerous combat missions with, highlighted this phrase as being a particularly "awesome" description of me.  I do appreciate the compliment, though I don't think my level of sacrifice merits it by a country mile.  Jesus was nothing, if not a symbol of sacrifice for others.  Faithful public servants are nothing, if not willing to risk and sacrifice for their nation's defense.

Why, however, was that compliment meant as an insult?  Why is the spirit of public service, of risking to protect the rights of your countrymen after swearing before God to do so, and getting paid to do so, such a laughable matter worthy of insult?  Why is putting yourself in a position to be spat upon, to be ridiculed, in order to hopefully mentor and reach just one of the olive drab masses, something humorous?

Spoo and I had a long discussion the other night about this idea of public service.  I mentioned how after our combat adventures together, I had volunteered for the worst assignment imaginable to spend my last five years in a less than stellar location, performing a less than stellar mission, because it was important to the nation and because my volunteering might save a newly minted pilot from getting tagged with the assignment while carrying a ten year commitment ball and chain.  We discussed the unlawful order I refused, which he was aware of, and how I tendered the resignation of my commission (which fortunately was not accepted) and how I was willing to lose every financial benefit I had worked for over more than fifteen years.  And perhaps take with me a felony for life, for refusing to violate the law.  We talked about the need to be willing to risk your life, your career, and your convenience to defend this nation and make good on our oaths.

We flew missions together in combat.  We got shot at together in the box.  He has put it on the line overseas.  But I am puzzled by his disdain for risk, courage, and sacrifice here at home and I'm sad that in my experience he is representative of our service's officer corps in the matter.  It's a dichotomy that has been written about in military journals, and it is one that I believe is frighteningly relevant to our national security.

Why is the spirit of public service, service before self, sacrifice for the nation, now a laughing matter that invites insult?

I think Spoo has touched on the key point in this disagreement in the blogosphere.  Perhaps we can learn what it means to be professional fighting men and women from a few of our Army brethren.  It's important that we figure it out.  Preferably before the twenty year mark, if at all possible.


  1. PYB,

    Let me provide you with warning first – this comment will be somewhat lengthy. The reason for its length is predominantly my desire to address a multitude of issues that are not specifically addressed in your last post. I have been reading your blog (both this and Martial Matters) for some time and I decided that I will provide you with my thoughts since I have been reading yours for so long. I will attempt to explain why I am addressing these points before I proceed to my primary question.

    To frame your perception of my comments, allow me to explain how I found your blog. In the summer of 2013, I was doing what most graduate students do when they need to find subject matter – I googled a topic. My particular topic was related to the Air Force and, sure enough, your master’s thesis was perhaps number two or three on Google’s list of relevant links. I began to read and, I must confess, I continued to read the entire paper not through any great power of persuasion on the part of your thesis but rather due to almost intoxication with the lopsided view presented. In your defense, you did an excellent job of couching your concepts regarding the fighter pilot community and broadly proclaiming that your resources were limited. One might look at your sources and ponder why you continued with such a thesis given the relative dearth of reputable sources available. Regardless, your thesis struck me, probably not in the way you intended, and caused me to become interested in your blog.

    In order to have a fair interaction (since your blog and other posts have identified a fair amount of your personal information), I will tell you that I am an A-10 weapons officer with experience in Afghanistan and Korea, but none in Iraq. I certainly have a bias in terms of your obvious fighter pilot abhorrence. But, as I’m sure you would admit, you do as well. I have never to this point, minus my earlier comments on your blog regarding your Border Patrol lawsuit, participated in any online forum. I am, thanks to your blogs, now very familiar with baseops.net but I have no affiliation with them and have never posted either there or on your Facebook page.

    Here is my main point. I look forward to hearing your response to these.

    You lose your audience not with your argument but with your presentation. Sun Tzu wrote to “pretend inferiority and encourage his [one’s enemy’s] arrogance.” Steffi Graf said “you can have a certain arrogance, and I think that’s fine, but what you should never lose is the respect for others.” Shakespeare said that “arrogance is composed of too high an opinion of oneself.” To a certain degree, we are all likely guilty of some of these statements. However, I feel that one of your underlying premises is that you feel the ethos of the US Air Force officer corps ethos is fundamentally flawed at the least and perhaps irreparably damaged at the worst. Your present this by describing officers as “immoral,” “traitorous,” and so forth in your various posts around the internet.
    While one could perhaps write pages on this one particular thought, I encourage you to ponder this idea. One can stand on a soapbox on the steps of the Capitol and shout truth, pure golden Truth, as loudly as humanly possible, but if one begins each sentence with “you assholes must listen…” then, buddy, you’re not going to get many people to listen. In fact, you’re likely to get someone to put the cardboard sign that says “Crazy” on it right at your feet. And that’s precisely what’s happened to you. The good news, as far as I see it, is that it’s not too late to change it. I doubt that it’s ever too late. You simply must accept that other people have opinions and that those opinions, like yours, are based on experience and perhaps even significant research. You do not have the monopoly on those two avenues of knowledge. When someone disagrees with you, even if they do it rudely and without any form of class, if you respond in kind you will be rapidly, as you have been, moved to the sidelines of online intellectual thought.

  2. Allow me one final quote. Cicero wrote that “when you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff.” (Pro Flaco) My point here is this – you allude to the cowardice of the masses both directly in some of your posts and even indirectly with the very name of your blog, yet you often resort to defending yourself with fairly aggressive insulting and so-forth. Granted, you are sometimes insulted rather vociferously so your rebuttals are certainly not random. Irregardless, while I think you often have valid, sometimes even excellent points, you marginalize yourself with your methods of communication. Recognize that others may not be willing to see your point of view and accept that. At the end of the day, their attacks are nothing more than words on the Internet. Hardly worthy of attention by one who has conviction in their purpose and sees meaning one’s life. I am not religious but it sounds almost religious. Further, many of the more egregious attacks came after much back-and-forth between yourself and the attacked group (I primarily refer to the baseops.net crowd, as those are the ones you generally refer to). I believe you will understand what I mean. While I worry you may take insult and therefore not respond to me in any constructive manner, the person who recently mentored you on ineffective communication when you were an AC-130 copilot was, I fear, probably more correct than you might care to admit.

    While I disagree with some, in fact many, of your opinions, I respect your dedication and, more than that, your right to have those opinions. I encourage you to acknowledge that simply because you feel yourself to be right does not necessarily make others immoral or wrong. More importantly, I encourage you to recognize that when you make sweeping moral or ethical statements on a regular basis, your statements will likely be judged closely. You owe it to your own stances to be more forgiving, more accepting, and more accommodating in your rebuttals. Acknowledging opposing viewpoints is strength not weakness. Argue, do not belittle. Accept, do not marginalize.

    Josh Billings, a famous 19th Century American writer, wrote that “Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute.” Based on the sparse commentary on either of your blogs, I would encourage you to examine the way in which you present your arguments. I postulate that a revision of your presentation will result in a significant increase in participation in your forum.

    Let me leave you with one last quote that I feel may illustrate my point more than anything I may write. Edward Gibbon (the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), wrote that he “never make[s] the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinion I have no respect.” Unless you wish to further marginalize yourself, either respectfully acknowledge or simply ignore the opinions of those people and those forums for whom you have little to no respect.


  3. Forgive me. I suppose I lied at the beginning of the last post when I said one final quote. There were several others. My apologies.

  4. Outstanding criticism, Edward Brady, thanks for sharing. I agree with some of it (my thesis was lopsided and zeroed in on the fighter community with a narrow FOV), but disagree with other parts of it, though I find myself disagreeing with many of my closest friends on those same points. I appreciate the substance, and will respond to you with a blog post. I appreciate the criticism. Well stated.

  5. One question, what did you mean by, "I am not religious but it sounds almost religious." What sounds almost religious?

  6. Also, how do you believe my thesis was lopsided? I think I understand what you mean, and I think I agree, but you didn't really develop what you thought was wrong with it or at least I missed it. You said it didn't use many sources, but I didn't see you argue why the sources it did use (which came from the fighter community) were unworthy of being used. They were the sources I found post 911. You think they were insufficient in what what? How were the data points drawn from them in error in your view?

  7. I think your main point involves communication, what is effective and perhaps what is appropriate, and I'll dedicate some time to blog about that this weekend. It's a great discussion point, and I'm glad you raised it.

  8. “I am not religious but it sounds almost religious.”
    I did not really mean anything by that statement. “Hardly worthy of attention by one who has conviction in their purpose and sees meaning one’s life,” just sounds like something you’d hear in a Sunday sermon doesn’t it? It can certainly apply to non-religious people or actions, but it’s just not how people generally talk about such things.
    Thesis Sources
    As far as I can tell, the sources you used were one book written by an F-16 pilot, a reality TV show regarding the F-15C FTU, and a copy of the same FTU squadron’s social ROE. While you had someone research the baseops.net forums, I believe you did not use that information but I’ll include it in my analysis. I imagine your own experiences and prejudices influenced your arguments as well. From my point of view these sources are so limited as to essentially render any conclusions derived from them moot.
    Any book is necessarily heavily based on the author’s perceptions and biases. Any one person’s perceptions, while being a great reference point as part of a broader range of sources, are insufficient to make sweeping generalizations about an entire community or social structure. Therefore drawing significant conclusions regarding the entire F-16 community is a stretch with only one source.
    Regarding the F-15C community, you’re faced with a similar dilemma. While I never saw the American Fighter Pilot show, I’m betting that the social ROE you acquired did not give any significant insights into the social culture that the show did not already provide. Regardless, both the show and the ROE were from a single squadron. All your conclusions are based on one squadron and even more so the squadron during one period in time. You’ve been a part of several communities in your career – wouldn’t you agree that squadrons certainly have their own cultures? In my experience those cultures can sometimes be quite divergent, even in a community that only includes four operational squadrons. Based on that, making judgments about an entire community predicated on your experiences with F-15C pilots (who were, I’m assuming since they were in your chain of command as an AC-130 pilot, no longer F-15C pilots) and information about a single squadron is another example of drawing broad conclusions from very narrow data.
    The TV show also was not likely overly accurate in its portrayal of F-15C FTU. While you make the point that the participants have no agenda ignores the fact that the show itself was a commercial venture. The producers therefore had an agenda, even if it wasn’t one that diverged from Air Force desires. Regardless, the show, like any source, had a bias. Further, the presence of the cameras must have had some impact on those being filmed. Fighter pilots are not immune to the Hawthorne effect.
    Finally there is nothing regarding the F-15E, F-22, or A-10 communities. Therefore any conclusions about fighter pilots generally are made with no input or research from over a third of the fighter pilot community.
    For those reasons, in my opinion, the thesis was lopsided. The large number or resources available concerning Enron and the dearth of sources concerning modern fighter pilots made it nearly impossible to make a balanced analysis of the two cultures.

  9. As for the baseops.net stuff, this is probably the broadest source you had. Unfortunately it’s not really useable as a source since there’s simply a massive amount of ambiguity regarding the people there. It’s difficult to truly know who people are. Many of the people who do post there seem to actually not be fighter pilots. Further, many may be of older generations and so analysis of their behavior does not apply to the modern culture. Finally, using that forum would be another example of making broad conclusions based on a niche crowd. I don’t know many guys in my community that actually post there or reference it at all. The only reason I know about it is due to your blog.

  10. Good point on the limited sources. I made many of the same points in my thesis, warning the reader about the limited data. I didn't use the baseops forum for my research paper as I had hoped to do, so I only included it as an appendix, but it didn't form a part of my thesis argument.

    That thesis most certainly had limitations. But if it got people to think about the subject matter, then that combined with the A in the class makes it worth it to me. Hopefully somebody will write their own thesis and point out the flaws in mine, and improve the discussion.

  11. Edward, I have posted my response to you. I'm looking forward to the continued discussion. http://www.pickyourbattles.net/2014/11/communication-style-military-officer.html