- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Listening to people at the Future of War conference, I was struck by the proliferation of negative definitions. We have, for example, “non-state actors” operating “unmanned aerial vehicles.” I wondered aloud if this means we don’t grasp the situation.
Peter Singer, a member of the FoW team, astutely responded that, “When you can only define something by what it is not, [that’s] a sign you intellectually don’t want to admit what it is.” I don’t know if he is right, but I think it is a good question to ask whenever you see a negative definition. For example, the Army’s discussion in the 1990s of “operations other than war” led the Army to underestimate what that really amounted to, and indeed perhaps to believe that that wasn’t really its job.
Photo Credit: Michael Hiemstra, Flickr