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Best Defense

My Modest Proposal For a New Professional U.S. Military Magazine

I’d call my new military magazine PIVOT: The Journal of Conventional Military Wisdom.

A parable. (Wikimedia Commons)
A parable. (Wikimedia Commons)

I’d call my new military magazine PIVOT: The Journal of Conventional Military Wisdom. Only flag officers and senior national security civilians would be allowed to write for it. It would never carry new ideas. Rather, the mission of this journal would be to eradicate such heresies and deaden the minds of its readers.

Every article would carry a minimum of five current national security clichés, such as “the new normal.” The current global situation would always be defined as “chaotic yet interconnected,” except when it is “interconnected yet chaotic.” It would “connect the dots” to show the reader “the whole of government solution.” Ideally, there would be a lot of Germanic capitalization, too, like “Soldiers” and “Sailors” and even “Military Families.” It would never use a short Anglo-Saxon word where a longer latinate one would fit, as in, “While the composition and purpose of the constellation will vary … there is one common denominator: The mission at hand involves multiple actors and organizations, each semi-autonomous.”

Remember that clichés represent more than a triumph of poor writing and thinking. They also serve a code purpose, signaling that the writer is a member of the tribe, “on the same page” as the reader. Why say “the unforeseeable future” when you can write, “over the horizon?” Together we can ride “the budget bow wave” into the out years.

Every article would end with brave sounding but mushy recommendations, like “Appropriate metrics must be used.”

Authors wishing to show a dash of daring would be advised to ironically use Chinese political clichés. Want more ideas? “Let a hundred flowers bloom.” Advising someone to bow to reality? “Follow the great helmsman.” Think your bureaucratic proposal could improve things? Call it “a great leap forward.”

When all else fails, and disaster follows, employ General Alibi No. 1: “Intelligence Failure.”

The cover would always show some big platform from the late Industrial Era, such an aircraft carrier or a main battle tank. Each issue would be sponsored by the defense company building the platform in question. I fear that makers of existing weapons are among the biggest opponents of moving the U.S. military into the information age.

The journal’s motto would be “Failure Is Not An Option.” (Have you ever noticed how often that phrase is used by people trying to re-define success?)

Thomas 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 Twitter: @tomricks1

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