August 1, 2012


Fifteen years ago, when I was a young Major in the U.S. Marine Corps, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the College of Naval Command and Staff, U.S. Naval War College, in Newport, RI. It turned out to be a seminal year for me due in large measure to the passion and mentoring talents of Prof George Baer, then-Chairman of the Strategy and Policy Department and a co-faculty leader for my seminar group. The first trimester in ‘strategy and policy’ was also known as the ‘war-a-week course’ given the fact we covered a major period of conflict each week, starting with the Peloponnesian War and working our way forward in time through Desert Storm. For each session we would attempt to digest 800-1000 pages of reading (only a lot if you actually read all of it) and consider all aspects of war, taking Clausewitz’s dictum “war is a continuation of politics by other means” very much to heart. For me, the trimester was an awakening to the broad scope of human interaction, the effect of human foibles on both the evolution and outcome of situations, and the inherent complexity of problems. Finding good solutions to hard problems, ones that have lasting value, is difficult. In a paper I was very pleased to co-author, Dr. Andrew Krepinevich wrote, “simple solutions to complex problems are inherently attractive and almost always wrong.” Truer words...and yet, people almost invariably look for easy answers while ‘leaders’ in the public sphere are far too happy to oblige in promising the ‘easy’ rather than the ‘effective’ with sad longterm consequences. 
Our world is a complex web of relationships in constant flux linking peoples, ideas, resources, ambitions, and fears (or perhaps pitting them against each other). Some things are constants across history--conflict, for one--and there are things that provide enduring advantages such as ownership of natural and financial resources, military power, and a peoples’ clear identity of who they are. When a community or country lacks these they are typically at the mercy of those who are better supplied. Thucydides, in his history of the long-running war between Sparta and Athens (and their allies) in the 5th Century BC, recounts negotiations between the powerful Athens and a small, neutral island called Melos during which the Athenians observed “the strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.” This condition has been a constant from ancient times until now. The lesson we should take from this is that the United States should first choose to remain strong economically, militarily, and culturally otherwise we will “suffer what we must” at the hands of stronger powers. This is just the way the world works both for good and ill.
In my years as an analyst, both in uniform and after retiring from the Corps, I enjoyed sharing with others various articles, books, essays, etc. that I found particularly interesting, that illuminated some instructive insight, or that explained in a compelling way some issue having the potential to effect the U.S. and our people. This blog will be a continuation of that. I hope you find it of interest. 
I believe we truly are at a critical moment in history for us as a Nation and as a people. As a country we have encumbered ourselves with enormous debt. Nearly half of our fellow citizens rely on the government for income. We have in many ways become morally confused, we lack a common set of values, and we certainly are at odds in the religious sphere. We don’t know our own history. We seem not to have the will to deny ourselves current benefits and pleasures even though we know we cannot afford what we want and we know there will be long term bills our grandchildren will have to pay. We have a profound lack of true leaders. Yet...we are blessed to have abundant resources, an economic system that when unmolested by the government allows for stunning innovation and creativity, a political system that enables us to change governments without bloodshed, and an inherent generosity of spirit that is proven time and again whenever disaster strikes. We want to be better and we have the means to be better...we just need to discipline ourselves for the task. I believe the first step comes in knowing and understanding the world around us and the lessons history has to teach. I also believe such understanding can really only come from reading and experience. The latter should inform our understanding of current events while the former should provide context and an understanding of human nature. Without this knowledge I think we would be hard pressed to make any kind of informed decision.
I hope this blog proves helpful. I know at the very least it will be an enjoyable and rewarding exercise for me. Happy reading!

(Update 080212 - during the past six months I tried my hand at distributing a newsletter via email. I have drawn a 'best of" selection of articles from those newsletters to start this blog. DW)