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Stalin and the Confederacy

The matter of Confederate icons, statues, and base names has consumed a great deal of press recently. Two separate arguments have prevailed: one that says that changing the Confederate landscape in the United States would somehow “change history,” while the other indicates history can’t be changed by removal of icons, but the glorification of the Confederate cause must end. For me, the matter was brought into brutal clarity by a woman in the Republic of Georgia in 2015.
On a business trip to the Republic of Georgia, I was invited by a local employee to visit Joseph Stalin’s birthplace. I’m not sure I knew at the time, in 2015, that Stalin was from Georgia. But I’m fascinated by history, so I went.


The house of Stalin’s birth had been Sovietized, with heavy industrial surroundings and a museum. I paid a few extra dollars for a tour. My guide was a sexagenarian English-speaking Georgian woman who had a great depth of understanding of every major event in Stalin’s life. I quickly realized that she revered the dictator who had ordered the death of nearly a million Soviet citizens.

 

When I asked her about this, she had a well-rehearsed response: “I have been to America and have seen all the statues of your Confederate leaders. If I asked you why Americans have so much devotion to men who fought a war for the right to kill millions of American slaves, you would say you are honoring the warriors and not the slavery they fought for, right? I give you the same answer for Stalin.”

For me, this came completely out of left field. I answered that my family had immigrated from Italy to the American North in the 1920s and had no ties to the Confederacy. But that missed the point.

Recent events have caused me to reflect on this conversation and reconsider my own blasé attitude toward the Confederacy and its icons, subjects that came up from time to time during my nearly 30 years in uniform.

When I walked the fields of Gettysburg, Antietam, Manassas and Chancellorsville with military lecturers who would occasionally wander from tactical analysis to defense of the “Lost Cause,” I said nothing.

When my parents moved the family to southern Virginia and I was confronted by the locals with a vigorous defense of the “noble sons of Virginia,” I usually didn’t respond.

When, during my Navy career, I was confronted by the Confederate battle flag hanging in spaces aboard ship or tacked to the bumpers of one of my sailors’ cars, I don’t believe I ever said a thing.

When a uniformed colleague at the Pentagon argued energetically that it was right for 10 Army bases to be named after Confederates when not one was named for Ulysses S. Grant, I was merely bemused.

No one in 2020 defends slavery. Instead they offer rationalizations in the name of “preserving history.” Changing base names and lawfully taking down monuments doesn’t change history. It merely stops glorifying those who committed historic wrongs.

The Georgian woman’s narrative wasn’t quite right. Unlike Stalin, Confederate generals didn’t order the execution of millions. But their rebellion, waged to preserve slavery, ended up killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. And it gave ammunition to an apologist for Soviet communism decades after the Cold War.
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Articles Leadership

13 Lessons from the Crozier Controversy

This was the fourth in a series of 4 articles written on the Crozier affair. This one was published in Defense One on July 9, 2020.

 

Much has been written these past few months about Capt. Brett Crozier’s response to the coronavirus outbreak on board the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. The general theme of most of the articles is that the Navy should have protected Crozier because he “loved” his crew and had their best interests at heart. As I have written previously, the question as to whether he was actually effective had been lost in nearly all of the analysis. As the Navy’s investigation has concluded, it is clear from the report that Crozier’s performance was deficient.
Here are a few lessons for military leaders from the Crozier incident, written with full awareness of the Navy’s investigation report. They don’t merely derive from the 47-page report, but include learnings that emerge from the entire public spectacle:

 

1. An 80-percent solution delivered on time is almost always better than a 100-percent solution delivered too late. Captain Crozier was hyper-focused on a solution he believed would meet 100 percent of the CDC guidelines for protecting his crew. Unfortunately, that solution—moving his crew into hotels in Guam’s tourist district—was not within the Navy’s ability to implement without significant local government and business help, an effort which would take days to weeks. There were other, more immediate, solutions within Crozier’s authority to direct, but he elected not to pursue them because they were not “ideal” solutions. In so doing, the report concludes, Crozier put the crew’s comfort ahead of their safety and actually delayed isolation efforts. Ask for outside help if you think you need it, but meanwhile focus on measures that are within your control.

2. Just because you aren’t an expert doesn’t mean you can’t evaluate the quality of data going into your decision. At the time Crozier was making his decisions, the probability data on transmissibility of the disease was fairly good, hence his team could fairly accurately predict the rate of infections. But what was not known at that time was how severe those infections would be. Yet Crozier’s medical staff communicated as if they had high confidence in predicted fatality outcomes. Had the data on which they made these predictions been reliable, the frenetic nature of their actions, which included a threat to leak information to the press, might be easier to understand. But the data was based on a cruise ship event where the population demographic was very different that the Roosevelt’s. In this case it would have been tempting to think, “Well, I’m not a medical officer, so I will simply hit the ‘I believe button’ on what the doctors are telling me.” But leaders are required to evaluate data outside their area of expertise all the time. You may not be a mechanical engineer, but you will be required to decide on whether the data suggests you should interrupt operations to repair that pump now. You may not be an intelligence officer, but you will be required to decide whether targeting data is sufficient to support the strike. And just because you are not a physician does not absolve you of the responsibility to determine whether certain medical data justifies your decision. You will be accountable for your decision, not “the experts.”

3. Be careful when suggesting a course of action that could shift risk from a military population to a civilian one.
Crozier’s preferred course of action — moving his crew into town — could have introduced a large number of COVID infections into a community of Guam civilians who had little or no health insurance. Several of Guam’s civilian leaders, understandably alarmed by this proposal, pushed back energetically. Crozier did not give this matter the attention it deserved, instead dismissing it as a “political” problem. Hence he failed to pursue a course of action that considered holistic risk, factoring in risk to all U.S. citizens in Guam, and instead focused on just the risk to his crew.

4. Military members should be more, not less, disciplined than average Americans. I made the point in my earlier articles that the now-famous farewell celebration for Crozier very likely increased the rate of infection among his crew. The Navy’s study seems to back that assertion up, reporting that somewhere around 2,000 crew members assembled in close proximity for his sendoff. It also indicates that the Seventh Fleet staff knew that this event had “just made their job harder,” and that perhaps hundreds of the COVID-19 cases that would emerge over the ensuing couple of weeks were caused by this love-fest. With most of America following guidance during this period of time by isolating at home, this lack of discipline among the crew was inexcusable.

5. How your crew behaves, even when you are not present, reflects on your leadership. Apologists have said that Crozier could not have been held responsible for the crew’s behavior during his farewell party because he was no longer in command. That’s a cop-out. If Crozier had been effective at teaching his crew the urgency of social distancing, if his leadership lessons had “stuck” for even one day beyond his captaincy, this celebration would never have happened and perhaps hundreds of transmissions would have been avoided.

6. Properly inform and properly engage your chain of command. The report indicates that Crozier limited certain information to aviation community leaders rather than fully involving his operational chain of command, failed to use proper methods to communicate the severity of his concern to operational leaders, was inconsistent in communicating the degree of his concern depending on who he was speaking to, and used unclassified email to make operational recommendations. Apologists have suggested Crozier did this as a matter of expedience, but the way he approached the problem did nothing to accelerate a response. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect.

7. Don’t presume you know more than you do about what’s going on outside your command. When a leader asks for help, supporting commands will spin up, but they have to judge how much information is enough to update without overwhelming the supported command. Sometimes they will judge wrong and provide less information than you would like. It is fine for the supported command to validate progress, but you should not assume you know more than you actually do. Crozier’s email with the attached letter created an incorrect picture of progress made in establishing the conditions to move his crew into town. When it went public and staffs had to deal with the fallout, it made things worse by consuming their effort and delaying work in progress. Before you ever represent that support is insufficient, make sure you are absolutely certain you have a good picture of what is going on outside your command.


8. Everything will leak.
The Crozier investigation does not conclude who leaked his letter. But it indicates that the ship’s medical staff threatened to leak a letter. In the modern world, assume everything on the unclassified network, and too much of what exists on the classified network, will be released far beyond what was intended. Whatever you write, assume it will get out, and play out scenarios of what will happen when it does, before you hit “send.”

9. Many of your crewmembers will use social media as their primary source of information. Despite the existence of Snopes and other fact-checking services, much of what flows around social media sites is false or misleading. The more breathless a report is, the more it will propagate. Imagine if those sites were your primary, or even your only, sources of information. Unfortunately, that state is true for too many in our country, including many military members. In the modern age, the issue will not be whether what the crew “knows” is wrong, the question will only be the degree to which it is wrong. In a world where information is constantly modulated, commands must do what they can to implement “truth campaigns” that are honest and effective.

10. Social media “campaigns” will create a new dynamic that can quickly spread off the ship. Regardless of whether it is wise for commands to communicate to crew and their families via social media, that is what is happening today. The problem begins when incorrect information (or disinformation) is injected into those social exchanges, as it almost always is. In the case of the Theodore Roosevelt, Crozier created an inaccurate picture of the degree of progress on getting his crew off the ship, which spun out of control into a social media campaign driven by media outlets. At that point, the truth no longer mattered, and Navy lost control of the narrative.

11. Another danger: decision by “Twitter mob.” The tool of “creating a false narrative then get the public to amplify that false narrative” has existed for some time, but the military was thought to be somewhat insulated from it. No longer. Once the report of Theodore Roosevelt’s status began spinning out of control, the “Twitter mob” phenomenon began, where a large number of media outlets, “influencers,” and members of the general public became outraged by the inaccurate status and demanded action. There was even concern that this social media pressure might influence senior defense leaders, which would be worrisome in any situation, more so in an operational event. There is extreme risk that ill-informed, or well-informed but malign, social media forces will intentionally or inadvertently drive a decision in the wrong direction. This is a matter that must be understood and dealt with at all levels of command, and the higher up you get, the more critical the response likely will be.

12. Supporting staff is just that: supporting staff. You are the leader, and the fact you may have received bad advice from supporting staff will not protect you, nor should it. Challenge assumptions. Cross-check supposed “facts.” Make sure the information you are basing your decision on is correct. It is your responsibility.

13. Panicked activity never helps. In a crisis, there will always be a temptation to “do something.” That “something” must derive from reason and logic. Yet, in the case of the Theodore Roosevelt, it appears that reasoned analysis had been overcome by frenetic activity directed at getting “the machine” to move faster on a very challenging course of action. Again, in the cold light of day, there were actions that could have been taken to reduce risk of exposure for the crew that would have been additive to, not in lieu of, Crozier’s preferred solution. The more serious an event is, the more important it is to slow down and think.


It is remarkable that so many people commenting on the Crozier affair got so much so wrong. The signs were there from the beginning, for those who felt inclined to look for them.
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Articles Leadership

Reinstatement: What’s Right Got to Do With It?

This was the third in a series of 3 articles written on the Crozier affair. The first piece was written in reaction to the significant lack of balance in national coverage of the USS Theodore Roosevelt COVID issue, which seemed to ignore national strategic implications of a COVID infection that started in China and then took out of action the only American aircraft carrier deployed in the China theater of operations. It was published in Wall Street Journal on April 6, 2020. The second piece was written about the great media reaction to the perception that Crozier’s actions were appropriate because they were driven by “love” for and by his crew, and was published in US Naval Institute Proceedings a week later. This third piece was written to explore the larger issues of weighing what was best for the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt against the spread of infection to the older, less healthy, and largely low income population of American citizens residing in Guam.

 

Should Secretary of Defense Mark Esper reinstate Captain Crozier? This is a complex issue. Let’s consider it based on the facts as we know them now.
 
Let’s not debate how the infection got to the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Some say the vector was from their visit to Vietnam, but the timeline may support the possibility that one of the crewmembers returning to the ship from San Diego brought the infection with him. We may never know, and it really doesn’t affect the issues outlined below.
 
As I argued in both the Wall Street Journal and in Proceedings, Capt. Crozier was right to argue strenuously about the risk to his crew, and only his crew. If the well-being of the crew of the Roosevelt were the only issue at hand, it would have been easy for the Navy to deal with it.
 
But once the infection was aboard, here is the situation Navy leaders faced:
 
  • While the leaders of other sovereign nations could have refused entry to the Roosevelt, the governor of Guam could not. Hence, Guam was the Navy’s only real choice for where to send the ship.
  • Guam is a very small territory, with a population of about 160K, about the size of Fort Collins, Colorado. There is one small naval “hospital” on the island (almost too small to be called a hospital), as well as one civilian hospital. If an outbreak occurred among the civilian population, it could be devastating, so the territorial leaders had to be convinced the outbreak would be contained.
  • Capt. Crozier’s written statements indicated he wanted his crew off the ship fast, but there was no place on base to house 4500 crewmembers. The Army has housed troops in isolation in field conditions (tents), but this was either not possible or not contemplated for the Roosevelt crew. Hence, Capt. Crozier insisted the best course of action was to put the crew in tourist district hotels.
  • But Guam’s hotels had already been closed because of the virus, and hotel employees had been laid off. So, the Navy had to work with hotel owners, convince them to open their hotels to potential infection, develop a plan to prevent interface between sailors and hotel workers, and wait for the hotels to rehire employees who would be willing to risk potential infection. Further, the Navy had to figure out a way to feed the crew 14000 meals a day with the restaurants in town also shut down because of COVID. The Navy had to work with restaurant owners and convince them to rehire their staffs and open back up to serve, again, potentially infected sailors.
  • The Navy could not mandate these things— they had no power over the local government or local businesses. People in the local community had to be willing to help. Folks had to come out of isolation. Businesses had to be restarted.
  • Capt. Crozier knew about these complexities. He raised it in his March 30th email: “While I understand that there are political concerns with requesting the use of hotels on Guam to truly isolate the remaining 4,500 Sailors 14+ days, the hotels are empty, and I believe it is the only way to quickly combat the problem.”
  • But the potential for civilian casualties among American citizens are not merely “political concerns,” and leaders on Guam were very concerned. On April 2nd, Senator Sabina Flores Perez wrote a letter to Guam’s Governor Lourdes Leon Guererro that said, in part, “I am disturbed by the reckless double-standard of potentially placing potentially exposed military personnel in local hotels…. If sailors are placed in our hotels, we will be exposing lower-wage employees to greater risk, many of whom are older and have limited or no health benefits for themselves and their families.” (emphasis added)
Again, Capt. Crozier was right to fight for his crew. But senior leaders, both in the Navy and in the government of Guam, had to weigh the risk to his young and healthy crew against the risk to the mostly lower income, older people of Guam, to make sure things were done deliberately and safely.
 
When Capt. Crozier didn’t think things were moving fast enough, he wrote (and someone leaked) his now infamous letter.
 
From the start, it appears that Capt. Crozier was anxious about the only available data at his disposal for the spread of COVID aboard ship— that from a cruise ship. Extrapolating from that, it’s reported that he thought there was a possibility that 50 of his sailors could die. But he should have understood the two models were not comparable. The cruise ship passengers’ average age was late 60s, many with significant health problems. His crew’s average age was about 21, all of them relatively healthy and in “deployable” status. It’s unspeakably tragic that a sailor from the Roosevelt died— but that was one death in about 950 infections. What was the shipboard death rate for a population aged 65–90? About 1%. It’s prudent to plan for the worst case scenario, and there was a lot that wasn’t known about the disease progression at the time, but if his medical staff led him to believe that the mortality rates for his crew would be anywhere near 50, they may have inadvertently set him up.
 
People have said that Capt. Crozier would not have written his letter without first consulting his leadership. Evidence suggests that he did have discussions with his leadership— he just didn’t like the answer he was getting.
 
If Capt. Crozier was putting the interests of his crew over the interests of other American citizens, even to the point of seeking national media attention, in such a way that would turn the tide to his favor– was that the right call? Is that the standard we are going to use to measure the performance of other Navy commanding officers going forward? To use all methods available to them, including the press, if they are frustrated with their chain of command’s responsiveness?
 
And it bears repeating— the rock concert-like, social-distancing-be-damned celebration by the Roosevelt crew as Crozier left the ship make it clear that Crozier did a very poor job teaching his crew how to avoid this infection. I wonder how many of the 950 infections in his crew were caused by that goodbye celebration. Your Aunt Emma and her friends have been very disciplined in their enforcement of the routines that will get us out of this crisis. A Navy ship’s crew should be more disciplined, not less, than Aunt Emma.
 
If you believe Capt. Crozier was right to get agitated with leaders in his chain of command who had the broader responsibility of balancing the interests of 160,000 mostly low-income American citizens with the interests of his young, healthy crew, then by all means reinstate.

 
 
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Articles Leadership

Command at Sea: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

This was the second in a series of 3 articles written on the Crozier affair. The first piece was written in reaction to the significant lack of balance in national coverage of the USS Theodore Roosevelt COVID issue, which seemed to ignore national strategic implications of a COVID infection that started in China and then took out of action the only American aircraft carrier deployed in the China theater of operations. It was published in Wall Street Journal on April 6, 2020. This is the second piece, which was written about the great media reaction to the perception that Crozier’s actions were appropriate because they were driven by “love” for and by his crew, and was published in US Naval Institute Proceedings a week later. The third piece was written to explore the larger issues of weighing what was best for the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt against the spread of infection to the older, less healthy, and largely low income population of American citizens residing in Guam.

While teaching leadership to my sailors, I sometimes used movie clips to make a specific point. One of the best was the superb 1949 movie “Twelve O’clock High,” starring Gregory Peck. The story starts with a character named Colonel Keith Davenport, the group commander of the 918th Bomb Group. The unit is flying daylight bombing runs over Germany and suffering terrible losses. Davenport cares for his command intensely. He agonizes for his men. He works tirelessly. He loves his men, and they love him.
 
But his love is killing them.
 
Higher command’s operations officer, Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck’s character), decides it’s time to relieve Davenport, and he is asked to take the job. An aptly named, notorious hard-ass, Savage shows up and immediately focuses on discipline. He reminds his soldiers that they are in the Army. He sets expectations and holds them accountable. Initially, they hate him. They fight him. They resist. But soon, their combat effectiveness improves, and their loss rate declines. Gradually, they realize Savage was right, and they come to respect their new commanding officer.
 
“Twelve O’clock High” dramatizes a leadership truism: it is possible to be effective while being loved, but being loved does not make one effective. Strangely, the public discourse over the story of Captain Brett Crozier and the USS TheodoreRoosevelt (CVN-71) has been largely about “love.” And although the story is still being written, there is already much to reflect on. 
 
Further, many of the issues raised by the Theodore Roosevelt incident show that the Navy is undergoing an evolution of ethos. Regardless of whether one believes this is a good thing, contemplation of this evolution is important.
 
Love
 
The often-outraged chatter over the Theodore Roosevelt affair has often gone something like this: “Captain Crozier loved and was loved by his crew.” (Some senior officers use the term “deep affection.”) There is nothing wrong with that, and it certainly is not the first time that word has been used in conjunction with a military unit. But it has been surprising to watch the degree to which “love” has been one of the dominant themes—not just by civilians, but by military veterans as well, even to the point of justifying the outcome.
 
But at what point in our Navy’s history did love begin to matter? Does love or deep affection represent the new normal in expectations for military commanders? 
 
In light of the viral nature of both the COVID infection itself, and its social media coverage, that social media seems to be not merely reflecting attitudes regarding the event, but also driving behavior of individual sailors, the public in general, and national decisionmakers.
 
While I had great affection for my crews (as I hope they had for me), I doubt the declaration or demonstration of any emotion twenty years ago would have shielded me or other commanders from fallout from our decisions. The narrative back then, particularly from the retired military community, would have been different, and would have focused on whether a commander’s decision actually worked. The most important metric was mission accomplishment. 
 
For commanding officers reading this, please do not take the wrong lessons from this incident. Crews want their captain to be competent, consistent, skilled, and professional. No crew likes to be mediocre. If your crew has affection for you because you have upgraded your ship’s performance and made it more effective, you should be proud. But if they love you for any other reason, to include the perception that you are merely their protector, a self-assessment may be necessary. 
 
Another point for reflection: People have been quick to state that the COVID crisis is something no commander has ever had to deal with before. That is true, but hundreds of battles in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq challenged other leaders with unprecedented situations. Many of these threatened the survival of entire units, just as Captain Crozier felt his entire crew was in danger. Captain Crozier’s letter justified his request of taking the Theodore Roosevelt offline, stating, “We are not at war.” But even in peacetime, military operations can present unprecedented scenarios—sometimes jeopardizing an entire crew, as any submarine commander can tell you. Even in peacetime, ships face threats—a fire in weapons spaces, for example, that require a captain to make life-and-death decisions bearing directly on survival of the crew.  Of course, gain should offset operational risk, and commanding officers should have input, including—in some cases— “veto authority.” But that must always occur within the proper channels, with the proper voices balancing the complete picture. 
 
Regarding Captain Crozier’s “We are not at war” statement— who would like to make that case to the families of the 13 American servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan so far in 2020, or to those still on patrol, under fire, overseas? Do individual commanding officers now get to decide whether the nation is at war? A generation ago if a commanding officer had unilaterally made such a declaration of peace, the reaction to that statement would have been much different.
Seeing little balance in the public discourse, I wrote an op-ed that was published on 7 April in the Wall Street Journal. I tried not to speculate on information not yet known, to avoid attributing motive or intent, but to work with the facts as they were known in the public domain. I made four observations: 
 
  • That it was difficult to reconcile Captain Crozier’s stated intent— that he was trying to send an urgent appeal for help— with what he actually did;
  • That representing the operational status of a warship should have been handled within classified channels; 
  • That military course-of-action recommendations should strive to avoid emotional undertones and should be based on analysis and logic, and; 
  • That the actions of the Theodore Roosevelt’s crew during their ad hoc goodbye celebration were an unfortunate breach of discipline that probably increased the number of infections on the ship.
I did not take a side on whether Crozier’s relief was appropriate (although I agonized for him and regretted the way he handled the issue). My analysis required making no assumptions— it was based on observations that have not been challenged. Ten years ago, those observations would have been uncontroversial. 
 
My concern is that the Crozier affair might be much larger than the carrier itself, that it might be a symptom of a more extensive, new phenomenon— the expansion of a social media-driven, feel-good zeitgeist that might be a negative influence on military command. Both the revelation and content of the letter itself, as well as the crew’s reaction to Crozier’s relief, received enormous national coverage. I made the point, in light of the viral nature of both the COVID infection itself, and its social media coverage, that social media seems to be not merely reflecting attitudes regarding the event, but also driving behavior of individual sailors, the public in general, and national decisionmakers.
 
Am I reading too much into this? Perhaps. But root cause analysis teaches us that people are always tempted to treat any problem as a one-off— something we are supposed to avoid. We are supposed to analyze an issue for systemic causes and impact. If this event was not a one-off, what does it say about future military decision-making? Does this social-media-driven reaction signal an erosion of military ethos? This is a fair concern and an appropriate subject for discussion
I entered the national discourse to elevate these matters for debate. The reaction was stunning.
 
While the thousand or so comments on my op-ed over the next 24 hours were mostly positive, the negative comments were split evenly between those written by people with military experience and those without. It was incredible to see the number of all-caps, shouting, pseudo-rebuttals that provided no cogent arguments but carried a “HOW DARE YOU QUESTION A PATRIOT LIKE THIS, YOU POSER! WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT MILITARY SERVICE?” theme. 
 
Two insights can be gleaned: first, the Theodore Roosevelt event has struck an emotional chord with the public that often fails to incorporate facts; and second, any viewpoint put forward that is perceived to be “fighting” the Navy will be received with much greater applause than one that tries to inform or explain a government action. It used to be that folks just hated Congress and the military was held in high esteem. Those days seem to have passed. And it doesn’t matter what your arguments are. Emotion will prevail.
 
I had hoped that one fact-based observation would reign over emotion, particularly with veterans—that the carrier’s sailors had demonstrated a lack of discipline in the farewell ceremony video. Many veteran commenters agreed that the display reflected poorly on Captain Crozier, but I was surprised at the number of veterans who justified the captain’s rock star send-off, as well as his shotgunning classified information via email, with emotional arguments such as “love.”
 
America has been through a lot these past few weeks. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have been sickened by the coronavirus, and thousands have died. A record number of workers lost their jobs and filed for unemployment as businesses shut down. Most Americans were trying to do the right thing to defeat the virus. Then the aircraft carrier goodbye video aired on Instagram and everyone seemed to forget about all that. 
 
Sailors disregarded everything we had been all been taught about stopping the spread of the disease. But why worry? They were just “showing their love for their captain.” With hundreds crammed into a small area around one of the ship’s elevators, would their “love” protect them from infection? Did they not learn what the rest of us did? Or did they just not care? 
 
Where were the horrified voices condemning the tragedy that these sailors had likely just inflicted upon themselves— a ripple-effect of new infections? Why were none of the pundits who make regular rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows sounding off about this? Where were the voices saying that, in the midst of a crisis, we should expect military professionals to be more disciplined than the average citizen?
 
Instead, what we heard was an excuse, “THERE IS NO SOCIAL DISTANCING ON A WARSHIP!” The truth, as Proceedings readers well know, is that the Theodore Roosevelt is an aircraft carrier, not a submarine. Her hangar bay is 700 feet long, yet that video revealed hundreds of sailors jammed into a small area around an elevator. Why have so many Navy veterans who should know better been pushing this canard? 
 
Even the chief petty officers I know are asking, “Where were the Chiefs?” I presume the Chiefs’ Mess was fully involved in transferring crewmembers off the ship, shifting watchbills and other arrangements to minimize berthing and mess-space loading and improve social distancing. But in none of the interactions do we see any evidence of an engaged and effective goat locker. 
 
Strategic Impact
Over the past decade, China has behaved increasingly as a malign actor—not just in the Pacific region but around the world. It has destroyed pristine reefs to engineer false territory and falsely claimed international waters as its own. China has used economic pressure, military expansionism, and threats of violence to intimidate less powerful democratic nations. The only moderator to its vigorous expansionism has been a powerful U.S. and allied military presence in areas China is trying to influence, and the most visible manifestation of that military presence is an aircraft carrier strike group. 
 
Taking an aircraft carrier off-line significantly undercuts the strategic posture in the region. That is a decision that cannot be made at the O-6 level, which brings us to Captain Crozier’s now infamous letter—and, sadly, to motive. The fact that the letter was sent around in unclassified channels and leaked means the Chinese received it at the same time as the Pentagon. If one believes Crozier was correct in writing and disseminating his letter widely (but not to any specific persons in his leadership chain), how was it supposed to play out? What would “victory” have looked like? Do we think it was the right thing for him to do because “he tried?” Even Yoda knows that merely “trying” is not enough. Isn’t “success” the only true measure of success?
 
If someone wants help urgently, they call 911. They don’t email 911. It takes busy senior leaders hours, if not days, to get through their inboxes. The “I emailed you because my house was burning down and I needed help” narrative does not resonate. There were other, arguably more effective, avenues available to the captain. 
 
Yes, this is 20/20 hindsight, and yes, Captain Crozier was under a lot of pressure. But that is true for all post-mission analysis— that it is informed by hindsight analysis of people under pressure. Why has the inclination been to treat this matter differently?
 
Reason
Military decisions must always be made in an environment that is as devoid of emotion as possible, even more so during a crisis. Captain Crozier was right to be worried about his crew. He was right to escalate. He was right to communicate the interests of his crew and to let the chain of command deconflict competing demands. But his letter was infected with an emotional narrative that should be avoided in the rational analysis of options.
 
This event exposed issues that get to the foundations of the Navy and command at sea. These are matters worthy of debate. Not only does this discussion not need to wait for the investigation to be complete, it should inform the investigation. 
Today, physicians are dealing with existential crises in hospitals around the world that are more acute than that faced on USS Theodore Roosevelt. Most of those physicians have no military training or experience, and yet they are, for the most part, handling the crisis magnificently, unemotionally, and with little drama. How would we react if those critical “soldiers” on the front lines of this fight allowed their emotions to influence their triage or treatment their patients?
 
We should not expect anything less from leaders in our Navy.
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Articles Leadership

A Failure of Discipline Under Captain Crozier’s Command

This was the first piece written in reaction to the significant lack of balance in national coverage of the USS Theodore Roosevelt COVID issue, which seemed to ignore national strategic implications of a COVID infection that started in China and then took out of action the only American aircraft carrier deployed in the China theater of operations. It was published in Wall Street Journal on April 6, 2020. The second piece was written about the great media reaction to the perception that Crozier’s actions were appropriate because they were driven by “love” for and by his crew, and was published in US Naval Institute Proceedings a week later. The third piece was written to explore the larger issues of weighing what was best for the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt against the spread of infection to the older, less healthy, and largely low income population of American citizens residing in Guam.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly relieved Capt. Brett Crozier of command last week after the press published a letter about a Covid-19 outbreak on the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. I agonize for Capt. Crozier, who has tested positive for Covid himself. I too once commanded a warship, and I once took a controversial position at risk to my own career.
Yet I regret his decision. The video of the crew paying respects to Capt. Crozier as he leaves the Roosevelt demonstrates his popularity. But it leaves me with grave concern over the feelings first zeitgeist on display, and it causes me concern that the crew’s actions will make the ship’s situation much worse.
This event gives a worrisome peek into the fraying of America’s military command structure. That structure relies on aggregated wisdom and dispersed power. It replaces emotion with cold logic. It reins in impulse with carefully considered protocols and procedures. None of those virtues are evident in how the Roosevelt incident played out.
No doubt Capt. Crozier was concerned about the Covid crisis and wanted to escalate the issue to protect his crew. That desire is to be commended. But the crew’s welfare is only part of a Navy captain’s responsibilities, which are global in scope. Capt. Crozier’s letter effectively recommended that the Navy take an operational, forward-deployed nuclear-powered aircraft carrier offline, an event that would be classified and carry significant strategic implications world-wide, hence would have to be escalated to the president. From that standpoint, the Roosevelt was not Capt. Crozier’s ship, it was America’s. But to shotgun that kind of recommendation in a letter via an unclassified email is a violation of the highest order.
Capt. Crozier’s defenders have said he was speaking truth to power. But he could have done so directly. He could have generated serious action with a properly classified, immediate precedence “Personal for” naval message to any of at least five operational commanders in his chain of command. He could have reached out directly to the Navy secretary. Instead, according to Mr. Modly, Capt. Crozier shotgunned, thereby losing control of, an email containing classified details reflecting the state of readiness of one of America’s most important ships. The upshot is that the Chinese received Capt. Crozier’s letter at the same time as the Pentagon.
The Navy doesn’t always get it right. I spent more than a decade defending Capt. Charles McVay III. He commanded the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis when it was sunk in July 1945, the worst at-sea disaster in U.S. naval history. Like Capt. Crozier, McVay’s story captured national headlines. McVay’s surviving crew rallied around him, fighting to vindicate him even after his 1968 suicide.
McVay was convicted by a court-martial for “hazarding his vessel” by failing to take action the Navy believed would have spared his ship from a Japanese submarine attack. For more than 50 years his crew fought for his exoneration. In 1998 they recruited me—then captain of the submarine that bears the same name as their sunken cruiser—to aid their case. My role was to demonstrate through computer modeling that even if McVay had taken the recommended action, the Japanese attack would likely have succeeded. The Navy dug in and insisted it had acted properly 54 years earlier. I was warned that for the good of my future I needed to learn how to become a “company man,” but I pressed on. Congress passed a resolution exonerating McVay in 2000, and the Navy secretary officially cleared his record in 2001.
Which brings me back to the video of Capt. Crozier leaving his ship. McVay’s crew exhibited more discipline for the greater good of the ship than we saw in the Roosevelt video.
In today’s culture, even in the military, the “right” side of an issue tends increasingly to start with feelings. Social media posts—“We stand with Captain Crozier”—don’t merely reflect attitudes; they drive behavior among the public and, more troubling, among young sailors. The Journal reports that some sailors say they won’t re-enlist over the way they perceive the incident to have been handled. Imagine if this trend continues to its logical extreme—military decisions by Twitter mob.
And while Capt. Crozier recommended the crew be removed from his ship, it’s clear there was much they could have done but didn’t, as evidenced by their social-distance-be-damned rockstar departure celebration, which will likely leave them with more Covid-19 infections. The video suggests that the crew didn’t know—or worse, didn’t care—that their behavior was the naval equivalent of standing on top of a hill with bullets flying around them to generate an Instagram moment. Such behavior reflects poorly on their commander.
Command is a privilege. I pray for the recovery of Capt. Crozier and everyone else who’s been infected. But this event’s legacy also includes thousands, military and civilian, beguiled into rooting for an ineffective form of leadership, a loss of faith in a chain of command that was never properly invoked, and a horrified home front—not to mention media pundits making matters worse by sounding off on issues they don’t understand.
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Articles Leadership Military Culture

Collisions: Did Culture Trump Technology?

The collisions of two Navy Aegis guided-missile destroyers cannot be considered to be not random, chance events. They were not torpedo attacks inflicted by an unseen enemy. The events were eminently avoidable, and thinking otherwise can kill a crew. Is there something about the culture of US Navy surface warriors that increases the potential for collisions? First published in by the US Naval Institute in August 2017.

Almost all of my eight seagoing tours were conducted in the Seventh Fleet. I have transited in and out of Tokyo Wan and Sagami Wan dozens of times, have passed through the Straits of Malacca, and have tied up in Hong Kong and Singapore. I’ve operated out of the very shallow moorages of Fiji and Saipan, as well as deep-water ports like Guam and Subic Bay, up north to Busan and down south to Perth. My crews and I have operated surfaced and submerged in very shallow and congested waters using little more than passive sonar, a periscope, some basic fire-control systems, maybe a speedboat-style consumer-market Furuno radar while on the surface, the Mark One Mod Zero eyeball, and most important, our brains.
 
During my final active-duty assignment prior to retirement, however, I spent more time on surface ships than on submarines. And I observed many cultural differences in the way the surface ships are operated. These differences may have some bearing on the conditions that contributed to the unfortunate outcomes.
Tactical qualifications should be delayed until officers prove themselves as competent shiphandlers and developed good “sea sense.”    
This is not to suggest that submarines operate perfectly, which of course they do not. But there is a level of conservatism inherent in submarine operations that, as a general rule, I did not observe in the operation of surface combatants. That is the cultural underpinning of certain paradoxes I intend to demonstrate here.
 
The first paradox has to do with an ethos driven by the very nature of submarining. In a submarine, the presumption is that if a serious casualty occurs, the entire crew will be lost. Although there is no such thing as an acceptable number of deaths on any ship, in a submarine everyone knows that a serious mistake by anyone means the death of all. This induces a certain level of gravitas that I did not usually sense when embarked in surface combatants. The paradox, then, is that because surface crews may believe they are in less actual physical danger than do submarine crews, they may be more likely to act in ways that induce higher levels of risk than do their submarine counterparts, who operate with the knowledge that they are only one major casualty away from catastrophe.
 
On submarines every member of the crew, regardless of seniority level, is allowed to—is expected to—“call out” any other crewmember, up to and including the captain, any time he or she feels that something is wrong. Yes, a seaman apprentice is expected to correct the captain if he or she sees something wrong. If every crewmember is going to die in a serious casualty, then everyone is responsible for keeping it from happening.
 
The second and perhaps most profound paradox is that in matters that don’t count, surface crews are far more “formal” than submarine crews. Then in matters that do count, they are far less so.
 
In their bearing and demeanor in the presence of the commanding officer (CO), surface crewmembers are very, for lack of a better expression, military in behavior. In contrast, submarine crewmembers tend to be substantially more informal—some might even say too informal, even within earshot of the CO. In matters of watchstanding and other areas where formality really does count, however, submarine crews are much more formal. This includes watch turnovers, watchstanding qualifications, readiness, discipline, and more.
 
The third paradox is that surface watchstanding qualifications do not appear to be as rigorous as submarine qualifications. Instead, they seem to be much more formulaic, “checklist-oriented,” and much less demanding and “learning-oriented,” than submarine qualifications. I found that the average submarine sonarman third class often knew more about the nature and propagation characteristics of sound than the average surface sonarman first class.
 
Paradox number four is that submarines are thought of as high tech (and they are), but surface crews seem to rely on the technology far more than submarine crews do. Even junior sonarmen, fire-control technicians, and navigation technicians on submarines are taught to think through relative motion problems using mental methods, with the presumption that they always have to ask themselves if the situation presented by the machines actually makes sense.  Similarly, submarine officers are still trained to solve “approach and attack” relative motion problems in their heads while looking through the periscope, just as was done during World War II. The premise is that the machines will fail at the worst possible moment, and therefore you must first use your brain. This fundamental understanding of relative motion is constantly drilled into submariners and produces substantial benefits in matters of navigational safety as well as attacks.
 
In contrast, on surface ships with systems such as three-dimensional antiair radars, the mental test of whether what the machine says actually makes sense cannot usually be applied. Sometimes, rather than having an appropriately questioning attitude, there seems to be a willingness to simply believe what the machine tells you, even with simple systems like sonars and surface search radars, where it might otherwise be possible to conduct mental quality checks.
 
Paradox five is that because surface combatants generally have multiple sensor systems observing the same physical event, they are data-rich. But because they are inundated by data, they are often information-poor and less able to process what all the data means. The great volume of it often gives them more confidence than they should have in their situational awareness. They therefore often have a confidence-to-reality mismatch that sometimes causes them to act in inappropriate ways.
 
In contrast, on submarines, it is normal that a given target is only held on a single sensor (sonar when submerged, and a relatively low-tech radar when surfaced). If lucky, a submariner might even hold the target visually on the surface or at periscope depth. That means the mental aspects of situational awareness are far more elemental on submarines, and conservative, almost worst-case assumptions were far more likely to be made.
 
Paradox six is that even the most advanced fast-attack submarines are ungainly, maneuvering hogs on the surface compared with sleek surface combatants, yet the surface crews often take longer to act. Submarines on the surface have such small radar signatures that merchant ships using radar may presume they are nothing more than very maneuverable small boats. As a result, merchant crews almost always act as if they believe the small-boat-looking-submarine can easily maneuver out of the way of the merchant, which is not normally possible for a 6,000-ton warship with very little freeboard. Because of that, submariners must often presume that the maneuvering burden is on them, regardless of what the rules of the road prescribe. We train to maneuver early to avoid in-extremis situations.
 
In contrast, surface combatant crews often believe their ships’ exceptional maneuverability will get them out of trouble, and as a result they sometimes wait longer than is prudent to execute avoidance maneuvers.
 
The seventh and final paradox was revealed to me in 1994, when, as a submarine executive officer, I conducted a study of how to improve mariner skills. I found that the mindset required for being a good mariner is often in conflict with what is needed for being a good warrior, and this holds just as true in submarines as it does in surface ships. Aviators understand this:  junior officers are first expected to learn how to fly their planes competently while developing good “air sense,” long before they ever have to worry about fighting the plane. This is why I have recommended since the mid-1990s that mariner training be separated from ship combat training. Tactical qualifications should be delayed until officers prove themselves as competent shiphandlers and developed good “sea sense.”    
 
It is often said that culture will trump strategy any day of the week. The lesson of these paradoxes is that culture also can trump technology.
 
I don’t know if any of these factors were at play in recent crises. I do know they may be contributing factors that should be examined.