SWJ Editorial

Small Wars Journal has been the source of much debate and criticism recently regarding the publication of the article “Full Spectrum Operations in the Homeland: A ‘Vision’ of the Future”.  This essay by two academics, one of whom a retired Army colonel, addressed the issues surrounding the potential future requirement to use US military forces to support civil authorities to combat threats on American soil.  This discussion was illustrated with a hypothetical future scenario that envisioned extremist groups committing violence and erecting checkpoints, leading to a call for federal intervention.  The scenario and the choice of actors within it have led to significant criticism that has overlooked the strengths of the Small Wars Journal.  Specifically, this is a “big tent” forum that boldly publishes controversial and contrarian viewpoints of all strains, relying on intelligence and experience of its readership to comment, debate, discount, and / or support articles and elements within them.  We do not think for our readership, nor do we bill this as a platform preaching authoritative views.

There is little that we can say that will mollify the most strident critics of the essay, including those that have taken this as an opportunity to spew hate and even threats. We will not debate the merits of the article, as that likewise will be fruitless. More importantly, such a debate is not our role. Our volunteer editorial staff does not take sides on the issues.  We publish almost all and let the readership come to their own conclusions. Thus, when critics say that the “influential” Small Wars Journal is espousing a position, they are missing the point of our forum. This is not an official mouthpiece. It does not have an editorial slant. And it is not for profit. We simply provide a space for intelligent discussion that we hope will remain free, professional, and—while impassioned—civil.

The crux of the issue is that in the scenario, the authors stated that the extremists were motivated by tea party ideals.  The use of little “t” tea party and the statement that the extremists were motivated by tea party ideals rather than members of the Tea Party was a nuance the editorial staff read in the essay and that many others have not. Nearly all political positions can be taken to extremes, sometimes violent. Had we instructed the authors to choose a different example, not only would we likely have drawn criticism from a different front, but we would have introduced an editorial bias that drew us deeper into the morass.

Despite the vitriolic criticism of the choice of scenario, the criticism that bites the deepest is that of the quality of the article. The authors have been critiqued for an excessive focus on doctrine and a failure to fully achieve their own professed goals in the essay. As editors and within our own guidelines, we could have done more to improve this aspect of the content.  However, as is stated in our editorial vision, we lean toward providing topical and timely content over fully refined works. We are not an academic journal publishing four editions a year at costs that are prohibitive to the non-institutional customer. In fact, we are unpaid (with a few barely paid in the best of times), with other full-time employment, yet still manage to post an average of five journal articles a week, in addition to daily blog posts, news updates, and providing a world-class discussion board all free of charge and with minimally invasive advertising.

In closing, we appreciate the passionate debate and great interest of one of our articles, however we hope that our new readers will take the time to understand our position and our devoted readers will remember that the policies that have made us a premier forum for debate will sometimes bring controversy.

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Comments

I would only offer one counterpoint;

the 'metatheme' charter for SWJ is nicely summarized on the home page. "We look for articles from serious, authentic voices that add richness, breadth and depth to the dialog that too often occurs in cloistered venues."

Did this article make the cut? That is a subjective question, but I would support the earlier comments that the article, if written without the political hot potato of fingering one part of the current US spectrum, might have contributed to a "richer" article that had greater "breadth" because it did not immediately alienate any readers. Thus, an article that approached this challenging concept from a more generic threat that was still a domestic and internal one would have added more "depth" to the dialog that followed.

Unfortunately, the better dialogue on SWJ was somewhat muted from the tidal wave of largely superficial discussions that focused on the hot potato, and largely ignored the main purpose of what the authors sought to do (but in my opinion fell short of).

While I hope that many of the new commentors remain on SWJ and continue to contribute, I fear that their sudden arrival had more to do with the "hot potato" aspects of the article (hence the lack of richness, breadth, and depth) and less on how SWJ publishes many articles that generate far less vitrol discourse that is still remarkable and rich.

SWJ editing is amazing, given that SWJ is not a "for profit" enterprise and relies far more on peer-review editing than any pre-publication vetting. That said, it is up to the SWJ editors to define and explain to themselves what articles "add richness, breadth and depth to the dialog" and which ones contain a few too many hot potatos that end up making alot of dialog about the wrong things.

-bz

The 911 comission called our inability to prevent an attack on America a "failure of the imagination".... which is was. Publishing that Article may have done more to Protect America then the entire budget of the so called DHS.

As one who believes in supporting and defending the Constitution I do believe in the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech. I also believe in academic freedom and the importance of the free exchange of ideas (good and bad ideas) and the heated debates that can accompany such exchange. All that happens on Small Wars Journal and I think it is healthy for the community and the Nation.

Keep publishing edgy pieces. If we all stay in safe little mental boxes defined by the majority or seniority viewpoint we'd all still be living on a flat earth that the sun revolved around and seeing a priest rather than a doctor when we got sick.

I personally did not like the piece, not because it used the tea party as an example (what, should the authors have used the Krasnovians to avoid offending anyone??); what I didn't like was that the article is a nudge down the slippery slope of our army beginning to rationalize that the same inappropriate tactics we have been applying to other populaces overseas over the past decade are somehow validated by that use as appropriate to apply at home. THAT is what bothered me.

How incredibly failed would our system of governance have to have become for the scenario described by the author to have played out? The villain in the story was not the tea party, the villain was a federal government that had drifted so far from the reality of the evolving expectations of the populace that it is sworn to serve that it created the conditions that would make the illegal acts of the tea party group described in the article so acceptable to the local governments and populaces they affected.

These types of uprisings are not caused by those who act out to leverage such conditions among a poorly governed populace. They are caused by growing perceptions that governance is missing the mark in major ways that cause the people to question its sovereignty, its legitimacy; that make a populace feel that it is being treated with disrespect or injustice; that make a populace feel that they have no legal recourse to address such primary concerns.

Just as appropriate/outrageous would have been if the army acted upon its sworn duty to protect the constitution and instead of going after the rebels went after the government. We need to discuss both course of action that could occur if we the people allow governance to drift so far as they must have in this scenario. Fortunately in America we have legal means to discuss such concerns well in advance and to legally act upon those concerns to provide course corrections to our government officials. Get out and vote, America. Not for some party over another, but for the leaders you think will work to keep our country on track. And then hold them to that task.

Keep publishing, SWJ. When we stop debating the things that many hate to think about, those things actually begin to happen.

Cheers,

Bob

Don't worry about Hama. Worry about Damascus and Aleppo.

My heartburn stemmed(s) not from the use of "tea party" but from the ideological nastiness associated in the article with the tea party. This seemed to me (and others) to proceed from an ideological world view more prevalent in academic circles than in the real world. The associations made in the article were not germane to the issue and were gratuitous. The idea that such associations have percolated into our military educational system is disturbing

If SWJ is going to be the non-ideological forum to discuss subjects such as the use of the US military in domestic operations then I would hope that you do a better job of requiring that the authors scrub their articles of non-essential polemics before you accept them for publication. SWJ SHOULD be non-ideological but that means you need to be careful not to be used as a tool.

Polemics and snarkiness notwithstanding, I also feel that the article was unrealistic. It glossed over many issues that would arise in the current environment. It struck me as a way, not to explore the technical and real world operational issues involved, but more as an attempt to float a trial baloon and see the reaction.

In the current political situation the decision to employ "full spectrum" operations in such a relatively minor occurrence could be putting gas on the fire, not water. This was, to me, a central question. Much the same as how many troops do you need to occupy (not conquer) Iraq. Such a question is better discussed before you board the chopper, not afterward.

I think that Waco, for instance, would not have turned out as it did if DOJ had not been calling the plays. The topic is worth discussing but more to whether and under what circumstances. It would not be as simple as "here are your orders". Our troops are not Hessians and the planners and macro types need to "get" that.

Those, I think, are the reasons for the fire and brimstone. At least they are mine.

Like good parents, you must allow your contributors to fail. Hopefully they will learn from failure. Beyond the choice of OPFOR, the choice of language is probably the weakest link.

Doctrine is something that guides decision making under clear conditions. It SHOULD be well tested and robust, otherwise it is unworthy of being doctrine, merely a concept.

Full Spectrum is a doublespeak for unlimited action. By its very definition, the use of active/activated military forces against a domestic party must be strictly defined from their basic status, legal/illegal combatants etc. Are they subject to trageted killings per Awlaki? What are the specific guidelines for acceptable collateral damage, if any?

It could be a staff exercise but it is one that should NOT be mandated. The reason is simple, such an exercise will subject participants to decisions which really they SHOULD not be asked to be ccountable for. Even with no official consequences, decisions taken in exercise WILL color perceptions and relationships that may well be detrimental in the long term. Also, when was the last time you heard of a true unscripted exercise?

Thanks for writing this.

To start off with, I'm a big fan of SWJ - I read it daily and even sent some of my own money your way on a couple of occasions. I do appreciate the job you all do for essentially no compensation and I will continue to be a loyal SWJ reader and council member. I'm also happy to see you've taken criticism of the substantive portion of the article to heart.

Now for the tough love part:

The crux of the issue is that in the scenario, the authors stated that the extremists were motivated by tea party ideals. The use of little “t” tea party and the statement that the extremists were motivated by tea party ideals rather than members of the Tea Party was a nuance the editorial staff read in the essay and that many others have not. Nearly all political positions can be taken to extremes, sometimes violent. Had we instructed the authors to choose a different example, not only would we likely have drawn criticism from a different front, but we would have introduced an editorial bias that drew us deeper into the morass.

There are several things wrong with this paragraph. First of all the nuances you noticed are distinctions without a difference. Secondly, the nuance you point out was not consistent through the scenario. In other parts the authors use "tea party" to refer to the militants: "He cannot act to counter the efforts of the local tea party because he is confined to his home and under guard." and "The Fifth Army intelligence analysts will have a great deal of difficulty determining tea party members’ legal status." are just two of several examples.

Regardless, there's a bigger issue that you didn't address, which is relevance. The entire scenario and all the descriptions of the "tea party" militants are irrelevant to the substance of the article which, as you noted, focused mostly on doctrine. The details about the goals, motivations, etc. for the "tea party" militia simply don't matter. The scenario could - and should- have been simple and generic to give the authors more space to cover what was supposed to be the meat of the article - homeland operations - but a simple, generic scenario would also avoid the reaction that necessitated this editorial.

The authors could have replaced the entire scenario with this:

In May 2016 an extremist militia takes over the government of Darlington, South Carolina, occupying City Hall, disbanding the city council, and placing the mayor under house arrest. Militia members remove the chief of police and either disarm local police and county sheriff departments or discourage them from interfering. Other local and regional law enforcement officials and even the local National Guard units are sympathetic to the militants and made clear they will not challenge the takeover. With the reliability of state law enforcement and National Guard units in question, the Governor decides he cannot address this crisis with State assets and capabilities, so he formally requests Federal assistance in restoring order in Darlington.

That's all one really needs for the stated purpose of this paper except maybe a few details on militia actions and tactics.

Version 2 of Entropy's comments:

In May 2016 an extremist militia attempts to take over the conservative duly-elected government of Darlington, South Carolina, occupying City Hall, disbanding the city council, and placing the mayor under house arrest. Militia members attempt to remove the chief of police which results in the deaths of numerous police officers and militia members to include the police chief. Remaining local police call for back-up from the county sheriff's department and state troopers to surround the town. FBI and ATF SWAT teams were ordered in because several federal felonies had occurred involving use of firearms and explosives.

The reelected conservative governor called in the local National Guard units. When the commander of the S.C. Guard refused, he was fired as adjutant and replaced with someone willing to follow orders. The militants were squashed like bugs after they shot several Tea Party members who protested the right wing extremist takeover and road blocks. Federal assistance in restoring order was requested in Darlington when militia members blew up a local chemical plant and specialized expertise was required. These troops were subordinate to the Department of Homeland Security that also was on the scene, and used CH-47s carrying water buckets to assist the National Guard in putting out fires started by the chemical plant explosion and local unemployed "occupy wall street" radicals who thought the whole thing was a government conspiracy.

Much better. But that movie wouldn't be directed by Michael Moore! ;-)

You're so right. Michael Moore would want to direct this quote from the piece:

After almost ten years of race-baiting and immigrant-bashing by right-wing demagogues, nearly one in five Americans reports being vehemently opposed to immigration, legal or illegal, and even U.S.-born nonwhites have become occasional targets for mobs of angry whites.

That's not free speech. It's left-wing demagoguery.

I'm not even a Tea Party fan because it's clear that revenues must increase, and they lead the chorus against it. Conservative insistence on sheltering the rich who won't pay higher taxes or send their own kids to defend our nation, leads to the alternate reality of wanting their defense cake while the middle/underclasses and deficit eat it too.

That said, any clear-minded observer would recognize that the Tea Party is not the group that would pull off anything remotely resembling this fiasco. Nor would the current fine governor who I wager would call out the Guard in a heartbeat. BTW, isn't she one of those non-whites that the authors think southerners despise? Anybody note that Darlington has a population of about 6,500, a white mayor and predominantly black population, with a mixed city council? In other words its an integrated city that our Kansas PhD dwellers have rarely experienced first hand in their whitest corner of middle America. Is this the best an ex-head of SAMS can come up with as a defense dilemma?

What about AirSea Battle and its imbecilic implications for the Army and landpower? COIN and Stability Operations? Afghanistan? Syria? Iran? Korea? You know, those areas of the world where we have fought in the past and are likely to fight in the future against enemies foreign and not domestic. You can do better than this COL (Retired) Benson. Your partner in this crime...maybe not, IMHO.

"[TSWJ] is a “big tent” forum that boldly publishes controversial and contrarian viewpoints of all strains, relying on intelligence and experience of its readership to comment, debate, discount, and / or support articles and elements within them."

That may be true and is, to a point, a commendable. But the particular article at issue is profoundly offensive. The way in which the article's authors breezily link the Tea Party -- which is very much a mainstream modern American political movement -- to violent extremism, white supremacy, xenophobia, outright anarchy is profoundly offensive.

Calling it the "tea party" in all lowercase doesn't entitle the authors or TSWJ a pass. In a word, seriously?

I was shocked to find this article on this site. As CS Lewis once said, you need not be so open-minded that your brains fall out. In that regard, no tent need be big enough that offensive, shoddily produced nonsense such as this should be automatically granted a forum.

The authors would have better advised by TSWJ's editorial staff to publish their screed on a personal blog or as a B-movie movie script. Maybe Michael Moore would agree to direct it--starring Sean Penn.

I agree 100%

There was no need to use a real life organization.

Oh I don't know. One of the very valuable things about the article was that it provided a window into the thinking of some people in positions of responsibility and possibly some influence. If the scenario had been altered we would not have been privy to what some people out there think are possibilities. They never would have come out openly and said "We think the tea partiers are a bunch of violent thugs in waiting who may have to be taken care of by the Army someday." But they made that clear in their posited scenario. If SWJ had messed with that we never would have known their thinking so clearly.

"One of the very valuable things about the article was that it provided a window into the thinking of some people in positions of responsibility and possibly some influence."

You have point, Carl. We've been reminded how some people in positions of power/influence relative to the "military establishment", as it were, actually view the Tea Party and mainstream conservativism in general.

I wear the uniform, serving in a noncombatant reserve unit, and it was easy enough for me to forget that! Even though my soldiers' political views run the spectrum, they do tend to skew pretty heavily towards the conservative. Then again, we're based in the South. Probably viewed as a bunch a swamp rats by some!

Dave & Bill & everybody else who I forgot or don't know:

You guys do a great job and did a great job with this article. It was valuable in all sorts of ways that have been commented upon by others. It will ultimately benefit SWJ because some of the people who came because of the article will stay and they will be good people. It will benefit those who stay because they will discover the depth of this site and the immense reservoir of value in what it publishes and the experience of the people who frequent it.

So...good job. I know an 'atta boy won't make up for all the heartache you guys go through but maybe it will help just a little.

Out of curiosity, if you have the data, which article has more views, this one or the Waterboarding is Torture article by Malcolm Nance?

I agree with carl. Personally, I thought it was a goofy article, but that is exactly the point of this place, to throw all kinds of stuff out there in hopes of generating discussion. You guys do this on your own time and largely on your own dime because you care about our military and the topic of small wars. The article was thrown out there, vetted, the bad ideas knocked down with vigor, and now we've all learned something. Free speech. A good thing.

Waterboarding is Torture, Period by Malcolm Nance (31 Oct 2007) - 33,619 reads so far but that number is seriously distorted as the article resided on our old platform for quite some time. The current read count is since we switched to Drupal. A guesstimate would be to triple that number or more so.

Full Spectrum Operations in the Homeland (25 July 2012) - 73,411 so far.

Hummm

Now that is a thought.