When Editors Fail the PME Community Suffers
Franklin C. Annis
Amazing things can happen when two scholars engage in intellectual combat. This is especially true in the fields of National Security and Professional Military Education (PME) where two individuals of different opinions or philosophies can “battle” through articles within a journal, both having an honest intent to seek the truth. In these battles, facts and assumptions are challenged and examined in detail. The authors work against each other like steel upon steel making the arguments ever sharper. While the thoughts and ideas of the opponent’s articles can be ruthlessly attacked by counterevidence and alternate theories, the one thing that is never attacked is the opponent. It is understood that who speaks/writes the idea is independent of the credibility of the claim and is therefore irrelevant to the conversations.
Having privately-operated military journals greatly assists in establishing the “marketplace” where these types of conversations might be had. This is especially true with “Black Market” PME topics that may be too taboo or “politically incorrect” to discuss within official journals. But providing a space alone isn’t enough to build the “marketplace,” to have these types of great intellectual debates that keeps both contributors and fans coming back to the site. Editors of military journals act as both coaches and referees in these intellectual battles. Editors should check the facts, structure, logic, and tone of an article before it is published. In this way, editors act like coaches and referees ensuring only the best arguments are put forward, personal attacks are not presented, and the final product is something that would not dishonor either the author or publication. When editors fail to carry out these duties, their journals become empty sites that merely add noise, rather than enhancing the military profession.
Last October, I read “Hyper-masculinity and Ground Close Combat” by Kate Germano published in the Wavell Room. The Wavell Room, bills itself as a publication for “Contemporary British Military Thought,” and includes the famous quote by William Penn on its submission page, “In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest.” Assuming that this publication was an honest broker, I wrote a reply to Germano’s article, “Ground Close Combat is Masculine.” I was surprised at the time the editor took in helping to shape my article. There was special attention made to ensure there wasn’t even the illusion of personal attacks against Germano within my article. Based on that positive experience, I was shocked to see the publication of “Ground Close Combat is Gender Agnostic” by LtCol Edward Carpenter. This article is filled with defamatory and false statements against my person, logical fallacies, plagiarism, and self-defeating arguments. It seems like there was no editorial care given to Carpenter’s work.
After contacting the editor of the Wavell Room in a private attempt to resolve the disparaging comments and inferences within this article, excuses were made about having a small voluntary team for the lack of fact checking and logical errors, but was informed no action would be taken in fear of “no-platforming” LtCol Carpenter. Furthermore, I was told that I could write a response to this article, but I was “disinvited” to do so within the Wavell Room. The failure of the editorial process with this article threatens the reputation of the Wavell Room as a conduit of respectful intellectual discourse. Not only does the editor allow for false information about my person to be continually viewed online, his failures prevented the “open dialog” that the Wavell Room claims to support. How many contributors would want to write for a publication that would allow for such a defamatory article to be published? How would it even be possible to respond to LtCol Carpenter’s article “in good faith”? The failure of the editor has prevented the academic discussion on the worthy materials within LtCol Carpenter’s article, like the research from the American Psychological Association (APA). The conversation has been effectively ended and not because we found the “truth,” but the editor allowed for a character attack. As long as this article remains uncorrected, the Wavell Room risks reflecting “click bait” or a cheap tabloid publication that dishonors its namesake.
In this article, I will examine Ground Close Combat is Gender Agnostic by LtCol Edward Carpenter to display and challenge its false assertions, logical fallacies, structural problems, and plagiarism. This is done in hopes that both editors and contributors might better understand these common faults and thus improve the quality of discourse within our community. I begin with an apology to LtCol Carpenter. I will assume he had good will while writing this piece. It is unfortunate that the Wavell Room published what should have been considered a draft. I ask the audience to not look disparagingly on LtCol Carpenter for these errors that the Wavell Room’s editorial team should have helped him to avoid.
One of the possible reasons why this article might have been published without significant review is it has the correct pseudointellectual language typically associated with Feminist scholarship. This can be seen by the use of “trope” in LtCol Carpenter’s first sentence, “When I read the article ‘Ground Close Combat is Masculine,’ I was saddened by the fact that some people are still trotting out the idea of gender as a discriminator for service in combat arms, raising familiar tropes about physical fitness and masculinity” (2019, Para 1). A “trope,” in the pop cultural reference, is something akin to a cliché. It is a truism that holds little value as the meaning is self-evident. However, in the Feminist scholarship, individuals like Anita Sarkeesian have been able to associate “tropes” with the negative connotations of false stereotypes. Yet, LtCol Carpenter presents no standard for the minimum required fitness levels needed for ground combat units even stating later in the same paragraph, “there are no uniform standards for strength and endurance as it applies to ground combat troops.” So, how can LtCol Carpenter declare the physical capabilities between the sexes a “trope” if he has no evidence to demonstrate the threshold for the physical demands of combat are below the abilities of both sexes/genders? The use of this word is intended to create an emotional response essentially asserting that we shouldn’t be talking about this issue because it has been declared off limits.
Poisoning the Well
LtCol Carpenter begins his article with a logical fallacy referred to as “poisoning the well.” He attempts to disparage my research activities to negatively bias the audience against my views. In paragraph 2, we can see LtCol Carpenter make a false assertion through the use of the word “should” implying I am not engaging in research that could positively impact the military service of females:
Annis bills himself as “The Evolving Warfighter” on Twitter, but a truly evolving warfighter should be taking advantage of all the tools, capabilities, and human resources at their disposal, and should be advocating for improving our military equipment, training and culture for all troops instead of proposing that women in combat arms adapt themselves to equipment, training, and culture that already puts a needlessly excessive physical and psychological burden on their male colleagues. (Carpenter, 2019, para 2)
This assertion is utterly false. The editor should have never allowed such a comment to be made. The editor should have recognized this as a form of an ad hominem attack that adds nothing of value to the discussion. Furthermore, if this comment was theoretically true, the editor should have at least asked for or searched for proof that such a claim was true.
Ironically, my most detailed research into advancing the technology needed to reduce the injury rate of females serving in ground combat roles was submitted to the Wavell Room in April as part of the 2019 Wavell Room Writes competition. However, the editor of the Wavell Room claims no personal knowledge of this article as it was reviewed by other volunteers. The article “Technological Negation of Human Sexual Dimorphism: Leveraging Technology to Bring Non-Battle Injury Risk Closer to Parity Between the Sexes” was ultimately rejected by the Wavell Room but was kindly published by LESC.Net. A quick review of my recent publication of A Call for New “Jarheads” published with the Association of Marine Corps Logisticians would have demonstrated this claim to be false. On Twitter, I have had dozens of conversations about this positive research, tagging the Wavell Room, and the excitement of the 2019 Wavell Room Writes Competition. Yet it seems no research was conducted to verify this disparaging comment before the article was published.
Furthermore, I find it disgraceful that an editor being informed that their publication had published false and disparaging comments would allow it to remain in public view. At minimum, the article should have been corrected to remove these false assertions if not retracted to prevent the further spreading of false information. However, the Wavell Room seems to have no issue with disparaging contributors. This should be a warning to anyone thinking of writing for this publication.
LtCol Carpenter displays a questionable use of source materials. In paragraph 5, he quotes a twitter personality in the following passage, “This makes the term analogous to “toxic masculinity,” which a noted feminist voice on Twitter defined as being “… comprised of masculine traits that, in extremes, become harmful and/or dangerous to the actor and those around them” (2019). The editors allowed the alleged twitter-sourced information without reference to the name or at least username of this individual who was cited within the text of Carpenter’s article. Not wanting to commit a “false appeal to authority” in discounting an individual’s view because of a lack of a set level of education, I went to the source material to determine the validity of this individual’s claim.
Looking at the source material, this individual makes a clearly false claim in her second sentence. While there is social conditioning in societies, like which side of the road to drive on, gender behaviors are significantly impacted by hormones and genetics. The “tabla rossa” (blank slate) theory of gendered behaviors has been repeatedly disproven through scientific testing. An article explaining the broad overview of some of this research can be found at simplypsychology.org. There are several other false claims in this twitter influencers thread that would render the use of her as an authoritative source dubious at best. Why was a pop culture reference towards “Toxic Masculinity” made when there are thousands of scholarly works on the subject? When did military journals begin to consider anonymous twitter users as authoritative?
Plagiarism with False Claim
One of the most disappointing aspects of this article occurs in paragraph 7 with this quote, “Additionally, Annis seems to be confused about the original meaning of the term “macho,” which does not mean “having pride in your masculine traits.” Macho is also defined as “masculine in an overly assertive or aggressive way”—meaning that Germano was absolutely correct in correlating former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ use of the word “macho” with her use of the term “hyper-masculine” (Carpenter, 2019). The text in bold indicates a plagiarized passage from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins (2010) p. 260. Not only is this passage plagiarized, LtCol Carpenter falsely reported the content of the work. Here is the definition in its entirety:
macho [1920s] When Mexicans described a man as macho, it was usually to compliment him on his vigour and virility. But when English-speaking Americans adopted the word from the Mexican Spanish in the 1920s it acquired overtones of ‘masculine in an overly assertive or aggressive way’. The Spanish word macho derives from Latin masculus ‘male’, the source of masculine [ME]. Machismo, also from Mexican Spanish and based on macho dates from the 1940s. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, 2010, p. 260
Carpenter’s claim of the original meaning of the word “macho” is false. You would think the editor would have noticed the absence of a reference for texts in quotations, especially one claiming a historical reference.
If this article exchange was a boxing match, LtCol Carpenter would have knocked himself out with this swing, “Annis is also mistaken when he denotes “courage, self-sacrifice, and loyalty” as masculine—these are not, in fact, gendered traits, and there are already numerous women who exhibit them, and many who already follow a Stoic philosophy” (2019, Para 7). By rejecting the positive characteristics I attributed to masculinity because “numerous women who exhibit them” would also eliminate all the characteristic that both Germano and he asserted were masculine. In short, LtCol Carpenter asserted there was no such thing as “hyper-masculinity” because there was no “masculine” by his own standard because all gender characteristics can be displayed by both sexes. Any further complaint about masculinity in this article is void of meaning. The editor should have noticed this catastrophic error in logic.
Appeal to Ridicule
In paragraph 10, we see LtCol Carpenter execute an appeal to ridicule fallacy by referring to the warrior culture as a cult, “Warrior culture in the U.S. is something of a cult, and if Pressfield is its high priest, Mattis is its patron saint” (2019). While it is a colorful analogy, it is false. Attempting to engage an emotional reaction to a “false religion” adds nothing of scholarly value. This approach is often used when the following assertions are weak. That claim was “It is troubling that his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Defense was marred by remarks suggesting that “the jury was still out” on women in combat arms” (Carpenter, 2019, para 10). The jury is still very much out as we still lack the equipment needed to allow women to function in combat arms roles without overwhelming training injuries. Militaries cannot ignore or afford the significant financial compensation being awarded to females injured while attempting to fit into the current male construct of ground combat forces.
Just Because Fallacy
LtCol Carpenter attempts a “just because” fallacy in paragraph 11, “I do not intend to engage Annis on his proposition that “females are more likely to be prone to training and psychological injuries compared to than [sic] males,” as I have personally written extensively on this very issue myself, with exhaustive references” (2019). This fallacy hopes the audience will rely on the “word” of the author without the need of empirical data to support the claim. Out of the three articles he hyperlinked, only two contained references associated with injury rates. Both support my initial claim of a higher injury rate among female soldiers. While the hyperlink to the NATO AC/323(HFM-080)TP/200 report is broken in his article, I found a copy that reported things like a need to reduce the speed of females rucking, the weight they lifted in comparison to men, and it even reported four females service members being incapable of safely lifting a male on a litter. And from one article, LtCol Carpenter himself reports the presence of a stress fracture commonly noted in medical research:
The first [female] dropped out on one of the first days of training during the grueling Combat Endurance Test; so did 26 of her male classmates. The other female Lieutenant made it about one-third of the way through the course before being sidelined by a debilitating stress fracture in her leg. (Carpenter, 2013, p. 3).
An honest editor would have checked to ensure that the articles hyperlinked actually addressed the issue they claimed.
Red Herring Fallacy
There are number of red herring fallacies within this article where LtCol Carpenter presents unconnected subjects to distract the audience. For example, in paragraph 11, LtCol Carpenter asserts:
I will point out that comparing averages for men and women misses the point that there is nothing average about high performers in any gender. For example, consider the recent ultramarathon in which the overall winner was a woman. She walked away with both the “First Place” trophy and the “Women’s First Place” trophy while the first-place male finisher received no trophy, as the race organizers had wrongly assumed that overall winner would be a man. (2019)
The sexism that occurs within the ultramarathon community has no effect on the topic of females serving in ground combat roles. Yes, women can outperform men in unloaded ultramarathon, cold-water ultra-distance swimming and equestrian dressage. However, none of these athletic events relate to activities executed in ground combat roles nor does LtCol Carpenter attempt to connect these events back to modern ground combat requirements. While LtCol Carpenter might claim that I “misse[d] the point” but comparing Olympic athletes provides a clearer example of the impact of sexual dimorphism. These same differences, to a slightly lesser degree, can be seen in the abilities of “averages” of men and women, displaying the underlying biological advantages of men to serve in ground combat roles.
LtCol Carpenter engages in disparaging remarks after failing to properly apply logical reasoning. If an individual makes a statement that “All people who drive red vehicles should take care while driving,” we cannot logically assert what statement they would make towards those driving blue cars without further information. When I suggested that women be informed of the increased risk of service in combat arms in comparison to men, LtCol Carpenter made the false assumption that I am against the disclosure of risks toward men. “Indeed, we should not, but we should also not allow gender bias to suggest that we inform only our female combat arms candidates of the dangers they face” (2019, Para 16). There was no need for the disparaging and false claim, it has no scholarly value.
Carpenter repeats this failed reasoning in the following paragraph. When I suggest that military adapt to allow women to serve temporarily in combat arms before switching into different specialty, LtCol Carpenter responded in the following manner, “Additionally, Annis voices an idea that I myself have considered in the past, but unsurprisingly, his own gender bias prevents him from carrying the thought to its logical conclusion” (2019, Para 17). However, this is an absolute false assertion. He accuses me of having “gender bias” without any knowledge that I support a talent management system that supports both sexes. My support for talent management revisions includes removing the requirement to serve in combat arms positions to be eligible for the highest strategic leadership positions, which theoretically would increase the number of female generals.
Denied the Constructive Conversation
I could continue and name several other faults, like the settle conflation of different arguments as the same within this article. However, it should be clear by now that there wasn’t any rational argument presented in LtCol Carpenter’s article. The tone and personal attacks in this article effectively ended a chance at meaningful conversation on this important topic. I was cheated the opportunity to discuss if the APA Meta-data study really collected data on individuals associated with the “warrior culture.” What does it mean that Dr. Chris Ferguson, a member of the APA’s Council of Representatives, made the statement, “the APA has a poor track record of biased and scientifically misleading policy statements”? How does the APA account for the finding that children with fathers present in their lives have more positive outcomes than those without fathers? If masculinity is bad, how could removing masculine role models injure children? Is the “toxic masculinity” we face in the military just the result of the removal of fathers in families (due to Feminist policies), and therefore not “masculine” at all? I would really love to continue to investigate not only “masculinity” but what should the common value system and story be among all service members. This isn’t about “no-platforming” a scholar, but asking that arguments be presented in an honest fashion to allow for these types of deeper discussions. Unfortunately, we lost an opportunity to gain and share knowledge and search for truth. No one benefits from this type of behavior.
I understand that no one will be perfect and there is a significant danger in demanding all articles published be “flawless.” Minor spelling and grammar errors and maybe a logical error or two may occur in small PME Journals and this is natural and excusable if the tone allows for open and honest debate. The publishing of LtCol Carpenter’s article was more on the lines of negligence than simple error made by the Wavell Room editor. The impact of this article will have more than just a negative impact on my personal reputation if it is allowed to stand. This article will become the undoing of the Wavell Room as a forum of open dialog and condemn it to become an ideological echo chamber with few contributors ever participating and the scope of acceptable topics dramatically decreasing. This has already poisoned other avenues of online military discussion. Now we will test the honor and integrity of the Wavell Room. Will the article be retracted? Will the article at least be edited to remove the false assertions / ad hominem attacks that add nothing to the discussion? Will they apologize for their poor treatment of LtCol Carpenter? Until action is taken, I would look with suspicion on any Wavell Room article and take great caution before writing for this publication.