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On Military Language

One of the delights of studying defense policy is watching the U.S. military's heroic but losing battle with the English language.* The new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff has a master's degree in English from Duke University**, but in the new Joint Operational Access Concept (.pdf), the "Central Idea" is something called "cross-domain synergy."

Oh, you don't know what "cross-domain synergy" is? Obviously, it is "the complementary vice merely additive employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness and compensates for the vulnerabilities of the others."

That, folks, is what happens when documents are written by committees of lieutenant colonels who went to universities that prefer to give out all their degrees in engineering. I had to read three more documents before I figured out the term is basically something we used to call combined arms. (With space and cyber capabilities added to those of the air, land, and sea.)

Left unexplored, of course, is how cross-domain synergy works out when the Chinese knock out our satellites around H+1.

*I might have accidentally tripped Godwin's Law here. As I wrote this sentence, I recall Arendt writing something very similar about Eichmann and the German language. 

**Having written that, I think Gen. Dempsey graduated from Duke when that university's English Department was hip deep in the Derrida fad. And when Of Grammatology is your standard for lucidity ...

defense policy


Meh, that sort of drivel is

Meh, that sort of drivel is characteristic of liberal arts majors, not engineers.

Visitor on January 18, 2012 -

Visitor on January 18, 2012 - 5:43am

Harvard Business School is closer to the source.

Really I do no know who selects the labels like JIT (just in time), cross-functional teams, synergy, or cross-domain synergy. There is a lot of it used by corporate management (who get it from their staff, think tanks, or consultant firms). Engineers are a little less artful in their discussion; their language is the discussion of specifications. Cross-domain Synergy is a little grayer, than black or white. Once you go into Engineering Management, it is well known that you leave your capacity to be an Engineer behind (Management's need for BS becomes more important than the tools of design, the rate of technology change has stripped management of their ability to use CAD tools to create. Management is paid more which is an indication of how society weights decisions, we reward those who give us entertainment. ).

Seeing that something new is more exciting than something old, we all tend to manufacture new concepts. Then you get to go to conferences to impress the pants off your peers with your bravo sierra [sic].

Really the language of profession is about conveying the most important concept you have to express with the least amount of energy. There are several forms of a profession's words one is for the lawyers, another is for the public, and another is for our peers. We get in trouble when we use the wrong language in an untried crowd.

A good example is the YouTube image of the Marines. Technology is changing our language skills (You can thank an Engineer for that, the guy who gets the credit for being the least artful in their language. Engineers do have a sense of justice.).

The language of bureaucrats sounds like, “Cross-domain Synergy”. Our culture pays bureaucrats handsomely for the pleasure. It is also the sounds of mass marketing.

Darn you for linking to Wiki!

Darn you for linking to Wiki! I thought I'd get though the day SOPA free.

Ex, Great post. The Army said

Great post. The Army said something about this in 1986 (DA PAM 600-67):

"a. According to AR 600–70, the standard for Army writing is
writing you can understand in a single rapid reading, and is generally
free of errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage.
b. Good Army writing is clear, concise, organized, and right to
the point."

I have to second the first

I have to second the first Visitor's comment. This kind of tortured English is not common to Engineers. We may hae trouble expressing ourselves well in English. But it never, never comes out with this kind of deliberate obfuscation. To learn to do that, you have to major in liberal arts; or, at minimum, social sciences.

Well, to take point with Mr.

Well, to take point with Mr. Doylr's comment, AR 25-50 (about preparing correspondence) forbids the use of the passive voice...

...then uses it all throughout the damn regulation.

Visitor on January 18, 2012 -

Visitor on January 18, 2012 - 11:32am

What happens when you mix Liberal Arts with Engineering?
You get this.


What happens when you mix Combat with Engineering?


Moral of the Story.

Exum, sing your heart out. Don't fck with the guy that builds your latrine, some day you might fall in.

BTW. If you didn't notice the


If you didn't notice the MIT singer's video is way out of sync with the audio.

That is what happens when you mix beer and Engineers.

Funny thing is, marketing Beer pays better than designing the equipment to make beer. Engineers never learn.

Dr. Ex, Modern life is filled

Dr. Ex,

Modern life is filled with jargon and the jargon is related to our academic and managerial culture, I think. It's not just business schools, or engineering, or Derrida inspired madness in Humanities departments.

When I read a medical article from the 1950s or earlier, I am always pleasantly surprised by the clear and compelling language.

A cynic might say that if people wrote clearly, then so much of modern cubicle life would prove unnecessary and then what would those people do? It's actually a serious problem, isn't it? This creation of good jobs and not just another layer of bureaucracy....

Interesting. I'm reviewing a

Interesting. I'm reviewing a book for the Journal of Military History, Conceptualizing Modern War, by a couple of Norewgian defense scholars (Haug & Maao) probably known to your readership, that at first blush appears to be pushback against the flood of new military strategy terminology appearing in recent decades, starting with 4GW. Should appear in the spring or summer issue, if anyone's interested.

Some more Military

Some more Military language.


“The sense of hatred is growing rapidly,” said an Afghan Army colonel. He described his troops as “thieves, liars and drug addicts,” but also said that the Americans were “rude, arrogant bullies who use foul language.”

Is it culture, perception, or priorities that is a problem here?

Americans are linear thinkers, we can see the past, present, and extrapolate to the future. Not sure that is true for the people in the East, for them it is about relational thinking. Afghans cannot relate to the future that Americans are trying to give them they have never had that experience the concept has no relationship to their past.

When American politicians sell war strategies, they market to an American ideal. When that American ideal does not match the expectations of the people that Americans are trying to save that is when the problems begin.

American politicians sold a war to the American public, wars are something that Americans win. Instead of a winnable war, America executed a social program. Social programs are for ever.

It all gives a new meaning to the word "conflict".

One two many courses in

One two many courses in neurolinguistics, maybe?

Visitor on January 21, 2012 -

Visitor on January 21, 2012 - 3:11am

Current Afghanistan strategy is to let their army and police take over state security which is in the process of failing. US has had many failed strategies in the WOT since 9/11.

What is the common denominator of all the failed strategies tried?

These are not correct answers: Bush, Rumsfeld, US Generals, Obama,COIN, CT, and it has nothing to do with Military Language.

The exact same driver took

The exact same driver took root if the IDF after it tried incoeporatibg Effect Driven Combat and sent too much grunts to academies abroad. The use of unclear language is usually y proportionate to the dressing up of shallow ideas.
For the IDF the result was the Lebanon stalemate fiasco

RE: The Chinese and our

RE: The Chinese and our satellites. I've done any number of staff augmentation TDYs for 7th AF at Osan, and not even once did any of these exercises ask the question "what happens if all of our shiny electronic toys don't work?" What if the Air Operations Center, surely a primary target of the DANKs, gets blown up, or has electrical or computer network issues? The ATO goes unplanned and undistributed, the air war goes unmonitored and unmanaged, the CFACC has to call the CFC on the landline for guidance and there is no multicolored sand chart in the Powerpoint brief. Even for the last day of any exercise, where we always emerge victorious, I'd like the white cell to "kick the plug out of the wall" and see how network centric warfare works without the network. I'm imagining some mighty amusing chaos.



“Grand strategy”, like policy, is an attempt to divorce politics from politics through politics, leaving behind a vacuum inhabited only by virtuous technocrats. In reality, they’re both attempts by one political group to escape the power of another political group, hopefully gaining more power for themselves in the process. The formulator of “grand strategy” is often an aspiring political actor who lacks the gifts necessary for political success. So they whine from the sidelines, falling back on a passive-aggressive strategy of victimhood where they denounce expertise in politics as squalid while advocating its replacement with their own (implicitly) more virtuous expertise. *They attempt to reframe political questions as technical questions best handled by professional specialists. If a political question can be reframed as a technical question, resolving it is a merely an implementation detail. Such technical minutia should be beneath most politicians. Their attention should be devoted to truly important questions, leaving details to the poor peons.

* This is a link to Kennan.



I believe everyone is missing

I believe everyone is missing the point. The problem isn't engineers vs. liberal arts majors. It's clear (having dated one for 2.5 years) that the real enemy is the business consultant.

It's who we areC Fructose

It's who we areC Fructose (specifically high fructose corn syrup) is the #1 sweetener used Their logo is simple, yet exceptionally valuable to their mission as a company

i want to learn military

i want to learn military languaga

i want to learn military

i want to learn military language

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