Category Archives: Interviews

On Obedience and Ethics – A Conversation with Professor Pauline Shanks Kaurin

By Commander Christopher Nelson, USN

Professor Pauline Shanks Kaurin, a professor in the College of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Naval War College and the Admiral James B. Stockdale Chair in Professional Military Ethics, joined me to discuss her new book, On Obedience: Contrasting Philosophies for the Military, Citizenry, and Community. It’s a great read and an incredibly timely book. We discuss Captain Crozier’s firing, if we should have an ethicist on the Navy staff, and just which philosophers she would bring back from the past to star on a podcast about ethics and philosophy. 

I’d like to start with a personal question if you don’t mind. You’re a parent and a professor. Indeed, you mention your sons early in the book when framing the word “obedience” for readers. How does your training as an ethicist shape your decisions as a parent?

First, I tend to have perhaps a shorter trigger on certain things (especially lying or deception) because I think, teach, and write about ethics. My kids will tell you I take ethics way too seriously. Second, I also spend a ton of time with my kids talking about their decisions and why they are making the decisions they are. They know they have to make an argument if they want certain things (and they are quite good at it!) and that I will expect them to justify and have reasons for their actions. Third, because I focus on a communal and care approach to ethics, they know that I expect them to think about how what they do impacts other people. As teenagers, this is a tough one, but both my boys are quite empathetic and considerate (when they choose to be). Lastly, I value independence, especially of thought, which leads to some interesting discussions and negotiations about rules and standards.

So, any advice on raising ethical children? And where, if ever, does that advice have practical overlap with leading a platoon of soldiers or a division of Sailors? Or another way to ask it: Does the familial and the martial share ethical elements? Where do they diverge?            

I think there are some similarities in that you want to develop capacities for moral deliberation, judgment and action, as well as practices like care, empathy, and moral imagination. For my children the stakes are different than for the military officers I engage with and they have more leeway to learn from their mistakes. This means that for the military there has to be more emphasis on practicing these things before one gets into a situation where they are necessary. Members of the military are also members of a profession which my kids are not, so that brings lots of specific norms, values, and obligations in addition to those which are part of their personal morality. And of course, my children are not yet fully morally and legally responsible in the way that members of the military (as adults) are.

You make an important distinction in your book between loyalty and obedience. What are they and how do they differ?

These are both largely social virtues that are rooted in relationships; in the case of obedience within specific communities of practice. Obedience is also largely a virtue about a specific action or series of actions that one is being asked to carry out. Loyalty is more about a long-term relationship or connection (which may involve some actions) where there is a shared commitment to certain ideas, projects, values, or ways of thinking. This is not necessary for obedience. I can obey the POTUS whether or not I agree with his political perspectives. As such while there is some overlap, it is not necessary. One can be loyal and be disobedient, as well as obedient and disloyal.

Let’s dig into the relief of Captain Brett Crozier a bit. Plenty of folks have already spilled ink with their opinions and choosing sides and voicing frustrations. But I want to step back for a second. So here’s the question: You get a phone call from the Chief of Naval Operations and it’s the day after the captain’s letter hits the press. The CNO asks you if you don’t mind coming to his office since he has…questions. So, he asks you: “Pauline, what ethical questions should I consider when thinking through this event?” What advice do you give him?

I would probably have him read my article on the subject before we talk!

For the CNO, the issues of the profession are important. What are his moral obligations to the Navy? To the Secretary of the Navy? To POTUS? To Crozier? To the sailors of the USS Theodore Roosevelt? What is the basis of these obligations? Is it about rules and policies? Is it about care? Is it about what is best for the most people? Is it about what it means to be a good CNO? What are the specific obligations that come with that office that others might not have? In particular, I would ask him to seriously think about whether preserving the reputation of the Navy is a moral obligation here and especially given the leadership challenges of the last few years, whether there are other moral obligations that are more important.

In addition, senior leaders also have to think about second, third, fourth, and fifth order implications of their decisions and actions for a variety of stakeholders. All of these effects will have ethical dimensions that need thinking through. I would hope we could talk through all of these things together, since being an ethical leader is not just about one’s own morality, but about the larger community of practice and its context (in this case, the military profession).

Should we have an ethicist on the Navy staff? On the Joint Staff? Frankly, I don’t know if we do. But don’t hospitals have ethicists? These are people – and the question of who gets a ventilator during the pandemic is pertinent – that help administrators and physicians make important policy decisions for their patients and their organization. Why not have the same?

In the military this question is complicated. We do not necessarily have persons trained in ethics as an academic discipline on senior leader staffs. We do have JAGs who weigh in on legal matters and chaplains who might provide moral advice on a personal and command level, but their training (as is appropriate) is generally more religious in nature.

The Navy does have academic experts like myself, my counterpart at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), and others trained in ethics as a discipline at the U.S. Naval Academy and other places like the Naval Leadership and Ethics Center (NLEC) and Senior Enlisted Academy here in Newport. Some have pointed out that there might be a need for a dedicated ethicist position. That said, my door is always open, as is that of my NPS colleague. We regularly write and speak on these issues and are always happy to engage.

I’d like to call this next question the “Hollywood Hypothetical.” Pauline gets stuck in a telephone booth with Bill (Keanu Reeves) and Ted (Alex Winter). Keanu says you have to go back in time and find three philosophers and bring them back to 1) start a military ethics podcast and 2) debate the firing of Captain Crozier for the first episode. Language barriers aside, who do you shove into that phonebooth? Why? And what’s the name of your kick-ass podcast?

Kaurin: Divas and Warriors: Let’s talk about military ethics!

I would definitely have Aristotle, David Hume, and Annette Baier (a contemporary philosopher who focuses on trust and care, but is also a Hume expert). That said, it would be fun to have Bill and Ted stay on to be the peanut gallery and offer comic relief.

Is disobedience often adjudicated and vindicated? What I don’t have a good feel for is all of the disobedient acts in U.S. military history, some investigated or written about, and then vindicated. Many may never reach the threshold for publication or they fade away in paper stacks or computer drives. Simply, and you use General Milley’s quote in your book, can we capture and should we talk about and publicize accounts where servicemembers practice “Professional Disobedience”?

I think in general disobedience is tacitly (through military practice and culture) and explicitly (in UCMJ, ideas like good order and discipline and the chain of command) discouraged for largely good reasons. In practice, particularly in combat situations, we find a much greater tolerance for something like Milley’s disciplined disobedience or the negotiation that I talk about in my book. These instances might not be what we think of as full, explicit disobedience (although occasionally that happens), but something less than obedience to the orders as given. I talk about some of these in the book, but military history is filled with people exercising professional judgment and discretion to do what they think is indicated in a given situation – often for specific reasons.

I do think we should talk more about some of these cases, if only to open the discussion and help people develop the capacity to make these kinds of moral judgments as members of a profession and as citizens. It’s complicated.

What can we learn from other militaries – past and present – on how they thought through building an obedient military culture? Are there any particular nations that for you, personally, make for a fascinating case study?

In the book I discuss how the Brits handle this through the idea of a “Reasonable Challenge” which provides a framework and process for making these kinds of judgments without undermining a general culture of obedience. Many historical warrior cultures also seem to have ways in which they might think about obedience in ways that are less bureaucratic than our contemporary militaries. Clearly a reasonable level of obedience is necessary, but exactly how much and how it manifests can vary quite a bit. Looking at history, art, literature, film, and culture can give us a view on other ways of doing things that are worth interrogating and considering.

You refer to the professor and writer Elizabeth Samet later in your book. You cite her book Willing Obedience as a book that does a good job of capturing how Americans – through the 18-19th century – discussed obedience versus autonomy. They explored this tension in fiction, memoirs, and other texts. Do you believe this is the best way to explore ethical tensions? How else can we explore these tensions?

I think that drawing on lots of different resources is important. My book and my work generally are inter-disciplinary and span historical time periods and cultures (including the future) for a reason. While philosophical texts and arguments are important to doing ethics, questions of ethics are ultimately questions about how to live, and how to think about and talk about how we live. It makes sense then, to pull from all the varieties of human experience to explore these questions. This approach also helps build empathy, critical and strategic thinking, as well as moral imagination; all of these are essential to being an ethical person.

To wrap up, what other books, films, podcasts, or poetry should people look into when they want to think about ethics in the military?

There are lots of great movies (and not just ‘war movies’) and elements of popular culture that are a good way to get into topics that then one might read about in a more intentional fashion. Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars is a classic in military ethics for a reason, but Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Nancy Sherman’s work on moral injury, Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers, and Shakespeare’s Henry also explore important issues in very different ways. Those who have served have reflected on their experiences, but it’s also important to read and engage the experiences of all impacted by violence and conflict for a variety of questions, concerns, and experiences. For me, it is less about the material you engage (I have my favorites), and more about the questions and mindset you bring to the material and how you reflect on it.

Pauline Shanks Kaurin holds a PhD in Philosophy from Temple University, specializing in military ethics, just war theory, and applied ethics. She is also Stockdale Chair and Professor of Professional Military Ethics at the U.S. Naval War College in the College of Leadership and Ethics. Recent publications include: “When Less is not More: Expanding the Combatant/Non-Combatant Distinction”; “With Fear and Trembling: A Qualified Defense of Non-Lethal Weapons” and Achilles Goes Asymmetrical: The Warrior, Military Ethics and Contemporary Warfare (Routledge 2014.) She was Featured Contributor for The Strategy Bridge and published in RealClearDefense, The Wavell Room, Newsweek, and Just Security. She lives in Newport, Rhode Island. The views here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense.

Commander Christopher Nelson is the Deputy Senior Naval Intelligence Manager for East Asia in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Maryland. He is a naval intelligence officer and graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, Rhode Island. The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense.

Featured Image: Soldiers, with the U.S. Army Drill Team, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), conduct a performance during the Meet Your Army event at Point State Park, Pittsburgh, Pa., May 4, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Dalton Smith)

Captain Andrew Carlson on Commanding the USS Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC had the opportunity to discuss commanding the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) stealth destroyer with commanding officer Captain Andrew Carlson. 

In this wide-ranging discussion Capt. Carlson describes the goals of this unique warship, what it is like to experiment and field advanced new capability, and what the legacy of the ship may be for preparing for great power competition. 

What would you say are the unique challenges of leading this ship and crew compared to most other ships?

Certainly, managing the maturation process in automation, integrating advanced technologies with legacy programs of record, and the minimal manning model all come to mind. However, none of those challenges are especially unique to Zumwalt.

The truly unique set of challenges for Zumwalt has really been orchestrating the path toward reaching an initial operational capability (IOC). Not only because of in-stride adjustments and acquisition decisions for certain systems but mainly navigating the dual-delivery approach prescribed in the Acquisition Decision Memorandum signed December 22, 2007 by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

DDG 1000-class ships undergo a two-phased activation approach, separating hull, mechanical, and electrical delivery (encompassing propulsion and support systems for safe navigation) from combat systems activation. DDG 1000 was originally delivered from the shipbuilder, Bath Iron Works, in May 2016. Since our arrival in San Diego in late 2016, the crew has coordinated with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) for completing systems installation, activation, and testing, while subordinate to operational direction from the U.S. Third Fleet, and operating under the manning, training, and equipping functions of Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. This blending of delivery timelines and program milestones with fleet certification requirements and operational schedules presented a complex command and control relationship with shifting phases of supported and supporting efforts between the numbered fleet commander, the type commander, and NAVSEA.

Despite the challenges inherent in this approach, the benefits realized include an ability to achieve progress in each of the support roles to the different chains of command. Provided the ship systems met readiness levels, and the crew maintained training certifications under surface force guidance, Zumwalt was able to conduct operations at sea necessary for initial operational test and evaluation milestones as well as meet crew training and proficiency requirements while satisfying Third Fleet operational tasking. The best example of this was a Spring patrol in early 2019 after Zumwalt completed critical tier-1 certification requirements and eventually sailed over 9000 nautical miles, conducting first-in-class trials in Alaska, supporting engagement and security cooperation events with our Canadian partners in Esquimalt, British Columbia, and completed a transit to Pearl Harbor, all while conducting combat systems activation events and crew training sustainment.

Split delivery, though a necessary decision at the time, has been a challenging framework to operate in, though in retrospect, I am encouraged that the coordination between the fleet and NAVSEA has resulted in a meticulously managed progress toward achieving IOC, while providing opportunity for the crew to gain competence and confidence in operating Zumwalt and meeting operational tasking for the Pacific Fleet.

The Navy established a Surface Development Squadron that includes the Zumwalt. What is it like to lead a ship whose focus is experimentation, rather than, say, preparing for a traditional deployment?

I would adjust the framing of the question a bit to address the opportunity to experiment more explicitly, in addition to preparing for a deployment. The main focus of the ship is completion of developmental and integrated at-sea testing and achievement of initial operational capability. Along the way, because of first-in-class privilege, the crew also has the opportunity and even the obligation to experiment with the ship. The newer technologies in computing architecture, hull form, electric drive, and increased automation present incredible opportunity to experiment not only with technology and newer systems but in basic ship operations and tactical development applied to the class, and perhaps the fleet of the future.

The Surface Development Squadron establishment (created in May 2019 and now up and running today) and alignment of the Zumwalt hulls under one immediate superior in command furthers the opportunity DDG 1000 already enjoyed as a lead ship by positioning each ship under a commander charged with, among normal command duties, the rapid experimentation and developmental operations for technology and procedures. At the root of our training, maintenance, and operations, we are always looking for proficiency and the application of basic-through-advanced surface warfare disciplines in order to be ready for deployment.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (Apr. 2, 2019) Sailors aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) man the rails as the ship pulls into Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Jiang)

The privilege of leading a first-in-class ship that gets to experiment was already a great job. Under a boss who supports, enables, and encourages experimentation, I have even more license and support to push the envelope in all facets of surface warfare. And this is all framed under a mindset of “preparing for a deployment” as it also includes developing the concepts of employment, adjusting and refining the training and certification models for this ship class, and proving out the best methods for integration with fleet and joint operations.

For a ship that will probably not experience a traditional deployment or reach its full capability soon, what keeps the crew interested and motivated?

Zumwalt Sailors have a long view. They have a problem-solving tenacity undeterred by ambiguity. And they understand that deploying is not synonymous with operating. We are able to operate, and need to operate, for testing, development, and validation so that subsequent ships and fleet units are ready when we do deploy. That is motivation enough to stay on top of readiness, training certifications, and maintaining proficiency in the very perishable skills of doing routine things in the maritime environment that, though dangerous, need not be unsafe.

The crew stays interested as well through first-in-class moments. We have the opportunity as the lead ship to live in the grey area and determine the way ahead for the ship class. Among our grading criteria is this path we pave for follow-on work. For example, the Zumwalt-class destroyer Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) should meet or exceed many of our production, activation, testing, and qualification metrics. We absolutely measure our effectiveness more so by their successes rather than our own. Additionally, what we learn and experience has value to the current operating fleet as well as the ongoing research and development for future ship classes.

Finally, we focus on our team, our culture. Onboard Zumwalt we value civility, humility, teamwork, honesty, and integrity. We necessarily do this because those are characteristics of high-performing professional organizations, but we also make them a priority because they solidify our own crew as a team ready to lean in to the challenges involved in bringing a new ship class to life, and ushering in a new capability to the fleet. We are interested and motivated in each other, and that surpasses the challenge of succumbing to hard or wicked problems, and also counters dealing with the tedious nature of some of the more mundane things we do.

How would you describe the progress and process of the combat systems integration?

Challenging and rewarding, often simultaneously. In addition to ushering in advanced technology inherent in the Zumwalt design, we are poised at the intersection of legacy programs of record and new systems functionality that requires extensive testing beyond simple installation and testing on other hulls that have already passed through the crucible of being a part of a new ship class. Our situation has led to fascinating discussions and discoveries between design teams, engineers, industry leads, and fleet Sailors as we install, test, repair, modify, and operate various equipment and systems of systems onboard.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (April 2, 2019) Capt. Andrew Carlson, center, commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), speaks to Rear Adm. Kristen Fabry, left, director of logistics, fleet supply and ordnance, for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Rear Adm. Jim Waters, director of Maritime Headquarters at the U.S. Pacific Fleet, during a tour of the ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Jiang/Released)

It is necessarily detailed and deliberate, and certainly tests one’s patience when testing identifies a flaw or corrective action, but each time the collective team of government civilians, industry leads, and Sailors punches through to a successful test or validation of system integration there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment and increased motivation to move forward. In some cases, our in-situ feedback can be turned around into rapid changes that affect not just the Zumwalt ship class but other fielding efforts across the fleet. We are also well-positioned to inform discussions on future ship classes with operator perspectives to aid acquisition deliberations.

What can this ship teach the Navy about preparing for great power conflict?

Logistics and self-sufficiency are not only critical enablers for prompt and sustained combat operations at sea, but need to be factored into requirements definitions, and design and acquisition decisions. We have spent many hours reviewing and modifying our ability to conduct repairs and improve self-sufficiency within the lifelines of the ship. Adequate repair parts storage, critically evaluated parts allowances, and onboard repair capabilities should always be part of ship design. This includes not only traditional hull, mechanical and electrical repair capability, but with the continuing shift of key components in systems and the networking of engineering control on par with sensor and weapon control, the reliance on network health and security, fiber optic repair, electronic redundancies, and computer architectures will require increased reliability and failsafes to ensure our ships and their systems can remain available in a sustained fight.

Including margin in space, weight, power, and cooling in our ship systems aids longevity of design and permits agility in our procurement to adjust to a dynamic strategic and operational landscape. Patience and prudent decision-making along the way are key components of a steady strain to deliver capability to the fleet that has not existed and will be game-changing in great power conflict. Investment in time, fiscal resources, intellectual capital, and deliberate maturation of critical technologies are key to the long view in procurement.

Significant advancements in maritime warfare capabilities like automation, stealth, and high power systems are expensive and require clear articulation of cost and risk balances. Once we have determined that these advancements are necessary to tip the scales in favor of our national interests, we have to be disciplined and principled to effectively follow through. But this is not a call to blind loyalty or to obstinate determination in the face of invalidated assumptions, or changing fiscal, strategic, or operational realities.

When we need improved and advanced capabilities, including ones the Zumwalt class brings, we will find that those capabilities are not something we can quickly surge if they do not already exist in the fleet. We will be glad that we committed in advance to gaining the advantages Zumwalt brings, especially in technologies and tactics that usher in new capability across the fleet. There’s a great quote from the movie Spy Game from Robert Redford’s character, Nathan Muir. His assistant, Gladys, (brilliantly played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) muses whether or not he is being paranoid as she watches him prepare for foreseen challenges he expects to face. Muir’s response as a seasoned intelligence operative resonates with me: “When did Noah build the ark, Gladys? Before the rain…before the rain.”

Closer to my wheelhouse, I believe the more I sail and operate with an advanced warship like Zumwalt, the more I am convinced that technical competence and system expertise, procedural compliance built on a foundational knowledge of basic principles, and tenacity in solving hard problems remain timeless requirements of service at sea.

What do you think the legacy of the Zumwalt class will be?

Power, stealth, and people. More explicitly, power generation, redundancy, and smart power distribution regimes will become the norm across the future force. We will continue to see increased demand for high voltage systems, integrated power, and balanced distribution of power across a variety of inductive loads that include sensors and weapons, and even propulsion systems of the future.

Regarding stealth, the nature of our ship and her inherent stealth design has thrust forward into our tactical development an emphasis on signature control and emissions discipline that is not only supremely effective in the employment of this ship class, but is immediately exportable to other ship classes. A crew that can appreciate the use of the electromagnetic and acoustic spectra in the routine doesn’t need to be on a stealth destroyer to realize the advantages therein. Put another way, one doesn’t have to be invisible if you don’t let people see you to begin with.

I would hope for a stealth destroyer legacy that engenders a renaissance of basic warfighting disciplines in emissions control, operational deception, anti-submarine tactics, and an application of offensive capability distributed across the battlespace to not only decrease our detect-to-engage sequence timelines, but also complicates and reduces the decision space of an enemy.

Eastern Pacific Ocean (Apr. 28, 2019) The guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) conducts class-specific testing while underway off the coast of California. (Internal U.S. Navy photo)

Finally, the privilege of leading a concentrated grouping of talented, mature, and resilient Sailors reinforces continued appreciation for the maxim that Sailors mean more than systems onboard a warship. John Paul Jones had it right when rating the capability of a ship.

Any final thoughts to share?

Facing similar challenges to those faced by today’s Navy, our ship’s namesake entered office as the 19th Chief of Naval Operations. With defense spending declining and a steadily aging fleet, Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt saw it as his job to ensure the Navy remained capable of meeting the current and future threats. Zumwalt’s embrace of innovation resulted in a number of new programs, such as the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, and the F-14 Tomcat, all of which had lasting impacts on the Navy’s warfighting readiness. We are similarly poised with advanced capability requirements, but constrained resources, and we need to fearlessly apply a pioneering mindset while critically evaluating the effectiveness and integration of new capabilities.

More important than fleet capability development, Admiral Zumwalt knew the primary force-multiplier of the Navy continued to be Sailors and, as a social reformer, began quality of life improvements for the fleet and the institutionalization of equality for minorities and women in the Navy. There is still much work left in both the modernization of our naval capabilities and making actionable progress in the area of equality. We are privileged onboard Zumwalt to uphold a legacy of ushering in new naval capability, but more so, to reinforce ideals the admiral voiced in Z-gram 66, that “there is no place in our Navy for insensitivity. We are determined that we shall do better…ours must be a Navy family that recognizes no artificial barriers of race, color, or religion. There is no black Navy, no white navy, —just one Navy—the United States Navy.”

Captain Carlson is a 1995 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He previously commanded the legacy destroyer USS Higgins (DDG 76), the U.S. Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System in Romania, and a trio of coastal minehunters. He holds Navy subspecialties in space systems engineering and national security. The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense. You can follow him on Twitter @ruminantswo.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: Jacksonville, Fla. (Oct. 25, 2016) The guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) transits Naval Station Mayport Harbor on its way into port. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Schumaker/Released)

Vice Admiral Brian Brown On the U.S. Naval Information Warfare Community

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC had the opportunity to discuss the formation and future of the U.S. Navy’s Information Warfare (IW) community with Vice Admiral Brian B. Brown, commander of U.S. Naval Information forces (NAVIFOR). In this discussion, Vice Admiral Brown discusses how the IW community came together, how it is delivering capability to the fleet, and how information warfare is featuring in an era of great power competition.

The IW community was founded 10 years ago and saw the establishment of its own warfighting development center (NIWDC), numbered fleet command (10th Fleet), type command (NAVIFOR), and other critical components. What has the journey of establishing this community been like? 

First, I have to give due credit to the founding fathers of what we call Information Warfare today, strategic thinkers like then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead and Vice Adm. Jack Dorsett (the first N2/N6). Over ten years ago, those two leaders had the vision and foresight to see that we needed to reorganize to meet the needs of warfighting in the Information Age. And then they took the decisive action that made that vision real.

We started as a collection of high-performing individual specialties, including Information Professionals (IP), Intelligence, Cryptologic Warfare (CW), Meteorology/Oceanography (METOC), and the Space Cadre, which were originally established together as the information dominance corps (IDC). This was later rebranded under CNO Adm. John Richardson as the Information Warfare (IW) community. The change of IDC to IW community was more than just a name change. It was a recognition of our community’s value in delivering battle-minded warfighters and capabilities to the full spectrum of warfighting. Our current CNO, Adm. Mike Gilday, was a commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet, so the IW community continues to be a focus area at all levels.

It would be an understatement to say that we face more complex challenges in this information-based era of great power competition. It is now a much more cognitive operating space and requires a different kind of fighting force. We find ourselves in a time where information, no longer just firepower, brings true advantage. How effectively we operate in this information space determines our ability to decisively act faster than our competition.

Monterey, Calif. (January 17, 2020) Vice Adm. Brian B. Brown, commander, Naval Information Forces, discusses chief of naval operations’ strategic intent and Sailor readiness during an all-hands call and visit to Information Warfare Training Command (IWTC) Monterey. (U.S. Navy photo by Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) 3rd Class Shelby Sims)

We have come a long way in the past 10 years. While each information-based skillset brings significant and needed capabilities (the Navy still needs great intelligence, IP, CW, METOC professionals, and space expertise), this is a true case of the sum being greater than its parts. The combination of these capabilities brings winning advantage to the Navy’s needs in today’s complex fight. 

In the IW domain, you are constantly dealing with competitors every day, with DCNO for IW Vice Adm. Kohler stating “We consider ourselves in contact with the adversary now.” The Navy traditionally has its Phase 0 to Phase 5 spectrum of operations, but how does this apply to IW operations? How does the IW community balance winning the daily fight with being ready for what may be needed in a major conflict?

In today’s complex warfighting environment, we talk less about phases and more about the spectrum of conflict. That spectrum spans from so-called day-to-day/peaceful presence, through escalation and all the way up to lethal combat. We absolutely have to be ready for that high-end fight – lethal combat, but we also need to be successful across the entire spectrum.

Having said that, though, even in the peaceful presence side of the spectrum, there is daily conflict in the cyber domain. Both state and non-state actors leverage cyber to gain advantage in the strategic space below the threshold of armed conflict. Activity in this left-of-conflict spectrum run the gamut from intellectual property theft, to election interference, to ransomware and DDoS attacks, just to name a few. From a Navy IW perspective, this conflict at the left end of the spectrum is more than cyber, it is also contested engagement in intelligence, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum, and in understanding the physical domain.

Information Warfare is in that fight today in all those areas. The keys to this success are two-fold. First, we must defend forward. A great power’s weaponized information and influence operations are possible because of cyberspace. Defending forward means defending U.S. critical infrastructure from malicious cyber activity, individually or as part of a campaign, to prevent a significant cyber incident. Second, we must maintain persistent engagement. In cyberspace, this means the continuous execution of the full spectrum of cyberspace operations to achieve and maintain cyberspace superiority, including defending vulnerable networks through maintaining advantage in the electromagnetic spectrum.

Navy IW professionals use sensors, systems, and information to generate operational outcomes—passively and actively in all domains. While all those systems provide the tools to fight and win across the spectrum, people remain our greatest asymmetric advantage. We are fully using existing personnel policies and are constantly looking for new methods to attract and retain the best and brightest personnel. We need to maintain technical talent and personnel overmatch that includes our active and reserve uniformed personnel, as well as our civilian workforce. The Navy’s IW skillsets are needed more than ever in the daily fight of today as well as to be prepared for any potential high-end conflict.

How does information warfare fit into the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept and other future warfighting concepts?

DoD’s and, in particular, the Navy’s primary mission is to protect the nation by defending forward. In the IW domain, that means disrupting and halting threats before they reach our networks or our forces. In the current era of great power competition, the concept of Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) provides the ability for the fleet to maneuver effectively for advantage in a distributed manner, to create dilemmas for an adversary, while simultaneously maintaining the benefits of force integration. To accomplish that kind of maneuver across potentially multiple maritime combat formations requires all that IW delivers. The glue that pulls that all together is the collective set of IW capabilities.

Information warfare is a deeply cross-cutting discipline. How has the rise and establishment of the IW community elevated the understanding of IW more generally across the Navy’s communities? 

IW is a warfighting discipline, a set of warfighting capabilities, and a key enabler for all Navy mission areas. It underpins every warfighting domain from sea to land, to air, to undersea, to cyber, to space. It is a complex capability comprised of humans, machines, electromagnetic spectrum, and data that, when effectively combined, provides our force with non-kinetic options, increases the lethality of kinetic options, enables Distributed Maritime Operations, and delivers critical advantages in great power competition.

Over the past 10 years, the IW community has continued to further integrate fleet operations to provide vital decision space for our commanders. It is through collective IW capabilities that data from multiple sources are optimally transferred into actionable information to use for operational superiority.

One way the IW community has been elevated within the Navy is with the establishment of the Information Warfare Commander afloat. For several years now, the Navy has been operating with a senior, board-screened, post O-6 command tour IW captain as the warfare commander for information warfare on carrier strike groups, equal to other traditional warfare commanders. Based on value, the demand is expanding to amphibious ready groups and expeditionary strike groups.

We also have the Naval Information Warfare Development Center (NIWDC), established in 2017, that works with the other community Warfare Development Centers (WDCs) and the Naval Warfare Development Center (NWDC) to ensure our concepts, tactics, techniques, and procedures are fully integrated. This integration is critical, because the collective IW capabilities that assure command and control, provide predictive battlespace awareness, and deliver integrated IW fires are integral to all plans and operations.

What has been done to make IW capability and capacity more easily leveraged by sailors and commanders on the deckplate and afloat?

I’ve already mentioned the IW Commander Afloat role and the NIWDC, which bring the capabilities directly to the fleet, but I would also add that we have created an IW Training Group. This organization is analogous to and works closely with the long-standing Afloat Training Group structure to train individual ships and crews in IW capabilities at the deckplate level. This, along with NIWDC, is overseen by the IW Type Commander (TYCOM) – Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR), which was established six years ago.

From the cybersecurity of the naval industrial base to hiring top-notch civilian talent, IW arguably demands an especially close relationship with the private sector. How do you view the nature of the IW community’s relationships that go beyond government?

Put simply, we could not succeed without our partners in industry. We work very closely with industry reps, at all levels, to ensure that the capabilities the Navy and Joint Force need to fight and win in the IW domain are available when needed. We feature significantly in a wide range of industry-focused forums, such as the annual USNI/AFCEA WEST Conference in San Diego, AFCEA EAST in Norfolk, and the Navy League’s Sea Air Space Symposium here in Washington, D.C., to build and maintain those relationships.

San Diego, Calif. (Feb. 13, 2019) Vice Adm. Brian B. Brown (center), commander, Naval Information Forces, speaks with Aerographer’s Mate 2nd Class Annalina DiMaggio (left) and Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class Deserae Laczniak (right) from Naval Oceanographic Special Warfare Center (NOSWC), at the Information Warfare Pavilion while attending WEST 2019.

From year one of our existence, we have co-sponsored, with AFCEA and the Naval Intelligence Professionals organization, an annual IW Industry Day. This IW Industry Day provides a day-long series of briefs and discussions, in a classified venue, to allow us to discuss where the Navy and Information Warfare in particular, are focusing our efforts and what we need to fight and win. We have had up to 500 industry representatives attend our most recent event. And, of course, I and my fellow IW military and civilian leaders participate in various other industry breakfast, luncheons, meetings, and conferences throughout any given year.

With the advent of technologies like artificial intelligence and big data, some suggest we may be in the midst of an IW-driven revolution in warfighting. How do you view the potential of IW to transform the nature of the warfighter and warfighting going into the future?

These technologies bring significant capability, with increasingly more expected. We spend a good deal of effort focused on what those new technologies mean to us, and how they can improve our capabilities. These new technologies will continue to advance how we train and fight, not just in IW, but in every domain. We work hand-in-glove with the Office of Naval Research, and across the Navy staff and the fleet, to continually harness this revolution in technology to give the Navy and Marines Corps team the edge we need to succeed, across the spectrum of conflict and operations. We will be directly involved in developing and employing the advantages to be gained through the use of revolutionary technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Any final thoughts to share?

The recognition of the need for IW capabilities is now universal across the Department of Defense. We (the Navy) may have gotten to the table earlier, but all our sister services now have in place their own organizations aligned to the spirit of information warfare and are employing and building capabilities in the information domain. Each service may do it a little bit differently based on their own unique service cultures, but all understand the importance of harnessing these capabilities to fight and win today and in the future.

The Air Force, for example, combined their A2 (Intelligence) and A6 (Communications) directorates at the headquarters level here in the Pentagon as we did, while also creating the 16th Air Force at the next level down. Within the Department of the Navy (DON), the U.S. Marine Corps created a counterpart to OPNAV N2/N6, the Deputy Commandant for Information (DCI), with Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds in the role. They call their effort “Operations in the Information Environment (OIE)” and include psychological operations and strategic communications in their OIE approach.

We work very closely together to provide the DON an integrated Naval IE/OIE capability – bringing the power of both the Navy and Marine Corps to bear.

Vice Adm. Brian Brown is currently serving as Commander, Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR), and is a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. 

Dmitry Filipoff is the Director of Online Content for CIMSEC. Contact him at

Featured Image: Fort George G. Meade Md. (Sept. 27, 2018) – Sailors stand watch in the Fleet Operations Center at the headquarters of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet (FCC/C10F). (U.S. Navy Photo by MC1 Samuel Souvannason/Released)

Crafting the U.S. Marine Corps Mystique: A Conversation with Heather Venable

By CDR Christopher Nelson, USN 

Professor Heather Venable joined me to discuss her new book, How the Few Became the Proud: Crafting the Marine Corps Mystique, 1874-1918. It is a fascinating look at how the U.S. Marine Corps, struggling to define its role as a small fighting force in the earlier days of the republic, crafted a reputation and truly a mystique to ensure the service’s survival. 

Heather, if we could, I’d like to begin with the title of your new book, How the Few Became the Proud. I certainly recall the Marine Corps recruiting commercials from the 1980s. Some were on the TV, and some were run in movie theaters. And of course, the commercials ended with the same tagline: “The Few, the Proud, the Marines.” Who came up with that phrase?

Venable: “The Few, the Proud” slogan actually came out in the 1970s, coined by J. Walter Thompson, the Marine Corps’ ad agency. One slogan that a Marine coined during the span of my research, though, is “once a Marine, always a Marine.” The first reference I’ve found to this slogan occurred in about 1907, the invention of a creative recruiting officer. Recruiting officers had practical reasons for coining such a phrase—they really wanted former Marines to continue to identify with the Corps in order to encourage future Marines in their local communities to enlist. But it also marks a broader and intensifying effort to get all Marines to identify more actively and positively with their institution that really increased prior to World War I. 

What surprised me a bit was not that the Marine Corps was good at advertising, but how early and aggressively they advertised the Corps. And this was in the age before the big New York City advertisers, correct? 

Venable: A fundamental transformation occurred in American society between the Civil War and World War I in terms of what society deemed acceptable in regard to marketing. Before, if you wanted to sell oranges, for example, it was not polite to say something like, “We have the biggest, juiciest oranges of all the competitors.” Rather, you said something like, “A new shipment of oranges have arrived. Come get a dozen for 5 cents.” So some nineteenth-century Marines wanted to brag about their Corps, but they believed it to be impolite. When these sentiments began shifting in society as a whole, Marines seized the initiative and began actively promoting the Corps, largely without any interaction with the professional advertisers. 

Of all the commercials — the one where the Marine slays the dragon is the most memorable to me — but I also remember the commercial with the knight turning into the Marine. Apparently there’s even a ranking of all Marine commercials. Do you have a particular favorite? Is there a consistent theme in this advertising that goes back to the 19th century? 

Venable: I love the knight commercial as well. I don’t see a consistent theme going back to the nineteenth century. But I do see links between the idealism of Marines—especially recruiters—that really began solidifying prior to World War I. And there is a chivalry celebrated and a love for a brotherhood (and it was, at this point, a brotherhood solely) that echoes in the Corps’ most compelling commercials. Whereas the Army has tried many different approaches, the Corps has stuck more consistently with the idea of serving for the sake of serving. It could be argued that those knight commercials of the 1980s were even more idealistic than their predecessors, the early twentieth-century recruiting posters. (An interesting outlier to this general trend is this commercial from the 1970s.) 

In your book, you say that the Marines, early in their history, referred to themselves as soldiers. It’s how they described themselves to others. But that changes over time. How and when did that change take place? 

Venable: It still had not taken place fully by the end of World War I, which I was surprised to find. In World War I memoirs written by Marines, for example, I noticed how it was more natural for most Marines to refer to themselves as soldiers more frequently than Marines. Thus individual Marines who enlisted during the war did not buy as fully into the rhetoric as longer-serving Marines. But in terms of representing themselves to the public, Marines had solved the essential problem of making it mean something to be a Marine where they did not necessarily have to explain what a Marine was, which had been a problem for decades. 

You end the story, as your subtitle notes, around 1918. If you had more time and space, what is the biggest addition to this story? Does the mystique build through Korea? 

Venable: I would want to talk about the idea of every Marine being a rifleman, because I think that is a key addition to the Corps’ identity that I did not see in the time period I researched. I assume that as the Corps increasingly professionalized and evolved after World War I, it differentiated its roles and specialties, thus necessitating some adjustment to seek to keep the overall institutional culture cohesive. 

And how was the mystique challenged in Vietnam? Obviously, it survived that war. Any thoughts on how it did so? 

Venable: Amidst the recent social distancing and a lot of seniors in high school having to miss proms and graduations and other celebrations, I saw someone post on social media something like, “Imagine graduating from high school and knowing you were going to Vietnam.” My dad went to college for a few years before he enlisted in the Corps, so he didn’t have that exact experience, but I can still appreciate the intense feelings provoked by knowing what they would soon be doing overseas. And, like my dad, many of them chose to serve in the Corps rather than get drafted into the Army. You see the same kind of sentiments within the World War I timeframe. You want to serve alongside and with those people you perceive to be the best for a whole host of reasons. And, as long as the institution has leaders at all levels who uphold the institution’s most positive traits of identity and leadership, you’re going to do better no matter the state of social upheaval. In World War I, many Marines were disappointed by some of their leaders. I would assume that this same reaction factored into the experiences of Vietnam Marines. 

I want to move on to a chapter you wrote titled “Hypermasculinization.” What are you tackling in that chapter? And was the USMC (and is it still) disposed to hypermasculinization over the other U.S. military services? 

Venable: I really wanted to understand some of the rhetoric produced by the first female Marines that did not make sense to me initially. They really undercut their own service. Everything fell into place for me when I realized that the first female Marines had not actually freed male Marines to fight. Indeed, those male Marines had already been declared unfit for overseas service. So the Corps’ reaction to this, I think, was similar to the impetus behind “every Marine a rifleman.” The greatest contribution of the first female Marines was ironically strengthening the Corps’ masculine identity by promoting the idea that all male Marines were fighters and female Marines were there to support them with clerical and other types of work.

I am absolutely convinced that the Corps is still the most hypermasculine of all the services. In talking to Army officers as long as a decade ago, I have been surprised how much more open they were to incorporating women into combat than men.

And the current Commandant seemed to fall into that tradition based on some comments he made last summer. Since then, though, he has taken some steps in the right direction that, frankly, have surprised me positively in regard to integrating training, because I agree with the argument that if you don’t integrate Marines from the very beginning, you can’t ever really integrate them if women aren’t visibly present during foundational experiences like the Crucible. I’m also excited to see major improvements on the Marine Corps’ website that was pretty disheartening about six months ago in the marked absence of females on the site. 

Would you discuss the artist Chandler Christy’s famous recruiting poster — and how does it tie into that chapter?

Venable: I find it interesting that depictions of women in Marine uniforms tend to be more complex than women in Navy uniforms, at least around the World War I timeframe. The Chandler Christy poster features a woman dressed in a naval uniform as a simpering, flirtatious creature, intended to convey to a man that she is clearly not capable of military service, but he is. Thus images of women wearing Navy uniforms tended to avoid depictions of combat, like most of the Navy’s recruiting imagery at the time. But the Corps’ imagery is more complex and, indeed, conflicted. So a poster like “If You Want to Fight, Join the Marines” has some edgy elements to include a woman with her hand on a weapon, unlike the competing Chandler Christy poster for the Navy. But the Corps poses a more forthright challenge to potential recruits, asking them not just to “join” like the Navy but to “fight” and to consider why a woman is wearing a uniform and holding a bayonet but they aren’t. 

Howard Chandler Christy’s 1915 poster, “If you want to fight! Join the Marines.”

Heather, last question, is Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men overrated or underrated? Regardless, I think Aaron Sorkin nailed that script. 

Venable: Great question. I think that Jack Nicholson appeared to be even more extreme than the characters in something like The Great Santini. I’ve been privileged to meet many Marines in my life, and none of them has been that extreme in personality. And so he was too stereotypical. Marines are normal people, not caricatures. Sorkin stressed the “warrior” aspect of the Corps’ legacy, not its highly idealistic vein captured so well in those 1980s commercials. So Nicholson’s character is overrated because he’s not subtle enough and certainly not human enough. And that’s consistent with the perceived warrior culture in the U.S. military as a whole that has really taken hold over the last few decades. It’s too simplistic and neglects the whole person.

Heather Venable is an associate professor of military and security studies in the Department of Airpower at the United States Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College. As a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, she taught naval and Marine Corps history. She received her Ph.D. in military history from Duke University. The views here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Air Force, the Command and Staff College, or the U.S. Department of Defense. You can follow her on Twitter @Heather_at_ACTS and Linkedin

Commander Christopher Nelson is the Deputy Senior Naval Intelligence Manager for East Asia in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Maryland. He is a naval intelligence officer and graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, Rhode Island. The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense.

Featured Image: Three noncommissioned officers from Marine Barracks, Washington at 8th & I, perform during a Tuesday Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., July 30, 2013. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dan Hosack/Released)