CCLKOW: Part 2 – The Military Must Inevitably Take the International Lead In HADR

And this, dear CCLKOW readers, is the second instalment. In it, the necessity for the military response is argued. Take note, do-gooderism is not the driving force behind this argument. Rather, the linkages between these events and security drive the need for proper consideration, while the needed capabilities already held within the armed forces argue for their appropriateness. So, now that you have read both, it is for you all to consider which side of the argument you fall down on and join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


While the spectre of global conflict is a daunting proposition to the human condition, the looming potential for disasters, both man-made and natural, to wreak similar havoc and impose like consequences upon humanity should equally concern societies. If the migrations of late from conflicts abroad are but the mildest preview of what might be faced in the aftermath of any significant humanitarian event, at the worst end is the magnitude of managing communicability on a global scale or contested salvation. The disaster flashpoints in the world centre around points of great population densities, and too often correspond with populations already on the brink. Taking the other side from my dear colleague, then, this piece will argue the inevitably necessary leading role for the armed forces in HADR. Although their efforts are important, and must continue, private and NGO capabilities will not be sufficient to the growing demands. As humanitarian crises are likely to be an increasing feature of the international security landscape, armed forces must plan and prepare robustly for the spectrum of contingencies it will confront.

The top end scenarios matter. Contrary to the dismissal in the first piece of the armed forces for their utility in the extreme circumstances only, it is exactly for contingency’s sake that these organisations must prepare for humanitarian operations. We do not, for example, put aside the armed forces role in conflict because war is an extreme iteration of organised violence. Furthermore, I would argue that HADR is the top end of emergency response. ‘Disaster’ is not your every day ‘sticky situation.’

The Faceless Bureaucrat is correct to note that many emergencies do not require a military response. However, as the capabilities, doctrines, and tactics are developed, it will certainly be useful for them to face live testing in lower echelon events. Exercising the skills, equipment, and approaches will make for improved performance in larger, more critical events.

I am ever mindful that the militarisation of activities is a slippery slope. However, the security ramifications of human suffering is not a new or extravagant concern. Wellington certainly understood that the humanitarian disaster of the strategy at the Lines of Torres Vedras would have to be mitigated. So too did the Western Allies connect humanitarianism with security after WWII. And the population upheavals wrought by natural and conflict disasters of late serve only to highlight this point. The matter is, and has been for at least two centuries, of geo-strategic concern. The armed forces are not the only response that must be readied, but it is the critical one.

The armed forces encompass the broad spectrum capabilities necessary. The armed forces maintain the far and away edge in contingency logistics that can endure. While civilian capabilities have their niche specialisms, across the breadth of demand it is the armed forces that are best placed to answer. And in disaster operations this will be wider than most contemplate – see for example, the panoply of marine demands required in the Haiti earthquake relief operations. (1)

It bears considering as well that at some point the need for security and force will be necessary. Most obviously, this will be a need in R2P HADR scenarios. Thinking more pragmatically, to maintain order against the worst circumstances, whether destruction or disease, will be a necessity. It is not a pretty thing to admit, but its distasteful nature does not absolve us of our requirement to prepare for such contingencies.

The security implications demand serious response.

HADR is neither optional nor altruism. At both ends, sceptics would like to dismiss the necessity for armed forces in these events. From the military there is often the sense that these are ‘nice to have’ operations that can be disregarded as necessary, whereas the civilians dismiss the effort for being self-serving. Both are wrong. The security risks of humanitarian disasters are already manifest and will only worsen. And it is for this reason that the debatable altruism of such actions is irrelevant: such a sentiment will no longer be necessary to save lives and rebuild.

In the 21st century, saving lives will no longer be the province of the do-gooder. Rather, this metric of effect is about to assume strategic proportions. The struggles of at least the near future will be decided by the lives saved, not taken, in conflicts averted not won. Looking only to the realm of natural disasters, both weather/environmental disasters and communicable disease scenarios demand the state take this planning on board with the armed forces. Dealing with these contingencies must become part of the domestic and international defence and political discussions. Not only must strategies and plans be in place and practised, but international agreement must be achieved. When considering that the use of forces might be necessary in some instances, international agreement on the standards must be agreed.

Delicate circumstances, robust response. The human condition in these circumstances is delicate. This does not mean that a robust answer is not the best response. One could easily blanch at the practices found in an emergency room. However, in such circumstances, delicacy is not necessarily helpful. So too in the first phases of a disaster. Squeamishness will not assist our response to the worst of human calamities.

This does not mean that the armed forces should not adopt and practice an approach for such circumstances that includes the recourse to gentility wherever practicable. And returning to the medical analogy, it will be in the recovery phases, once the trauma has been passed and the long path to recuperation is begun, that issues of ‘bedside manner,’ of the attention to the social, political, and cultural delicacies will come to the fore. It is at this point that the provision of care from the civilian sector will be most effective and useful.


Thus, given its demands and security implications, the armed forces are best suited to lead the delivery of capabilities in HADR. Accepting this reality and responsibility sooner will mean the international community is best suited to deal with this emerging and critical contingency.






1 “Haiti Earthquake Port Rehabilitation” from Think Defence.


CCLKOW: Led by Donkeys, you say?

Greetings! In this week’s CCLKOW I intend to shake things up again, turning a common practice on its head. No one who has ever spent time around company and field grade officers does not know that general officers are among their fondest targets for criticism. And yet these same people are those who eventually become the general officers. There is, obviously, a disconnect. So, read the piece, ponder the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


A common, if incorrect, refrain regarding the British First World War military experience is that the army was ‘lions led by donkeys.’ A criticism of the senior ranks who prosecuted the war, this seeming truism has largely been dispelled. But while this description no longer stands up to deeper more nuanced scrutiny, the practice of criticising general officers is like a blood-sport right of passage across armed forces.

What I find very interesting about this phenomenon is that it is enduring. Each generation of officers thinks those at the very top are often the picture of incompetence. And every single one of those generations ultimately steps into those shoes to lead the next generation of malcontents.

I understand that inter-generational disdain is common. Whether disparaging the youth in our trail or those who lead us, it is very easy to believe there is something entirely lacking about those outside our own peer groups. However, even controlling for this more general influence, there remains a marked difference in the phenomenon in the armed forces.

So, what is happening?

Are the personnel systems, which drive the selection of officers to command billets and, correspondingly, higher rank, to blame? Do these systems drive out the best and the brightest and leave behind a middling, muddling sort?

Is there a fundamental disconnect between what a field or company grade officer understands about general officership in the armed forces and reality? Do these officers simply not understand the demands upon executive leadership, that the relative stability of tactical practice has given way to the far less firm domains of strategy and politics?

What could a general officer tell you about the role to clarify that what looks like a donkey is not?







CCLKOW: Future Planning

Greetings CCLKOW and other interested readers. In this, my last post before the end of term and the New Year, I think it fitting to talk about the future. Or rather, the defence approach to imagining and dealing with the future. The inspiration for this piece was a two day workshop on future concepts that I attended, and my response to the structure of the content and the contemplations, specifically the use of scenarios. Because this sort of exercise so frequently relies upon this model to drive the conversation, I am of course of a mind to question it – conventional wisdom tends to have that effect on me. Of course, it may be that scenarios are the best way forward for providing the most effective review of a potential future, but for the time being let us live in an intellectual world where we have the freedom to create the process anew. Read the thought piece, consider the challenge, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


Last month I spent a fun* couple of days with DCDC contemplating the way forward for for the armed forces. In this particular workshop exercise the view was towards imagining the application of landpower in a changing world in support of the centre’s re-issue of the Future Land Operating Concept. This is not my first experience of such exercises, as it is exactly twenty years ago that I participated in my first of these sorts of exercises with NDU. The world of 2015 seemed rather far off at that time. And yet, here we are again, considering the world two decades hence.

Returning to the more recent workshop I participated in, nothing was decided and there are months to go before the review is completed. But the two days included interesting conversations across a range of topics between an even broader range of specialists and experts. It is not my intention to discuss the content of the workshop. Rather, I am interested in the processes applied in the approach to such endeavours, because how we do things can shape the intellectual outcomes. Whereas this particular event was scenario driven, in this piece I would like to challenge the methodological assumption to think about what may be alternative frameworks for thinking through future capabilities, challenges, and opportunities.

As a means to consider other ways to think about the future, my first point is about challenges and opportunities, because it is the former which overwhelmingly dominates the discussion. The nature of security and defence, particularly the exercise of thinking through how to cope with future threats, certainly has a darkening influence on the mood. Pessimism in such cases is understandable. In an effort to be as ruthless as possible with respect to the challenges so as not be caught out, the potential future enemy in such scenarios is inevitably drawn in proportions which reality would not sustain.  Nevertheless, I never fail to be struck by the absence of imagining what opportunities the changing world might offer. Thus, an alternative approach to this process could be organised around discussions which divine the contours of both sides of this coin to imagine both the challenges and the opportunities that will arise out of changes in the economic, social, political, and military worlds.

Another way to address the issue is to play with the threat-context-end relationship. While threats and ends are in common parlance in defence, by context I mean to include the political, social, economic, and perhaps even climatic, dynamics which shape the conflict environment by defining desires, fears, and priorities. Breaking the pieces down into these portions of an equation allows for variation and control of each of the constituent parts. Requirements, options, challenges, and opportunities will emerge from the analysis depending on which piece in the equation is held constant and what is changed in the other parts.

These are just two alternatives which came to my mind. Please feel free to lob any thoughts you might have at my suggestions.  They are illustrative of other means available to think our way to sound preparations for the future, but they are not meant to be exhaustive. There are as likely as many options as there are thinkers on the subject. And that, my dear CCLKOW readers, forms the crux of this week’s questions and discussion:

What are the merits and weaknesses of scenario-based future thinking?

What alternatives to a scenario-based process would you propose?






* If this is fun, I really need to get a life.


CCLKOW: Call out the Militia!

Today in CCLKOW we are reorienting you to the homeland and the problems of interoperability between police and the armed forces. Even without the Paris Attacks earlier this month, the subject of mastering the ‘JIIM’ environment is critical, both in military operations at home and abroad. To discuss this, I am very happy to bring to you a special guest writer, Ian Wiggett, recently retired as an Assistant Chief Constable from Greater Manchester Police. It should be understood, then, that this piece is written from the British perspective, which includes a significant difference with respect to the use of force by the police, particularly as concerns the generally disarmed stance. Nevertheless, the issue of integrating a military response to an attack to the homeland matters even to the US. Although the matter of Posse Comitatus would seem to forestall the use of the regular forces domestically, this matter has never been tested against any significant threat. And in fact, even as it was ultimately tabled, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks the military role in homeland defence was put on the table for serious debate. It is also worth noting that the American disdain for soldiers operating in the homeland is a legacy of our British heritage, and so to a similar degree the use of the armed forces in domestic circumstances is discomfiting on this side of the Atlantic. Furthermore, although they come under the control of the Governors, the National Guard formations of the individual states are trained as military, not police, forces. Thus, even in the American setting, how the armed forces will act in support of local, state, or even federal law enforcement remains a challenge. Alternatively, should the terrorist threat upon the European Continent reach sufficient proportions, it is not out of the realm of the possibility for recourse to NATO forces to be contemplated. Finally, as the importance of security and stabilization campaigns rise, the ability to work with civilian authorities will become more important. If the problems have not been hashed out for homeland defence, it is very unlikely they will succeed in foreign contingencies. Thus, the locus of operations of the armed forces has shifted and it is time to give serious thought to the issues. Read the piece, consider the implications and questions posed, and join the conversation on Twitter, at #CCLKOW and, it is hoped, the newly launched hashtag for policing discussion, #WeCops. — Jill S. Russell


First, some history…

Military Assistance to the Civil Powers (MACP) – also known as Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) – has existed for centuries.  In the days before a regular civilian police force existed, it was only the military that had the numbers, organisation and capability to restore order and maintain control.  That was, indeed, the role of the militia: a body of soldiers that could be raised at short notice to provide homeland defence.  It was the militia in North America that provided the backbone of the Revolutionary Army, and after independence, the United States retained the militia as the National Guard.

The original concept of “MACP” was therefore built around the military, either militia or regulars, being the force of last resort to restore and maintain the Peace.  Use of force (or at least, show of force) was central to that.  Armed soldiers putting down the insurrection – and casualties and collateral damage were expected.


The Peterloo Massacre, Manchester, 1819. Contemporary cartoon, Cruikshank

The Peterloo Massacre, Manchester, 1819.
Contemporary cartoon, Cruikshank

The folk memory does not easily or quickly forget the intervention of armed forces.  The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 is still invoked to inspire radicalism in Manchester, and the impact of that violent suppression is generally acknowledged as leading to further radicalism and ultimately to wider reform.  The Easter Rising in Dublin involved only a relatively small number of republican combatants, but the violence of the military response arguably pushed many towards the cause of independence.  In South Wales mining communities Churchill is known not as a wartime Prime Minister, but as the Home Secretary who had sent troops against striking miners in 1911.


Troops deployed in support of local police to suppress striking miners, Rhondda Valley, 1910-11

Troops deployed in support of local police to suppress striking miners, Rhondda Valley, 1910-11

History therefore suggests that the relationship between the people and the military has to be managed carefully.  Too much force, applied clumsily, may achieve its immediate objective of quelling a riot – but the lasting impact may be far more damaging to the established order.  The ‘silent majority’ are very grateful that the forces of law and order (whether dressed in blue or green) have made it safe for them to walk the streets and sleep soundly at night.  But if too many skulls are cracked, that ‘silent majority’ can quickly change sides.


How does MACP/MACA work today?

Military Assistance to the Civil Authorities (MACA) falls into three main types.  The first is simply about extra manpower and equipment to help deal with emergencies such as flooding, heavy snow, evacuations, etc.  The military can bring in large numbers people and specialist equipment or skills at short notice.  Filling sandbags to protect critical sites from flooding.  Moving people away from flooded homes.  Helicopters transporting vital supplies.  Building temporary bridges. This is also known as Military Assistance to the Civil Community.   The military also step in when critical services are threatened by industrial action.  Recent examples include fuel deliveries, firefighting, and ambulances.  This is also referred to as Military Assistance to Government Departments.

A second category, closely linked to the first, is the provision of additional or specialist support which may not be available to the civilian authority.  Installing communications equipment in remote areas, deploying radar or aerial photography, for example.  Both the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games used military staff to provide searching and access control.  There are long standing arrangements for handling of explosives and munitions, and until recently the military air sea rescue service worked frequently with local police forces and mountain rescue.

This all has to be paid for, of course.  Whilst the military may be very willing to offer their help, the MoD will want to know which authority to recover their costs from.  This has caused delays in the past, with civilian authorities sometimes being reluctant to call in military because of the costs, and/or arguing over which authority would be responsible for paying. Somewhat of a challenge if the emergency was due to an act of God!

Things have moved on considerably in recent years, with a much wider understanding that protecting life and property is far more important than petty turf wars or arguments over bills.  However, there has a growing tendency over the past decade for political leaders to want to do ‘something’ when faced with a crisis.  This has led to the Army being ‘ordered in’ to ‘sort out’ emergencies such as the foot and mouth outbreak, or the Somerset Levels flooding.  The mission may be loosely defined, and the intervention options may be limited – but it’s ok, the army’s here!   In these situations it’s important that the military recognise local sensitivities.  The civilian authorities will have been working hard for some time, and will feel that military intervention represents a criticism of their efforts.  The Army will also feel uncomfortable about being drawn into incidents that inevitably have political ramifications.

The third category is the use of force – Military Assistance to the Civil Power.  This is the most difficult aspect of MACA.  The military are trained to fight wars, not to be police officers.  It is many decades since the military was deployed to restore order on the streets of the mainland UK, although of course they spend several decades supporting the RUC in Northern Ireland. That deployment still has a painful legacy.

In more recent years, the capability, training and tactics of police and special forces have transformed in response to the changing terrorist threat. For obvious reasons, little of that is seen outside of the counter-terrorist functions.  There is a lot of catching up to be done by politicians, communities and those police and military leaders not directly involved in this specialist area of policing in relation to how the police and military will work together – and what this means for constitutional arrangements, and the longer term impact on the police-military-public relationships.  The maintenance of the Queen’s Peace remains a policing mission, even if it is carried out by the military on the police’s behalf.


How MACA/MACP works

In simple terms, the civil power requests the assistance of the military.  The advice to the civil authority is to ask for the ‘effect’ desired, not to specify the resource required.  The military cannot deploy without the authority of the minister of defence.  This is an important constitutional check which we perhaps fail to recognise the significance of in the UK.  In countries where there have been instances of military coups, civil war, or military government, the deployment of the military into the civil space can be highly politically charged and in some cases even outlawed.

In the UK, the civil authorities are used to operating on their own initiative, without ministerial or political involvement.  Consequently, the MACA/MACP approval can be seen as a bureaucratic process, mainly to allow the costs to be recharged.  For more sensitive deployments, the request to deploy military assets will require approval from both the minister overseeing the requesting civil power, and the minister of defence.  This ministerial approval process still applies in critical, fast moving incidents.  There are arrangements to ensure the decisions are made quickly, but the process of contacting ministers and completing paperwork will inevitably introduce some degree of delay.


Use of military force in support of police

Churchill directing troops at the Sidney Street Siege, 1911.

Churchill directing troops at the Sidney Street Siege, 1911.

 The dividing line between police and military used to be clear.  Police forces simply did not have the capability to take on a well armed terrorist cell.  That was the job of Special Forces. Once the civil police could no longer cope, the incident was handed over to the military and special forces neutralised the threat. The most famous example is the Iranian Embassy Siege. Civilian police surrounded the embassy, but at the point when it was decided a forced conclusion was required, a handwritten note on a scrap of paper allowed the police commander to hand the incident over to the military commander. Once concluded, control was handed back to the police.

SAS London

Planning for a long time since was based on that premise. The incident would be defined and contained.  When the point was reached that an intervention was decided, this would be conducted by special forces. Police handed control to the military until the incident was resolved. The scene would then be handed back to police.  But the world has changed.


So what’s changed?

Alongside the changing nature of terrorism, from 9/11 to lone actors and suicide bombers, the attacks that prompted the most rethinking have been Mumbai and Westgate in Nairobi.  Marauding terrorists, well armed, attacking crowded places pose real challenges for the conventional police armed response.  Police firearms officers are trained to contain the threat and make considered decisions whether to open fire. They should use the minimum force necessary – and indeed, rarely open fire, looking to use less lethal options whenever possible.  Once contained, they negotiate a resolution, again avoiding the use of lethal force as far as possible.  Each decision has to be individually justified and will always be subject to intense scrutiny afterwards, particularly if there has been a fatal discharge.

Terrorists intent on killing as many people as possible require very different concept of operations in response.  Armed officers need to respond quickly and take on the terrorists in order to minimise the loss of life. Negotiation is likely to be pointless (but cannot be discounted, regardless of what has happened).  Police forces will need to bring as many armed officers together as quickly as possible.  They will work as ad hoc teams, put together as they arrive.  This has led to common training, tactics, and weaponry.  The fast response also includes Special Forces, mobilised quickly by air.  As the military component will be arriving alongside the civilian police response, the training includes shared and flexible command models. The priority is to save life, and they will need to get in quickly and resolve the incident, using whatever resources are available.

Depending where and when the incident occurs, command structures and ministerial involvement may be ‘in flux’. MACP/MACA will still be needed.  But the situation on the ground will be developing rapidly and is likely to be confused.  There are a number of possible scenarios, ranging from police dealing with the situation themselves through to a full handover to SF.  The priority will always be saving life.


But the threat continues to change? What about other scenarios?

In the last few years we have seen: the two Paris attacks; a shooter on a train in France; an attack on a synagogue in Copenhagen; incidents in Belgium; the attack by Anders Breivik in Norway; car bombs in Glasgow and London; lone actors attacking Parliament and the military in Canada; the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby; several attacks and plots in Australia; the downing of civilian jets over Egypt and Ukraine; the attack on tourists in Tunisia.  In the meantime, counter terrorist police and the Security Service have continued to disrupt attack plots in the UK.  The threats range from multiple and coordinated attacks with automatic weapons and explosives, unsophisticated attacks by individuals or groups with knives, to bombing plots with homemade explosives.  The targets could be military personnel, police, crowded spaces, sensitive religious locations or communities, high profile individuals, or representatives of particular countries and communities.

The range of possible attack scenarios is endless. The greatest unknown, however, is the number of threats/incidents that have to be confronted at the same time.  One attack is bad enough, but several happening simultaneously and/or lasting over a long period will stretch the available specialist capacity.   The threat level in the UK is already at severe, the second highest level.  If the threat increases, we are entering unprecedented territory for the UK in peacetime.

The recent Paris attacks could have conceivably happened in the UK.  The response in France and Belgium was a massive armed military presence on the streets.  An incident in the UK or overseas could lead to our government deciding to deploy armed soldiers (other than SF) across the UK.  There may or may not be intelligence to inform the specific response required.  Whilst planning has already envisaged this sort of event, the questions remain – what are they going to do?  What is their role? What are they expected to deal with?

An incident (or incidents) in the UK may require extra numbers to be drawn in beyond the current planning assumptions.

For police forces, there have been further changes in planning assumptions and responses brought about by the 7/7 and 15/7 bombings, the riots of 2011, the 2012 Olympics, and Austerity.  In short, even the largest forces cannot deal with major incidents without support from other forces.  If there are multiple major incidents happening simultaneously and/or for extended periods, police forces may struggle to cope without assistance.  The most likely, if not only source of assistance is the military.

The progressive increase in the threat level in the UK has also brought into question whether police in the UK can remain unarmed for much longer.  There are only a few countries in the world where the police are unarmed.  Whilst a lone officer with a handgun may have limited impact against a group of terrorists armed with automatic weapons, routinely armed police have options which are not available in the UK.  There are between 5,000 and 6,000 armed officers available in the UK, many being committed to protection of vulnerable sites or high profile individuals.  Multiple and protracted incidents could require additional armed resources, which could only come from the military.  But the way police operate with firearms is very different to the way soldiers are trained for combat.


What are the likely scenarios?

The various terrorist attacks around the world show the range of possible scenarios.  The unknowns as ever are the where and when.  But the issue for planning are the assumptions about the scale of the attacks and the number of simultaneous attacks (or other incidents).  For the purpose of this paper, the assumption has to be that additional military support has been requested because events are beyond the capability of police and SF capacity.

Without examining each possible scenario, there are are some key considerations that the military need to prepare for:

  • Command and Control. It is likely that the incident will remain under civil police command.  Are these arrangements understood?  Does the military understand the police organisational structure?
  • Can the military operate effectively within civil police communication systems? What if those systems break down?
  • Concept of Operations. Is it clear what the role of the military is? Is this understood by all agencies? Is there a mutual understanding of each other’s roles, constraints, and ‘red lines’?
  • Use of Force. What authority is required? What are the rules of engagement? What options are available, including less lethal? What risks and contingencies are envisaged?  What guidance and instructions have been given to the those deployed?  Is the guidance fit for purpose?  Who carries the responsibility if soldiers end up in a situation where they have to defend themselves?
  • Locality and Community. How does the local context affect decision making and the options available? What information is needed, and how does that get relayed?


Beware of linear assumptions

Planning in the past has been based on a phased, incremental escalation of a single incident.  As the incident escalates, military assistance is engaged.  The mission is relatively clear, and the military resources required are self-selecting.

Planning and preparation are no longer so easy.  It is not inconceivable that the military is deployed for a general security and reassurance presence.  Presumably, though, they will need to react or respond if something happens.

Euro Troops

Euro Troops 2

The support requested may be for a specific purpose or role. Perhaps the civil police need additional explosives officers, or logistics, or certain technical skills to deal with the incident, but the military will not be engaged in tackling the threat directly.

There may be a general emergency which requires additional security presence, perhaps for guarding and searching, or to support and work alongside civil police, or even to replace civil police if they are not available or not able to deal with the threat.

And there may be a need for additional armed resources to be deployed quickly to tackle an armed threat, and the current police armed capability may not be available or sufficient.


National Security Strategy 2015

The new Strategic Defence and Security Review sets out the need to strengthen domestic resilience, and the need to tackle the terrorist threat at home and abroad using the ‘full spectrum of capabilities’.  Ten thousand military personnel will ‘be available on standby to support the civil authorities for significant terrorist incidents at short notice, supported by a wide range of niche military experts’.

MACA is now a central part of domestic security policy and planning.


There is much in the piece to contemplate, and so rather than limiting the discussion to answering a few questions, what I prefer to do is merely set the big issues up as areas of primary concern for debate. To my mind these are very broadly in two categories:

first, the Use of Force and the Rules of Engagement for the armed forces upon the civilian streets; and,

second, the differences between police/law enforcement and the armed forces across the universe of tactics, doctrine, language, etc., for as certainly as ‘secure the house’ means something different between the services (we all know the joke, right?), so too does the same issue apply in this case.

Specifically for the Americans, I would be interested to hear your thoughts as to what level of threat or incident would alter the political calculus on Posse Comitatus.

Join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW and #WeCops.



Ian Wiggett is a former police officer who retired in 2015 after 30 years service. Ian served in the Metropolitan Police, Cheshire Constabulary, and Greater Manchester Police, reaching the rank of Assistant Chief Constable. During his service, Ian worked in both detective and uniformed specialist roles, gaining particular expertise in serious crime and counter terrorism investigations, public order, specialist firearms command, and intelligence. He was the chair of the Cheshire Local Resilience Forum and deputy chair of the Greater Manchester Resilience Forum, and has been Gold commander for numerous major operations and events. He was the North West regional lead for counter-terrorism, firearms, and air support. He was the national lead for Casualty Bureau, a member of the national boards for Prevent, and for Protect and Prepare, and a member of the national civil contingencies committee. Ian has led a number of major change programmes and as national lead for systems thinking and continuous thinking helped lead work on demand and new performance measurement approaches nationally.


A Respectable Tom: War and the Thanksgiving Holiday

Forget the tropes on “Pilgims and Indians,” the American Thanksgiving you know is written in the military history of the nation. During the War for Independence, with America as yet fully defined, there were several thanksgiving celebrations called by Congress that were ad hoc and not at all related to one another. They were, furthermore, the legacy of the European celebrations, and often based in religion rather than anything particularly American. By the Civil War, the war that was the ultimate test of the political entity’s survival, the moment had arrived to codify the as yet relatively informal celebrations into a national holiday. In the wake of the victory at Gettysburg, President Lincoln finally yielded to Sarah Hale’s perennial call for the institutionalization of the Thanksgiving holiday. One negative result of the holiday’s Civil War roots was that into the 20th Century the holiday would chafe the former Confederate States. Nevertheless, as the United States came into its own as a world power in the 20th Century, not only a holiday but an iconic menu and setting was created via Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want” painting. Depicting a roast turkey for dinner and the extended family around the table, while this image might not literally replicate the Thanksgiving experience of every American, it represented an ideal that could serve as a touchstone for any American, and as a blueprint for what the military authorities could provide to the troops so as to signify the holiday.


This menu component of the holiday is one of its critical features. According to Priscilla Ferguson’s arguments Thanksgiving has become the most significant symbol of culinary unity in the American melting pot. She argues that the diverse traditions that have combined to create the American menu means that there is no singular American gastronomic culture to which all can relate. While her argument in favor of Thanksgiving notes its importance as an event, and that individual Thanksgiving meals can vary according to region and ethnic background, a persuasive argument can be made that by the 20th Century a singular, iconic menu emerged that is recognized by any American as the Thanksgiving dinner. This may not be the meal that any particular individual may enjoy; however, if on Thanksgiving that meal is served it will be enjoyed as such. And, as mentioned previously, the ability to have recourse to a singular, shared tradition is of great value to the military usage of Thanksgiving. A shared tradition allows for a relative ease in the military’s ability to provide a celebration of this holiday.[1] Interestingly, in the post-Vietnam War period there has been a willingness to diverge from the traditional menu to pay heed to regional tastes.

How did the Revolutionary War create a holiday? Celebratory meals were taken up by the early American military tradition because of the deeper meanings associated with such events. The importance of the feast portion of a holiday celebration is defined in the scholarship on food and dining by the socio-cultural content it conveys. The Clifford Geertz maxim that “men have birthdays, but man does not,” highlights the value of such content which create our lives, both individually and in the groups to which we belong. As Wood explains the phenomenon, “at the macro-social level various forms of feasting serve to link individuals to the wider social fabric through shared understandings of cultural conventions. Thus, [holiday meals and celebrations] to some degree unite peoples and their culinary culture in shared symbolic experiences.”[2] To inspire the martial cohesion necessary to create an army and an entirely new society, holidays played a significant role. Recourse to socio-cultural content had strategic implications as well. The Revolutionary War was the first conflict to rely in equal terms on the relationship between the people, the state and the military which Clausewitz would identify in the Napoleonic Wars. Reflecting this new calculus in warfare, political and military leadership sensibly relied upon standard celebrations to mark the martial calendar.

In part derived from Christian ritual, in part celebrations of the fall harvest, the Colonial thanksgivings which form the popular understanding of the holiday were as likely recognized by fasts as well as feasts. Just a year shy of the Colonies’ declared independence, the new patriot political leaders called for a Thanksgiving fast to inspire sober reflection of the gravity of the mounting tensions with the British in the aftermath of the fighting at Lexington and Concord. Noting that a fast was called by Congress “to implore the Divine Benediction on our country,” Thacher defined the larger importance of the event as a factor in the development of a shared identity for the Colonies: “This is the first general or Continental Fast ever observed since the settlement of the colonies.[3] Called for in the midst of increasing military conflict, it is notable that this was the first such celebration by the Colonies as a unified entity. It can be argued that this event marks the first thanksgiving celebration defined by a unique and integral American identity. In the following year Congress called for another day of thanksgiving. This culturally American tradition was enjoyed again in 1776 by Private Joseph Martin and his fellow soldiers convalescing from small pox inoculation in Connecticut after inoculation against small pox. Martin, a soldier, gave earnest thanks for what was (and remains) of the greatest import to the man in the war, a good meal: “Of the pig and the pies we made an excellent Thanksgiving dinner, the best meal I had eaten since I left my grand sire’s table.”[4]

With yet another thanksgiving celebration in 1777, the Revolution and the War for Independence brought the new country together in its first official national holiday. This one marked the Continental Army’s victory over the British forces at Saratoga in October of that year, which success guaranteed French diplomatic and military support. In recognition of this momentous occasion Samuel Adams led the Continental Congress to declare a national day of celebration and thanks. On 18 December of that year, the first national thanksgiving was celebrated throughout the colonies. Even the soldiers at Valley Forge in 1777 were able to celebrate with a feast. As recorded by a young surgeon, Albigence Waldo, General Washington’s troops dined upon roasted pig.[5]

Of course, not all soldiers dined well on that thanksgiving holiday. Joseph Martin recounts, in sarcastic tones, the slim pickings that comprised the “sumptuous feast” to which his unit was treated: half a gill of rice and a tablespoonful of vinegar. Martin’s ire was with his fellow citizens in civilian life, for he knew full well that while the Army endured near starvation, the citizenry at large was enjoying the abundance the country afforded. His scathing sentiment is displayed when he credits the repast provided to the soldiers to a citizenry that had “opened her sympathizing heart so wide.”[6]  The Revolutionary War, with its near-broken logistics system, was the inspiration for the practice of griping over relative injustices. American sensibilities, even then, favored fairness. Shared harshness could be endured for a common purpose, which explains the paradox of the strengthening cohesion of the soldiers within the army. As between the army and society, however, the growing belief that the one side was suffering unduly inspired the soldiers’ indignation. This sentiment was particularly strong, because the soldiers felt poorly done by for being made to starve in a land of plenty while in noble service defending the terms of the revolution. To alleviate these negative emotions, the soldiers griped.

However, Martin’s prospects had improved by the late years of the war. Returning to an area in New Jersey in which he had served earlier in the war, Martin and several of his fellow soldiers, while searching for a deserter, enjoy the late war hospitality of the locals: “We had a good warm room to sit and lodge in, and as the next day was Thanksgiving, we had an excellent supper.” The next morning their host provided them with toast and cider, the latter of which Martin describes “as good and rich as wine,” as a proper beginning to their day. However, the bounty did not end there, as the host would not allow them to leave until they had shared “a genuine New Jersey breakfast” with him, consisting of buckwheat pancakes “flowing with butter and honey,” and washed down with “a capital dish of chocolate.” Their Thanksgiving continued as they lucked into obtaining lodgings with a family that felt kindly towards the Connecticut troops, “as that section of the state was originally settled by Connecticut people.” Finally, at another house they were again provided for by “the remains of [the] Thanksgiving cheer.”[7] In these celebrations, the sharing of the holiday with extended family that will become the standard was already in evidence in embryonic form.

The citizens who provide for Martin and his comrades were happy to be clear of the British Army and loyalists, heartened by the impending victorious close of the war, and likely harbored a degree of gratitude towards the Continental soldiers. This sharing with strangers, of making them like extended family, precedes the traditions that would accrete to the holiday in later years. However, given the notion of a “Thanksgiving” holiday as it existed then, where the objective was to express gratitude for the blessings one enjoyed, it seems reasonable that sharing one’s good fortune would accord with the spirit of the holiday.

The end of the War of 1812 was celebrated with a day of prayer and thanksgiving. At President James Madison’s urging, Congress resolved to celebrate the second victorious confrontation with the British on April 31st of 1815. As that war is often considered the final act in the War for Independence, it is fitting that its successful conclusion should be marked by what was emerging as an American holiday.

The establishment of a permanent national holiday of Thanksgiving resulted from the decades’ long campaign of Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent women’s magazine editor. Beginning in 1827, her efforts finally bore fruit in September 1863, when an editorial on the subject struck a chord with President Lincoln and the public in the North. Again, this moment in the holiday’s history was inspired in part by military events: Hale’s editorial appeared in the wake of the Union victory at Gettysburg. This moment was particularly ripe as the victory had a tremendous effect upon popular sentiment regarding the war. Lincoln’s proclamation of that same October declaring the holiday brought the two pieces together:

It has seemed to me fit and proper that [God’s gifts of prosperity and freedom] should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.[8]

Thus the creation, evolution, and designation of the Thanksgiving celebration as a national, culturally American holiday were all intimately connected with the country’s wars.

Despite the growing importance of the holiday, particularly for the Northern forces, 1862 was a dismal Thanksgiving year for Billy Yank. Although the Army of the Potomac fared better than the Army of Northern Virginia in the quality and quantity of rations, Union soldiers on campaign in Fredericksburg were known to suffer for lack of food. Bell Wiley, a historian of the Union and Confederate soldier experience in the war, offers the experience of one Massachusetts volunteer whose Thanksgiving meal offered little for which to be grateful: “Yesterday was Thanksgiving at home, but a dismal day for us. Never since I have been in the Army have I seen supplies so short. Now we see soldiers going round begging hard bread.” Things were so bad that Wiley tells that this and other soldiers reported some were found scavenging in the slaughter pens for what meager scraps were left behind, whether that be head, hoof, or tail.[9] Americans, especially Northerners, had, by this time, developed an expectation of the feast that was meant to exemplify this holiday.

Enshrined as a national holiday, Thanksgiving emerged as an event of “family homecoming,” in response to the societal disruption wrought by the massive economic changes in the 19th Century, reconciling the conflict between “individualism and obligation to family.”[10] According to Elizabeth Pleck, the defining feature of the Thanksgiving celebration in the United States is its function as a “domestic occasion.” This is:

a family gathering held in the home which paid homage to the ideal of the ‘affectionate family.’ Such a family was a privatized nuclear one, with a nurturant mother creating a proper home atmosphere…. Although the ideal of the affectionate family was a nuclear one, the domestic occasion was often a gathering of extended kin, a family homecoming…. The domestic occasion was a culturally dominant form, practiced at first mainly by the upper classes and middle classes, which spread throughout society in the 20th Century.[11]

This concept of the holiday squares with the near manic celebration of the holiday within the American military in the 20th Century. Deprived of the actual ability to return home in most cases, military personnel were provided the opportunity for a symbolic homecoming by partaking of the traditional meal. The menu, the specific foods, became totems of home and family for the troop who could not fulfill this “domestic” obligation. The troops were thus able to pay homage to the rites and customs of the holiday. Furthermore, as Thanksgiving was a particular holiday for the extended family, the members of the unit could substitute for these relations. Finally, the family at home would know of the satellite celebrations, and be relieved that at the very least their deployed loved one was enjoying something of the holiday. For these reasons, Thanksgiving became a very important holiday to the American Armed Forces.

Pleck goes on to argue that Lincoln’s role in the creation of the Thanksgiving holiday rooted the celebration in the by then established values of the country: “By having Lincoln as its midwife, Thanksgiving also celebrated the blessings of American nationhood as well as its domestic ideals. Thanksgiving was – and is – a holiday of belief in the national purposes and destiny.”[12] The holiday’s association with the blessings bestowed meant that the wars, and therefore troops, fought to secure them were included as well.

The Spanish American War brought the first appearance of any significant celebration of the holiday in the south since the end of the Civil War. In the face of war, the North and South united against a common external foe. While they were encamped in Savannah awaiting embarkation for Puerto Rico, the Georgia volunteers were treated to a lavish Thanksgiving banquet in 1898 by the ladies of that city.[13] The citizens of Savannah also treated the massing soldiers from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Nebraska to a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving that same year.[14]

During the Progressive Era, Thanksgiving moved into the schools as a means of indoctrinating the children of immigrants into the ways of their new country so that they could go home and be the “Americanizers” of their parents. This is also a time when the Protestant roots of the holiday began to be downplayed. A holiday or celebration started by the nation’s first “immigrants,” it could be shared with the succeeding generations of newcomers.[15] According to Pleck, this linkage to nation, rather than creed, was important to making Thanksgiving America’s holiday:

Yet in the case of Thanksgiving, nationalism was a more significant feature than commerce. In that sense, Hobsbawm and Ranger were correct to draw attention to nationalism as a force in creating new traditions and reinvigorating others. Celebrating the national mission was an important impetus for the invention of Thanksgiving in the early 19th Century and remains a central element in the holiday to this day.[16]

The nationalism angle is confirmed in Etzioni’s formulation of a theory of public rituals. He argues that “holidays serve to socialize members of a society as well as to reaffirm their commitment to values and as such serve to sustain the integration of society.”[17]

Thanksgiving would also mark the end of the first global conflagration of the century. General Pershing celebrated his army in November 1918, declaring ‘victory…was the Thanksgiving gift to the American nation,” and an honorable repayment of the debt owed Lafayette and the French in the Revolutionary War.[18] Another Thanksgiving meal just after the Armistice was uniquely celebrated. William Langer, a soldier in the AEF, recounts the story in the memoir of his unit while his unit was in Verdun, awaiting transport back to the States. Upon agreement with the company cook to delay their meal to 3 or 4 o’clock, the troops were promised a proper turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Just as the men sat down to tuck into the holiday feast, the bugle sounded to call the regiment. All in the company fell out, save Langer: “I was a sergeant and I thought a good soldier. Of course, I should have set a good example in answering the call without complaint. But the war was over and I decided, with the Thanksgiving dinner before me, that for once I would disobey orders.” As time passed and the rest of the company did not return, Langer began to worry, “could the company have entrained to start for home?” His wait was ended at long last when his unit mates returned. And what was the cause of the delay, the explanation for which was difficult to get out of his fellow soldiers? The Regimental Chaplain had chosen that exact moment to deliver a sermon in honor of Thanksgiving and the end of the war in the ruins of the Verdun Cathedral.[19] This turn of events contains the sort of irony particular to military service: the sermon interrupted the meal, one of the few things, besides survival, for which a soldier can be truly grateful.

By WWII, the American holiday, state, and armed forces had reached global maturity. A young lieutenant in Western Europe describes how the Mess Sergeant brought a proper feast to the soldiers on the front lines for Thanksgiving 1944. “A hamburger would have been a treat, but a hot turkey dinner was almost beyond belief.”[20] The commitment to the meal was an institutional requirement. In a government publication meant to explain to the American public the lengths to which the armed forces would go to provide the troops with every comfort of home possible, the declaration of the institution’s commitment to a proper Thanksgiving dinner was its opening salvo. Offering little room for doubt, the publication echoes the essence of the subsistence doctrine: “Thanksgiving turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin… American food for the American soldier in England, Iceland, India, Australia, in Malayan jungle, and African deserts – wherever he is fighting in this global war, the Army endeavors to feed him the food he likes, the food that makes him feel at home.”[21] This commitment was shared across the services, as US Navy Thanksgiving menus from the first half of the century display the familiar gastronomic landmarks of the national meal. Given their druthers, soldiers would assemble a feast of similar fixings on their own as well. Neal Barton records that his unit used their mess fund to put together a traditional feast for Thanksgiving 1941. Reflecting the relaxing nature of the holiday, he writes that “all day long the boys visited the mess hall. Seemed as tho they would eat, go walk it off then start the process all over. Nothing was removed from the tables but dirty or empty dishes.”[22]

The commitment to turkey on Thanksgiving was also codified operationally within the Quartermaster Corps. Per one subsistence publication, “Turkey rations are authorized for all men actually messing with the organization on Thanksgiving….” The exact meaning of this point for the bureaucracy and administration of quartermaster duties is set out in a footnote to the above directive: “The so-called ‘turkey ration’ is merely the garrison ration increased by the excess cost involved when 28 ounces of turkey (undrawn) is substituted for the meat component of the garrison ration. This excess cost is computed by the regional depots on the 15th of October… of each year. A certificate showing the actual number of men present on Thanksgiving… is attached to the ration return.” One hopes the turkey meat was not as dry as the language authorizing it. The recipe for “Turkey, Roast” from the 1941 Manual of Mess Management is equally sparse, but the ingredients and intent give prospects for a decent meal.[23]

In part, these pledges were made to maintain the morale of the American civilian population. There is an almost liturgical quality to them, as if the authors realize they must include certain vital recitations to keep the public happy. World War II was conducted on such a scale that the war could not be fought or won without public support. One very important way to secure this was to make the public feel that the troops were being well cared-for, demonstrating the military’s commitment to them. Although to do so would be a substantial undertaking, no effort or expense would be spared to get it done. Maintaining the link to home, no matter where on the globe the troops might be serving, could be achieved through the Thanksgiving menu, which recalled, at least in general terms, the sense of home. This objective is reflected in the experience of Ann McCaughey, a Red Cross Aide in France, who wrote of her Thanksgiving experience of 1944 that “it was a piece of America that we had transplanted [thousands of] miles across the ocean and set up in the little town of Commercy in France.”[24] For Charles MacDonald, Thanksgiving 1944, was not only a national holiday, but his birthday as well. Escorted to his table in the company mess hall, where he found a plate already prepared for him. As he sat down to eat, the division orchestra broke out into “Happy Birthday.” He writes that “[i]t was only then that I remembered that this was something special; this was my birthday.” As a cake was brought out and his men sang “Happy Birthday” him, he “could not repress a choking sensation,” nor barely “keep back the tears of gratitude.” While the celebration was in itself touching, the event, with its particular emphasis upon the food tokens of a holiday and celebration, was used to signify something of greater meaning; he had earned the respect and admiration of his men.[25]

Blind adherence to this institutional promise to provide a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving could also ruin the promise of this meal, as the grievously put upon Paul Boesch experienced in Germany in the fall of 1944. As was evident from previous experience, he and his fellow soldiers learned again that if Division had set its mind to something, in this case a hot turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day, then that was what was going to happen. It was going to happen even if that meal was more a burden than a blessing. As darkness fell that Thanksgiving evening, with the American units deployed along a hill within range of German artillery, Boesch received unwelcome news from battalion headquarters. The operations officer at the other end was calling to inform him that a hot turkey dinner had been prepared and awaited a carrying party to come pick it up and bring it back to the rest of the unit. Boesch tried to argue against the meal, but was told, “’It’s the General’s orders.’”  The staff officer chided him for failure to follow the faith: “’You want to see the men get a nice hot meal, don’t you?’” This provoked the infantrymen’s sensibilities:

“Well, Jeezus Christ, that’s a fine way of putting it. Of course I want to see them get a hot meal. I want to see them get three hot meals a day and a dry bed every night and a babe to sleep with, but let’s save the turkey until they can pull back where they can enjoy it. Who the hell knows it’s Thanksgiving except some silly bastard in the rear who gets hot meals anyway and just wants a change in diet?”

Attempts to make his case further up the chain of command were fruitless. Poignantly, he argued that the folks back at division headquarters “’have no idea what it means to try to get food to those men, not mention the troubles of trying to eat it.’” Unsuccessful in this particular battle, Boesch was resentful: “What the hell difference did it make when a man ate his Thanksgiving turkey? One day was like any other to us.” His soldiers echoed this sentiment, but orders were orders. The unfortunate but logical consequence of the activity in such close proximity to enemy lines followed. As the meal was being brought to the men the German artillery opened fire. The bulk of the casualties from the barrage were taken by the men bringing the food as they were caught out in the open. For their efforts, “seven men had been wounded and three killed, an awful price to pay for a Thanksgiving dinner that nobody wanted to eat.”[26] While this thesis maintains that, in spirit, the foodways policy chosen for the American armed forces has tremendous potential to positively influence morale and effectiveness, it equally recognizes that even the best doctrines if poorly applied can have disastrous results.

Half a world away from Lt. Boesch’s unit, on a ship operating near the Philippines in the Pacific Theatre, greater command sensibility prevailed. James Fahey’s memoirs tell of how the captain, in his Thanksgiving message to the crew, decided to delay the holiday meal. Operational conditions had been such that the ship’s crew was going to General Quarters with such frequency that to try to cook and serve a Thanksgiving meal would be an effort in futility. He promised them, however, that once the situation changed a turkey dinner would be in the offing. Four days later, just outside of Palau, circumstances had changed: “Today was the first chance we had to have our Thanksgiving Dinner, almost a week late but it was worth waiting for. We really had quite a feed. Turkey, and all the trimmings. It was very good.”[27]

The commitment to Thanksgiving did not wane in the Korean War. By this war, the components of the holiday were firmly established. As it happened, that first Thanksgiving of the Korean War fell during the fateful campaigns into North Korea. In the first example, PFC Herman Nelson’s memories demonstrate that the celebration included a settled menu: “On Thanksgiving Day, 1950, we moved to a new location near Kunu-ri, well north of the North Korean capital of Pyong Yang. We ate our Thanksgiving dinner there with an armored tank company, and it was really good. We had a turkey dinner and all the stuff that goes with it.”[28] Another soldier, writing home, told of his Thanksgiving experience:

Well, here it is Thanksgiving afternoon. We’ve finished eating our turkey dinner and a very fine dinner it was indeed. Every man had all he wanted to it. It’s about time. We had turkey (frozen, shipped from the States) sweet potatoes, corn, stuffing, gravy, olives, pie, and candy. We were very lucky we got all that as we were only relieved from the line yesterday.

Lucky indeed, as he went on to tell that his unit had been treated to hot showers as well. As this was the first such opportunity to shower since late September, these soldiers had much for which to be grateful.[29]

Montross and Canzona’s history of Marine Corps Operations in the Korean War demonstrates that this first celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday in that war included all of the necessary components:

Thanksgiving Day, which fell on the 23d, was celebrated both in Korea and the United States…. It was a tribute to American bounty as well as organizational genius that the troops in Korea were served a dinner which would have done credit to a first-rate Stateside restaurant. The menu, as proposed by X Corps to component units, included… roast young tom turkey with cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes… fruit cake, mince pie and coffee.[30]

Generally speaking, however, the Chosin Thanksgiving experience varied depending on where a unit was in the march north. The campaign presented unique complications to front line food service. As they moved north towards the Yalu River, the units that comprised X Corps had several different experiences of Thanksgiving. In his history of the Marine campaign in North Korea, Edwin Simmons provides photographs to document the celebrations of the units stationed at the bases at Hamhung and Hagaru-ri.[31] One Marine, Lance Corporal Harold Mulhausen, certain that the operation would mean missing the holiday dinner, found otherwise:

On Thanksgiving Day, 1950, the Marines continued to move north toward the Chosin Reservoir….we were pretty upset over the thought of missing our Thanksgiving dinner….To our great joy, next morning the cooks brought the kitchens up to our positions and we had our Thanksgiving dinner after all – turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and all the goodies. It was delicious and I ate until my belly nearly popped.[32]

Interestingly, there is a contradiction between the official history of the Marine Thanksgiving of 1950 and the experiences of specific units and personnel. In their description of the Thanksgiving for Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Davis’ unit, Montross and Canzona record that “the men of 1/7 belatedly celebrated Thanksgiving on the 24th with a full, hot turkey dinner.”[33] As recounted in Martin Russ’ history of the campaign, according to Davis, the dinner did not go as smoothly as that:

“We were out on the very end of the limb tactically. When the turkeys caught up with us they were frozen solid and the cooks couldn’t figure out how to thaw them. What we finally did was make a mountain of birds around two fired-up field kitchen stoves, then covered the whole affair with two pyramidal tents sealed tight with snow. By morning the birds were thawed enough for the cooks to cut up and cook, which took several hours. We rotated the platoons down from the slopes throughout the day. Lieutenant Lee’s platoon, at the point, didn’t get the word, however; each man had to settle for a cup of reconstituted milk and two slices of fresh bread. I felt bad about that.”[34]

Joseph Owen, a platoon commander in Davis’ battalion, provides an even bleaker picture. Describing the policy initiative that drove the Thanksgiving efforts that year, he suggests in his memoir that the impetus behind it was for public relations purposes, suggesting that “it was especially important” to the military leadership in Tokyo “that the front-line troops be shown enjoying the bounties of Thanksgiving.” As a measure of the hubris he believed had infected General MacArthur’s command, he notes that, despite intense combat with the Chinese forces who had entered the war, they “could afford to give the men not only the traditional meal, but also the day off.” Regarding the meal itself, “we had our dinner in frigid darkness at 2300.” However, even then problems arose:

We sat in the snow and on the big boulders with overflowing trays. We relished the feast before us, but we had not reckoned with the cold. The temperature had sunk far below zero again, and our food began to freeze before we could set a fork into it. The giblet gravy congealed and became an icy coating over the chilled turkey and mashed potatoes. The cranberry sauce became sherbet. The oranges froze as hard as baseballs.

To add insult to injury, Owen and one of his corpsmen were sniped at while they tried to make the best of their dinner.[35]

The celebration of the holiday continued through the conflicts of the late 20th century. And in the first decade of the new century, the tradition did not wane as American troops found themselves abroad again for the holiday. Firmly established, the institutional menu can now take account of changes in tastes, so that troops have enjoyed deep fried and Cajun spiced turkeys alongside the traditional fare. Nevertheless, the iconic meal remains, no better demonstrated in the surprise trip of then President George W. Bush to Baghdad Airport to deliver the main course.

Turkey George

Which event was ultimately rendered thusly:

Turkey Dinner Bush Doll

So, America, when you sit down to eat your turkey dinner today, put aside the myths of your childhood. Your holiday has its roots in the martial traditions and experiences which have formed the identity and ethos of the nation.




[1] Priscilla Ferguson, “A Cultural Field in the Making,” pp. 633-4.

[2] Roy Wood, The Sociology of the Meal, Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press (1995), p. 47, citing Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, New York: Basic Books (1973).

[3] James Thacher, Military Journal, p. 30, 20 July 1775.

[4] George Scheer, ed.,  Private Yankee Doodle, p. 57.

[5] Hugh Rankin, ed., Narratives of the American Revolution, p. 184. Another important wartime thanksgiving was celebrated by General Washington’s troops at Valley Forge, to commemorate the formalization of the alliance with the French in 1778. James Thacher describes this event. In addition to a mass military demonstration by the battalions and brigades with much saluting and many huzzahs, there was a dinner provided by Washington for the senior officers and wives present for the celebration. (Thacher, Military Journal, pp. 126-7)

[6] Scheer, Private Yankee Doodle, p. 100.

[7] Scheer, pp. 251-3.

[8] Book of Days, p. 1055.

[9] Bell Wiley, Life of Billy Yank, p. 226. Interesting to consider, Bell Wiley, a Southern historian, does not discuss Thanksgiving much. Given the holiday’s legal blessing by President Lincoln in 1863, it is not surprising that there is no mention of the holiday in The Life of Johnny Reb. However, the holiday is also largely absent from his companion study of Billy Yank.

[10] Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of a Domestic Occasion,” p. 775.

[11] Pleck, p. 773.

[12] Pleck, p. 776.

[13] “Spanish American War in Georgia History,” The New Georgia Encyclopedia,

[14] David Ott, “Remember the Maine! Adam County’s Involvement in the Spanish American War,”

[15] Pleck, pp. 778-9.

[16] Pleck, p. 783.

[17] Amitai Etzioni, ”Toward a Theory of Public Ritual,”  p. 47.

[18] “Proud to pay debt, says General Pershing,” The New York Times, 1 December 1918.

[19] William Langer, Gas and Flame, pp. xxiv-xxv.

[20] William Devitt, Shavetail, p. 146.

[21] Eleanor Hoffman, Feeding Our Armed Forces, New York: Nelson (1943), p. 1.

[22] Donald Vining, ed., Diaries of World War II, Barton’s Diary, p. 20.

[23] Subsistence: Conference Bulletins, The Quartermaster School, (1942) p. 21; Manual of Mess Management, p. 132.

[24] Vining, ed., Diaries of World War II, Diary of Anne McCaughey, p. 98.

[25] Charles MacDonald, Company Commander, pp. 76-7.

[26] Paul Boesch, The Road to Huertgen, pp. 170-3.

[27] James Fahey, Pacific War Diary, pp. 237-8.

[28] Richard Peters and Xiaobing Li, Voices from the Korean War, p. 69.

[29] Donald Knox, The Korean War: An Oral History, p. 464.

[30] Lynn Montross and Nicholas Canzona, U.S. Marine Operations in Korea: Volume III: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, pp. 143-4.

[31] Simmons, Frozen Chosin, p. 41.

[32] Peters and Li, pp. 99-100.

[33] Montross and Canzona, p. 148.

[34] Martin Russ, Breakout, p. 75.

[35] Joseph Owen, Colder Than Hell, pp. 213-5.


#CCLKOW – Iraq: Whither the soldiers of ISIS?

Continuing my preference to poke at the sacred in military affairs, #CCLKOW this week presents the conundrum of what should be done with the ISIS rank and file in Iraq. Inspired by an article which tells a simple tale of one Iraqi ISIS fighter, this week’s post is focused on the singular question of how the various parties – local, regional, and global – will move forward when the war machine is defeated. Read the post, consider the issue, and join the discussion on Twitter on the hashtag.


The Nazi enterprise and war machine were unmistakably a blight upon history and the very complexion of European civilization. They fundamentally altered the demographics of a continent and laid bare the basest of human potential. Whether by ruthless war or an even more sinister program of genocide, the death toll for which they were responsible still boggles the mind. At the end of the war, it was very clear that those in positions of authority would have to be held responsible for these acts. Nevertheless, while the leadership was held to account, it was equally recognized that to punish the collective rank and file of the German armed forces would serve no purpose.

In the wake of a very dark night in Paris, the furthest thing from anyone’s minds is the thought of humanity for any ISIS fighter.

But I read today an article, “What I Discovered from Interviewing ISIS Prisoners,” by Lydia Wilson of ARTIS Research, about the profile of the average Iraqi who has joined the fight. I would highly recommend that folks go forth and read the whole thing, both to understand this piece as well as for the general consideration of the conflict in Iraq. However, what matters to this post is what came at the very end, this excerpt which confronts the reader:

These boys came of age under the disastrous American occupation after 2003, in the chaotic and violent Arab part of Iraq, ruled by the viciously sectarian Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki. Growing up Sunni Arab was no fun. A later interviewee described his life growing up under American occupation: He couldn’t go out, he didn’t have a life, and he specifically mentioned that he didn’t have girlfriends. An Islamic State fighter’s biggest resentment was the lack of an adolescence….They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, ISIS is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe. This is not radicalization to the ISIS way of life, but the promise of a way out of their insecure and undignified lives; the promise of living in pride as Iraqi Sunni Arabs, which is not just a religious identity but cultural, tribal, and land-based, too.

The purpose of highlighting this point is not to join the chorus of blame, which serves little purpose beyond political point scoring. Rather, it is to shed a small bit of the light of humanity upon the issue of these ISIS fighters.

Returning to the opening, somehow, in the thoughts of leaders at the end of WWII, it was recognized that there was something in the German experience of the period between the end of WWI and the rise of Hitler’s Reich which made the horrors of that regime more palatable than rationality. If you want a visceral understanding of those dark days, I can recommend nothing more highly than the 1925 opera “Wozzeck” by Alban Berg. (Full version here.) The dismal and blighted life of the characters is set against possibly the most chilling and discordant music which combine to reflect the cost of the past war and the sense that something far worse was coming. If the mass of the population fell prey to Hitler’s awful promise, it is not difficult to understand why or how. And contemplating the lives of Iraq’s generation which had no youth, a similar perspective is possible.

Nothing can excuse the decisions and choices of the ISIS leadership. A Nuremberg of their own awaits those who survive to the end. I have a very special place of vengeance in my heart for those who have unleashed this current hell upon the region and now to Europe and very likely beyond. However, whether the same standard applies to all must be in some doubt. At the end of mankind’s last worst moment, some bit of humanity prevailed. After so much death and horror, perhaps it was decided there had been enough. We should consider that the same may be true in this time as well, that this interregnum of violence is not best ended with a further orgy of death.

And so my simple question for this week is, can we imagine any space for humanity for Iraq’s lost generation swept along by the currents of an abhorrent promise?



#CCLKOW: Tending One’s Leaders

Returning to the leadership theme, this week’s CCLKOW blog piece reorients the perspective. Rather the usual, in this piece the reader is urged to consider those who lead him or her. Inspired by a piece of writing outside the military community, the humanity, frailty, and vulnerabilities of one’s leaders are highlighted to ask a critical question: what do we owe them? Beyond the realms of basic human kindness, the ramifications of properly tending one’s leaders has substantive importance. Read the piece, ponder the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at the hashtag. 


Overwhelmingly, the majority of words spilled on the subject of leadership focus on the individual’s own, tending to look down the chain of command to examine how it does or should act. To the extent that people contemplate their own leaders, it is often in approval or critique, with the occasional nod to followership and the duties of the led to the person in charge. Moving beyond these well-charted waters, this blog desires to reorient the perspective to consider the subject of how leaders and bosses are treated.

The inspiration for this discussion is from a police blog. In it the author uses her own struggles and perspectives to reflect upon the difficulties of command responsibility. This passage sums the point which influenced my thinking:

I was chatting to [a Chief Constable] several months ago at a mental health event. I had already told him my jokes, I had showed him my double-jointed left elbow and I was getting to the stage where I was wondering what we could now talk about.

So we started talking about his interactions with staff.

He told me he often went to the canteen at lunchtime and would like nothing more than to sit down and join a table of fellow police officers and join in with their banter and chat. He missed being able to do that. He couldn’t do it as he was painfully aware when he entered the canteen, all eyes would be on him. He did not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or awkward by sitting and talking to them. So instead he would just grab a sandwich and quickly exit out of there and go back to his office and eat alone.

I thought that was sad and how lonely he must sometimes feel.

(from “I am a boss in the emergency services, I feel alone and I need help!” 30 October 2015)


I was struck by the humanity of the post, of its self-reflection and the realisation it inspired. Truism though it may be, how often do we contemplate seriously the loneliness at the top? When its condition can be written in such quotidian and heartfelt terms as with whom one can share a quick lunch, how much worse is it in dealing with the hard choices of military command? And struggle in solitude many leaders must given the complexity of conflict in a time of little black and white and much grey. [1]

Of course, one must tend to leaders not merely because it is humane. Rather, it must be taken up as a critical task to minimize the influence of the sycophants and the strivers. If the bulk of the led shy away from the boss, the vacuum is filled by the sorts of people who are the most dangerous, ‘yes men’ who will provide nothing better than an echo-chamber of the leader’s own opinions. Isolated by the structure, this coterie of sycophants serve only to deepen that effect.

And so, although military careers may be highlighted by the points of command, the bulk of the time is spent within the mass of the led. Thus, while it is important to hone one’s thinking and practice for those times when the reins of leadership authority are taken, the practice of service to the leader should equally concern the military officer. Given this, my questions for discussion are:

How do you tend your leaders? How would you rate your performance in that task? 

What have you been taught formally about this, if anything? Informally?

Contemplate the questions and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


1 The recently retired Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police made the near startling announcement that at times he sought counselling to cope with the demands of the position. Has a significant commander within the armed forces of either the US or UK ever admitted anything similar? Certainly the struggles of military leadership are as challenging as those in policing, and it is likely that such assistance could be valuable, but the recourse to psychological help remains a taboo in the armed forces.


Red Tape in the Morning, Staff Officer’s Warning

Greetings CCLKOW readers. Today we bring to you a new guest author, @fightingsailor, an officer of the Royal Navy whose biography you can find below. In this piece he discusses the implications of budgets, efficiency and effectiveness. With the latest Strategic Defence and Security Review eagerly awaited here in the United Kingdom, the matter of managing defence in an era of constrained budgets weighs heavily upon the proceedings. In this piece, our author contends with the conflicts and contradictions of the various means to ‘do more with less.’ Although focussed on issues facing defence in the UK, as the American defence establishment grapples again with the demands of sequestration the piece should resonate with the audience on that side of the pond. So, read the piece, consider the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


“My department’s budget may be rising again but there will be no let-up in getting more value for money… Efficiency savings mean we will be able to spend more on cyber, more on unmanned aircraft, more on the latest technology, keeping ahead of our adversaries.”  – Michael Fallon MP, Secretary of State for Defence [1]


In this short essay I will examine what value for money means in the context of Defence and whether the inevitable SDSR [2] drive for greater ‘efficiency’ is, in fact, counter-productive in achieving the purpose of the Armed Forces.

As the Secretary of State alludes, the drive for ‘Value for Money’ in Defence  is usually shorthand for efficiency.  Efficiency is the ratio of output to input.  In other words, the drive for greater efficiency means attempting to do more with less or, at least, doing the same with less or more with the same.  There are a couple of issues here for defence strategists.  First, there is an inherent assumption that we understand what our outputs are. We go to great lengths to define these and set up business agreements between the different parts of Defence to ensure that everybody plays their agreed part in delivering them.  This implies, generally, that the purpose of the Armed Forces is to output Forces ready to be used for operations. In part this is true, especially if one applies the POSIWID principle [3], but surely the purpose of the military is to deliver successful Government policy outcomes.  Many of the outputs of Defence may not be relevant to achieving such outcomes in any given crisis.  Take the recent Operation GRITROCK, the UK Military’s contribution to the fight against Ebola in West Africa.  This wasn’t part of any Force Design or Force Testing scenario that I am aware of, and was delivered using Forces whose justification for existence (and thus attribution of input resources such as funding) was for other Military Tasks [4], yet a positive policy outcome was achieved for Her Majesty’s Government. The point here is that where Military Forces exist, they are rarely used for the specific purpose for which their requirements were set, but rather they have broader utility as instruments for Government policy; providing that they exist in the first place.  This is particularly true of units such as warships where the variety of missions that, say, a Type 23 frigate is able to undertake is far in excess of the predominantly anti-submarine mission for which she was originally designed.  So, the Value for Money is generated by buying as much capability as you can afford that is useable in the broadest range of scenarios.

Except; this logic forces you down a route of planning for the most likely scenario.  In risk management terms this is planning for the expected outcome.  This approach works if you’re an insurer and can aggregate your risks across many thousands of policy holders; or a health service whose usage rates by a population can, on average, be meaningfully planned for.  But the Military instrument is not like that.  We have been seduced into thinking that military campaigns have a steady drumbeat of 6 monthly roulements through theatres: whether Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland or one of the many routine operational deployments of the Royal Navy.  If we gear our entire establishment around this model we will achieve efficiency (of sorts) but we will fail strategically.  I say this because what really defines successful use of the military is its response to crisis, and the sort of crisis that becomes generationally defining.  The Falkands in 1982 is the obvious post-WW2 example but Sierra Leone, Iraq in 1991and the Kosovo intervention are other examples where it went well.  Operational failure in warfighting, especially when vital national interests are stake, changes the international balance of power and can redefine a nation’s place in the world order – the outcome is of strategic significance. It’s the stuff that brings down Governments.  To be ready to respond to crises which are, by their nature, largely unexpected takes systemic agility.  This agility comes from diligent contingency planning and meticulous preparation but necessitates a substantial degree of spare capacity in the system that can be drawn upon when the unexpected occurs.  Spare capacity is, self-evidently, not a feature of an efficient system. This is not, therefore about the management of risks to outputs but, rather, about the uncertainty of outcome.  The difference between risk and uncertainty?  In the former the probability distribution of possible outcomes is known, in the latter it is not.  It means you need a different set of management techniques.  That’s why stockpiles and reserves must be maintained, even though they may not have been drawn upon for years, because if they are needed they will be needed in a hurry; and once the button gets pushed it will be too late if they do not exist.  A push for efficiency at the expense of all else risks confusing activity with effect.  So in all that we do we should prepare for the most extreme outcome: high-end warfighting against a world-class adversary.  This should drive our requirements, training and manpower but importantly it should drive our intellectual preparation.  Concepts and doctrine must drive the other lines of development towards dealing with the evolving character of warfare and novel technologies must drive, and be driven by, the need to retain operational edge.  Of course, this will be constrained by the available resource but we need the moral courage to balance the activity of today with setting the conditions for successful effect tomorrow.  Within a system incentivised by annual appraisal this is especially challenging.  Ironically, and perhaps even paradoxically, the better we prepare to win wars, the less likely it is that we will have to fight them and thus our Forces can be used more readily for lower intensity operations.  If you want peace, prepare for war!

But however we define our capabilities and capacities, surely within the Force Development and Generation cycles there are efficiencies to be had? Why don’t we just cut the ‘red tape’ and stop spending money on bureaucrats and pen pushers?  This is an attractive battle-cry when it comes to seeking ways to save money on the generation of military capability and, indeed, in the spending of public money in the round.  The problem, however, is that every bureaucrat, no matter how inefficiently they work, is there to service a process which fulfils a function.  To get rid of the bureaucrat you need to establish that their function is no longer required (at least in the same quantity). But most of these processes are conducted to give a degree of management control and/or assurance over different aspects of the organisation: financial management and probity; contractual propriety; safety and environmental management; commodities management; human resource; etc, etc.  So what functions can we do without? Well, none of them actually.  We can reduce the amount of each that we conduct but, here’s the crunch, we must then be prepared to delegate and empower individuals to do make decisions and commit resources without the levels of assurance and managerial control that have been previously demanded.  In short, we must take risk against these processes and this means that mistakes will occur more frequently; and we must accept that this is not failure, but the system working as it was now designed.  And if we want individuals to hold such increased risk personally, then we may find that they need greater recognition and/or remuneration as part of the deal for doing so.  Process and bureaucracy are like a kelp forest for a scuba diver – it is no one strand that substantially impedes your passage, but the overall effect means a disproportionate effort is required to make progress.

So, beware the inevitable ‘efficiency drive’ after the coming SDSR.  Without a properly reformed system that removes management and assurance processes and delivers a commensurate increases in delegation, it will simply be code for reducing the number of people available to complete a similar amount of process.  The strands of kelp get packed closer together and progress becomes harder than it was before.  There is a real risk of not only achieving a less efficient system as a result, but also one less effective at delivering its real purpose, achieving desirable government policy outcomes using the military instrument. And during the SDSR process the arguments must be made to retain as much high-end warfighting capability as we can possibly afford in order to give the agility to deliver such outcomes, including novel ones like cyber and unmanned systems.  And finally, having sufficient warfighting capability makes it less likely that you will have to use it for this purpose.  If you think peacetime Armed Forces are expensive, try having a war!

. . .

Following this review of the issues of defence management and budgets, the following questions are put forward for consideration and discussion:

1. Have western defence bureaucracies gone too far in adopting modern business practices and values? That is, do the terms of prudence in the private sector apply well to requirements of defence?

2. What should drive peacetime budgets and military plans? Should the aim be to spend the least and hope for the best until war arrives? 

3. Can armed forces and defence bureaucracies afford to reduce their processes and accept less control during peacetime?

4. What would you cut, and why?

. . .

@fightingsailor is a Royal Navy Weapon Engineer Officer with substantial operational and staff experience. At sea he has undertaken operational deployments to the Mediterranean (Libya), Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean (whilst participating in Operations DEFERENCE, ELLAMY, TELIC and KIPION); as well as to Arctic Russia, the Baltic region and the East Coast of the USA. Ashore he served in Afghanistan as the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) Liaison Officer to Task Force Helmand. Staff appointments have predominantly focussed on capability planning, management and strategy. They have included: the Ministry of Defence, PJHQ J6 and the Maritime Capability Division of Navy Command HQ. A graduate of the UK Defence Academy’s Advanced Command and Staff Course (ACSC) he has a keen interest in developing ‘good thinking’ in Defence.




[1] Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 4 Oct 15, accessed 10 Oct 15.

[2] Strategic Defence and Security Review. The UK Government’s quinquennial review of Defence and Security Strategy.

[3] The Purpose of a System is What it Does. Brilliantly explained on the thinkpurpose website:, accessed 11 Oct 15.

[4] accessed 11 Oct 15.


#CCLKOW: The Security Implications of Disorder Tactics

This week’s post is focused on security and crisis decision-making, on the murky distinction between a bit of domestic disorder which, albeit a nuisance, poses no threat to society, and disorder as a simple use of force in an event which approaches conflict. Specifically, it is concerned to unpick the issues of tactics meant to turn protest to disorder, and that disorder to strategic mayhem. The practice, under the heading of ‘Black Bloc Tactics,’ has yet to be used to any greater objective than momentary chaos which it is hoped will give heft to the political point of the protest. However, as the events of the Arab Spring amply demonstrate, protest is not necessarily far from conflict of the worst sort. So, read the post, consider the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

This weekend I travelled to Manchester to observe the policing of the protest and the Conservative Party Conference. Rather than run about on the streets following the public order officers, [1] this time I was a guest of the force and was allowed to observe the policing from the central command by way of CCTV and helicopter footage. It was utterly fascinating.

The anti-austerity protest planned for Sunday involved a march and rally of significant numbers. And as I am very interested in urban mayhem, watching the events I calculated the many opportunities, moments and locations in which a dedicated operative could act to bring chaos out of the calm. In fact, this has been a tactic of varying use and utility adopted by different groups within a protest in the last couple of decades. Often associated with Anarchists, Black Bloc tactics are not necessarily limited to that group. Briefly, these tactics encompass small cells of anonymised actors who have traditionally used token violence to punctuate the political statement of the protest.

To date, they have not been used in any real capacity beyond the general aim of the protest. And to be perfectly clear, this thought piece does not direct its consideration to protest as protest, even when it might include violence and disorder. Free expression and democratic principles do not always play out in the neatest possible fashion, but that is by far to be preferred over other forms of governance. I have argued elsewhere and I do not step back from that position here that the state and police forces must live by the rule that ‘you can’t shoot rioters.’ [2] In fact, as we have witnessed in the uprisings collectively known as the Arab Spring, strong arm responses to even violent protest can turn political action to conflict too easily.

So, what are we concerned with here if not protest run amok of its own volition? I have argued in another article that the strategic actor – either terrorist or state affiliated – could use mayhem in lieu of battle. It’s worth jogging over to give that piece a read as it describes the concept in detail, but in brief, it envisions the intentional use of such tactics as would turn the mob in the urban setting into a cheap but effective army to be wielded against the society. That is, such an approach, which to date has only been used to create token or short term violence, could be adapted as a type of warfare.

This is where it all becomes difficult. A competent actor will be able to camouflage the strategic intent of the disorder, at least in the short term. Done very well, a society could slowly be bled white with exhaustion coping with disorder. Or, in frustration, the security forces could escalate the situation to the point of conflict. Thus, with very few resources, a state could be defeated.

Whereas my very first post in this series put to you the problem of the local, rural partisan, in this case you are forced to confront a modern urban warrior, whether at home or abroad on COIN or other stabilisation operations. And so the questions are:

1. How will you identify that protest is not protest but an act of war?

2. How will you act without doing undue additional harm or damage?

3. Is this a strategy you might consider?

4. At what point does this amount to an act of war?


Give your answers some thought and join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW.



1. The police are rarely troubled by my close presence to their activities as I look nothing short of harmless. Seriously, I won’t ever be mistaken for anarchist or terrorist, and as yet ‘rogue professional woman’ is not yet a style adopted by any combatants.

2. Despite a heavy ethos against the use of force generally, and in public order policing specifically, there has been an uproar in the British press today regarding the deployment of a sniper on a rooftop which overlooked the protest route. It also overlooked the conference venue site. Given the heightened threat level with respect to terrorism and the high-profile nature of the event, such precautions are to be expected. However, with the highly constrained model for the use of lethal force, the idea that the police would even consider using snipers against protesters when it is their job to facilitate protest is beyond silly. And given the control on the police use of firearms, the thought is even more far-fetched. Read the IPCC investigation report on the shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 if you want to understand how it works, at pages 96 ff – the officers were questioned repeatedly regarding what happened. The material directly related to the officer who fired the fatal shot is at pages 118-164.


Humpty Dumpty, Not Pottery Barn: Some Thoughts on Regime Change


In this week’s #CCLKOW we consider what principles ought to shape our strategic thinking with respect to regime change. Please note, this is not an endorsement of the act as sensible policy. I am relatively certain that it should be a policy of last resort, and even then its wisdom ought to be held in serious doubt. Nevertheless, we live in a world where sometimes the only policy choices are bad ones. Thus, it is necessary to consider under what strategy this could be accomplished with the least risk of spectacular failure. Or, more simply, it is not enough that we must think carefully about regime change as a policy, we must also be similarly careful about strategy and tactics if this choice is taken. Enjoy the piece, ponder the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


“You break it, you buy it.” Colin Powell’s application of the rules of shopping in Pottery Barn to regime change was hailed as quite brilliant for reminding his political masters of the dangers of such a policy choice. I would suggest, however, that within this construction there is a terrific peril for the West, as our wealth might make us think we can afford to buy it once broken. Thus, whereas Powell cautioned against regime change that was not fully cognizant of the costs it would entail, this admonition is incorrectly aimed. It is not the cost of rebuilding which is the problem. Rather, it is the nearly insurmountable challenge of re-creating something better than that which has been broken.

Here I would like to argue that rather than Pottery Barn, Humpty Dumpty is the better cautionary tale for regime change. Where the policy is even contemplated, the further taboo must be upon undue damage to the essential structures of governance and society.


…All the King’s horses and all the King’s men 

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

It was a sharp realisation that perhaps a quaint children’s nursery rhyme wasn’t just a bit of fun but in fact could be an old military parable, a cautionary tale against the hubris of military might. [1] Conceiving Humpty as a state that, once fallen, could not be put back together again despite every effort of the King’s horses and men, his army, make more sense than it ought to.

Nowhere is the wisdom of the Humpty Dumpty Principle in regime change more clear than in Iraq. The speedy resolution of its first act in the summer of 2003, with relatively little damage, was tragically followed by the dismantling of key structures of the state. Perhaps it was hubris borne of the great military success achieved in driving Saddam Hussein from power which led to the orgy of societal destruction. The inability to recognise that ‘support’ for the regime was not the result of great fealty to Saddam but rather the dictates of pragmatism and survival led the coalition down the garden path to chaos and new tensions. De-Baathification may have seemed a Saint’s work, but in fact it was the beginning of the end, the first step in the slow failure that was the largely American led strategy in the country. Once broken, Iraqi politics and society suffered for the struggle to re-create a delicate balance of fragile connections. And while the old system had been clearly flawed itself, fixing that was the far easier option than refashioning the whole anew.

In sum, the coalition ought to have rejoiced in its ability to unseat Hussein without much damage and sallied forth from there. The path from 2003’s military victory ought to have looked a little something like this:

‘Here Tariq, take the keys. Don’t screw this up. We’re happy to provide some funding to help get things back on track. Send us a plan.’


The errors of Iraq should be forefront in the minds of anyone thinking about Syria. As utterly reprehensible (!) as the reign of terror perpetrated by Assad has been, do not imagine for a moment that the destruction of the state which sustained it will result in an outbreak of rainbows and happiness. The jackals and the jackasses are chomping at the bit to take advantage of the vacuum and chaos that would follow the dissolution of the state. Thus, although it is quite clear that he will have to go, how that will happen must be considered with the utmost care not to break that which we cannot fix. Moving even further into the harshest grey areas, how to deal with the areas under the control of the state apparatus created by ISIS should also be filling us with a bit of conflicted thought.

And so, as grist for this week’s discussion, I put to you the following questions intended to flesh out the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the principle I have offered:

1. The successes in Germany and Japan seem to refute the Humpty Dumpty Principle. What were the terms and conditions of those efforts, and do they exist in the targets of regime change we consider today?

2. Is it too easy to assume that no evil structure can be surpassed? With respect to Afghanistan, did we err in thinking that any regime created in the aftermath of the Taliban would be an improvement? Quick to break that which all were too happy to label as evil, with stories such as that published today on the creeping institutionalisation of the sorts practices which had led to the popularity of the Taliban in the first place, one has to wonder at that wisdom.

3. Is there a better strategic framework to conduct successful regime change?




[1] I am not arguing that this is the origin of the story. But it ought to be, because it’s rather quite perfect.