Military Chic Contagion

Traditionally, commanders hand out the [Challenge] coins to troops for exemplary service and morale boosting. That’s how Duckworth got hers. That’s why it meant so much.

But in recent years, many outside the military have adopted the tradition, turning a sacrosanct ritual, some say, into a form of military chic that is now part of the Washington power game. The coin craze extends into almost every nook of the federal government. The secretaries of education, transportation and agriculture have coins. So does the EPA administrator, and even the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Information Technology.

The coins have gone global – the Australian ambassador has one. And corporate: Boeing has a coin. So does Starbucks.

Just another symptom of America’s aping military culture for hollow status and plain jock sniffing. It’s part of a pervasive tapestry of military jargon and even practices seeping into our domestic lives. What’s remarkable about the HBGary story is how little coverage it generated in the traditional media. Defense contractors gleefully and mostly without internal debate turning external cyber warfare techniques inward on domestic civilian targets. The slides prepared for Hunton & Williams are redolent with military style phraseology and fixated on taking down enemies. No one really blinked an eye.

Just more change we can’t believe in. The Obama Administration enables the cult of militarization to spread with the Boy Kings aspirational ‘bi-partisanship.’ He agreed to CIA’s self-promoting exponential increase in drone strikes in Pakistan which have polarized Pakistani politics. In return for negligible effect on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Or Agencycontractors shooting Pakistanis in politically volatile Lahore. (Everyone in this town was calling Davis a CIA contractor weeks ago, so the current press bubble is either shameful or a sham). McChrystal did propose a decoration for restraint which followed him out the door. Meanwhile, NSA and Cyber Command want more pervasive control over private sector networks and ‘kill switch’ legislative moves through Congress.

What’s perverse about Obama? While he bestows bipartisan gloss on militarization (he has his own Challenge Coin, after all), he’s utterly incapable of applying that ethos to defend his base or rebuff those bent on his political extinction. America has Internet connects. We have Facebook. We have Twitter. If these tools are truly transformational, one would think Americans would self organize and take a stand against plutocratic/oligarchical oppression, wealth transfer and a downward spiral from middle class to the disenfranchised, interchangeable, atomized poor. Apparently Facebook, Twitter and the like don’t work for sheep.


  1. Comment says

    Just a guess – the SUV thing was what made it such a tough case. There have been complaints in the past of cavalier traffic conduct in Pak and elsewhere. But who knows.

  2. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Agree with you and Col. Lang’s overall summation. The ISI’s (or factions thereof) motivations as well those of the judiciary system in Lahore come into play. We agree the weak central gov’t and military would just as soon resolve the issue.

    Davis’ incarceration and U.S. invoking immunity now makes this far more than about Davis. Or even the U.S. Most nations use official cover extensively for officers (or in this case, sadly, contractors assigned to protect officers) overseas. (The Russians and others are more adept at illegals, last year’s roll up aside). Over half of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad are officers under official cover (or the pretense), for example.

    The Agency is particularly agitated. Beyond Davis the individual ‘talking’. Breaching official cover immunity threatens the DO/NCS 7 decade old operational assumptions. Pressure from current and worry for future officers is intense. It shakes the NCS to its core. A Davis precedent could affect other nations as well.

    IIRC the U.S. went through pro forma presentation of Davis’ diplomatic credentials to the Pakistani gov’t. His absence from the Embassy or consulates plus activities from the Lahore safehouse fooled no one. Who knows what went down with the two he shot. The suicide by the wife of the third fatality (the motorcyclist hit by the SUV) adds to the local uproar.

    Between the astoundingly ineffective and politically counterproductive drone strikes (used to justify Agency raison d’etre/budgets and messes like this, the Agency’s role in Pakistan deserves much closer scrutiny and roll back. The usefulness of ‘intel’ gathered (whether to toss over the wall to the military in Afghanistan or passed on the NCA to justify an Agency seat at the table in D.C.) guarded at best, if not outright dubious.

    But no one needs to fear any real consequences with Obama running the show.

  3. Tbilisi says

    In re Milchic: IMO it works so well today because it provides a language that not only helps Corporatists justify privatizing the inherently governmental (e.g. ‘enlisting’ business in the ‘war’ against X, Y, or Z), but also one that is both simultaneously widely acceptable/legible and inherently radicalizing in its unapologetic embrace of violence (and unaccountable, except for the actual military which has UCMJ). This convenient paradox serves the interests of the counterintelligence state perfectly.

  4. Tbilisi says

    Great post, Doctor and interesting WP article actually. I’ve experienced this inanity a few times, but always just assumed it was just blowhard syndrome, like unnecessarily ‘firm’ handshakes. I never thought of it as part of the ethnography of power in contemporary DC, but it fits perfectly as you describe.

  5. euskal says

    “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon”

    15 July 1815. To the captain of HMS Bellerophon.
    HMS Bellerophon carried Napoleon from the Ile d’Aix to Plymouth
    before he was transferred to the HMS Northumberland and taken into exile on St Helena
    Today, you just change colored ribbon to a stupid coin?

  6. says

    It’s a good way to prepare for a fractured economy post-Dollar: tribal coinage. Inverse of Confederate scrip.

    Flip side: doesn’t seem to be a problem for Alcoholics Anonymous, people like getting *those* coins.

  7. Comment says

    The HB Gary stuff was interesting because in the past when such dirty tricks were planned against domestic political enemy it was done off paper, whispered with water running in the backround, or discussed somewhere discrete – like the shore with crashing waves to muffle the sound. But these guys felt it was ok to propose crimes as a “Solution” to BofA w/H&W as cut out. Wiseguys show far more discretion and consciousness about their actions. Guess the Berico boys, Palantir pals, and HB Gary gang are too tough to worry about dirty fingernails.

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