“Be strong enough to know when you are weak,” Gen. Douglas MacArthur once advised. But what matters more is to know how and where you’re vulnerable.
During the Cold War, the director of the US Office of Net Assessment, Andrew Marshall, found America had a “distinct and meaningful advantage” in that the “bulk of the Soviet forces were composed of conscripts” who were “poorly trained and lacking technical know-how.” Marshall’s insight was to use the Soviet soldiers’ relative deprivation against them. In a military based on a thoroughly mechanized, road-mobile doctrine, the fact that the average Soviet recruit didn’t grow up with cars provided a weakness to be exploited.
Today, America’s military suffers the inverse vulnerability—abundance. The average American recruit, typically of the millennial generation, has always had access to an overflow of information and resources; ubiquitous smartphones, plentiful cars and computers. In the age of information warfare, when the enemy threatens to hit the kill switch, this is America’s Achilles’ heel.
Not everyone sees it this way. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, has said, “Our most valuable asset, our most significant asymmetric advantage inherent in the American military and the United States Army: We come from a society of improvisers, a society of innovators, tinkerers, problem-solvers, techno-savvy at early age, and independence of action comes natural to all Americans.” While this may be true of America writ large, or was at least true in the past, there’s ample evidence suggesting this statement doesn’t apply to the bulk of the generation now in uniform.
“Millennials may be the least entrepreneurial generation in American history,” writes David Brooks, reviewing Tyler Cowen’s book, The Complacent Class. Business owners under thirty have fallen 65 percent since the 1980s; patents are down 25 percent since 1999, relative to population; the percentage of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds with driver’s licenses has dropped sharply. This generation is less innovative and pioneering than those that came before.
And there are signs millennials are less independent. Consider Roger Hart’s research on the “geography of children.” In the early 1970s, he spent years tracking the range and habits of grade school kids. He found that “between second and third grade” there was a boost “because they were permitted to ride bikes alone to a friend’s house or to a ball field.” By fifth grade, they were allowed “dramatic new freedom” to go just about anywhere “without checking in at all” (Note: this tracks with my own experience; as a ten-year-old, circa 1989, I was allowed to take the city bus twenty miles across town on my own and certainly without a phone.).
In 2004, Hart returned to the same town. He found most of his earlier study subjects, since grown up, and then asked to study their own kids as well as their habits in parenting the millennial generation. Hart found striking differences; the geography of childhood had shrunk to backyard size (“so they’ll be contained,” as one parent put it). The norms had shifted; parents got used to “always being close to their children, and didn’t like them going off.” Moreover, Hart reported, the kids were “so used to having their lives organized by their parents.” This is how many millennials grew up.
Also, while it is true that millennials, as “digital natives,” are tech-savvy—they are also equally tech-dependent. A recent Nielson report found that 97 percent of Americans aged eighteen to thirty-four had access to smartphones; use has become “second nature.” Most won’t travel across town without their iPhones.
Why is this abundance and dependence a problem? For starters, it deviates from historical norms, so Americans are apt to fail to recognize this growing vulnerability.
Second, it gives near-peer competitors a weakness to exploit. Russia’s shown it can shut down phones and airwaves, and failing at this type of electro-magnetic spectrum warfare is punctuated by Gen. Milley’s favorite new catchphrase: “if you emit, you die.” That’s a problem when your army is filled with folks who “emit” 97 percent of the time (and can’t imagine not emitting).
It also gives sub-peer competitors a comparative advantage. You know that satellite image of North Korea and South Korea at night? The one that shows how dark it is in the north—meant to convey the message that the North Koreans are backwards and live in the Stone Age? Imagine the North Koreans fired an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) shot, a capability they certainly possess—shutting down every single electric US and allied asset on the Korean Peninsula (including computers, weapons, tanks, ships, planes, communications gear . . . nearly everything except bayonets). With one shot, the North Koreans can pull everyone into an arena where they have an edge.
The good news is the military is starting to come to grips with non-traditional problems, like the potential loss of communications, through new concepts (e.g., “multi-domain battle”).
But the dirty secret is that even if the United States builds the right playbook, it still might not compensate for the millennial generation’s inability to execute. The United States might desire to be ready to fight “naked,” (e.g., reduce electronic signatures like submarines in enemy waters)—but might not have the team to run this play.
Unfortunately, this vulnerability doesn’t get nearly enough attention. And sometimes, what you don’t care about might get a lot of millennial soldiers killed.
Image credit: Maj. Simon Flake, US Army
This isn't very good. Please consider writing better articles in the future.
This comment is tremendously shallow and lacks constructive content of any kind. Please consider writing better comments in the future.
Just because it is shallow doesnt mean it isnt correct. The argument that "what if an EMP?" Is almost as equally played out as the "milennials are the down fall". Considering the good MAJs MOS i take it he has never had the pleasure of "operating naked". As a milennial i have
“What ifs” are how battle plans are formulated. Multi-domain battle is definitely something that millennials have little experience with, especially in the face of two overseas campaigns that only helped progress military technology. This article is basically saying, let’s not get too dependent on technology and remember our basics. How is that shallow?
This type of shallow analysis accomplishes nothing in advancing strategic goals or providing guidance to the military. This article is a regurgitation of Millennial stereotypes typical of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. The author ignores the contributions of Millennial soldiers over the past ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq to critique their smartphone use. And in direct response to the author's claims regarding patents: most innovations today involve software, which is not protected by patents. A thoroughly researched analysis would be much more useful than a fluffy thought piece that relies on anecdotes and nostalgic reminiscences of a time when more children were being kidnapped and reported missing because they were allowed to "roam free."
Sir, I personally think there are some leaps here. Urbanization can be attributed to less drivers liscenses, as wel as strong public transit. Entrepreneurial levels in the traditional sense of physical business may be less but millenials have also turned YouTube videos, blogs, and personal property in to revenue generating schemes. Not a traditional business but still signdicantly entrepreneurial. Lastly, I agree dependency does create vulnerabilities. But dependency also creates robustness, and reduancy because we understand the importantance of the communication systems. I would argue it's signdicantly more difficult than a single EMP burst to bring down an entire communications structure like the one our military possesses at least to the point where it would be an even playing field. I agree there are vulnerabilities, but this generation are showing signs of advancement never seen before at the same time.
For a short piece, I think that the writer presents his case well. It points to the importance of teaching our soldiers how to operate without all the amenities of modern life.
I agree with the author that this is a situation worth considering. I know there are situations discussed amongst our First Responders throughout the country regarding a sudden loss of technology, but closing our eyes and saying something is a strength might not necessarily make it so. I agree with Cory that more research ought to be conducted, but I would recommend it should be aimed for a purpose. What would our populace do in a situation where technology were taken away?
This strikes me, even from a generation beyond the author, as a bit of a cheap shot without much to back it up. By this logic, the Cold War-era, motor savvy troops would be road-bound and completely unable to maneuver without motorized transport and the attendant logistics tail. History shows better. While today's troops take full advantage of technologies we considered science fiction "back in the day", they're capable of functioning without it…sometimes more capable than their commanders, who've become used to a steady stream of information back, and often can't resist sticking their own oar into the tactical water. Mission command, indeed! Moreover, I've seen plenty of innovation, whether it's new applications for existing software, or new ways of "repurposing" existing tools. All the economic data — small business owners, numbers of patents, etc — may be as reflective of the general U.S. economy and the trend of business to focus increasingly on short-term returns than of the "kids" who make up the workforce. I worry less about them than about some of my contemporaries, who are supposed to be leading them.
To get to the point of the author study the Russian Ukrainian Crimean war. The Russians used cell phone emittions to target and destroy Ukrainian forces. When younger members of the US military believe it to be their god given right to use their cell phones unrestricted, there is an issue. I do not believe there is an attempt to take away from the millennial generation what they have contributed but to highlight a very troubling issue based on current military tactics of enemy forces.
A simple test, put away the phone and navigate from Atlanta, GA to NYC, NY (or any city or town) without using interstate highways except in areas where it is the only means of travel. No electronics!!! How will you manage? What do you use?
Uh, use a map? Just like we did in Ranger, Afghanistan, assorted training, and deployments, etc? Or we could use a compass, or use elementary school geography and just generally drive northeast – it's going to take a hot minute if you want to stay off large roads, but it isn't really hard. (You could even – gasp – ask for directions, print out directions somewhere on the way, etc).
Kinda lazy to freak out about 'young kids these days' but forget that 'millennials' includes not just LTs and PVTs, but some people almost at mil retirement. Millennials range from 17 to at least 37 years old now – Many MAJs, Warrant Officers, some fairly senior NCOS – some of them were in Afghanistan or the Balkans before Iphones or cell coverage there was a thing.
There's valid reasons to bring up the dangers in really on tech in Ukraine-like fights- but other than a couple raids, you won't win those by ditching all electronics and trying to go back in history. The other side is loaded down with electronics too – there are great opportunities for us to use that against them as long as we have the skills. Land nav is a skill – but so is jamming drones, geolocating others, developing info, obscure your own signatures, etc: https://www.defensetech.org/2015/06/03/us-air-force-targets-and-destroys-isis-hq-building-using-social-media/
A thought provoking discussion – nice to hear different view points with specific points to discuss to analyze the pertinent matter deeply.
Um… I'm sorry but this is not ok.
Millenialls grew up in a complete different time. Our factors surrounding our upbringing are not the same. The wheels have already been built and millenials now need to come up with new ways to make money. Many don't want to join the military because
1. War doesn't solve anything.
2. Trump is president.
3. The military treats its enlisted poorly.
Also, not every millenial has an iphone.
You fail to discuss socioeconomic factors. There is a very big divide financially between most millenials of color and white millenials with a few exceptions.
Apartments back in your day did not cost $1700 in NYC or $2500 in san francisco. Millenials have to struggle with how expensive everything is and not enough companies willing to take in a graduated student with no experience.
Give that a food for thought.
Speak for yourself. I'm a Millennial and served 8 years in the Army, I rarely felt like I wasn't treated fairly. I may not agree or fully understand the wars we are in. But I never regret the time I spent serving our country. And yes, unfortunately, wars do solve things.
So, why don't we consider for a moment what ML blindly assumes as a "weakness" to be a further "strength" and consider the opportunities that exist in capitalizing on this generation's differences, put protections in place that reduce these vulnerabilities (through our doctrine, education, equipping, and training), and actually take advantage of "what could be" in what right now is the future unknown…novelty…innovation…adaptive creativity. I acknowledge there are obvious (and unobvious) vulnerabilities to be _RELIANT_ on technology, which requires us to always have a PACE plan, but to say that the way this generation thinks and acts is just a blatant vulnerability is not fair either. If we plan to get ahead of the "near peer" and "peer" competitors, we must recognize the holistic picture of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, (ours and theirs) and capitalize on the areas of dissymmetry. It boggles my mind as to why we are looking at our "near peers" and attempting to strengthen the places they have caught up over the past 15 years…we need to be innovative and find the "blind spots" that exist; because they inherently do…if one thing is a strength, there must be some created weakness as well, which may be what MAJ Cavanaugh is getting at in our own military population, but we should be (maybe we aren't though?) way beyond this point in our thinking. Do we continue to find ourselves in denial? Constantly fighting away from what is unknown because of the uncertainty that lies within? I fully hear the message ML is sending, which is "know ourselves," and maybe there is something to this if we are being ignorant to the fast-paced changes that are going on within our own force (and society), but I would offer many of us are aware of these vast changes, and merely trying to figure out the best way to take advantage of the change in tides. And I whole-heartedly agree that we senior generations must figure out more importantly how to harness the power of this change, and LEAD in way that bridges history and experience with innovation and creativity. Maybe we just need to be less risk-averse, and more experimenting in our methodologies; in our training; in our exercises…we need to truly become a learning organization, instead of just saying we are, yet falling back on "old faithful" to resist embracing novelty and change.
i think the comments point out the need to discuss the issue, which cannot be fully addressed in a brief essay, as above. The author's point seems to bring the issue out for intelligent discussion, not to be praised or shot down as BS by patriots riding that horse to death.
This is a clear case of the author not understanding the "sandwich method" of criticism. Nothing but fuss and no solution to contribute.
No state championship winning team of graduating seniors thinks the incoming freshmen will repeat their accomplishments.
4 years later, on average, I bet they do.
Do you think there is a way we could turn this potential weakness into a strength? If millennials are so accustomed to carrying a means of communication with them at all times, perhaps we could use this to transmit more information, faster. I'm not suggesting we use private cell phones for operations, but I do believe millennials adapt to using new technology more quickly than previous generations.
Millennial is a term used for demographics and it means anyone born from 1981 to around 2000. It is an entire generation of people with an age range of 18-36; you read that right, THIRTY SIX. Please hold for a moment as the Millennials self-identifying as Generation X scramble to fact check and then return.
Are we all back? Good.
Not wanting to identify as Millennial makes sense, they are to blame for everything, especially destroying our military because they are weak, self-entitled, and unwilling to serve. Our nation is in grave danger because these little avocado munchers cannot seem to man up, move out of their parent’s house, and put their country before themselves. Being an avocado muncher myself, I got pretty emotional over this and did what we Millennials do best, I turned to the internet for comfort. This is what I found.
The very first Millennial joined the military in 1999. Eight years later, in 2007 when Millennials accounted for over 52% of America’s enlisted active duty forces, the Army removed drill instructors from Advanced Individual Training. It is also worth noting, these recruits joined during an active war, when “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was still in place, and current controversial policies were nowhere on the horizon. None of this makes sense because we know Millennials are undisciplined and must be catered to; this was all anecdotal anyways it does not prove anything. There was research proving Millennials are bad for our Armed Forces.
In 2015 a Harvard poll found that Millennials “Support Sending Ground Troops to Combat ISIS but Less that 20% are Inclined to Serve” but no one bothered to focus on the fact that Harvard lopped off six years of the populous when doing the poll or what those percentages meant when applied to a Millennial population of 68.39 million. In response to the poll 2% of respondents said they had already served (1.37 million), 4% said they would definitely serve (2.74 million), and 9% said they would strongly consider serving (6.16 million). The US military only has 1.4 million slots, so the headlines could have read “Millennials are Willing to Expand our Military Sevenfold to Combat Isis” but maybe it was easier to sell a negative.
In 2014 the Pew Research Center proclaimed that “Young Silent men in 1963 were 10 times more likely to be veterans than Millennials are today.” To support that claim they further stated “Among men, only 3% of Millennials are veterans, compared with 35% of Silent men.” Thank you George Bush for not leaving me behind because I know probability is not determined by just dividing random numbers, the numbers must be adjusted for things like population size and military size. Once the adjustments are made, it is apparent that Silent Generation men were half as likely to serve as Baby Boomers and twice as likely to serve as Millennial men. The data used was from 2012, did not account for women, or five year’s worth of Millennials. The Pew Research Center would not entertain my questions regarding this but it is not a stretch to say that this generation is no different than it predecessors.
While those generations claim the current generation adds no value to the Armed Forces and is quite possibly the greatest threat to it, the DOD’s Demographics Reports stand in direct opposition of that claim, stating Millennials made up 52.9% of America’s enlisted active duty military in 2006, 71.1% of it in 2011, and 86% of it in 2015. The Defense Manpower Data Center also cannot back up that claim as they report, Millennials account for 50.76% of the Fallen in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 68.97% of the Fallen in Operation Enduring Freedom. Why these things are being ignored to perpetuate hate for a generation of greatly varied people, whose contributions to this nation will be accurately accounted for when it comes time to write the history books, is of no consequence.
Like it or not, Millennials are our military and they are doing great things for our nation but most of them are not old enough or high ranking enough to affect policy change so if there are any concerns with current policies or the direction our military is heading, Generation X and the Baby Boomers should be more than willing to address it.
Your post was so well written. Thank you!
This is just so much wanking.
The author's "analysis" is akin to believing that because 3/4 of military aged people are unfit for military service, 3/4 of military aged people already in the military must be unfit for military service. There is no allowance given for selection effect, training, or good order and discipline. Is the author honestly so out of touch that he believes millennials in the military would be unable to function without cellphones? It's hard to take seriously – particularly because they already do, for long stretches of time, when it matters.
The new generation has been, to the crotchety at least, the "Achilles heel" since there's been an older generation.
"The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers." – Socrates, ~400 BC
At least Socrates wasn't vacuous and banal.