I recently embarked upon some OCONUS (Outside Continental United States) military leave in Japan.Among the items I brought in was a Bible for some spiritual solace in my travels — an act that for centuries in Japan would have gotten me perhaps the death penalty, let alone even setting foot in the nation outside of special port zones, under the 220-year “Sakoku” anti-foreigner and anti-Christian policies.
Japan is a nation that has seen immense change in recent times.
Just 75 years ago it was a determined U.S. enemy, striking us at Pearl Harbor, American troops fighting it island by island, and even it being the only nation for us to have used nuclear bombs on — to prevent millions of deaths from an invasion of mainland Japan given the savagery shown by the Japanese militarists. Nowadays it is a steadfast U.S. ally, enormous trading and cultural partner, and absolutely fundamental to our Asian security strategy.
At the same time Japan also rose from a devastated post-war ruin to briefly challenging the U.S. as the top world economy circa the late 1980s and early 1990s. The century prior it had gone from one of the world’s most modernization-resistant countries to embracing reforms and technology the quickest and most thoroughly of all the Asian nations.
Some of those trends have continued. One of the developments that became most apparent to me in Tokyo was how seamlessly integrated technology was into daily life everywhere and anywhere. Ubiquitous was the WiFi and high speed rail system, the self-opening doors and food ordering stations. Combined with the cleanliness, low level of crime, and a general sense of efficiency and order it was easy to see the high level of infrastructure and quality of life the Japanese have embraced.
It also was clear how strong the modern links between the U.S. and Japan are.
Besides the numerous U.S. military bases dotted across the country, I was amazed at the prevalence of American commercial brands and how it often seemed English was as common, if not more so, as Japanese was in signs and literature.
Modern Japan appears to be a pleasant nation that embraces the noble aspects of its history while having let go of the evil that led it in World War II to slaughter tens of millions of innocents — and causing 426,000 U.S. casualties in the Pacific Theater — in horrifying fashion everywhere from the Bataan Death March to the Rape of Nanking to the human shields of Okinawa civilians just less than a century ago.
Since U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry “opened” Japan to the world in the 1850s, America has always had a role to play with this nation and region all the way across the world. It was America that put an end to the authoritarian oppression of Japan’s racist militarists, brought those responsible to justice in the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, and gave the nation the tenants of liberal democracy and human rights as America did with Germany too.
Japan has influenced the United States as well. Some key parts of our popular culture come from Japan in the form of video games, cuisine, and television shows and movies. Tourism and exchange between the U.S. and Japan is top among America’s partners.
Japan has come a long way over the centuries. It is a beautiful, advanced, and free nation — and in many ways that liberty and prosperity has been secured and protected, to this day, by the blood of the American servicemember.
Undoubtedly over the next decades Japan will continue to play a key role as America’s friend and partner for Asian and world security and peace as well as in trade and cultural exchange. I was honored to have had the chance to witness this fascinating, humble, and rich in culture and soul country myself.
It was one year ago I left the cushy confines of the Washington, D.C. political world and arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia, to begin service to my nation as a United States Army officer. While in D.C. I had worked on and in media spoke on a variety of national security and defense policy issues now I was going to firsthand partake in the gritty groundwork of securing our nation.
After a year swirling around bases and seeing the functioning of our armed forces firsthand, I’ve personally come to believe even more how technology is increasingly not only becoming an essential military driver but perhaps the most important one of our foreseeable security future.
War is no longer fought with grand armies facing off on some forsaken battlefield just as security is no longer in troop numbers or fortresses. In the latter half of the 20th century nuclear weaponry was seen as the holy grail of protecting a state’s existence, a technological ward against any and all due to its destructive capability.
The 21st century has rapidly shown how the cyberspace, hardware, artificial intelligence, and aeronautical realms are the fields on which military dominance and security can be achieved. Unmanned drones have permitted everything from surgical strikes deep in enemy territory to reconnaissance to reducing the need for frontal assaults at all. Cyberspace, due to the reliance of much of the world economy, society, and government operations on the Internet, is increasingly a “battlefield” in which coders, hackers, and more compete for superiority, resources, and control.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is at the forefront of immense frontier developments in artificial intelligence for automating vast tasks previously undertaken - and risked - by boots on the ground. Low Earth orbit - and beyond - are increasingly sensitive and a realm in which protection is needed due to the prevalence of satellites and other uses of space, as the recently revitalized U.S. Space Command and potential U.S. Space Force may address.
Just as how the development of firearms changed the strategies and demands of warfighting from those of armor-clad knights and spear-wielding infantry so do our modern security requirements significantly change how we need to prepare and adapt to properly protect the United States and its interests in this technology age.
"If Mark Zuckerberg decided that he wants to serve his county in the military, we could probably make him an E-4 at cyber command” said a former Pentagon personnel chief in 2016 of the Facebook CEO. “There was no way to have him come in with the stature his professional abilities demand” said him in a follow-up in 2018. That recently changed, as the military has begun potentially offering direct commissions even up to the rank of Colonel for those deemed especially at need for our country’s defense, particularly in the cyber and technological realm.
As the 21st century moves forward we are likely to see the move towards not just a technology-supplemented but technology-based military security strategy. A future of wars fought almost entirely by machines, controlled and overseen - or not in the case of self-automated ones - by military persons back at headquarters, is not entirely guaranteed. Yet, with current trends, it’s not too far off a possibility either.
A bigger question too is how our military and society will adapt too as these changes become increasingly prevalent and demanded. I saw firsthand in Washington, D.C. how concerned policymakers are over the increasing security implications of rapid technological developments, many of which are well outside the realm of government control but still with immense, dramatic impact.
The 20th century was the age of technology in the sense of human-controlled and operated machines. However the 21st century will be the one in which we see machines increasingly operating on their own, designed and programmed and set loose. The impact and effects remain uncertain and pending.
“...I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”
It was approximately one year ago that I left my Washington, DC “swamp life” and commissioned into the United States Army as an active-duty officer. I joined a fraternal family - millions strong and centuries old - sworn to defend unto death the United States of America and the values of liberty we represent, cherish, and live out.
Trading the cocktail receptions and hobnobbing of D.C. media and policy life, which I had spent the better part of the last decade in, for trudging countless miles through the thick Georgia forest hours before dawn, clad in Army gear, was initially quite the shell shock. I realized how few of my former colleagues truly understood the task I - and so many others before, with, and after me - was now undertaking. On the whole dramatically less Americans have been serving in our nation’s armed forces in recent years and particularly so in our nation’s chief policymaking center.
I personally believe the United States Armed Forces stands at an exciting in its and our nation’s history. We are in an age where technology has taken utmost importance in warfighting, whether in the form of drones, the cyber domain, aeronautics and space, vehicles, production and support, and more. At the same time our nation is moving from the focus on counter-insurgency warfare of the past years back to great power rivalry, however this time in the settings and environs of the increasingly aging 21st century.
America has fought back countless enemies that threatened our and global security since the Revolutionary War. Our prevailing advantages have always been the strength of our will, the innovativeness of our minds, and the diversity of our perspectives. In those fundamentals we are no different now than we were back throughout the centuries, even if we must be constantly adapting to a changing military, technological, diplomatic, and social domestic and world landscape.
After a year in the military I’ve also gained even greater respect for those who served in our armed forces and make incredible sacrifices each and every day to defend all our economic, social, and cultural flourishing in the United States. These sacrifices come not only on the battlefield but, as I saw, with family life, free time, physical strain and injury, pay, freedom of travel, of settling down, and so much more.
At the same time there are numerous ways our servicemembers still are not getting the treatment they deserve. The military healthcare system, not even touching on the VA, continues to undertreat our servicemembers, many of whom’s ills are military-related, through long wait times, restrictive policies for seeing outside providers, poor treatment, convoluted bureaucracy, and more.
Military pay issues are a dime a dozen, with servicemembers often waiting many pay periods and struggling through mind-boggling layers of government to get the salary and benefits they deserve - with no compensation for that delay. And - and the same time our military fights for technological supremacy - our servicemembers are mired down in non-digital paper copies routing for everything from simple memorandums to leave/vacation requests.
Our servicemembers retain hardy souls and, as many well remember, are taught to “hunt for the good stuff” - to look on the bright side of things and remember the nation we are fighting for and that has our back. Indeed at a time of historic domestic polarization the military retains its status as the most trusted American institution. This trust is not without good reason - the United States Armed Forces remains a pillar of integrity and honor and of diversity and integration, standing above the partisan fray. It is up to my fellow servicemembers and I to each day re-earn and reinforce that solidarity and belief.
Each day in the United States Armed Forces is an honor and privilege. It is a feeling of being part of an unbroken line of guardians of freedom who have, through their sweat and blood, kept secure in the truest sense the United States of America and its people since our republic’s founding.
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.