home our amazing 21st Century Restore Military Readiness

Restore Military Readiness

by David Brin, Ph.D.

As a young John F. Kennedy wrote in Why England Slept, the most dangerous time is after your nation has awakened to a crisis — at the inflection curve. That's when it seems most appropriate to be wary and worried.

Restore Military Readiness

During the election, both parties had reasons of their own to avoid mentioning one of the most scandalous results of the Iraq War — a dramatic and disturbing plummet in U.S. military readiness. The Republicans were, naturally, not going to draw attention to what has happened to the United States Army, which has ceased nearly all war-related training or large unit exercises, instead converting nearly all of its battalions into glorified urban swat teams. When Bill Clinton left office, all of our brigades were rated fully combat ready. Now, that number is zero — a stunning and terrifyingly perfect reversal, almost as surprising as the fact that it has gone unmentioned in the press.

So, why did the Democrats refuse to raise such a blatant decline in readiness, during the campaign? (I've been hectoring folks about this for four years.) Possibly, it never occurred to many liberals to examine military matters closely enough to notice what's happened. But I don't think it applies at the highest levels. No, a clue is to be found in the retention of Secretary of Defense Gates. His continuing in service under Barack Obama screams verification of something I've long maintained: that there was a quiet revolt of the US Officer Corps, a couple of years ago.

The forced ouster of Donald Rumsfeld from the Pentagon was only a surface manifestation that the public saw. In effect, the Bush-Cheney clade had their hands pried off of the tiller of American defense policy, restoring adult supervision where it mattered most. A further sign of this can be seen wherever the Navy has risen in influence — e.g. Adm. Mike Mullen's elevation to JCS Chairman, or retired Adm. Dennis Blair being appointed National Intelligence Director, or the appointment of former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig to be Gates's understudy and eventual replacement at Defense. All of this is indicative to those who pay attention, since the Navy is the one service that was least damaged and that proved most capable of resisting political pressure across the last eight years.

I predict — it goes beyond a mere suggestion — that the Obama Administration will rapidly zoom in on rebuilding the Army, and military readiness in general. Despite all our economic distractions, the incoming group of adults can see what needs to be done, and urgently.

Now comes the truly pertinent question. As a young John F. Kennedy wrote in Why England Slept, the most dangerous time is after your nation has awakened to a crisis — at the inflection curve. That's when it seems most appropriate to be wary and worried.

Even more important: we must save the Reserves! This deterioration of U.S. military readiness has an aspect that is even more worrisome. After seven years of attrition, our National Guard and reserve units are in very bad shape. It is a problem not only of neglect and mistreatment, but also of design. The men and women who signed up to train for a month each summer, and a dozen weekends a year, were always ready to serve either their communities or the nation, in an emergency — say a natural disaster or sudden armed conflict. What they never expected was for that word 'emergency' to be so abused, nor to be torn away from their careers and families for several deployments stretching longer than a year. (Note: this theme repeats one I posed earlier about another long-suffering group, the members of the U.S. Civil Service.) Repairing the damage that's been done to America's reserves will take more than time and money.

In order to restore a sense of trust, serious attention should be given to the inherent difference between two kinds of war. To use medical terminology, an 'acute' crisis is a bona fide emergency, when the nation must call up whatever resources it can, in order to confront a surprise threat. The events of 9/11 certainly seemed to qualify. However, there is no such thing as a legitimate seven-year 'acute crisis.' Over longer time scales, words like 'crisis' become crutches, or even excuses for corruption.

When a serious situation shifts from acute to chronic, we have no business using up and draining reserves. (Which would be like running up repeated deficits in good times, leaving nothing to spend during economic hardship. And who would do that?)

The key point: if it seems that some long term situation or commitment will require a larger Army, we should go ahead and build it! This especially applies to all non-emergency wars of national policy, no matter how well-justified they may be. (The medical equivalent is 'elective surgery.') Unlike many others, I believe that such wars can be justified — under a stiff burden of proof. But they should never again be driven by a trumped-up sense of crisis.

The Obama Administration should make clear that it understands this distinction, even if its predecessors didn't. The brave and dedicated men and women of the reserves need to be assured they'll never again be treated this way.

how do we define readiness?


James Fallows, a columnist for The Atlantic whom I have long respected and cited, recently commented on a theme that I've oft-reiterated — that we should shift a bit of our managerial emphasis away from obsessive professionalism and efficiency, back toward equally valuable but long neglected traits like resiliency and local self-reliance. He mentions the same brittleness trap that I did — just-in-time industrial practices. Moreover, alerted by a mutual fan, Fallows kindly mentioned my overlapping interest.


Restore Military Readiness

about this article

"Restore Military Readiness" (published in full here) was one of a series of 21 "Unusual Suggestions" Brin posted following the election of 2008, when it seemed that everybody — columnists, political sages, bloggers and citizens — wrote missives about "what I'd do if I were president."

Copyright © 2009 by David Brin. All rights reserved.

join David Brin's discussions

David Brin blogs at Contrary Brin and posts social media comments on Facebook, Twitter, Quora, and MeWe specifically to discuss the political and scientific issues he raises in these articles. If you come and argue rationally, you're voting, implicitly, for a civilization that values open minds and discussions among equals.

cited in this article

David Brin, "Betraying America's State of Readiness"

David Brin, "The Bug in 'Just-in-Time' Economics"

David Brin, Repair the U.S. Civil Service

James Fallows, "Pensée dept: followup on the 'no buffer, no resiliency' economy"

John F. Kennedy, Why England Slept (book #ad)

threats we have anticipated?

letting others have their say

Richard K. Betts, American Force

Stephen M. Walt, The Hell of Good Intentions

William E. Hudson, American Democracy in Peril

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail

Robert Genetski, Rich Nation / Poor Nation

John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence


a brief intro to author David Brin

DAVID BRIN scientist


David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!).
Learn More

shorter fiction

Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form.
Learn More

Contrary Brin blog

Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore.
Learn More

social media influencer

Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages.
Learn More


David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research.
Learn More

transparency expert

Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
Learn More

speaker & consultant

Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.
Learn More

future/tech advisor

Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was appraised as "#1 influencer" in Onalytica's Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands & publications. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others.
Learn More

Contacting BRIN

All the Ways in the World to Reach David Brin

an ornery, contrary BLOG, and other insightful wormholes!

Do not enter if you want a standard "Party" line! Contrary Brin's incendiary posts on science, sci-fi and politics and its engaged, opinionated community poke at too-rigid orthodoxies, proposing ideas and topics that fascinate — and infuriate. See for yourself, and if you like — subscribe for more.

Questions? Concerns? Email DAVID BRIN


facebook followers and fans

  join me on Facebook


twitter followers

  join me on Twitter


quora followers

  join me on Quora

get on the Brin newsletter!

DAVID BRIN newsletter sign-up

subscribe to David Brin's newsletter and keep up to date on his books, signings and appearances

pinterest boards

DAVID BRIN Pinterest

share David Brin's pins from these Pinterest boards and share the word about science and science fiction

other points of departure

visit other pages on this website

pages about DAVID BRIN

  • latest news and activities
  • information about DAVID BRIN
  • public speaking and consulting & popular topics
  • speaking/consulting references and testimonials & a list of past appearances
  • print and podcast interviews
  • video interviews and talks
  • Brin's presskit and complete biography
  • traditional media and social media
  • Brin quotes and frequently asked questions
  • pages about BRIN's science fiction

  • Brin's novels and books
  • Brin's short stories and novellas
  • all about Brin's uplift universe
  • a selection of book reviews
  • Brin's special-order books for sale
  • Brin's advice for new writers
  • Brin reviews sci fi films — including The Postman
  • a compilation of great sf books to read
  • recommended sf films
  • science fiction that teaches
  • BRIN's nonfiction explorations

  • privacy, security, accountability and transparency
  • designing and crafting our amazing 21st Century
  • predicting and projecting our near and far future
  • leading and following our politics and economy
  • keeping track of changes in science and technology
  • scanning our sky for habitable (inhabited?) worlds