“A soldier is a political tool, nothing more”

metal gear solid 3 the boss colonel volgin bridge

A soldier is a political tool, nothing more.

Politics determine who you face on the battlefield, and politics are a living thing.

They change along with the times.

Yesterday’s good might be tomorrow’s evil. Right and wrong have no place in his mission.

People’s values change over time, and so do the leaders of a country.

So there is no such thing as an enemy in absolute terms. The enemies we fight are only enemies in relative terms, constantly changing with the times.

The only thing we can believe in with absolute certainty, is the mission, Jack.

A soldier has to follow whatever orders he’s given.

It’s not his place to question why.

He has no enemies and no friends.

Only the mission.

You follow the orders you’re given.

That’s what being a soldier is.

Just because soldiers are on the same side right now doesn’t mean they always will be.

As long as we have loyalty to the end, there’s no point in believing in anything.

Even in those we love.


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Sing to me of a time long past

There was the leak, then the hint, and now the announcement.

There are some games that I play simply because I enjoy them, and there are others that teach lessons.

This is one of them. This is Game of Thrones.

I’ll be playing when it comes out and I’m looking forward to going through it for a third time, this time, teasing out whatever I can.

I’ve referenced Tactics Ogre in the past on topics ranging from military deception (2013), war advice (2014), the permanence of death (2014), and proxy wars (2021).

Off the top of my head, there’s room to explore irregular warfare, great power competition, propaganda, rumors, loyalty, military careerism, and more.

This one goes deep.

There’s so much more to pull – and I’m excited to get the chance. Look for more this November.


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Tactics Ogre Reborn, almost official

the knights of lodis

There was the hint.

And now it’s almost official.

Still no announcement, but it looks like I know how I’ll be spending the winter.

There is so much to pull out of this game.


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Fantastical Tactical Operations

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Episode 70 of the Kojima Frequency.

There’s a great conversation in this episode on the fantastical elements of the Metal Gear series.

I first got into Metal Gear because my upstairs neighbor had the game on the original NES and introduced it to me. I didn’t have an NES yet. The game seemed very “military.” My upstairs neighbor was a cop which somehow made the game seem more legit.

In the game, my job was to infiltrate this base, avoid detection, and use all kinds of special equipment.

The game was difficult and the plot was simple.

I fell in love with it instantly.

I was young, and I liked it because it felt somehow, realistic.

If there were fantastical elements of the original games, they never made an impression on me when I was young. It seemed to be a straight-laced military game.

❗️

Years later, when Metal Gear Solid was announced for the Playstation, I felt excited and validated. Most of my friends at the time didn’t know about the earlier games. They thought this was something new. I felt like an insider because I had played the original.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but from the early videos and articles I read in gaming magazines, I figured I’d be getting some kind of military infiltration simulation.

Something like the earlier games.

And that’s what I got.

Until the fight with Psycho Mantis.

Then, the game started getting weird.

I remember playing through the torture scene with Ocelot. My friend got up to get his turbo controller to help. And as if on cue, this happened.

I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I didn’t understand it.

The further I went into the game, the weirder it got.

I didn’t know why, but I liked it.

When Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was released, I was already in the Army. I bought the game on release day and played through the tanker mission. But then work got in the way and I never finished it.

More years passed, and a friend sent me a copy of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater for my birthday when it came out, but it stayed in the shrinkwrap.

Too busy.

It’s only after MGSV came out that I returned to the series, and I’m better for it.

What I find fascinating about the series today is the way that everyone seems to have a personal relationship with it, but each is different.


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The Magic of Monkey Island

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First time listening to the Triple Click podcast.

I’m a big Monkey Island fan, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who found the opening nostalgic when I originally played it, and the same is true today.


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Remember the basics of CQC

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A very short piece over at From the Green Notebook on the importance of giving practical advice to your mentees.

The one thing I wish I had known before I started my last job is that, in mentoring relationships, the mentee is almost always looking for practical advice – not cosmic wisdom. 

The One Thing Series: Mentoring Through the Gauntlet

Sometimes you don’t want a soliloquy on the Philosopher’s Legacy, when all you need to know are the basics of CQC.


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Flow

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I read Flow years ago. If you haven’t, you’ve probably heard of the concept.

And if you haven’t heard of the concept, you’ve probably experienced it.

What is “flow?”

Flow denotes the wholistic sensation present when we act with total involvement. It is the kind of feeling after which one nostalgically says: “that was fun”; or “that was enjoyable”; It is the state in which action follows upon action according to an internal logic which seems to need no conscious intervention on our part. We experience it as a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which we feel in control of our actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment; between stimulus and response; or between past, present, and future.

Play and Intrinsic Rewards (1975)

A recent episode of Very Bad Wizards examined the article that initially discussed the concept, titled Play and Intrinsic Rewards (1975).

If the idea is completely alien, it is worth reading the article, and maybe the book. Once you understand the concept of flow, it becomes clear that if you want to get anything done, you need to be able to focus your time and attention. Blocking out your time becomes essential.

But there was something else I took away from the episode and reading the article. It’s the way that the research was conducted. It’s not overly quantitative. It’s not sorcery.

We started our study by talking to a variety of people who have invested a great deal of time and energy in play activities.

After these pilot talks, a standard interview and questionnaire form was developed and administered to 30 rock climbers, 30 basketball players, 30 modern dancers, 30 male chess players, 25 female chess players, and 30 composers of modern music.

Today, this type of study would likely be deemed too simplistic.

But if the results are legit, then who cares?

The best ideas come from old books.


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Let the AI do it for you

red light ai metal gear solid five phantom pain

What if you could just let the AI do it for you? Just feed it the prompt, and let the AI give you a 98% solution?

Hmm…

AI prompt discussion begins at the ~51:00 mark.

You can try a version of this yourself here.


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Eleven Years of Carrying the Gun

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Today is the eleventh anniversary of Carrying the Gun.

Top Posts:
1. Army Myths: Don’t Lock Your Knees
2. The Secret Brilliance of “You go to war with the Army you have…”
3. Ranger Hall of Fame: SGT Martin Watson, Abraham Lincoln & Tom Hanks

Wow! Eleven years, huh.

Interesting that the back catalog is starting to get more traffic than the newer stuff. That wasn’t the case last year. That’s just the magic of the Google algorithm at work.

I’ve definitely settled into a better writing groove. The pieces are shorter, and the content is more focused and moving in the direction I originally intended when I relaunched. And that’s good.

Although, it seems I’ve certainly strayed from the original spirit of not blogging “about other blogs.”

If you counted the posts and categorized them, most are reactions to podcasts, which are basically audio blogs.

But that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a little evolution.

The longer, more editorial stuff that I originally aspired to is still around. Most of it is found in external pieces. The rest can be found monthly at the top of the newsletter. Have you subscribed?


What did the past year look like?

Well, first of all, no one will ever challenge you if you write that we need to “do better” at anything. It’s also an easy way to garner attention. It’s much more difficult to find where we’re doing well.

As such, there was a string of posts late last summer as the Afghanistan withdrawal was underway tussling with “all the reasons we’re bad at irregular warfare” and some others pushing back against the common charge that “we’re getting our asses kicked in the information environment.” Also, the fact that things hit different when you can watch it in real-time. All emotion and absence of mind.

Everyone had an Afghanistan withdrawal think-piece, and I didn’t have much to add, but I fired one tiny dart into the ether trying to reconcile the 9/11 anniversary with the withdrawal. Did it matter?

Lots of milestones, reactions, and reflections. The GWOT was marked by a lot of things, one of those things was repeat deployments and credit card debt.

I marked the passing of Colin Powell, who I had the fortune of meeting on a number of occasions. His 13 rules sit on my desk. I’m especially fond of #1, #4, and #13.

I recalled a time over twenty years ago when I picked up brass with a Green Beret at a MOUT site at Fort Bragg.

I’ve basically given up on the new Star Wars universe (and the Marvel Universe for that matter). But one of my favorite scenes from the series was when Darth Vader finally flipped at the last moment? There’s always a choice.

Some of the best advice you’ll ever get – don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. It’s advice I try to live by, but don’t always succeed.

And as such, not everything was positive. As much as I try to resist, I sometimes get cynical too. Do you find yourself skeptical when someone says they are “getting after it?” It’s similar to how I feel about “threads.” It’s mostly a performance and it’s for them, not for you.

And what happens when everyone tells you to “start with why” and read Marcus Aurelius? Is that really unique knowledge or are we simply fostering groupthink?

A perennial interest of mine, there were a few posts on productivity – which was also featured prominently in a number of newsletters. In getting things done, especially when it comes to dealing with other people, you start with in-person, on the phone, and then via emailin that order. And related, there are very few things I have strong opinions on. One of those things is that “doing” email is the illusion of work. Sure, responding to email is part of a job, but with few exceptions, “doing” email is simply shuffling papers around. Have no doubt; nothing was accomplished.

We like to discuss “future war” these days. It’s fascinating that when we use the term “future war,” we kind of mean war that might happen now. I made an argument that to be effective in future war, we need to go back to what we were doing in the past – extended field training. What about leadership? What attributes do future leaders need? Are they different? Yes, a little bit I think. And we’re sure asking a lot.

Did you ever ready General DePuy’s 11 Men One Mind? It’s an infantry classic, and as relevant today as it has ever been.

Finally, future war sure seems like old war.

A friend of the blog once pontificated on Twitter: “What is something that seems like unconventional warfare but isn’t?” There is a litany of terms that are used in places where we think they make sense, but it turns out they aren’t even “real” terms or they are just being misused. It is helpful from time to time to go back to the books to see if what you think you know is what you actually know. Irregular Warfare? Real term. Hybrid Warfare? Nope. Expect to see more of this in the future.

Lots of psychology and information warfare. It all starts with the fact that “psychological” isn’t a dirty word – or at least it shouldn’t be. The primacy of video (aka ‘pics or it didn’t happen’). Smear war. When briefing, should you read off of the slide or have your audience read it themselves? I know you have a strong opinion. But there’s an actual psychological answer. Why is a lie so hard to debunk? Oh yeah, whatever you do, don’t click this link. Propaganda has no effect on you, only those other guys get duped. You’ve heard of deep fakes, but what are “shallow fakes?” They’re kind of like low-effort memes.

And I know it seems counter-intuitive, but it is behaviors that shape attitudes, and not the other way around.

Oh yeah. Lots and lots and lots of social sciences as sorcery.

And as has become the theme of this site – podcasts. There are way too many to mention, but here are the ones that got a lot of attention:

  1. What if the PLA doesn’t need NCOs?
  2. “It’s psychological warfare, just done with modern tools”
  3. Solid Snake Oil

Lastly, I got brave and wrote a few articles outside of CTG. This, the first, at MWI with a partner on how there is value in supporting cooperation between service-specific IO fields. The second, part two of a journey to figure out how to become a paladin. Here, an observation on observation. There are a few others out there too. And there are more on the way.

The post that I wanted to do better than it did: It has to be Social Sciences as Sorcery (and all the related posts). People don’t want to hear it, because it makes us rethink everything we’re doing. A little humility will go a long way. We don’t know it all, and thinking that if we can just get the dials right does us more harm than good.


A long time ago I learned that the future is video. And more and more, it seems to be the only thing that matters. I’m finally planning on jumping in.

Thanks for being here!


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Gaming as #FICINT

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We are often accused of preparing for “the last war.” I think that’s a bit unfair. When you actually look at it, we’re mostly trying to figure out how to adequately train for the wars we’re fighting now while keeping an eye on what might be out there lurking.

We dominate in Gulf War I, and we turn towards the Revolution in Military Affairs. We get bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we triple-down on training counter-insurgency, trying to eke out a win.

Now, in the era of ‘Great Power Competition,’ we’re thinking of Multi-Domain Operations and Large Scale Combat Operations. 

For the majority of the serving force, combat experience is limited to the counter-insurgency operations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Thinking about what war might look like against a different foe in a different environment requires looking further back into the past, when the equipment, technology, and tactics employed were also very different.

Or, if we’re willing, we can look to the future.

And if we’re really brave, we can look to fiction.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fictional intelligence, or ‘FICINT,’ lately. While it’s a new term to me, it’s one that I’ve learned I’m already very familiar with.

FICINT is the idea of looking at fiction for inspiration. And in a military context, as “intelligence” to prepare for future conflict. The term was coined by Peter Singer and August Cole – authors of Ghost Fleet. 

For the uninitiated, Ghost Fleet is a novel set in the near-future that depicts a future war between the United States and China. It includes anti-satellite warfare, total annihilation of troop formations, biologically enhanced super-soldiers, entrepreneurs at war, and more. 

It’s a terrifying look at what a true “peer-to-peer” war might look like. 

While terrifying, it is also inspiring. It’s a call to do the work now.

If we keep doing what we’ve done, we will eventually be out-innovated. It’s only a matter of time. Using FICINT to imagine some of these seemingly absurd challenges can prepare us for them. 

Which brings me to the rub. Military thought leaders and senior officials are getting comfortable with FICINT as a concept. Books like Ghost Fleet and 2034 are finding spots on military reading lists across the force. 

Now what would be truly disruptive? 

Gaming as FICINT.

Open the aperture a bit and look at what gaming has to offer in terms of FICINT. Gaming has exploded over the past thirty years – and the narrative, development, and seriousness of the genre has professionalized and matured. 

I’d argue (and I do) that games are better for FICINT than television, film, and literature. Why? Gaming allows for more, and with fewer restrictions. Films, at the most, last a few hours. Television shows can last multiple seasons, but there are studio limits to what gets packed in. Books, arguably, can go on forever and can pack it all in. But, while I know you read, as an art form, reading is in decline.

Games are also limited, but not to the same extent. AAA games regularly clock in at over 100 hours to fully explore the world. These games are dense. Cyberpunk 2077, for example, features a script that includes over 100,000 lines of dialogue.

While I have explored filmtelevision, and books for FICINT before, I’ve spent most of my efforts with games. 

Over the years I’ve written a number of pieces pulling directly from games as a way to think about mental healthstolen valorsuicide (and here), the military’s role in a zombie apocalypse, the RPG elements of military service, the importance of “staying alive,” military deception, the absurdity of war, soldiers vs. warriorsdecision makinggrand strategy, and toxic mentorship.

Still, I always get the sense that when I write about gaming or use it as an anchor for some other idea, I am met with a too-critical eye – that this is still the stuff of adolescence. Many individual leaders still don’t want to take it seriously – despite the fact that it is pervasive and dominating other markets, including the movie industry.

Institutionally, the services get it. The Army, Navy, and Air Force have stood up eSports teams as another way to aid in recruiting. Most people game, so it makes sense to go where the people are.

It should not be that challenging a jump to turn to the genre for inspiration.

Our future might depend on it.


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