The Google Memo and its Implications on National Security

By now, you may have read about the anti-diversity internal memo at Google written by a disgruntled software developer. In the 10-page memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” circulating on Google+ and now virally, the author (a man) argues that Google’s hiring practices are unfair and anti-business.

He writes that the under-representation of women in tech at Google is not due to systemic oppression of women from birth on, but because of natural biological differences between genders that allow men to rise to the top in tech and leadership roles while women are left behind because they value work/life balance and cooperation.

You can read more about his position and the widespread criticism of it elsewhere. Despite his position — both his opinion and role in the company — the author puzzlingly shows little understanding of gender or technology careers.

Nonetheless, what I am interested in is how closely his position imitates the long and on-going debate about the effect of diversity policies on the military. As Dr. Jill S. Russell, professor at the U.S. Army War College, observed on Twitter, the discourse in the national security sphere is eerily similar.

If you are not familiar with why someone would not want women or the LGBTQ+ community serving in uniform, here are a couple of opinions from what might be considered reputable sources. But let’s face it: they are everywhere and often given unasked.

What the Google memo gets wrong, just like the argument against women serving in combat, and transgender people in the military generally, is why Google exists. Google exists not to make products, not to code, but to solve problems. The technology they create does not exist for its own sake.

So even if it were true that women were not as good at coding as men (it is not), it is beside the point.  The problem solving, to be most effective, should be done by the most qualified pool possible. Discouraging women from technology by embracing the status quo severely hamstrings tech companies’ ability to do what they need to do: solve problems.

And that is where the tech word intersects with national security. Not only does the military depend on tech companies, but the military itself is misunderstood in the same way the author misunderstands Google. The military does not exist, as White House National Security Advisor Sebastian Gorka recently argued, to “kill people and break stuff.” That is a product that it offers, proudly — you will see variations on that theme on many a morale t-shirt or challenge coin. The purpose of the military is to solve problems, (see Clausewitz, “a continuation of politics by other means” etc.) but it has not in a long time.

Death T Shirt Back-Design

The back of an AC-130 unit morale shirt

The problem the United States has been facing for at least the last decade and a half is how to defend itself and its strategic resources from radical groups operating from mostly failed states without spending more on protection than they are worth. In 2001, the U.S. government decided the military was the only way to solve this problem and since then other avenues of approach, like diplomacy, have been cast aside.

Yet the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not being lost by the combat arms soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen on the ground. And it is not their fault things are not going what one might consider “well” in Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and the rest of the 14 countries where military operations have been conducted under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

The locating, closing with, and destroying the enemy aspect of the military is going swimmingly. Maneuvering to the locations of high value targets, setting up perimeter security, and clearing the building room by room killing bad guys along the way is definitely a “sustain” from the Global War on whatever. They are going great not because they are being done solely by tough men with strong upper bodies, but because this aspect of the military is literally the lowest, most basic skill of soldiering.

Almost anyone can learn to do it. That is why under conscription the vast majority of people snatched right off the street are sent into the infantry. It is why the the ASVAB requirement for infantry is the lowest score you can get and still enlist.

Sykes_regulars_2nd_infantry_division.jpg

Living that infantry life (DoD photo)

I say this not to disparage the infantry. After all, I was an infantryman. I joined the infantry after I had served in a support role in a support branch because it just was not as fun and exciting as the infantry. I loved the job, culture, and status.

But we need to realize this status is mostly imagined by infantrymen themselves. Something must explain why they have a job that makes the same amount of money as a logistician safely in an air conditioned trailer while they exist in a meaningless world. Their time in war is spent mostly throwing rocks at each other and walking painfully with more gear than they could ever effectively fight in. The only honorable escape from the brutal monotony is a few seconds of near death experience that they have almost no control over, but can retell with proud agency for the rest of their lives.

This invented culture is then brought to the civilian world through the survivors — whether they were vindicated in combat or not — and then retold in a society where the war is just not going very well.  This hyper-masculine fantasy, of strong men doing what no other could (the inverse of the truth) becomes reality. As Dr. Russell tweeted, this ideal is elevated to the essence of “not just warfare, but War itself.”

Then the idea becomes that if anything disrupts this this violent state-run Männerbund,  the war itself is in danger. We see this time and again in foxhole hypotheticals and fireman carry catastrophizing. (“Could a woman/transgender person lift a 250 lb man with 150 lbs of body armor and ammunition and carry him out of combat?”)

U.S._Soldiers_assigned_to_the_3rd_Squadron

The soldier carry, the ultimate test of a warrior, apparently (DoD photo)

But it is vital to understand that the firefight is just one small instrument of warfare. If commanders had three choices to destroy a target, room clearing, airstrike, or cyber attack, the explosion would win nearly every time.

We must stop focusing on the details of whether a woman or transgender man can do everything exactly like a cisgender man in combat. Just like at Google, whether a woman can code or be just as apathetic of a co-worker’s feelings as a man is irrelevant. The military, like Google, exists to solve problems. The last thing we need — after 16 years of war with an end forecast sometime to the right of forever — is to scare off over half the pool of qualified thinkers and leaders from the profession of arms with toxic masculinity.

Any other approach is thinking tactically, not strategically. It is bad for business and bad for war.

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