A Cautionary Tale on Plagiarism

by Dr. Rebecca J. Johnson

A cornerstone of both the military profession and academia is integrity.  Words and deeds must track, and one’s actions must comport with the profession’s ethical and the individual’s moral standards, regardless of circumstance.  The discovery of Jonah Lehrer’s self-plagiarism and fabrication of quotations highlights an important temptation students must guard against in their year at Command and Staff College.

First, to define some terms. To quote from MCU Academic Integrity Policy:

Plagiarism is defined as the presentation of another’s writing or ideas as one’s own without appropriate citation or credit. The misuse of another author’s writings, even when the exact wording is not lifted from the source, is unethical and academically dishonest. Such misuse includes not only the “limited” borrowing, without attribution, of another writer’s distinctive and significant research findings, hypotheses, theories, rhetorical strategies, and interpretations, but also the “extended” borrowing, even with attribution, of another writer’s ideas or interpretations to the extent that the student’s paper no longer meets the requirement for original thought.

Self-plagiarism is borrowing from previous writing without giving appropriate acknowledgement (yes, it is appropriate to ‘cite yourself’).  Fabrication is making information up and passing it off as legitimate.

The action that ultimately forced Lehrer’s resignation from The New Yorker was his fabrication of quotes he erroneously attributed to Bob Dylan in his upcoming book. His account of the incident illustrates what makes this so important for CSC students. Lehrer notes:

“Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine,’ ” Mr. Lehrer said in a statement. “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.”

Students who plagiarize tend to be caught in a similar moment of panic: They were up all night with a sick child and didn’t have time to write their paper; they diligently researched a topic but failed to take appropriate notes so when they sat down to write their paper, they couldn’t find the reference they needed; or, they tried to economize by recycling a paper they wrote for their elective in their MMS.

All are violations of academic and personal integrity, and none will be tolerated at the Command and Staff College. Your Ph.D.s view people who plagiarize the same way you view the Stolen Valor guys who walk around wearing medals they didn’t earn. When you steal someone else’s hard word and showcase it as your own, you desecrate what we have dedicated our adult lives to pursuing — the accumulation and sharing of knowledge — and demonstrate your own shocking lack of integrity. When you recycle your own work, you demonstrate your own personal and intellectual laziness. None of these traits are acceptable in field grade officers.

We recognize it has been a long time since most of you have spent time in academic settings. The Library has created the MCU Communications Style Guide to provide guidance on what and how to cite appropriately. Your civfacs and milfacs are always there to help. You can also speak with the lovely folks at the Leadership Communication Skills Center, who are dedicated to improving your writing.

There are multiple resources available to ensure you never follow in Jonah Lehrer’s footsteps. There are multiple opportunities to hold accountable those who do. Jonah Lehrer has destroyed his professional reputation by engaging in sloppy, lazy writing. Learn from his mistake.

The Profession of Arms

by Dr. Rebecca Johnson

The Command and Staff College is a ten-month in-resident Professional Military Education (PME) opportunity. As we start the academic year, it makes sense to take a moment to reflect on what it means to be a military professional.

While there are many professional militaries in the world, the profession of arms has specific characteristics in the American context. As we read the Federalist Papers and trace the evolution of the U.S. political system, you should be able to see the origins of the professionalization of the U.S. military and the connections between you as a military professional and the nation you serve.

What do we mean by Marines as military professionals? As members of the profession of arms, Marines are both individuals (with individual consciences and moral convictions) and agents of the state (with professional ethical obligations to act on behalf of the state).

The textbook articulation of the military profession comes from Samuel Huntington’s, The Soldier and the State:

The military profession exists to serve the state. To render the highest possible service the entire profession and the military force which it leads must be constituted as an effective instrument of state policy. Since the political direction comes from the top, this means that the profession has to be organized into a hierarchy of obedience. For the profession to perform its function, each level within it must be able to command the instantaneous and loyal obedience of subordinate levels. Without these relationships, military professionalism is impossible. Consequently, loyalty and obedience are the highest military virtues.[1]

For Huntington, the professional military ethic resides in loyal, obedient service to the State and one’s superiors. Contemporary conflict’s requirement for increasingly distributed operations and independent small unit decision making have challenged this traditional construct to a degree, but the belief that military professionals follow their political and military leadership is fundamental to the American understanding of civil-military relations.

Building from this foundation, the Army has undertaken a service-wide exploration of what it means to be a military professional in a period of protracted conflict.  The White Paper that resulted, The Profession of Arms, identifies five key attributes or “guideposts” of the military profession: expertise, trust, development, values, and service.[2]  Dr. Johnson will develop each of these components in later posts.

These attributes derive from the military’s constitutionally grounded purpose and composition as articulated in Title 10 of the U.S. Code, Section 3062 (a):

It is the intent of Congress to provide an Army that is capable, in conjunction with the other armed forces, of:

(1)  preserving the peace and security, and providing for the defense, of the United States, the Commonwealths and possessions, and any areas occupied by the United States;
(2)  supporting the national policies;
(3)  implementing the national objectives; and
(4)  overcoming any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States.

In order to execute Congress’ intent for the services, military professionals must demonstrate expertise not only in the disciplined application of lethal force, but also the entire range of skills required to secure the United States and its interests.  This expertise is gained through an unwavering commitment to professional development of self and subordinates and is manifest in the professional’s commitment to core values and service to the Nation.

The combination of continually improving expertise, values, and subordinated service provide the bedrock for the American people to trust the military profession to possess and wield an overwhelming capacity for violence on its behalf. When any of these attributes waiver – service members lack essential proficiency, engage in unethical or immoral behavior, or undermine their civilian leadership – the public loses trust in the profession and takes steps to limit the wide discretion provided the military to execute its responsibilities.

This is your purpose at Command and Staff College – to continue to refine your professionalism as your span of control and authority expands from direct, tactical level leadership to indirect, operational level leadership. We assume your tactical excellence; we will provide opportunities for you to cultivate operational and organizational expertise and strategic familiarity.

The responsibility rests with you; we provide the resources and controlled environment. If you’d like to learn more about extending your development beyond formal PME, check out CG MCU’s thoughts in the Marine Corps Gazette.

Want to know more?

Swain, Richard. The Obligations of Military Professionalism: Service Unsullied by Partisanship, (Institute for National Security Ethics and Leadership, 2010).

Center for the Army Profession and Ethic, White Paper: The Profession of Arms (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, December 2010).

Linn, Brian McAllister. Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

Coffman, Edward. “The Long Shadow of the Soldier and the State,” Journal of Military History, 55, no. 1 (1991): 69-82.

Janowitz, Morris. The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait, (New York: Free Press, 1971).

Weigley, Russell F. “The American Civil-Military Cultural Gap: A Historical Perspective, Colonial Times to the Present,” in Peter Feaver and Richard Kohn (eds.), Soldiers and Civilians: The Civil-Military Gap and American National Security, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.


[1] Huntington, Samuel. The Soldier and the State: Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1985), 73.

[2] Center for the Army Profession and Ethic, White Paper: The Profession of Arms (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, December 2010), 5-6.

Alawi Split from Syria Would Spell Disaster

Dr. Ben Jensen has been doing some work lately on developments in Syria. You can read his full op-ed in the Financial Times here. (Once you’ve done your library tours, you’ll know how to access texts through the library’s on-line journal finder).

In brief, Jensen addresses the potential for a separatist Alawite enclave to develop as pressure continues to mount on Assad’s regime. Given the historic tensions between the Alawite and Sunni populations in Syria, fracture is both possible and extremely dangerous. According to Jensen:

The resurrection of an Alawi state could be catastrophic. First, it would be a heavily armed rogue regime that would continue to act as a proxy for Iran and guarantee Russia a deepwater Mediterranean naval base in Tartous.

Second, much like other heavily militarised and unrecognised quasi-states (such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia), the area could become a haven for criminals and terrorists.

Third, the new “state” would act as a catalyst to spread the conflict further into northern Lebanon and Turkey, whose population includes approximately half a million Arab Alawites along with perhaps 20m Turkish Alawites, or Alevis.

Fourth, Israel would be confronted with not one but two hostile regimes in the break-up of Syria, both of which might possess chemical weapons and missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

Fifth, an Alawi state would set a dangerous precedent for other separatist groups, such as the Kurds in the region, and reignite Sunni-Shia violence in Iraq, where prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is backing Iran and Mr Assad against the Syrian people.

Want to know more? Check out Dr. Jensen’s interview with CTV (It takes a minute to load) or his conversation with Peter Kenyon at NPR.

Syria: The Dilemma of Intervention

by Dr. Benjamin Jensen

Good soldiers do what statesmen demand. Yet, military planners must also unmask the folly of good intentions. In the case of Syria, military intervention has significant operational and political risks. These planning dilemmas warrant consideration before we march off to war.

First, any intervention plan would need to mitigate the broader fallout. Violence often spirals setting the stage for future security dilemmas. How would Russia or a China respond to losing a key Middle Eastern ally? Iran might use the pretext of a Syrian intervention to accelerate their nuclear program significantly increasing regional tensions and the prospect of a much larger war. Furthermore, planners would need to consider the message a Syrian intervention sends Islamists. Western troops fighting in a Syrian landscape dotted with crusade-era castles would bolster the cause of Al Qaeda and other extremists.

Second, the ease of airpower in Libya and even Kosovo were exceptions, not the rule. The Assad regime maintains a complex integrated air defense system. While Israel demonstrated it could Syrian airspace in 2007, any large-scale military intervention would require destroying the entire system to ensure the safety of pilots and supply lines. Once military planners start studying the mission, target proliferation will be likely with strike missions expanding beyond missile sites to include radar facilities, command and control infrastructure, power networks, and heavy weapons. Planners would determine whether they would initially hit all WMD storage facilities with missiles or secure the sites with a mix of Special Forces, paratroopers, and Marine expeditionary forces to ensure any unexploded munitions aren’t looted.

Third, it is not clear what the objective of a military intervention would be or which countries would provide forces. Initial discussions of creating a humanitarian corridor protected by a no-fly zone have been eclipsed by the possibility of the Assad regime either collapsing or losing control of its chemical and biological weapons. Would military force be used to destroy Assad’s heavy weapons, secure WMD, separate combatants, or keep the peace while a transitional government is established? Success in any of these missions is neither guaranteed nor risk free. More complex objectives like securing WMD sites or separating combatants would require large numbers of ground forces. The more ground forces you use, the longer the supply lines and higher the demand for setting up staging areas across the Middle East. The mission would be expensive and highly susceptible to mission creep. Remember, Afghanistan didn’t start out as a large-scale counterinsurgency campaign and nation-building mission.

Fourth, the legitimacy of a military intervention would necessitate Arab Coalition members. With UN action blocked regional organizations like the Arab League could act as a political forum to legitimate intervention. Yet, every nation and institution, to include NATO, involved in building a diplomatic and military coalition dilutes the end objective and narrows the range of options open to military planners. You get a classical collective action problem. Nations don’t share interests; they struggle to balance them.

Last, geography is king. If staging areas and bases in Turkey were not secured, the mission would become cost and resource prohibitive. Planes operating out of carrier air wings and bases in Italy would require additional assets to secure the air corridors and naval vessels linked to the mission. Given Syria’s stockpile of Scud missiles, many of which are capable of carrying chemical and biological warheads, additional ballistic missile defense platforms would need to be concentrated off the coast to protect both the military force and the possibility of Syria pulling a Saddam Hussein and attempting to expand the war by attacking Israel.

While pundits and politicians may invoke a moral responsibility to protect the Syrian rebels, prudence pushes military planners to scrutinize the inherent risks involved. Be prepared when you open Pandora’s Box. Rather than end the violence, military intervention is just as likely to spread tensions beyond Syria’s borders.

Welcome to Blackjack’s Crossing!

Welcome to “Blackjack’s Crossing,” the Marine Corps Command and Staff College’s blog. Our intent is to extend the conversations we have around the seminar table on-line to include past and future CSC students, the larger Marine Corps, and the broader national security community.

Education at Command and Staff College is centered around seven recurring themes.  It is in that spirit that we will publish thought pieces that explore these themes within our core areas of instruction: Warfighting from the Sea, Leadership, Operational Art, and Culture and Interagency Operations.

We invite anyone interested in publishing on our site to contact us. Students, that includes you! We invite everyone to participate in the discussion through the comments feature.  We’re excited to have this opportunity to connect the best field grade officers in the world with some of the smartest minds in the world. We look forward to the conversation.