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Adm. McRaven Urges Graduates to Find Courage to Change the World (utexas.edu)
109 points by tqn on May 25, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 117 comments

This was an interesting article, though most of the points seem to revolve around the theme of "Never giving up". I found the first one particulary interesting (the make your bed one).

here's the points in summary:

1. "Make your bed" - start your day off by accomplishing a small task. Little things in life matter and add up.

2. "Find someone to help you paddle" - You can't accomplish great things alone, you need friends and collegues.

3. "Measure a person by size of heart" - Judge people by their deeds not ethnicity, etc.

4. "Get over being a sugar cookie and move on" - Sometimes no matter how great you do things, they fail. Accept it, keep going.

5. "Don't be afraid of circuses" - in face of constant failure, learn from it each time, persevere, let it make you stronger.

6. "Sometimes slide down the obstacle head first" - Don't be afraid to take a risk in order to achieve greatness.

7. "Don't back down from sharks" - people/events will actively try to take you down, stand your ground, fight back.

8. "Be your best in the darkest moment" - During the hardest/most critical times, you must be calm and composed to bring your peek performance.

9. "Start singing when you're up to your neck in mud" - Be a bearer of hope, persevere in it, there is power in hope.

10. "Never ever ring the bell" - Never give up, never quit.

I would be interested in knowing what other HNers have for good points they try to live by.

Never give up could also apply to posting to HN. This is the 3rd time this story has been posted and it's the first one to gain traction.



I have numerous ones in my profile. My favorite is:

Therein lies the best career advice I could possibly dispense: just DO things. Chase after the things that interest you and make you happy. Stop acting like you have a set path, because you don't. No one does. You shouldn't be trying to check off the boxes of life; they aren't real and they were created by other people, not you. There is no explicit path I'm following, and I'm not walking in anyone else's footsteps. I'm making it up as I go. - Charlie Hoehn

It sounds like an impressive speech. I understand people share his values.

The bravest and most meaningful action I saw from a military person was a college roommate who had returned from active duty as a Marine in the Gulf War. I don't know if his training was as intense as a SEAL's but he saw active duty and looked long and hard at his actions and those of this country and applied to become a conscientious objector.

I think he valued and lived all the things the UT guy talked about, but to me it seemed he did one thing further. After all, when a country goes to war, the other side has soldiers who share all those values too. What makes one side better than the other? I doubt many would say might should make right. I don't know if anyone can answer that question better than any other, but I believe he concluded that you have to examine your conscience and the conscience of the military for which you work and the civilians for whom it works. He told me that when he enlisted his intent was to defend his country but that his experience and thoughtful consideration showed him the U.S. military today wasn't about defense. What it was about he couldn't say for sure, but it had more to do with corporate control than defense. He felt lied to by a system that was designed to lie to him and everyone else and he couldn't see changing in his lifetime. That his participation in the military would force him to support with his actions things he could not support. This is an Ivy League guy who was decorated and nearly made the NFL and Olympics.

The UT guy talked about very important things. I agree we would all benefit from them. All his underlined parts were about changing the world. He didn't say only the military provided those things, but I think it's worth calling out that you can get them elsewhere, as well as other things you can't get from the military. I'm sure he knows plenty more than I do, but I think my friend had one extra step that I didn't see in that speech about changing the world, something about thinking deeply and considering a bigger picture about the consequences of your actions.

I'm sure he thought these things through himself, and I'm sure many soldiers do. Maybe all of them do. If they concluded they were doing right, they have the right to their conclusions. I'm not trying to say he was wrong or that the military is wrong. Everyone has their values. I just didn't see the call to examine your values in the speech. I suspect more people would become conscientious objectors if that message was stronger. Or rather, the government would have to make different decisions if potential soldiers considered bigger pictures than what he talked about.

The military, no military would function if each member went their own way and did their own thing. It's OK to not serve if you disagree with the leadership, just don't sign up. You can change the world by working to oust corrupt politicians, Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians. Understand though that freedom is not free, there's always someone waiting for the opportunity to take over your country and they don't care at all if you are a conscientious objector.

This issue is more complicated than you make it sound.

It's absolutely true that discipline and following orders are essential to the smooth functioning of a military force. However, that does not give soldiers an excuse to leave their conscience with their civilian clothes. The entire point of the Nuremberg trials (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_trials) was that "I was just following orders" is not a defense, when the orders in question are illegal or immoral. And illegal or immoral orders can be issued by American officers just the same as they were issued by German ones -- just ask the soldiers who served under Lieutenant William Calley in Vietnam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Lai_Massacre). No nation's army has a monopoly on morality. So it's the responsibility of every soldier to balance the need for discipline with the need to ask conscientiously and with respect for human life and dignity.

> The entire point of the Nuremberg trials (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_trials) was that "I was just following orders" is not a defense

That's precisely why the relevant articles of the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice relating to "disobeying orders" explicitly requires that the orders be lawful for a crime to have been committed.

U.S. servicemembers not only have the right to disobey illegal orders, they have the explicit and positive duty to disobey illegal orders.

The catch is that ambiguous situations/"judgment calls" tend to break the tie in favor of an order being lawful. But beyond that the issue is not at all as complicated as you think.

E.g. with Lt. Calley's company, they were clearly guilty of not only crimes, but war crimes, yet there was a concerted effort in the U.S. and in the military leadership in Vietnam to cover the incident up. The issue there wasn't about "just following orders", the issue there was that the U.S. never attempted to put the criminals on trial in the first place, and that the eventual justice process that was meted out was so watered down. Even worse the Army and U.S. leadership tried to (and did) ruin the careers and lives of the 3 who actually followed their training as soldiers to put a stop to the massacre.

But you'll note that Lt. Calley was eventually court-martialed, and despite consistently claiming that he "just followed orders" was found guilty, sentenced to life, and his sentence upheld on appeal. Of course, U.S. leadership gutted that too, and effectively commuted his sentence, but "just following orders" was very much put on trial in the U.S. system and shot down again.

And that's why there are things called ROEs: Rules of Engagement.

A soldier just can't shoot anyone they see. There are very hard limits on who is considered a "combatant" and who is not. A big part of what gets soldiers and Marines on our side killed is ambiguity about who can be shot when they present a threat and who cannot.

If you do anything outside of the ROE it can be considered a war crime:


And yes, the USG DOES put its own soldiers in jail. Sometimes for life.


Have a read. How many soldiers ended up in jail for these?

How many commanding officers?

A great book on this subject is The Law of Armed Conflict and International Humanitarian Law in War by Gary Solis (related to nrsolis?) I think it's currently used as a textbook at West Point and other places. I have a copy here. Solis is a clear advocate for rules of conduct in war and for the punishment of those who break those rules but he also does not shy away from pointing out the frequent cases when, as you note, guilty soldiers on the winning side escape punishment. E.g., here is a quote from the book concerning the trial of Ernest Medina, implicated in the My Lai massacre:

The prosecution urged that Medina knew, or should have known, of the massacre, but, in addition to inciting it, he took no action either to stop it or to subsequently bring to justice those who committed crimes. “Even if he did not personally commit any crimes in My Lai, Medina clearly failed to maintain control over men under his command who were committing scores of them.”42 Despite apparently meeting the von Leeb–List standard – knew or should have known – and, for that matter, the Yamashita standard – must have known – Medina was acquitted.43 One civilian nonlawyer who viewed the trial found the case poorly prosecuted.44 Another calls it “a striking example of the extent to which a domestic . . . tribunal will devise a restricted formulation of the superior responsibility doctrine in order to avoid the prosecution of its own nationals.”45 But that ascribes a sinister motive to the court-martial that did not exist. (p.422)


I hope this information is helpful.

I had an entire semester of instruction on "The Law of Armed Conflict". It's taken VERY seriously by the military.

One example:

In the movie Lone Survivor, the SEAL team of which Marcus Lutrell was a member of is "soft compromised" by a group of goat-herders in the Afghan mountains. They were discovered when the goat herders LITERALLY tripped over them.

Now they were faced with a difficult problem. It was commonly known that the anti-coalition militia used goat-herders as scouts knowing that they would not be molested by coalition forces. Letting them go would almost certainly result in their presence becoming known to the militia. Killing them was against the ROE.

They really didn't have a choice: they let them go. In less than an hour, they were ambushed and three SEALs died. Marcus Lutrell was saved by a local Pashtun. A quick reaction force with two helicopters full of SEALs was repelled by RPGs and another 16 SEALs and other operators were killed.

SO: three goat herders were freed and nineteen men lost their lives because by the ROE, you couldn't kill the goat-herders because they weren't carrying weapons.

Ask yourself if you truly believe you could live with the fact that you freed the people who called the forces that would ambush you and kill your friends.

Our military is willing to follow the rule of law far more often than not. That's a huge difference given the life and death stakes these people are under.

This isn't a movie and there is no do-over. Making a bad decision might get your friend killed or put you in prison. Let's try and adjust our thinking to fit the circumstances these people find themselves in. It's the LEAST we can do as an informed citizenry.

(BTW: I know one of the guys who went in to those mountains to retrieve the bodies of the killed SEALs and find Lutrell. He has no illusions about the enemy he was facing.)

Wikipedia is your source? LOL.

So you get to use wikipedia but I don't?


Not for something as clearly politicized as the topic of war crimes by a nation currently at war.

So what? You have met a single guy with an eccentric minority view about the military. For every ex-military person with similar views, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people who have been in the exact same military, and who have reached completely opposite conclusions.

Telling a story about a single persons's opinions is not a convincing argument about "what's wrong with the military", and his conclusions certainly don't make him braver or smarter than any other member or ex-member of the U.S. armed forces who thinks differently.

The impression I get from this is that you were anti-military long before you have met this "friend", and that his is the only opinion you consider "brave" because it's the only one that conforms to, and reinforces, your already pre-existing world view.

Joshua, I'd like to add that I know people who have had direct contact with Adm. McRaven. That's the "UT guy" you spoke of. I feel like you could do him the courtesy of using his name and rank.

And I'd suggest that MAYBE a person who leads highly-intelligent and committed individuals into dangerous situations where there is a significant chance that they might lose their lives knows something about "Leadership" that you might be missing.

If you have a problem with the US military and their use then I'd suggest you direct that opinion to the President, your Senators, and your Congressman. I looked over your press page and didn't catch anything even remotely connected to the current wars. Nothing. Is that the "leadership" you teach?

The problem isn't the military. It's the civilians that send them over to do a job they aren't willing to do.

You're a part of that problem whether or not you acknowledge it. You earned a degree from an institution that participated in the development of the atomic weapon. You are currently a part of an institution (NYU) that serves as a feeder for the NSA via the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. You're a part of the problem. How can you continue to be a part of an academic environment that refuses to acknowledge its contribution to the "corporate interests" that push us into war?

Don't forget that when a nation goes to war, it represents a FAILURE of the civilians of each of those countries to reach a peaceful compromise. It's YOUR failure, not that of the military. The military by itself does not go out and start wars. The bravest soldiers I know wish for NOTHING but peace. Go ahead and ask them. The biggest doves in the whole country work at the Pentagon.

Do yourself a favor and speak to a few veterans this Memorial Day. Like them, I know people who lost their lives during our more than decade-long wars. Ask them if they are regretful or angry. Ask them if they feel like they were taken advantage of. Spend some time getting to know people who wrote this country a blank check to include their own lives if necessary. They volunteered to serve. You didn't. Try and understand what motivates that kind of personal sacrifice. You might learn something.

Enjoy your day off.

I think this is an extremely disrespectful and kneejerk reaction to a very thoughtful comment on the parent article.

One factor that contributes to the readiness of the United States to go to war that escaped your analysis is that any critique, however mild, of the armed forces is met with furious moral indignation.

> I think this is an extremely disrespectful and kneejerk reaction to a very thoughtful comment on the parent article.

I disagree, given that the comment was in keeping with the spirit of the parent comment (i.e., using the opportunity presented to hack in and tear away at the topic being presented).

> that any critique, however mild, of the armed forces is met with furious moral indignation.

The best possible way to "support the troops" is to not send them to war in the first place, is it not? I'll disagree with a "blame the victim" mentality everywhere I see it, and you should too.

For instance, let's consider a fictional city (perhaps Gotham). Cities need firemen, even though we all hope that our stringent building codes will keep fires from starting (or at least, keep them from spreading), improved safety technology helps people put out their own fires, etc. But none of these are foolproof, and the idea of an uncontrolled fire spreading through densely-constructed buildings is so horrific that we have no choice but to maintain a cadre of firemen. OK.

But eventually our building codes and safety technologies become so good that Gotham realizes that the biggest risk of a large conflagration is actually from a fire starting in the border city opposite, so Gotham signs up their firemen for "mutual assistance" and helps put fires out in their neighbors, under the catchphrase "better to fight the fire there than have to fight it at home!". The logic seems to work, despite the number of firemen who die fighting these fires each year, and our neighboring cities are doing better at stopping fires too, so we sign up for mutual assistance with cities further and further away.

But larger and larger fires start to break out and worse, there are nasty and persistent rumors that those fires are actually being started by Gotham leaders, and even some of the firemen. Yet no one has completely solved the issue of fighting fires in Gotham, so the need to have some people with the training and skill to fight fires at home remains. And yet we don't like the idea of shady people doing shady things to start fires abroad.

So who do you blame, the people who signed up to fight fires (possibly abroad, with good reasons), or the people starting the fires?

> So who do you blame, the people who signed up to fight fires (possibly abroad, with good reasons), or the people starting the fires?

What if they're the same people?

What if the dog is phone? What if the sky were buttery?

Or, how do you think it works? Week 3 of basic training at the Gotham Fire Academy, and the drill is to go over to Buckytown and set a random building on fire?

Because you're blaming the WRONG PARTY.

It's not the Armed Forces that should receive the criticism. It's the government and the civilians that push for them to go abroad and carry out their wishes.

How is that not something you understand?

Why is this downvoted exactly?

Because it goes against the orthodoxy here. Namely: the USG is a hegemon that exerts a disproportionate and negative influence on the world and is hypocritical in its foreign relations.

Of course, these opinions are maintained by people who never risk their lives, their income, or their social strata to effect change. They don't vote. They don't lobby their representatives. I'm willing to bet that a bunch aren't even American and are simply using this forum to air their opinions on US foreign policy.

I'm sure spodek meant no disrespect to Admiral McRaven by referring to him as "the UT guy." Likewise I'm sure you didn't intend to show disrespect for Dr. Spodek by referring to him as "Joshua."

I actually do believe that he intended to show disrespect.

And I call all of my friends by their first name EXCEPT when I speak about them in the third person or in the presence of subordinates. Since I don't believe in academic titles inasmuch as they don't confer in him any measure of respect that I am not entitled to, he's "Joshua" to me.

See how that works? I'm at least acknowledging that he is an individual with a name and not that "NYU guy".

"Ask them if they feel like they were taken advantage of." ... Not sure what is your point here ? Because, there are lots of angry veterans out there who don't receive the support and help they should get.

I thought soldiers had a little more self-respect than describing themselves as dumb tools used by others. No mind of their own, just following the civilians orders?

Soldiers choose to shoot or not to shoot, and risk getting shot, getting their buddy shot, getting court martialed and/or PTSD if they choose wrong. But soldiers do not choose whether or not their country invades another country.

They do get to choose whether to sign up to a volunteer military that's engaged in an existing war. It's very weird the way some paint US soldiers as a sort of Hero Innocent, absolving them of any sort of moral culpability.

> They do get to choose whether to sign up to a volunteer military that's engaged in an existing war.

There's been 2 very short "wars" and then 2 very long counter-insurgency campaigns.

E.g. with Iraq: Even if you just flat-out assume that the U.S. invasion was completely unjustified, a soldier signing up to join could still have a positive role to play in helping the new government, and the Iraqi people, establish the basic trappings of security needed for any modern society to function. After all, the reason that the UN (and all its associated aid agencies) pulled out in 2003 was because of the security failure that led to their special rapporteur being murdered in a bombing.

I mean, we've experimentally verified after the U.S. left that the mere military presence alone wasn't what was causing bombing attacks, as Iraq still has to fight through those even today.

Would it have been better not to be going to Iraq in the first place? Absolutely, but the soldiers joining in 2004 didn't get to decide on the 2003 invasion, only on whether they can help on America's behalf to help the Iraqis with the damage inflicted.

I'd say Ehren Watada did. If enough had done the same, who would've invaded?

When you are thrown in the mud and choose either to sing or quit - it's YOUR spirit, and YOUR decision, not corporate control over you.

Not giving up is great and needed more often than not

However, knowing when it's not worth it is a great asset as well.

Exactly. Not everyone is suited to be a member of special forces. Leaving to do something better (e.g. more achievable) may be a wiser choice.

The Navy Seals I have known in my life have been the most honest, bravest, and intelligent people I have ever known. I'm grateful people like this exist in the world.

I can't get behind people trained for the most part to kill other people. The bravest to me are those that refuse to be goaded into harming their fellow human beings at the behest of others. The line between 'brave seal' and 'tool' is a thin one.

If only nobody anywhere in the world was trained to kill other people, our country (and yours) wouldn't need to ask people to sacrifice that part of their humanity in service to their countrymen.

You might read Marlantes _What It Is Like To Go To War_. You might find that while SEALs are happy to speak proudly what they've learned in basic training, not so many of them speak happily about what war forces them to do during deployment. Those people trained for the most part to kill other people probably agree with much of your sentiment about their job.

They are actually obligated by law not to talk about their operations. It's all classified.

That's not strictly true.

Go read "Inside the Red Circle". The author is a friend of mine.

As a conscientious objector I've done plenty of thinking on the subject. My personal stance on this is that I and nobody else determines where and when the line into violence is crossed and that I will not let others determine what my hands are used for when it comes to matters of life and death.

Words like 'sacrifice', 'pride' and so on try to put glory where there is none. Navy seals and their various colleagues from other countries should be a means of last resort (just like armies), unfortunately they find themselves (ab)used as blunt instruments of offence rather than as a way to defend their homelands.

I know a couple of vets, and if there is one thing they collectively agree on then it was that they were used. That's not going to happen to me, I won't let it.

You just took the words "sacrifice" and "pride" out of context and used them to rebut an argument I didn't make. And, obviously, I didn't make an argument that it was wrong to object to service in the military.

> our country (and yours) wouldn't need to ask people to sacrifice that part of their humanity in service to their countrymen.

Sacrifice in that sentence indicates that we are asking those people to give up their humanity in our service, as if that is something that makes it heroic. Besides, I didn't ask them, and never would.

> You might find that while SEALs are happy to speak proudly what they've learned in basic training, not so many of them speak happily about what war forces them to do during deployment.

SEALs speak proudly of their basic training because they glorify a thing that I abhor: violence.

In both cases I think that that exact use of those words is what I have a problem with.

I'm not asking anybody to sacrifice themselves for me and I don't think Navy SEAl basic training is something to 'be proud of'.

Firemen, nurses, ambulance drivers, doctors, single moms working hard to feed and educate their kids have reasons to be proud. Navy SEALs in my book at least not so much, they are for the most part underpaid mercenaries. Of course they are painted as heroes by the government, otherwise how would you get young and intelligent people to set aside their reservations about the aims to which they are generally used.

If every country would stick to using their 'defense' departments for what they are ostensibly named then the world would be a much better place.

You just read an article by a SEAL proudly talking about their training in terms that had nothing whatsoever to do with violence. That's what I meant earlier when I said you were taking things out of context to rebut arguments I hadn't made.

Ah ok, clear. SEALs are all about violence, I can see how some parts of their training have other applications but at the end of the day we're not talking about boy-scouts or pool guards here.

No part of the article we are talking about appears to be about violence. Moreover, the comment of mine that you replied to draws this point out specifically, attaches "pride" to the non-violent aspects of their service, and suggests that many of them feel the same way about violence that you do. That was the point of the book I suggested; it is largely about the damage that engagement with violence inflicts on the psyche of servicepeople.

> SEALs speak proudly of their basic training because they glorify a thing that I abhor: violence.

That's not the thing they "glorify" though, any more than surgeons "glorify scalpels". They happen to be very good at using force in the way that a martial artist would be very good at using their hands and feet as weapons, but people don't go around saying that the local Jeet Kune Do instructors are "glorifying war".

The fact is that even for special operating forces (like the SEALs), the vast majority of what they do involves important, but non-violent (or as they'd say, non-direct action) operational missions.

That is a very comfortable stance to have, isn't it?. You are very fortunate that there are people out there risking their lives so that people like you can continue living inside their bubble.

"As a conscientious objector I've done plenty of thinking on the subject."

e.g. COWARD.

You abhor violence, eh? That's rich.

Ok, as a true coward befits I'll bow out of the discussion here. Thanks for playing. By your definition, that means you win.

Try not to let trolls get to you. No one was influenced in the slightest by their comments, so there's no reason to let it get under your skin.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

John Stuart Mill, on the US Civil War, in "The Contest in America", Fraser’s Magazine (February 1862)

Good sentiment, but 'bravery' is not the right word. Those refusing to participate are not really risking much, certainly not their lives (or being captured and tortured for instance). So pretty much different.

But considering the world we live in, I'd much rather have Seals on my side. Properly trained ones.

It would be great if special forces like the Navy seals would only be deployed on missions of an ethically defensible nature. Unfortunately that is not the case. It's a real pity because I'm very much under the impression that most people that enter the services do so from the best of intentions.

'Your' side could easily be the bad guys by some objective standards and that is where the problem lies. If only it would be as simple as saying that 'our' side was always right.

Good sentiment, but 'bravery' is not the right word. Those refusing to participate are not really risking much, certainly not their lives (or being captured and tortured for instance). So pretty much different.

Well, not here and now, but there were certainly times when that was not true.

> Well, not here and now, but there were certainly times when that was not true.

Just like there were times when towns needed to have coopers. But like you just said, these aren't that times, so I'm not sure how that's supposed to add to the discussion.

>> The bravest to me are those that refuse to be goaded into harming their fellow human beings at the behest of others.

The problem is that the enemy wants to kill you, without brave men and women who serve voluntarily, you would not likely have the freedom to hold the idea that it's braver to not fight and give in and give up.

Which enemy is that?

Try harming (directly) one that is dear to me and we'll see how I feel about not fighting. Try sending me to some country halfway across the planet to further the agenda of a bunch of politicians that make sure they're safe themselves and as far away from harm as they could possibly be and I refuse to budge. Navy seals have given the ability to make that choice to their superiors.

Let's just leave it at that I've seen authority abused more often than that I've seen it be used for good and that I have a very strong distrust of the motives of those that govern in our name. Too many wars, too much manipulation, too many things in the news where the stories don't check out after the fact.

Would you like some yellowcake with that barrel of petroleum?

> Let's just leave it at that I've seen authority abused

So have we all at some point, I'd imagine. Is it your opinion that anything that can be abused should be forbidden?

Because no offense, but that's the same logic in the child's fairy tale about the boy who cried wolf. You're very rightly pointing out that if you make false use of your authority too often that you should expect people to not trust you in the future. But there was a second part to that story: Once the people stop trusting that authority entirely, they can be taken advantage of, just as the wolf did to the villagers' sheep.

As it stands your personal decision to be a conscientious objector is made possible only because enough other people did not make that same decision (a point Orwell makes much better than I can).

So while I won't argue with that decision as it's something only you can decide on, based on your own life experiences, I would also caution that your experiences are not everyone else's experiences and so maybe you shouldn't be so quick to judge other people.

Those people will stop trusting that particular authority, but that does not mean they have to drop common sense entirely. They definitely should be more skeptical. The boy who cried wolf got eaten, not the others.

As for my decision, it was definitely not made possible because other people did not make that same decision, you could easily argue by that exact same rhetorical trick that if everybody would act like me that war would be impossible.

I recognize that is not a reality, all I do is reserve the right to act when I see fit rather than to put my hands at others disposal, especially when those others so clearly do not deserve my loyalty. My granddad was interned in ww-II (German prisoner of war camp, forced labor for the Opel car company, a supplier of transport for officers). He could (if he were still alive) tell you a thing or two about how much damage one can inflict on an army without being in a uniform. This is not a binary choice and it is not nice to pretend that it is so.

Patronizing aside, I'm not quick to judge, I took a long time to get to this position.

Right after 9/11 the world was as one (with very few exceptions worth noting) on the side of the US. That trust and momentum could have been used for good, instead it was abused and it destroyed the image of the US for a long time and for a large number of people. Epic fail, to use a popular term.

> As for my decision, it was definitely not made possible because other people did not make that same decision, you could easily argue by that exact same rhetorical trick that if everybody would act like me that war would be impossible.

"If wishes and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas"

Trust me, I wish everyone could just spontaneously choose to be non-violent and permanently and irrevocably forbid themselves from ever engaging in warfare. That would be a much nicer world.

But your decision to do that does nothing for the rest of us.

In fact, you elucidate precisely the reason why we cannot rely on such a large-scale decision: By your logic, you would not want to join to be used as tool by evil people ordering you to do evil things.

So your worldview pre-supposes that there do exist evil people who would abuse military force for aggressive aims, does it not? But if even the democracies of the West are susceptible to this aggressive urge, why should the other governments of the world be immune to it? And if any substantial part of the population of the rest of the world is not immune to this aggressive urge, we are not ready to disband defensive militaries.

So in fact I'd argue the reverse: Until you feel completely comfortable joining any military in the world knowing that you would not be abused, there will remain the need for people to take up arms.

It certainly doesn't have to be everybody (as they joke about elsewhere, you don't have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun your neighbor). But someone has to do it, for exactly the reason you suggest.

> He could (if he were still alive) tell you a thing or two about how much damage one can inflict on an army without being in a uniform.

Yes, we've recently seen how well an American out of uniform could hurt the military... you're only preaching to the choir here. But some of us prefer to keep the invaders away outright instead of being forced to rely on insurgency campaigns after the fact.

> That trust and momentum could have been used for good, instead it was abused and it destroyed the image of the US for a long time and for a large number of people. Epic fail, to use a popular term.

No doubt, but what does that have to do with this? I'm well aware that America is apparently the sole font of all that is wrong with the world (I'll give it a week before the USA is blamed for UKIP and the FN victories), but I'm not talking about the American military here.

Spoken like a true narcissist.

The only correct viewpoint is the one you hold. The only just use of violence is one you approve. The only moral code is your moral code.

I suppose that the good news here is you'll never fight for your beliefs, so we don't have to worry about you at all.

This is a horribly naive viewpoint. You've fallen into the trap of making a judgement of someone based on a popular understanding of a particular profession rather than any factual reality.

And here are the facts:

1. There is evil in the world. 2. That evil sometimes hurts innocent people. 3. We need some way of protecting innocent people from evil.

I'm reminded of the current hullabaloo about Boko Haram and the kidnapping of several hundred girls from a school. exactly who do you think is going to do anything about rescuing those girls? Exactly what kind of campaign do you think is needed to meet that challenge?

I see from your profile that you're in the Netherlands. I spent an afternoon at the Anne Frank house several years ago. I'm guessing you feel that she deserved NO protection whatsoever?

I'm always amused at the opinions of those who live in safe countries with comfortable lives and how they have no concern for the people who keep them safe and comfortable.

Maybe you should learn a little more, eh?


If that is horribly naive, so was Einstein:

He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.

> 1. There is evil in the world. 2. That evil sometimes hurts innocent people. 3. We need some way of protecting innocent people from evil.

That is true, but doesn't justify anything and everything. For example, the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador making stuff up about Iraqui soldiers tearing babies out of incubators. "War is a racket" may not be the full story, but has it ever been refuted in a meaningful way? If so, I'd like to see that.

As for Anne Frank, she and others were hunted and murdered by organized, trained killers. To say "but that's different, because those are evil, and we are talking about organized, trained killers who fight evil" doesn't really help, because from the perspective of fanatical followers of Hitler, they were doing the exact same thing, protecting the world from evil and degeneration. So to bring up Anne Frank to justify glorifying the military seems weird at best.

Why do people pull out quotes by globally recognized people in ordee to prove their points? So what if Albert Einstein said that? Are you implying that everything Albert Einstein says is true?

Where am I using Einstein's "authority" to support any of my arguments, except that I don't think it's a naive viewpoint? I agree with him on this, and having read some of his letters and whatnot I don't think he was naive, and I know he thought about people a lot and cared deeply about peace. I don't even care for his work in physics, because that goes right over my head, but find he said and wrote many wise things that still hold true. I even suspect this may be part of the reason he is "globally recognized": He wasn't just a scientist, he was a philosopher, too, had a big heart and a way with words. That is reason enough to quote anyone, and that Einstein gets quoted all the time for all sorts of reasons is not my problem.

I like the quote, and I agree with it. If you think you found a flaw in it, point out that flaw. I'm assuming that can be done, but you're not doing it; and otherwise, why would I care about the factuality of everything else he ever said, or even anything else? That's just a red herring.

You said: "If that viewpoint is naive, so was Einstein", and then proceeded to reproduce the same quote. You seem to have used his name to give extra weight to the quotation. I am not arguing for or against your stance here (actually, if anything, I think I agree with it), I'm just pointing out that the first sentence was superfluous. If one of Einstein's viewpoints was in fact naive, that wouldn't make Einstein himself naive, and stating something like that just sounds you were trying to appeal to his authority. That's all.

Replace "so was Einstein" with "then Einstein was also being naive when he said this", would that help? My sympathy for Einstein is personal, and I might have brought up, say, Bill Hicks in the same way; not meaning it as "this is correct because X said so, and many other people think he is generally correct", but "if this is wrong, then at least I am in company I like while being wrong about this".

She was hunted and murdered by organized, trained killers THAT WERE SUPPORTED and FUNDED BY THE CIVILIANS.


Sorry Bub. Your hands aren't clean there.

And don't forget that Einstein wrote the letter to the FDR that kicked off the race to build the atomic weapon. Even HE was asking for the USG to do something that would squelch the evil of Nazi aggression.

If you believe that soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines are mindless drones, boy have you got it wrong.

> Sorry Bub. Your hands aren't clean there.

I totally agree with that. If you look at it as a pyramid, and the moment of a soldier shooting someone as the very tip, a LOT goes into that. There is a bit in Robert Antelme's "The Human Race" where he actually says the supposedly innocent and righteous civil society, with its supposed values, that underpinned and enabled the SS at times stirred up more resentment than the SS itself; at least the SS wore skulls, and acknowledged the existence of the people they were murdering. I am paraphrasing, but my point is, even someone who lived through that horror agrees with you.

> And don't forget that Einstein wrote the letter to the FDR that kicked off the race to build the atomic weapon. Even HE was asking for the USG to do something that would squelch the evil of Nazi aggression.

"I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed that letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification—the danger that the Germans would make them!"


"Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would not have lifted a finger."

> If you believe that soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines are mindless drones, boy have you got it wrong.

This however strikes me as a non-sequitur. How does the fact that civilian society can act as mindless drones, too, make soldiers less drone-ish?

Einstein clearly wasn't certain that the Germans wouldn't have produced a bomb. That's why he acted. It was the threat that convinced him he needed to get involved.

Just as certainly, we don't know the future. We need to be prepared for as many situations as necessary. That means that soldiers must be trained, armies must be maintained, and the citizenry should be aware.

Is there a Navy Seals action underway to rescue the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram? That's news to me, all I know is there were a few rumors.

The problem is not that navy seals could not be deployed to do good, the problem is that they are just as likely to be deployed to do harm.

Anne Frank has nothing to do with any of this, the dutch army was of no significance whatsoever (but the dutch resistance was).

As for me 'learning a little more', I think you have your mind made up about me. Your simple world with 'evil' and 'good' is not the world I live in. If only it were that simple.

> They are just as likely to be deployed to do harm.

Please name some SEAL missions you consider harmful.

I think you're missing the point entirely.

The point of the example is to show that without good people who are willing to fight against those who would do innocents harm, those good people get hurt.

I think that if you kidnap little girls, you're evil. I think that if you set off a bomb in a hotel lobby, you're evil. I think if you crash a plane into a building and kill thousands, you're evil.

In my world, if you indiscriminately kill an innocent person to further your political goals then you are evil.

In my world, if you invade a country on a pretext and kill tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, you're out of control. Especially if in the run-up to such an invasion you squelch every possible voice of opposition or reason.

That's where the problem lies, by your own definition your country is evil (not by mine, I don't believe in the whole good/evil thing, it's just a simplification to make it easier to delude voters into thinking things are easy to understand when in fact they are not).

You keep on subscribing to this image of the military as valiant crusaders against the dark, yet the most significant deployment of the biggest military in the world this century was an unmitigated disaster, that had nothing to do with defense of innocents, and that left the people of the target country far worse off than they were originally.

The problem is this: by continually glorifying the military the way you do, making them out to be crusader heroes, you fool young, impressionable people. So instead of decrying things like the invasion of Iraq, they sign up in droves, because they've been tricked by the rhetoric into thinking it's somehow about defending their country.

The point is, if the US military was really about fighting your definition of evil, it would be far more involved in Africa. Its mission is "keep the US safe and further its interests", which is fine, but it's not the "fight evil" mission that you say it is. If the US military really was about fighting evil (which is an oversimplistic term), it would have staged a coup when GW Bush declared war on Iraq, a war in which hundreds of thousands of people have died, in a country that was no threat to the US.

I spent an afternoon at the Anne Frank house several years ago. I'm guessing you feel that she deserved NO protection whatsoever?

Please stop attacking other commenters personally. It's against the rules and weakens your argument.

"Guessing" something horrible about somebody is personally aggressive. There is a lot of other personally charged language in your posts as well. Please refrain from that. You have a good point—insinuation spoils it.

I have a stronger opinion for those who live in safe countries and have no concern for the people who keep them safe and comfortable. The fact that everyone on this thread can voice their opinion freely, criticize openly, and play armchair quarterback on something they may know nothing about should speak volumes. Today and tomorrow is the time for grace for those who have laid down their life in service to our country. US Navy Seals are an elite group who undertake incredibly dangerous missions. They deserve nothing but respect on this Memorial Day. Freedom is never free.

You have a few nice bumper stickers in there.

"I'm reminded of the current hullabaloo about Boko Haram and the kidnapping of several hundred girls from a school."

Yes. In Nigeria which is what... like the 5'th largest oil exporter in the world? So who funds these problems that then have to be solved by military invasion? I'm always suspicious.

What ... on earth is your point? That everyone who drives a car is responsible for those poor children? I pray for their safe return.

I think the point was the when a country gets invaded, its economy and politics tend to get restructured in favour of the invader. I wouldn't go so far to say this proves it was engineered, but I think that was the implication.

Exactly. I don't mean to "prove" nor even "imply". The word used was "suspicious". When these type of problems pop up in resource rich or strategically important locations and it gets a lot of air time on the news and we have to do something because "think of the children!" I am.... suspicious.

We sent the Marines into Haiti to rescue the civilian population after the natural disasters there.

For the life of me, I can't imagine what economic interest we had there.

I know because a good friend ended up killing himself after witnessing the human tragedy there. He was a Marine pilot.

well, let me cynically suggest at least one "economic advantage"...

The government of a country within boat reach of Florida falls apart and people start starving and the exodus towards the shores of America by Haitians reaches epidemic proportions...

But this is just wild speculation. Look... I'm not saying all military adventures by the US are economically driven. But lots of them probably are. I'm naturally suspicious of them at this point and I think with good reason. Besides, I don't care for the massive expense and think it inefficient and generally unnecessary at current levels.


You're going to stand by that statement? You think America sent the Marines and all of the aid workers there to make sure that we wouldn't get more Haitians in the USA?

Wow. That's probably the MOST racist thing I've seen posted on HN to date.

Very good points made in the article.

Discipline, consistency, reliability, tenacity, teamwork, attention to detail are all valuable habits..... In an assistant.

If you develop these qualities you might help someone who questions paradigms, thinks deeply about implications and connections between events, has an innate ability for strategy with broad vision and big dreams change the world.

I like it (unfortunately I am very far away now from ever being able to be that fit).

Leaving aside the uncomfortable notion that it is all for killing people, here is another question I wonder about: what are the survival rates for Navy Seals? Are they better/worse/the same as for normal soldiers? Does all the training help with survival? It would be a shame to go through all this and then be killed in the first hour of war by some stray bullet?

I don't mean to offend, I am genuinely interested. It seems fascinating if for example people are motivated to invest so much in training if the chance to die afterwards is high. Of course if it would reduce the risk it would also be a good motivator.

>> It would be a shame to go through all this and then be killed in the first hour of war by some stray bullet?

It would be more of a shame to not have tried, to give up, that's what I think the point of the speech is.

One could try less risky things?

For how long? Weeks, months or years or even decades? Then you tell those children how long you thought it was OK for them to endure what they are going through right now.

Not sure what you mean? What children?

You think the only worthwhile risks to take are the ones where you risk your life? Or do you mean you always risk your life anyway?

That sort of information is likely classified. In any case I'm not sure how useful such information would be. They go through an insane amount of training that almost certainly would increase their survival rate in an average firefight, but the Navy doesn't spend ~$500k training a SEAL to send them into average firefights. They undertake some of the most dangerous missions in the US military.

So, how is all this going to help these guys beat the inevitably emerging robot army?

The robot army will be more tenacious, more disciplined, more reliable, more obedient... in short, it will have all the qualities mentioned at a much higher level...

Trying to install habits in men to the point they become machines is futile because... we have machines. And machines are controlled by conscious entities. Want to improve yourself? Don't become a machine. Work on becoming more conscious. More intelligent in ways machines never will. That's the future.

The robot army will probably be more predictable. Tease them, lure them into a trap - boom. Watch them for a while and learn their patterns. Same as with non-robot troops.

So, make them unpredictable? Their efficiency drops, they become less useful for ordinary operations. You can't win.

Except by doing what the Army does - they have regular soldiers, and they have Special Forces who's mandate is to do whatever it takes, even the unpredictable. Deployed into situations where the regular kind won't work.

I don't see robot forces ever approaching what we can already do with the right trained team.

Is there a computer, right now, that can beat any human alive at chess?

I don't know what robotics will do. My point is larger than specifics. And, the point is.... machine like thinking will always be better done by machines. So, developing better machine like thinking in their heads isn't the way forward for humans. It's a futile battle... kind of like John Henry and the steam drill. Sure, being a big strong guy who could hammer railroad stakes all day was a valuable quality.... at one time. Before steam drills. Now, its simply a sideshow in a circus or a personal hobby.

Is there a computer, right now, that can beat any human alive at Go?

jqm here...

There is likely one that can beat *most humans alive right now. What could a 2 billion dollar military grant and a sense of urgency produce in the 3 years?

We have driver-less cars. Exponential development. The robot army is coming... like it or not. Sure, humans will always probably make key decisions. Your point is good. There are areas humans have an advantage over machines. But, the robot army is coming and coming fast. My point is... this renders a bunch of the qualities mentioned in this article, qualities designed to turn man into a machine, obsolete. And it means other qualities become more important. Failure to recognize the future and plan for it will mean defeat on the battle field. No matter how much belt buckles are shined.

There are no rules in war, not on the ground.

The drill instructors are proud to see us growing beyond their control. The Marine Corps does not want robots. The Marine Corps wants killers. The Marine Corps wants to build indestructible men. Men without fear.

-- Full Metal Jacket

"The marine corps wants killers"...

Well, that's a bit of an issue morally, however, if you want a REAL killer... get a machine. Those little flesh killers are puny and ineffective.

Many of these same values are instilled in the Marine Corps, although not with as much physical intensity as the SEALS (unless you are in MARSOC) - they are good life lessons to absorb.

Regularly, I see examples of people failing to cope with them. A lot of people are enamored with ideas more than action & responsibility (and/or difficulties) associated with them.

Good speech. The numerous errors in transcription took a little away from it, especially given the first message about doing simple tasks well. A University should have higher standards on their site.

No offense, but this speech may impress a bunch of school boys...

I agree. Between John J. Chapman's commencement address to the graduating class of Hobart College, 1900, and "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young" by Mary Schmich, I got nothing but a slimy feeling out of this.

In context, I think McRaven offers powerful advice. I wonder how it translates to the entrepreneurial world. Here are some observations.

A. For SEALs, there is a process to get through (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Navy_SEAL_select...). For entrepreneurs, there are many ways. This distinction matters: there are only so many slots for SEALs. There is no such limit for new products or services.

B. In some ways, there are gatekeepers for both. SEALs have obvious gatekeepers that set the bar. SEALs have to pass their tests as defined by their superiors. Entrepreneurs have less obvious gatekeepers. By this I mean that an entrepreneur chooses their gatekeepers when deciding to select a particular business plan. Whatever they choose, they have to find a business model that works somehow for their customers and investors.

C. For a SEAL, never quitting makes sense if your final goal is to be a SEAL. What if you break an ankle? Is it smarter (probably mandatory!) to ring the bell? (Do you try again later?) For an entrepreneur, never quitting means finding a way to succeed -- a way not tied to any particular business plan or technology.

D. As a SEAL, if you ring the bell, how does that feel? As an entrepreneur, how does it feel to run out of money before you find a business model that works? I would guess that it matters quite a bit on why didn't make it. Did you make obvious mistakes? Did you do your best?

E. If, during SEAL training, you decide that it isn't for you, is there any shame in quitting? I'm not talking about quitting simply due to exertion or pain -- I'm talking about quitting because you thought about all the implications. I've never been sleep deprived for days while also physically exhausted. What about an entrepreneur that gives it all but doesn't make it? I think there are some similarities here. One key difference is that entrepreneurs have more flexibility and control over pacing yourself than SEALs. (One can earn income while testing your business ideas, for example.)

F. This speech raises some big questions. What is quitting? What is failure? (A) If a SEAL washes out, there are other ways to do public service. Adjust your goals, as needed, and try again. (B) If an entrepreneur tests a business plan and it doesn't measure up, then perhaps you pivot or walk away. In my opinion, neither is "quitting" because you are still setting goals and working hard.

If you're interested in the training the speaker mentioned, watch the Class 234 documentary made by Discovery in the late 1990s. It's typically up on YouTube (not entirely legally).

>But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn—were also saved. And their children’s children—were saved.

Yeah. Shame about the children, and the children's children of the local population though. You know, in their own homeland and all, not asking for trouble or anything...

C'mon now, this isn't a political article, let's not mire the discussion in politics irrelevant to the link

An article praising soldiers and the "change" they bring IS political (in the general sense). It's just naively political, it doesn't even stop to consider the consquences of the actions it desribes, except on one side.

Soldiers = heroes, or "just honest hardworking people doing a dangerous job", is political in itself. It's pro army, for one. Some people for some reason only consider anti-war statements to be political, while statements like the ones in the article pass for some kind of unchallenged truth.

(If you mean "partisan", sure, it's not. But I don't care about that, and my point was not about "democrats" vs "republicans". Don't care about either of them).

The enemy is always at the gate, they care not that your heart bleeds for their children; they only care about making you and your children bleed so they can take what you have and destroy who you are and what your children could have become.

Nobody is pure evil, and someone who shallowly dismisses others as pure evil, is at least slightly evil. Of course, this is my personal definition of evil. However, I stand by it.

Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle.

There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.


-- Walt Kelly, foreword to "The Pogo Papers"

I said, "the enemy is at the gate". I dismiss no one. Literature and art are the first things the enemy either takes or destroys, ironic isn't it?

Unless you were being sarcistic, you did seem to imply there are people who are just being evil for the sake of being evil, and talking about "the enemy" makes it sound like a monolith very unlike to anything found on Earth; so I assume that gate is located in fantasy.

One would be justified to say that if he was the one being invaded, in his own homeland, and had his children suffer for that.

A citizen of a country with its war fingers all the way around the globe, not so much.

It's a motivational speech by soldiers to soldiers, I guess it's fair to debate that aspect. To be honest I was surprised to see such link at the top of HN, so I'm really curious to know what other HN fellows like coldtea think about it.

EDIT: I know the folks are not soldiers, but the tone of the speech makes it sound as that IMHO

The tone almost makes it a recruitment speech in disguise.

Is it training or is it torture?

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