Podcast: A conversation with Gen. Martin Dempsey about the “Military and Coronavirus”

Last Monday (20 April) I was part of a Zoom conversation with Gen. (Ret.) Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the “Coronavirus and the Military.”  The event was sponsored by the Duke Initiative for Science & Society and moderated by Mr.Buz Waitzkin. The recording is now available for your listening/viewing pleasure here.

My Zoom studio!

A lot of topics were covered, starting with the impact of the virus on military readiness.  In my view the military is doing a good job so far, but obviously there will be challenges in the future in trying to reconcile military training with safety measures like social distancing.  In addition, recruiting – which much depends upon person-to-person interfacing – will become increasingly difficult.

General Dempsey observed that COVID-19 was an unprecedented situation for military and civilian leaders alike, not just because of the complex medical difficulties it presents, but also because it arose in the age of social media, which vastly accelerates its psychological impact, and vary rapidly puts leaders under serious pressure to respond quickly.

I predicted that over the longer term we’ll see rethinking of the supply chain that is so important to building and maintaining military capability.  The vulnerabilities the pandemic has revealed will lead, in my opinion, to an increase in domestic manufacturing that involve robotics, 3-D printing, and other advanced production techniques.  In addition, we’ll see a greater acceleration in the development and fielding of autonomous weapons in order to provide military capability in a way that requires fewer people.

I also warned that we need to be prepared to counter adversaries who try to exploit the fear that COVID-19 has shown it can engender.

The broadcast was closed out with some recommendations for young people who may be considering national security careers.  While persons of any age can serve others, I cautioned them not to put off starting their public service ‘adventure’ too long. (I believe life has a way of ‘happening’,  and the passage of time can often complicate and, ultimately, frustrate the best intentions that people hold when they are young).

To my way of thinking, public service needs to be part of everyone’s life, and the military is one way, but not the only way of accomplishing that.

General Dempsey made a number of points in his response.  Included among them was his observation that the COVID-19 pandemic generates real fear.  He contends that the best and maybe only real antidote to the fears that life brings to everyone is a sense of belonging.  This is something that the bonding process the military cultivates does so well, and is one a the great rewards of a career in uniform.

General Dempsey also made a similar point to mine in urging young people to get involved.  In an amazingly prescient titling decision made long before COVID-19 was known, he called his forthcoming book (out May 12) “No Time for Spectators” in which he explore the “life lessons” he learned from his long career.  He related it to the current situation by observing that in the age of social media there’s an instinct to stay ion the sidelines, but to solve problems like COVID-19 everyone needs to be involved. (And, yes, I’ve ordered the book!)

This post is just a sampling of what we talked about, and I urge you to watch and/or listen to the full discussion here

Still, remember our Lawfire® mantra: gather the facts, examine the law, evaluate the arguments – and then decide for yourself!


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