Military Intelligence is an Oxymoron? I Think Not.

I was in class some time ago when a professor made a joke about the meaning of the word oxymoron. For those unaware, an oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. She gave examples like “Act Naturally” and “Aunt Jemima Light”, but then she mentioned another that struck a chord with me. As she snickered away, the last one she said was “Military Intelligence.” The class full of college freshmen, not unlike myself at the time, laughed at that one too. The professor knew that I was a Marine and that I had served two tours in Iraq, one of which ended less than six months before, so she knew this was a mistake I would not take lightly. I saw the look on her face as she saw the look on mine when she suddenly remembered.

She gathered herself and attempted to move back to whatever lesson was slated for that day. Whatever it was, that wasn’t the lesson they would be receiving.

“Ma’am,” I interrupted.

“Are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 feet per second for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction, as well as factoring for differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)

Trajectory 2

“Furthermore, I feel that it is important to note that by the time many military people have reached the age of twenty-two they have become experts in occupations and fields of study that takes years for civilians to achieve.”

This is true, be it Infantry (0300 Military Occupation Specialty series), Engineers (MOS 1300 series)  a data network specialist (MOS 0650 series) or (here’s a fun one) 2834– Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Technician. Most have, by that time, achieved the rank of E-4 or E-5 and been given responsibility of a small team of 4 up to a squad of 13 (that’s like an assistant manager for people in college working at the fry kitchen.) Let’s also not forget that many have learned to perform their job under harsh climate, horrible living conditions and the threat of someone shooting at them.

“And while wars like Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on for far too long, you may be hard pressed to find a military battle since Korea that ended in an American defeat. As you may also know, since so many students declined military service because you don’t like taking orders, the military is not free to go about and do as it will freely. They are following orders. Orders given to them by politicians. Politicians…you voted for.”

“And as an additional note, I am making an A in this class, as well as all my others.”

Calculation sheet used to make marksmanship “less complicated.”

I felt I made my point clearly, in spite of my lack of modesty. The issue stuck with me though. It does bother me that so many people perceive the Military as being synonymous with adjectives such as boorish, crash, or doltish, i.e. stupid. Oh they always thank us when they see us at work, church, or the bar. “I sure do respect what you boys did for us over there,” but they still don’t believe we could carry on an intellectual conversation with anything beyond a six year, much less anyone else. We’re sadly typecast into roles around being disciplinarians, authoritarians, or the types of guys who will be “kicking in doors” for the organization. If roles such as these do not exist, we’re looked over in a manner that is becoming societally unsettling. We couldn’t add to a company for our empathy, our artistic abilities, for our overwhelming scope with respect to the world and it’s people. We are forever known by one overriding perception; the military is made of people who went straight to the military and have received little or no college education, and since a college education is the equivalent to educated, that doesn’t shine a very bright light on military folks. That is all most civilians will ever have to go on.

What the average person doesn’t understand is that most MOS (Military Occupational Speciality) schools require a grade of 80 or above on each and every test or you fail out of the course (and mine was much harder than anything I took in college.) Few are aware of the massive education system that exists within the military for its members. They also don’t know that by the time a military person is nineteen, many have been deployed overseas, where they did the most extreme version of their particular specialty in the world. I was a Data Network Specialist. That is the equivalent to the company network administrator who sets up the computers, runs the switches and servers for five hundred people. Yeah, the Marines have computer nerds too, but our computer nerds can shoot an open sights rifle from five hundred yards away, run three miles in less than twenty minutes and have green belts in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (that’s like mixed martial arts, except the ultimate goal is that the other guy stops fighting for good.) The only other difference between what I did in the military and what a civilian does is that I also dug the three mile trench for the fiber optic cable as well as replaced a relay station when it was hit by rocket fire. My friends and I ran code and we ran convoys.


By the time I was twenty one I was on my second deployment and headed a small team. I worked as a part of a security team and in a week learned over four hundred words in Arabic that I needed to communicate with locals. That is enough to have a conversation with someone, which I was forced to more than I would like. It had it’s upsides, though. For instance, if you need to communicate with Iraqi army personnel, who just so happen to be curious how much you would sell your iPod for if you might get a good deal for your sister-in-law on the Iraqi arranged marriages market, or if anyone around had heard of a men with bombs (pronounced ka-na-buhl in Arabic. Go ahead, Google it if you don’t believe me.) When I was twenty-two I was responsible for ensuring that over $3 million worth of gear in the form of new laptops, switchboards, servers and accessories safely and completely changed hands along with all necessary updates, installs and user modifications.

Air Force officials are seeking volunteers for future training classes to produce operators of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt)
Air Force officials are seeking volunteers for future training classes to produce operators of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt)

What I think is interesting is that in the military, this isn’t that special. Many military people reading this are saying to themselves “I had it harder” or “my job was a lot worse than that” and they would be right. I suppose you could ask an engineer about how to build a house, or like ours who build forty living spaces in a week. You could also ask a 40 year old department manager what it takes to handle fifteen thousand units through the warehouse in a month, or you could ask a 26 year old army logistics chief to do the same thing. For those real academics out there I will ask it this way “If two vessels are traveling towards each other, one heading east at 40 knots with a 10 knot headwind and the other traveling west at 32 knots and a 6 knot headwind and they are 4200 miles apart, how long before they meet? A butterbar ensign in the Navy could tell you that. Oh, but a civilian in my job made three times my salary, and if he ever got shot at doing his job it was a news breaking event. That’s different. So what I am curious about is “What ignorant person thinks people like me are stupid?”

As a special note, I graduated three years after that conversation with that professor and the class. I earned a degree in a school where a four year degree, which takes most students five, in three and half. I also graduated cum laude in the top 15% of my class. That is out of the 50% or so that made it to graduation from when they laughed at a funny joke about people like me and our inferior intelligence. Since then, I’ve worked in a Silicon Valley startup and am now teacher and a writer, with one book under my belt and another on the way. Although my family and others in my life were instrumental in pushing me through every step of the way, I know that really set me apart in achieving all of this was my intelligence, my military intelligence. 

– Joncropped-maxresdefault.jpg

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28 thoughts on “Military Intelligence is an Oxymoron? I Think Not.

  1. Your professor, probably a Ph.D., not doubt possessed a lot of knowledge but lacked one critical element: wisdom.

  2. This should be in a movie or a Super Bowl commercial. The thought a Marine actually stood up in a university classroom and said these things is particularly refreshing and inspiring. I would be interested in helping get your story in front of more people. Do you think you could post it at ? Semper Fi.

  3. Another great post, Jon!

    On a side note…while I am not a pacifist, I do believe that we must go into wars thoughtfully and carefully. I think that us, as civilians, must support wars thoughtfully and carefully. Too often, I see people who are gung-ho about sending troops into Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya, when they would never think of sending their own children into situations like that. It’s simply not right.

    • Thanks for your comment Lara. Don’t think that you will receive any hate from me for being a pacifist. A good society must have them in supply to keep the nation from ever becoming to committed to solving all it’s problems with military force. There are many in our country who would do just that. I appreciate your thoughts on warfare being a thoughtful and careful act that we as a nation, being leaders, military and civilian should go about with great caution.

  4. I first saw this over at American Thinker. Excellent post! I served over 20 years in the Air Force and did a few deployments, and I can confirm everything you’ve said. The average civilian would be stunned at the amount of power and responsibility wielded by a 21 year old Sailor, airman or Marine.

    When you are deployed you have to think on your feet, “adapt and survive” as Clint Eastwood’s character in Heartbreak Ridge explained through gritted teeth.

    We had sergeants training Iraqis and Captains acting as mayors and justices of the peace in some very bad places. We were horrible at broad national strategy, but brilliant at the tactical level, and that is a living testament to the men and women on the ground, well-trained, motivated, and using the brains God gave them to make a success out of a failure when things inevitably go wrong.

    I’d like to see how a pontificating college professor performs when put in such situations.

    Also, many self-described “anti-war” types would be surprised to learn that Jon’s answer to Antigone’s Clamor expresses a common sentiment among veterans. Who’s more “anti-war” than those of us who have seen it up close?

    We do need balance. Beware those beating war drums who have never been to war.

    • Silver, thank you for your thoughts. I liked the comment “We were horrible at broad national strategy, but brilliant at the tactical level, and that is a living testament to the…” I am thinking of incorporating it into a post I am currently working on.

      I also appreciate another person who understands that war isn’t always the best option. Sometimes it is, but when it is done it must be done right, with proper planning and forethought on not only how you will win the war, but how you will win the peace.

    • “The average civilian would be stunned at the amount of power and responsibility wielded by a 21 year old Sailor, airman or Marine.”

      I imagine this is a main reason why women outnumber men in the universities. If you want to grow up to be a man, you can see which path is most likely to get you there.

  5. Jon, Your post is superb. I flew A-6’s in VMA(aw)332 out of Cherry Point. I wouldn’t trade any of the Marines I knew (okay, maybe one or two) for a whole university full of college professors. The commentor who pointed out their lack of wisdom was spot on. Far too many of them lack the vision required to see past the ivy covered walls of their institutions. The military seems to run exceptionally well considering the dolts who make it work, doesn’t it? Thanks for your service, Devil Dog. S/F Stefan Kristen

  6. One of the conceits of far too many members of the American elite is that military people are less intelligent than they. Such people usually have little contact with members of the military, much less any familiarity with the way responsibility is parceled out and skills are built. Jon Davis, who blogs at Jonsdeepthoughts, has produced an eloquent response to the attitudes he encountered on campus, after returning to college following 4 years and 2 deployments with the United States Marine Corps.

  7. One of the conceits of far too many members of the American elite is that military people are less intelligent than they. Such people usually have little contact with members of the military, much less any familiarity with the way responsibility is parceled out and skills are built. Jon Davis, who blogs at Jonsdeepthoughts, has produced an eloquent response to the attitudes he encountered on campus, after returning to college following 4 years and 2 deployments with the United States Marine Corps.

  8. thank you Jon. You will always be a man beyond the comprehension of many people including college professors. It will be hard to be gracious when others fail to be. Always know that we are grateful for what you have done. God bless you and your family

  9. Jon, well done, as always. I can’t thank you enough for the service you provided our nation. I have given some serious thought to the Marines. A year and a half left until I can enlist…hopefully.

  10. I ran into only 1 incidence of condescension by a professor at the junior college level (ex-USAF here). I’m now at the University of Houston and an Art major to boot… I have yet to reveal my military experience to anyone, but it’s going to be interesting to see how things change once people find out I’ve been in the military.

  11. I learned a lot of facts as an undergrad, GPA about 2.8, before enlisting and going off to Viet Nam. After coming home and then working as a Silly Service manager GS-10 for several years, I went back to gradute school. GPA about 3.9. In the military I learned self discipline. I learned how to organize my thoughts and activities. I learned how to think and perform under pressure when all has collapsed into chaos around me. And most important of all I learned “Attention to detail”, and was trained to precison and getting it right because there will be no do-overs.

  12. Enjoyed reading the article about you at the American Thinker site. I don’t know how this mindset has been allowed to take over our educational system here in the USA. It’s such a shame. I admire you for your courage both in the military and in college! Keep up the good work and the best to you and yours. Thanks for being YOU!

  13. just by chance, and a long chance, maybe the professor was just throwing it out to see if by the end of the semster some students would bring up her/his first comments and point out how his/her mistake…… anyhoot coodoos for jon

  14. Hey Jon. I was a corpsman with the grunts in Afghanistan for two tours (2/2 and 2/9) and I have to say that the level of intelligence, competence and dedication I saw in my 22 year old team and squad leaders will always humble me. Yeah, there were [***cheaky fellows], but for the most part I would even take [***less than stellar performing] a lance corporal over any typical college kid (I’m in college right now lol) if there’s a job that needs to get done. Thanks for the awesome post!

    (“***” denotes edits by Jon. Just keepin’ it safe for the kids.)

  15. Retired navy here. I agree with all the above. Back in the ’70s aboard our submarine, my Leading Petty Officer (E-6 in charge of a group of sailors; I was a junior officer (0-2)) in charge of the safety of a nuclear reactor also had a Master of Arts (in history). It is not only intelligence in a field: it tends to be intelligence in *several* fields.

    That said, the “military intelligence is an oxymoron” originated, I think, among soldiers, who suffered under some of the poor procedures and orders, which happens too easily in a bureaucracy — and the military is very much a bureaucracy at times. I have no problem making that joke with those in the military — but I resent the heck out of idiots without knowledge thinking that most military people are stupid or ignorant.

    • Thanks CBI. Yeah I know what you mean. I actually remember making the joke many times when the word came in wrong. (Clear skies all day.) And it is a joke that we get to joy among ourselves. But you don’t get to say it unless you served. You have to be part of the club right? In any case, thanks for your post.

  16. good post…i too have been involved in a war……long ago and not the same one you were involved in…but witnessing and being so close to death and having the ability to act now without thinking in order to stay alive imparts a certain kind of primal wisdom that you will never ever learn in a university…..a primal instinctive wisdom that remains with you for ever that has allowed me to always see what the imediate important objective is right now……….secondry considerations can be procrastinated over later………………….self disipline id call it……self disipline in action and thought…..valuable wisdoms………this of course is tactical military intelligence of an individual soldier… for getting involved in a long term conflict in angola?………….im not sure how intelligent that was.

  17. How is Jon Davis such an amazing writer?…

    Wow. Well first off I would just like to say thank you very much and I am very honored that a question like this would be asked in such a flattering way. If you want to be good at anything, writing included, I would advise a few simple things. Do thing…

  18. […] Since the slump in 2009 and the massive unemployment that followed, veterans have led in unemployment for reasons I can only guess. I assume much of it is based on unfair biases I have faced since getting out myself. I’ve often heard things like, “You’re so articulate for veteran” or “I don’t know, I just sort of expected you be, like, crazy hard core or something.” Many people asked if I had been shot at, or even killed someone. I’ve also been asked in interviews if I had ever been in combat, which I don’t know someone at Chase’s local bank branch would need to know for a standard sales position, and some have even asked if I have ever had an actual job before. I’m not sure what an actual job constitutes for most people many of the people I interviewed for after college. I guess my experiences running a telecommunications service team of 11 technicians and responsible for more than $3 million dollars in gear and equipment for what amounted to a four hundred person company didn’t count as an actual job. In college I even had to correct a professor who threw out the old joke when asked what an oxymoron was. She replied, “Military Intelligence” to the laughter of a roomful of 19 year olds still living in their childhood homes. To say “corrected” is probably not the appropriate term, but everyone in the room knew better than to make such an unfair generalization again. […]

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