One of the first things I did when moving to Portland was to get a PO box (as I moved here without a job and assumed I would be moving around a fair amount for the next couple of years). The box is in a "Post Net" store in a mall. Next to it is the local recruiting office for the military.
As I was walking by the recruiting office I noticed a sign in the window entitled "Air Force Mission Statement" and read it.
It said, "The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests - to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace."
This sign struck me as very funny, particularly because of the following:
* It seems to be modeled on corporate mission statements that use "key words" in sentences in which they don't really make sense but just sound good
* Along the same lines, it reminded me of the "Dilbert Mission Statement Generator"
* The idea of flying and fighting in cyberspace in the defense of the USA struck me as very sci-fi - but not in a good way, rather in a completely laughable way
So today I decided to blog a bit about what makes this statement sound so inane. I decided to research the issue first, and found this press release about the mission statement, which is less than a year old, apparently: Air Force releases new mission statement
The article offered "definitions" for the "two new concepts" of:
* sovereign options
In their discussion of what they mean about cyberspace, they seem to mean that they have some air force members working to make sure their websites cannot be hacked.
So, everyone who works on network security is flying and fighting in cyberspace?
Look. The problem with mission statements like this (or like the ones created at the Dilbert Generator, which are really quite representative of the genre) is that the SENTENCES don't have any meaning. It is not enough to put a few nouns/adjectives with cool associations together using random verbs that also have cool associations.
Making websites hackproof is a laudable thing (although if I were a military leader, I would hesitate to admit that it is of such overwhelming importance to the Air Force that this pretty normal function needs to be mentioned in the mission statement - unless they mention other equally important functions, such as radar communicator, or payroll accountant, as well). But it is not flying, nor is it fighting (except in a really, really metaphorical sense). (I have to admit that the first thing I thought of is a bunch of Air Force people sitting at their computers playing on-line role-playing games.)
However, the press release made me realize that not only was the mission statement silly, but disturbing as well.
The "sovereign options" phrase was not only meaningless in context (delivering? To whom?) but the definition the article gave for it was creepily imperalistic sounding:
"They said having sovereign options is the essence of being a superpower."
OK, this is pretty damned honest - almost refreshingly so. It brings up a few other questions, though. e.g., why, then, call the entire shebang the "Department of Defense"? It seems to me you should be the Air Force within the "Department of Imperial Offense" if this is truly your aim.
The article also said that the "leaders" [of the Air Force] said that America's "adversaries" would use "any method or venue necessary to contest America".
Contest America? As what? A nation? A concept? A city on a hill? What about America is being contested? What is America anyhow? Don't you have to define that, first?
I realize that the various entities in the Armed Forces have differing purposes in that they use specific methods of "defense" (the Air Force using planes, the Army using ground forces, the Navy using the sea, etc. etc.). However, it seems to me that they have a single goal, which is the goal that all their new members take an oath about:
"I, _____, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same."
(source: Oaths of Enlistment)
I took that oath once, upon joining the U.S. Foreign Service.
It strikes me as pretty pithy and does not contain any nonsense about flying in cyberspace, yet somehow it gives enough information to help me remember what my job is supposed to be. As an oathtaker, when in doubt, I am supposed to refer to the Constitution for help. For example, if I were ordered to torture someone, I would probably find that this is directly in opposition to the Constitution's eighth amendment and thus I would have to disobey that order to obey my oath.
It is U.S.-centric to argue that the U.S. constitution is the pinnacle of right or justice. And I am not arguing that.
But the U.S. Constitution, however imperfect, is a heck of a lot closer to truth and justice than a mission statement that defines the US project as the essence of being a superpower ("delivering sovereign options"), and that refers to flying through the Internet ("fly and fight in cyberspace") in all seriousness.