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How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything:


Tales from the Pentagon

Bibliographic Content

Rosa Brooks


Simon & Schuster

Kindle, Hardback (448 pgs), Paperback (448 pgs), Audible (13hrs:4min)

Synopsis from Author

The first serious book to examine what happens when the ancient boundary between war and peace is erased.

Once, war was a temporary state of affairs - a violent but brief interlude between times of peace. Today America's wars are everywhere and forever: Our enemies change constantly and rarely wear uniforms, and virtually anything can become a weapon. As war expands, so does the role of the US military. Today military personnel don't just "kill people and break stuff". Instead they analyze computer code, train Afghan judges, build Ebola isolation wards, eavesdrop on electronic communications, develop soap operas, and patrol for pirates. You name it, the military does it.

Rosa Brooks traces this seismic shift in how America wages war from an unconventional perspective - that of a former top Pentagon official who is the daughter of two antiwar protesters and a human rights activist married to an army Green Beret. Her experiences led her to an urgent warning: When the boundaries around war disappear, we risk destroying America's founding values and the laws and institutions we've built - and undermining the international rules and organizations that keep our world from sliding toward chaos. If Russia and China have recently grown bolder in their foreign adventures, it's no accident; US precedents have paved the way for the increasingly unconstrained use of military power by states around the globe. Meanwhile we continue to pile new tasks onto the military, making it increasingly ill-prepared for the threats America will face in the years to come.

By turns a memoir; a work of journalism; a scholarly exploration into history, anthropology, and law; and a rallying cry, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything transforms the familiar into the alien, showing us that the culture we inhabit is reshaping us in ways we may suspect but don't really understand. It's the kind of book that will leave you moved, astonished, and profoundly disturbed, for the world around us is quietly changing beyond recognition - and time is running out to make things right.

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How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, Rosa Brooks, War Is My Business

“For many military personnel, the current situation is equally frustrating. If civilian agencies lack the resources and capacity to undertake critical missions on an appropriate scale, the military is more or less forced to step in, taking on unfamiliar jobs and subject to little but criticism from their civilian agency counterparts.” (PG 358)

As civilian agency budgets have been slashed, the military has had to step up and fill the void. To accomplish tasks previously assigned to civilians, the budget of the military necessarily has to increase, further weakening those civilian agencies. It is a cycle of siphoning funds to the military as it is the Department of Defense that has the budget and manpower to accomplish any task it is told to undertake.

As a result of the military stepping up to take over traditionally civilian tasks, these tasks began to take on a military veneer. This is understandable since those military leaders, thrust into nontraditional projects and environments, will naturally fall back on what they know - as we all would - and what you get are plans shaped by processes similar to military decision making and lexicon—policies shaped by military culture and perspectives defined by its values.

Beyond seeing how the military has been thrust into duties outside its usual scope - many times to its disappointment - Brooks also discusses a handful of her first-hand accounts of civil-military breakdowns. Because of the way the book is written - personal accounts to civil-military theory to then possible solutions - we may see some unique dilemmas that we may find in the business sector.

Summary of Book from War Is My Business

"After all, I was the child of activists, brought up to believe that life had meaning only if you were committed to some cause larger than your own comfort. In my military colleagues, I recognized a similar ethos: a willingness to forgo money, comfort, and convenience for the sake of ideas and ideals. Many of my college and law school classmates had headed unabashedly off to Wall Street or large corporate law firms, with the stated intention of making as much money as possible in as short a time as possible. I found, to my own surprise, that in some ways I had more in common with my new military colleges than with many of my old classmates." (PG 28)

For those without experience in the service or for those that haven't engaged in discussions with service members, they may believe that those that join do so to satiate violent tendencies - or in case they have no other prospects in the civilian sector. As a result of this, for some, there is a stereotype that service members are victims of circumstance and that no one would join if they had other options. Some do join for the benefits, some do join since they live in economically depressed areas, but others join for more intrinsic reasons. Many join because of family, while others join for the adventure, service to country, self-development, and, indeed, being part of something greater than themselves. It would be presumptuous that people only join for a single reason as it would for any other profession - there are often many reasons for people to do so.


“Hollywood doesn’t make movies about soldiers providing technical assistance to Iraqi parliament, or sailors operating mobile health clinics in coastal Africa. The news too is dominated by stories of firefights, missile strikes, and IEDs, not stories of the countless military personnel whose jobs have little to do with traditional forms of combat.”

(PG 157-8)

For those that don’t have constant exposure to people in the military, they have two ways they generally glean the nature of the military, 1) media avenues, and 2) self-study of military history and organization. While most would get exposure through the first way in mediums such as movies, video games, and news platforms, the media's focus is on drawing in and retaining audience attention. As a result, they portray what audiences would find most interesting, and not necessarily what is most realistic. If you based military service on what you saw in the movies, you would presume that all we did was fight. If all you saw was what was in the news, then you may think something similar.

But for most military organizations, just as is for many large businesses, the bulk of its people are engaged in support of the organization - not necessarily in the prosecution of its most distinguishable purpose. The military may dispense force, and Pepsi Co. may dispense beverages, but most people in those organizations simply keep them operating. They have personnel in human resources, financing, training, operations, logistics, legal sections, marketing, etc.. Still, it is easy for us to forget that organizations in any human endeavor have more in common than we would typically think - they are, after all, formed and filled by human beings.


"Scholars and lawyers can argue until they're blue in the face about the proper theoretical definition of war, but for all practical purposes, war is whatever powerful states say it is. From an institutional perspective, it is the state, through the apparatus of government, that decides which tasks to assign to civilian entities and which tasks to assign to the military. And from a legal perspective, it is the state that defines what will be considered a war and what will not." (PG 218)

War is a nebulous concept, and there is no real universal definition for it. The most accepted definitions revolve around the mutual employment of force between two or more states. But there are instances when force is used against each other without being in a state of war - think US vs. Iran. There are also times when war exists, and force is not used - remember the still technically ongoing Korean War. There are also efforts that we call "war" but don't constitute our understanding of war, like the "war on terror," which represents a promise to utilize force against those that use terrorism as a method of influence.

What matters is how we define a relationship between a government and some other state, organization, or environmental condition (like a famine or crime) as this will - as Brooks alludes to - determine which resources a state will use to deal with it and who takes control of those resources, how we call something will impact how to treat it, and who takes the lead.

In business organizations, most plans involve many different departments working in tandem to achieve objectives. Imagine an effort to improve a business' brand image. Who would take the lead? Marketing, customer services, or operations? If you called it a "campaign," then operations may take the reins since campaigning is an operation. If you called it an "engagement plan," then marketing or customer services may take it since engagements are in their domain.


“In many ways, the military is a victim of its own success; our conventional military dominance makes direct challenges nearly suicidal for other states, pushing adversaries toward asymmetric strategies designed to neutralize our strengths and play on our weaknesses.” (PG 329)

There are many ways to influence others, and in the case of nations – as it does with individuals – conflict is such a way. Because the consequence of conflict is so severe, governments invest heavily towards improving it, and sometimes at the expense of other avenues of influence – avenues that adversaries may exploit. Even within conflict, there are many different tools and methods that can be either developed or atrophied, and some high-tech measures can have low-tech countermeasures.

In antiquity, the military dominance of the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) was not sufficient to counter the plotting and intrigue of the Zhou kings and their strategist - Jiang Ziya. By endearing themselves to the Shang to throw off suspicion and undermining the trust between the other kings while building the strength of the Zhou military, they were eventually able to overthrow the Shang and establish the Zhou dynasty. It is a lesson that would be emphasized by other great military leaders – avoiding an enemy where they are strong while attacking where they are weak, destroying their alliances while building your own.

In business, you must always be aware of those that threaten your position. Even the greatest companies can fall as market conditions change, and competition develops new tech and services that put yours into obsolescence. Maintain strengths while seeking out your weaknesses and improving upon them. Finding new innovations and being the first to promote them.

To quote Gary Vaynerchuk, “If you are not making long term decisions you will be vulnerable, because somewhere out there someone is hungry and working to put you out of business themselves.”


"How could a senior White House official fail to understand why the military could not, in fact, fight two major land wars, stop terrorists and pirates all over the world, foster economic development in Africa, stop human trafficking, and monitor and prevent atrocities in Kyrgyzstan using drones, all a the same time?... My military colleagues were insulted by what looked, to them, like civilian arrogance and ignorance." (PG 309)

This particular quote comes right after an engagement that Brooks had with a National Security staffer from the White House. There was an incident happening in Kyrgyzstan that was believed to be a potential ethnic cleansing in the making and needed to get eyes on with a drone in order for the international community to put it to an end - if reports turned out to be true. This staffer had requested that Brooks, who was working for the Under Secretary of Defense at the time, communicate with Central Command (whose area of responsibility covers Kyrgyzstan) to fly a drone over there. Brooks naturally stated that the order to move the drone had to go through the chain of command - POTUS > SECDEF > CENTCOM Commander, but the staffer was concerned about the delay that the bureaucratic processes would create and that this needed to happen fast.

What was occurring was a civilian official who had limited understanding of the processes necessary to make the military arm of national power move towards a desired course of action. That the processes in place that make it a bureaucratic nightmare when time is key are not there for arbitrary reasons but are there to mitigate negative effects brought about by its use and ensure proper civilian-control of the military. It wasn't that it couldn't be done, only that there had to be significant consideration made before it could be executed:

  1. Coordination with multiple nations for travel through their airspace.
  2. Availability of drones capable of accomplishing that assigned tasks.
  3. Deconfliction between this new mission and ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan - at the time.
  4. Duration of support.
  5. Agency to whom will receive and interpret drone collected imagery.

It must be said that having an intent to accomplish a task can be a whole lot easier than what actually must be done to make that intent manifest (i.e. easier said than done). And when dealing with something as sensitive as this real-life scenario that Brooks mentioned, who would be accountable if things went wrong - since the request didn't directly come from the POTUS and instead from a bunch of staffers just making things happen. This is one reason why we have a chain of command. To ensure that the actions undertaken by subordinates are nested with those with the intent of superior authority.

For businesses, depending on how they are structured, it is up to the leadership to make decisions that will guide the direction that the organization will take. It could be the shareholders, owners, executive officers, etc. that make that determination, but whoever is designated or delegated with authority to make decisions on behalf of the business, they are ultimately responsible for what is or isn't done. This is why businesses also have their own chain of command and why some activities must have approval. For example, certain industries, like Real Estate, require all Realtors to have their marketing material be approved by the brokerage's Principal Brokers & Managers. This way, the brokerage ensures that the marketing activities of Realtors follow Real Estate Agency regulations.


How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon by Rosa Brooks is a book about the author's experiences dealing with civil-military issues. It also serves as a tool for helping the citizenry, especially those in office and other civil servants, understand the military a little more, and be able to engage them more effectively. The book is not an effective resource for finding military theory, concepts and tenets that can be applied to business, however, it is effective in bringing to light certain aspects of the military you can find shared with the business world. Things like the passion found amongst professionals; the media's focus on only the most interesting aspects of these industries; and 3) the alignment of duties and responsibilities within the organization. Most importantly, it shows the need for our society to understand that the military - for all its power and dedication to accomplishing its missions - has its limits.

"The American public may know little about the military, but we recognize that it is the only reasonably well-functioning public institution we have these days. We do not trust Congress, and the budgets of civilian foreign policy agencies have taken a beating, along with their capabilities. Faced with problems, we send in the troops - after all, who else can we send? Unlike any other part of the government, the US military can be relied on to go where it is told and do what it is asked - or die trying." (PG 20)

As the current Coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout the United States - as it does elsewhere in the world - the military has again been called up to support another civilian effort, this time to support our response to the virus. The military has the manpower, the resources, and the "mission first" mentality to take on more tasks that civilian agencies are unable to tackle by themselves. Since we are operating within the United States, the military operates under the direction of civil authorities, an element of Unified Land Operations (ULO) defined as Defense Support of Civil Authority (DSCA). The military, while operating under DSCA, may be asked to undertake activities that would violate United States Codes, laws, and regulations only because some civilian officials may not fully understand proper civil-military relationships that we have in the United States. A shared understanding will be important to help prevent conflict between military personnel and the civilians they are tasked to support, and part of that includes understanding the nature of the military and what to expect. Brooks' book helps shed light on such nature, and especially in the business world, can help us understand how best to work with military personnel or employees and partners that have lived the military's unique culture.

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