I got a series of emails from a guy who claims to be an active duty U.S. Army captain who is in special operations. His email address is his rank and full name followed by @us.army.mil. If I understand correctly, ranger school and ranger units are currently under special ops command.

I asked the guy if I could quote him by name. He said no. If I find he is a public figure, that is, popping off repeatedly under his own name around the Internet and/or elsewhere in the media, I will reveal his name here. Until then, I will assume he is a private person and leave his name off.

Receive email updates from John T. Reed

At least one Web site has the policy that you must give your real name or call yourself “Anonymous Coward.” Inspired by that example, I will call this guy Captain Anonymous Coward.

Here are his statements one by one with my comments. In some cases, I thought no comment by me was needed.

Here are the emails in chronological order.

Date Captain Anonymous Coward John T. Reed comment
6/8/09 Mr. Reed,
I just read your book via the internet.  Is it a work of non-fiction, pseudo autobiographical, or is it satire?
Very Respectfully,
Captain Anonymous Coward
What book at what URL?
6/8/09 http://www.johntreed.com/ranger.html That’s not a book. It’s an article.
  Mr. Reed,
I just read your book via the internet.  Is it a work of non-fiction, pseudo autobiographical, or is it satire?
Very Respectfully,
Captain Anonymous Coward

The answer I sent him was
“100% true.”

Here is a comment that I did not send him. I have been writing for a national audience through 5,000 articles and 85 books for 33 years. I never received such a question before. Accordingly, I conclude it is disingenuous, that is, Captain Coward knows exactly what it is but is pretending he does not in order to deliver a put-down he does not have the guts or integrity to state plainly.


Some of it is a little contradictory,


I asked him what part is contradictory
  and otherwise semi-interesting.  
  I disagree with plenty of your insight into all topics addressed in your paper; however, everyone is entitled to their opinion. This is Intellectually-dishonest debate tactic number 22 from my Web article Intellectually-honest and intellectually-dishonest debate tactics. The list of intellectually-honest debate tactics is short: point out errors or omissions in my facts or logic. Number 22 is to claim your opponents’ facts and logic are mere opinion. As Captain Coward says in his display of his grasp of the obvious and knowledge of platitudes and cliches, everyone is entitled to their opinion, But everyone is not entitled to their own facts or logic. There is very little opinion in my article. There are many facts and conclusions drawn by applying logic to those facts. Conspicuous by its absence in Captain Coward’s emails is any mention of any incorrect facts or logic in my lengthy, fact-laden article. In other words, by trying to dismiss the article with an intellectually-dishonest argument, he tacitly admits he cannot find any flaw in my facts or logic.
   Thanks for your service. There’s that mastery of platitudes again
With all due respect,
Let’s keep count. That’s platitude #3
  I do not have the time As shown below, he has lots of time to send me emails. More importantly, this is yet another excuse for not pointing out a specific error or omission in my facts or logic. If I read an article that has errors and I write to the author about it, I cite the specifics in the first email. If there are others and I am asked for others, I can typically cite them off the top of my head, so there is no additional time consumption as there would be if I had to do research or something like that. I suspect the real reason he says he does not have the time is he cannot cite anything specific. He just does not like my revealing the flaws and limitations in ranger training and ranger unit utilization.
  nor the desire to dispute your entire paper.   Who said anything about “entire paper?” I would appreciate learning about any errors or omissions so I can correct them. I am not perfect. Plus it’s been a long time since I was in the Army. I would expect I made some mistakes. I sincerely would like to know what they are so I can fix them.
  As a proud member of Ranger Class 01-[recent], Citadel Class of 20[recent], a graduate of both Jumpmaster and Pathfinder schools, worked for and with all Army SOF, and am currently attending the [course related to an aspect of special ops] Course I feel that I have a healthy respect for “Elite” units.   I am not sure of the relevance of a "healthy respect for elite" units. Since he’s in those units, he is merely showing a “healthy respect” for his own accomplishments. It sounds like he is reciting pertinent entries from his resume, although I do not understand what reference to the Citadel has to do with elite U.S. Army units. Citadel is a South Carolina state university. One of its graduates, Pat Conroy, wrote a book about the Citadel called Lords of Discipline. My wife read it and asked it that was what West Point was like. “Hell, no,” I told her. “You would get thrown out of West Point for a bunch of the stuff they do in that book.” Citadel appears to be an imitation of my alma Mater West Point. I suspect maybe there is some jealousy and rivalry behind Captain Coward’s empty criticism on my article.
  I have my own definition of “elite” when referring to military personnel, What, pray tell, is your definition, sir? You are implying that my definition is off. Let’s hear yours and compare it to mine based on facts and logic. All this line gives the reader is innuendo, yet another intellectually-dishonest debate tactic (#25). It may also be #17—redefining terms to make it seem like you win the debate. Can’t tell until I hear his definition of elite. It has already been defined in all dictionaries. If he is redefining the word in a way different from those dictionaries, it’s intellectually dishonest.
  and while you do mention S[pecial] F[orces] being elite, your deny other S[pecial] [Operations] F[?] units their rightful place among the “elite”.   That’s a conclusory statement. That means he is “proving” his argument simply by stating it. Stating that you are right is not proof that you are right. Conclusory statements are not allowed in court or in court motions. Since Captain Coward threatens to sue me later in his emails, he needs to start learning what evidence is permitted in lawsuits.
  It is only my opinion sir, but you have been far too removed to accurately classify any unit as elite What he is saying is that his resume is longer and more recent than mine. I think that’s correct. But that begs the question of, “OK, so what did I get wrong because of my lesser time with rangers or because my time with rangers was 40 years ago?” He states a cause of why I might get it wrong, but he has not yet specified where I am wrong. In view of the fact that my Web article has been up for many months, and commented on favorably and without identification of fact or logic errors or omissions by other rangers, it would appear that, notwithstanding my lesser and less recent experience with rangers, I nevertheless got the article right. Captain Coward implies my article is wrong because his resume is bigger than mine. But until he can cite a specific error, it sounds like just another dodge to avoid citing a specific error. This is another intellectually-dishonest debate tactic #26: My resume’s bigger than yours.
  based on quantifiable data, if that is even possible.

Well, this is the biggest thing he says. Throughout my Web articles on the military, I have complained again and again that the military has no evidence to back up its many claims about the effectiveness of their training and their units’ performance and tactics and strategies. I don’t think they know what they are doing and the empirical evidence backs me up. He seems to be admitting here that the Army not only does not have any hard evidence of their competence, but that it may not be possible for them to ever get such evidence.

If a drug company seeks FDA approval, they must prove that the drug in question is safe and effective. They must have valid, rigorous, quantifiable data. No data, no approval. I want the military including ranger school, to prove they know what they are doing, that their approach to training, tactics, and strategies are safe and effective. I do not think they are based on both theory and empirical data. Fundamentally, I think, and Captain Coward apparently suspects, that the Army cannot produce any evidence of the effectiveness of their various approaches for the simple reason that their approaches are, in fact, not effective. They are as incompetent as I say they are. Ranger school is, in part, a fraud, and it’s in a life-and-death realm. They need to fix it. Instead they claim it needs no fixing. Thats a lie.

   I will however cite that thoughout your paper/book, you seek to downplay the importance of Ranger training, and as stated above mention that they are not elite, but your bio mentions  “Reed is a former paratrooper  and graduate of U.S. Army Ranger School and is a Vietnam vet”.  If being a graduate does not make you elite in some way, no matter how small, why would it be important to mention in your bio?

I downplayed the effectiveness and value of it. “Importance” is a little vague.

Above, he said my writing about ranger was “contradictory.” Turns out, this is the only contradiction he could cite. Lame.

I listed airborne, ranger, and West Point in my military biography because current and former military vets would wonder about such things, especially at a Web site where the author criticizes those three institutions. On the same page where I said I graduated from ranger school are article titles I wrote that themselves reveal that I question the effectiveness of the training I got, namely: Is there any such thing as military expertise?; Is military integrity a contradiction in terms?; Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?; among other titles that give a similar impression about my views on military training and performance. I put the word “elite” in quotes on that same page when talking about ranger and airborne thereby indicating I was skeptical that such units really are elite.

  Thank you again for your service to our country.
Platitude #4
  Sua Sponte

This is Latin meaning “of one's own accord.” It usually refers to an action by a judge on his own as opposed to an action in response to a motion from a party.

I do not know what it means in the context of his emails to me.

  Captain Anonymous Coward At this point, I asked him if I could quote him.
6/9/09 No sir. Please do not use any of our correspondence in future writings or display it to the public.  I greatly appreciate your respect of my desire to not be quoted.  

My email answer to him:

I will leave your name off, but I will use what you said.

6/10/09 Please respect my wish to not have anything between us reproduced.  As a professional courtesy from one officer to another.  
What is going on now? This is a rather dramatic change of tone. When I was in the Army 37 years ago I got treated like crap by guys like this. Now he’s putting me back in the Army as an officer who is expected to extend professional courtesy to a member of an organization that extended me nothing but chicken shit back in the day? My answer to this was one word: No.
6/10/09 Interesting.
   I see that despite being a “proud” graduate of the academy, a former Army officer, and a graduate (albeit disgruntled) of Ranger School, you have no professional courtesy.  

Let me get this straight, I have to follow orders from a current Army captain in 2009 because I was a first lieutenant in 1972? Or do I have to do what he orders me to do because he said the magic words “professional courtesy?” May I please see the written code of ethics that A. applies to my current profession and B. defines the particular professional courtesy Captain Coward is referring to. I suspect no code of ethics that I am covered by (journalism, coaching, real estate investment, publishing) mentions any such obligation.

Here is what Google says about professional courtesy: Professional courtesy is the tradition among physicians not to charge for treatment of each other's family. The purpose was to discourage physicians from having members of their own family as patients, as well as to foster bonds among physicians.

That does not apply to me and Captain Coward.

Wikipedia also says it applies to law enforcement officers not reporting each other or each other’s family members for law violations. That is illegal and unethical. Captain Coward surely would not want that.

Finally, Wikipedia says, The phrase may also be applied in a literal form, such as required ethical behavior of lawyers towards each other. This refers to written requirements in the American Bar Association Code of Professional Responsibility.

None of this applies to the “relationship” between me and Captain Coward. Although I do recall active-duty Army officers using this concept in the manner of the police not reporting crimes. A captain once accused me of lack of professional courtesy when I made a surprise inspection of his mess hall. He wanted me to help him cover up his negligence or incompetence. I refused to give him advance notice of my surprise inspections.

I do not understand the use of the word "proud" in quotes, the relevance of my being a former Army officer, and the use of the word "disgruntled"—an intellectually-dishonest tactic (#1) called “name calling.” I graduated from Ranger school, was awarded the tab, and recommended to be brought back as an instructor. Disgruntled refers to persons who were unsuccessful at the relationship in question. I was more successful at ranger school than the vast majority of ranger students who went through there.

  I do not understand why it would be important to include my comments about your editorial, but if I cannot persuade you to refrain from using my statements then so be it. His comments indicate two things: the typical Army mind-set (thou shallt not speak ill of the military even when deserved) and their inability to cite any specific errors or omissions in the article.
  Please however, only use that I am an Army officer, Ranger qualified, and currently still on active duty.  Please do not mention my affiliation with the Citadel, or the course that I am currently attending.   I do however ask that you contact me when whatever writings you include it in, is either published or posted on the internet.  I understand that based on our previous correspondence that there is a chance that your will  completely disregard my requests, which will further solidify my impression of your lack of professional courtesy.  I apologize if this offends you, I mean not to do so.  I respect your profession, and your right to free speech, which you have done your duty to protect.

Hey, buddy, get over the fact that you would have outranked me briefly had you been born 38 years earlier. I’m not your goddamned subordinate! You do not get to tell me what to do.

He threatens to withhold affection for me and once again “cites” the imaginary professional-courtesy ethical rule he says I am violating.

  However, if in fact I see that you have used my name, not only will I be greatly disappointed, but I said I would not use it. End of discussion. Unlike the Army (e.g., stop-loss orders), I keep my promises.
  I will have to take appropriate actions concerning the use of my name, especially if I feel that it is used slanderously.

Let me address the following to all persons who think it might be a good idea to sue a journalist.

First, professional journalists are generally quite knowledgeable about the laws that pertain to publications. Army Captains who are not in JAG generally are not. Before they start threatening lawsuits, they ought to research whether there is any violation of the law in what they are unhappy about. Person A displeasing person B is not necessarily against the law.

Second, I am a particular type of journalist: an investigative journalist. I am a member of the investigative journalists association and have taken a number of training seminars from them. Investigative journalists have different DNA than other journalists and extremely different DNA than Army officers. Young people, including young officers tend to make the mistake of believing that other people are like them and respond to the same motivations they do. Army captains are trying really hard to stay on the good side of everyone around them. Investigative journalists are used to lots of people expressing extreme unhappiness with them constantly. Threatening an investigative journalist is like waving a red flag at a bull. It makes us wonder if there is something big being hidden.

Third, if and when Captain Anonymous Coward sues me, by law, his real name goes up on this Web site along with the other information I redacted above and all documents I file in court in conjunction with the suit. In legal parlance, they are privileged which means the Captain cannot complain about them being published anywhere by anyone. If he accuses me of defamation, the legal word for slander, my defense will be that what I said was opinion not fact, that he is judgment proof, that is, a guy who already has a reputation approximately like what he claims it was changed to by me, that he has no damages caused by me as opposed by those being caused by his own behavior, that he is not truthful (if I discover that he has been untruthful at any time in his adult life) and that what he claims I said was false was, in fact, true. Pursuant to those defenses, his filing the suit will give me subpoena power to demand pertinent documents, interrogatories, and depositions from pertinent witnesses.

Receive email updates from John T. Reed

I got additional emails from the guy, but they were repetitive. The big picture in this for me is this guy has most likely spent his entire life since teenage years in the Citadel military college and in the military. As a result, he has the narrow perspective of the Army and the habit of adhering to the party line and assuming that everyone else does the same. He casually went after my credibility. Then, when I asked for specifics, he began backing and filling.

When I asked him to be named publicly, he ran the other way. When I said I was going to use what he said without his name, he panicked. What’s he afraid of? His “elite” superiors and fellow “elite” officers. Nice “elite” group that its own members are terrified to exercise, even slightly, the free speech they are willing to die for. By frantically trying everything from begging to threatening to “professional courtesy” to whining to badgering he indicates to me that my article No medals for moral courage is right on. Putting your name on your comments is moral courage. The U.S. military officer corps is almost devoid of moral courage and Captain Coward is further evidence of that.

The other issue I suspect that is at work here is that this guy is, from my perspective as a 62-year old, a kid. He is probably in his mid or late twenties. To me, ranger is a bit of silliness I engaged in, unwisely, when I was a kid. To Captain Coward, being an airborne ranger may be his whole identity and his whole life plan may be to spend the rest of his Army career being Mr. Special Ops. Special Ops is all he is and all he was planning to be. I do not know if he has any wife or kids which would give him a partial second identity (husband/father). When you have invested your entire adult life in the special-ops identity, you probably are incapable of accepting evidence, no matter how well supported, that special ops is more bullshit than substance. That would mean that Captain Coward himself is more bullshit than substance—a fact that the insecure ego must reject. It is also typically a manifestation of two psycholgical problems known as cognitive dissonance and effort justification.

That’s not my problem. I am trying to save future ranger students from getting killed—at ranger school or afterwards because of inadequate training at ranger school. I am also trying to save ranger lives by persuading rangers to admit their limitations and make sure their superiors know about their limitations. No more Mogadishu ranger operations. (18 killed for nothing—See Blackhawk Down) Finally, I am trying to save our country from suffering unnecessary casualties and maybe losing a war because we used highly motivated, specially-trained rangers stupidly. If Captain Coward were the real deal, he would be saying, “You know something, Reed, you make a bunch of good points. I’m going to try to get those things fixed.” If he did, they would probably throw him out of Special Ops in accordance with the unspoken bureaucracy principle that anyone who SEES the problem IS the problem. If Captain Coward did try to do the right thing and got run out of the Army for it, so be it. It’s a big world. You give the Army a try. If they won’t let you do the right thing, you leave. If, on the other hand, he recognizes that there is too much bullshit regarding ranger training, ranger hype, and misuse of rangers, and he goes along to get along, then he is just another one of many who are responsible for the problem.

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions. If there are any errors or omissions in my facts or logic, please tell me about them. If you are correct, I will fix the item in question. If you wish, I will give you credit. Where appropriate, I will apologize for the error. To date, I have been surprised at how few such corrections I have had to make.

Receive email updates from John T. Reed