Apocalypse Not: Report of Defense Department Disaster Plan Overblown

Predictions of doom and apocalypse always make good press, and the combination of an election year's hyperbole and a very real economic crisis in September and October just made predictions of doom seem all the more plausible.

So, when it was reported recently that the Department of Defense was preparing plans to suppress civil unrest following an economic collapse, it all seemed sort of plausible. Fitting, even. After all, the economic news had been running pretty much even between the idea that we were merely entering another Great Depression and that things were about to get really bad.

It certainly sounds scary. Think how much more scary it would be if it were actually true.

If we follow the links to the actual paper, "Known Unknowns: Unconventional 'Strategic Shocks' in Defense Strategy Development," by Norman Freier (LTC, Ret.), though, we find out something else. First of all, there's the paragraph that starts the paper:

The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Right away, we see one little hint that this might have been a bit overstated -- this isn't actually a DoD plan at all. It's what is known, technically, as a "War College white paper."

Here's how it works: Someone has an idea and writes it up. They get a publication and with luck they get their names known in the community; this leads to more assignments to write papers, grants, conference attendance, and so on. It's the way you make a living and a reputation as an academic after a military career.

It's actually a good and useful thing -- and in fact, Freier's paper is a good one, with good ideas -- but the problem comes when someone with not much experience, or on deadline, or trying to make a reputation as an investigative journalist, picks one up. Like this time.