Illinois Guard Declares War on Pokemon


It wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder whether the entire point of the new Pokemon app is to gauge how much confusion and disarray might be introduced into a military operating environment without firing a single shot. The craze has triggered widespread hyperventilation among senior officers … reflecting a lack of composure and penchant for panic fundamentally inconsistent with any respectable military ethos. 

Case in point: the memo below, issued by the chief apparatchik of the Illinois National Guard. Citing “force protection” without explaining why or how the game is creating an issue, Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes issues a summary ban on the playing of the Pokemon app on all Illinois military installations.

Take a look.

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Several issues here, not least the unintentional hilarity of a 2-star general spending his focus and energy on a faddish triviality. His memo reinforces the caricature of the out-of-touch flag officer … blissfully unaware he is over the hill as his words and actions separate him ever more from the people he is meant to lead.

But it’s not just “get off my lawn” tone deafness that earns this memo a place in the Pantheon of Stupidity … it’s the many ways in which it lacks legal or even logical foundation.

First, Hayes — apparently fancying himself an incarnation of the late President Rutherford B. Hayes — wildly exceeds the bounds of his authority. He doesn’t have jurisdiction over all Illinois military installations … only those owned by Army and Air Guard.

This is not to say his behavior is unique. Generals routinely exceed their statutory authority. But it does make it fair to wonder whether he knows what the hell he is talking about. The rest of the memo fares no better.

Leaders who want people to listen to them explain themselves. Hayes doesn’t. How is that people walking around a military base creates a “force protection” concern? For those who don’t have access to the base, existing security measures and trespass laws already accomplish what this memo is trying to do. For those who do have base access, this memo unnecessarily and arbitrarily limits their conduct without justifying itself.

Why does it matter if John Airman or Joe Soldier walks around base staring at his cellphone? Is this a big deal? Is it something people can’t handle themselves without guidance from the ivory tower? Must we really assume that without the brilliance and erudition of this memo, these haphazard individuals would walk in front of a moving jet or wander onto a live firing range? And to the extent anyone is dumb or irrational enough to do these things, do we really believe this memo will stop them?

But most of all, Hayes manifests the most common of command pathologies: a preference for blanket policies that punish everyone for the sins of the few. Assuming for a moment (which we shouldn’t) that his order is based on legitimate concerns, why does he need to include those living in base housing, for example, in his edict? Obviously, he doesn’t. But to avoid the strenuous chore of actually explaining himself, which might then make his explanation assailable and force him to reconsider its validity, he keeps the order simple … and as a result, over-inclusive. This the model of the modern Burkean general, who assumes his employees are unwashed idiots who can only survive the dangers of individual liberty with paternal guidance and control.

It seems like a small thing, but it’s stuff like this that has gnawed at the fabric of the military community for the last 15 years. This is one more reason to simply stay away from the base when not required to be there. Reactionary commanders who don’t weigh costs against benefits when flexing their power tend to respond to each consecutive issue or challenge with a new restriction. These restrictions pile up until people lack a reasonable degree of freedom in their activities. When this is the case, they’ll just live their lives as far removed from the chain of command as possible.

A better memo would have said “hey listen … when playing this game on base, use your head and avoid hazards.” Of course, that wouldn’t have required a memo, and if we don’t need important-sounding memos, maybe we don’t need so many generals.

And therein lies the core reason for the appearance of said memo.

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