I am currently in the process of putting together a detailed profile of William Arkin’s career, past organizational affiliations, etc. based on a review of articles by, about, or which quote him over the last 25 years.  Since that is nowhere near complete yet, and in the “open source” spirit of “release early and often,” I will address just one issue in this post: Arkin’s own military service.

In Arkin’s latest entry on his Washington Post-hosted “blog”, he again responds to criticism of his post in which he called U.S. troops “mercenaries”, implying also that they are rapists and murderers, and questioning the American public’s duty to support them.  As with his initial response which accused his military critics in particular of being “arrogant and intolerant”, and his faux apology–i.e. I’m sorry you misunderstood–his latest response again puts all the blame on his critics, accusing them of “demonization” and “dehumanization”.

While there is plenty in his latest response and previous responses to talk about, I want to focus in on one thing.  In his latest, he says

Let’s start with military service: The argument I read is either that I haven’t served (coward, leftist, not real American), or that even if I did wear the uniform (which I did), I had a comfortable and safe existence in Germany while my brethren were fighting and dying in Vietnam. Or, that I was not high-ranking enough to know anything. Or, that I was not low-ranking enough to really experience the truth.

Since he brought it up, and since it is an important basis for his claim to legitimacy and authority as a military “expert” and “analyst”–his Washington Post bio says, in part, “He was an Army intelligence analyst in West Berlin during the 1970s”–let us look at what Mr. Arkin has said in the past about his military service.

In March of 1985, Arkin had already made quite a name for himself as a result of a number of incidents involving his publication of classified information, including information regarding U.S. plans to disperse nuclear depth charges to ports in Canada and nuclear weapons-armed B-52 bombers to Canada and Iceland in case of a crisis with the Soviets, as well as the location of U.S. nuclear stockpiles in Europe which lost him his job at the Center for Defense Information.

As a result of Arkin’s increasing notoriety, the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper ran a piece on his background which quoted Arkin extensively.  Here is the description that Arkin gave of his military service and his reasons for joining:

“I realized that the military had a big influence but it wasn’t studied much in the traditional programs,” he said yesterday during a visit to Toronto which includes a speech tonight sponsored by the Toronto Disarmament Network. “I went for two years and stayed for four, but always with the idea of learning what went on and then getting out.

“It was 1974, the end of the Vietnam War and of the draft, and if you could tie your shoes and read you were a top prospect. You could write your own ticket.

“So I wound up as an intelligence analyst and spent three years in Berlin. I was responsible for reports and analysis, threat estimates. But I got more and more interested in the question, who was I in the U.S. military?

“I was an intelligence analyst, but I knew very little about what we were doing. You get these canned interpretations of what the U.S. is and what the Soviet Union is.” [1]

There are two interesting things to note here.  First, notice Arkin’s stated motives for joining the military: “learning what went on and then getting out.”  And what would he do with that knowledge gained at the the Army’s expense?  Pedal himself as a “military expert” and “military analyst” to anyone who would listen, his favorite trick being the publication of classified information.  (This seems to be a theme in the articles I’m reviewing; more as the research progresses.)  It is a trick he still performs today for paying audiences everywhere–i.e. see his most recent book which seeks to divulge the classified code names of U.S. weapons development programs, as well as clandestine operations in support of the war on terrorism worldwide.  His justification: the naive “secrecy is bad” argument.

The Globe and Mail further describes Arkin’s motives and methods:

When William Arkin said goodbye to the U.S. Army, he thought he knew it all.

Then he realized how little he really knew, and he started trying to find out the rest of it.

What Mr. Arkin wants to know is everything there is to know about the U.S. military system.

He makes friends among people inside and outside the system who believe, as he does, that it is out of control.

Much of Mr. Arkin’s information comes from confidential sources within the military machine… [1]

So, let’s put this all together.  He joined for the purpose of “getting the dirt,” so to speak, on the military because his goal is to know all about the U.S. military system.  He recruits people on the inside who think as he does (i.e. who have negative sentiments about the military, who may be disgruntled, wondering about their position in the system as Arkin did, etc.), and gets them to pass information, sometimes highly classified, to him.  He then publishes the information, sometimes benefiting U.S. enemies and/or causing a diplomatic row, all the same earning him notoriety and money.  In the process, he gets to use his 4-year stint in the Army as a claim to authority.  Of course, it is a good thing that he is not still in the Army.  Recruiting others to pass secrets and then selling them for money and ideological satisfaction might be protected under the First Amendment when you are a journalist, but as a soldier it would be called ESPIONAGE.

The second thing of note is Arkin’s attitude towards the military and soldiers: “if you could tie your shoes and read you were a top prospect. You could write your own ticket.”  Granted, the initial transition to the all-volunteer force was tough.  There were serious problems with morale and professionalism in the U.S. military.  Even still, Arkin portrays soldiers as one step above cavemen.  If he was so smart, if he could have written his own ticket, why is General Arkin not in charge today?  Because the truly smart individual does not stay in the military.  If you are really, really, REALLY smart like Arkin, you get out, become a journalist, and sell secrets.

Of Arkin’s view of himself, the Globe and Mail explains,

He is not shy about discussing his own achievements. His day, he says, begins with “not reading the newspaper, unless I know I’m going to be in it. If there’s something important, someone will call me about it by 10:30. And if it’s in my field and I don’t know it already, I’m not doing my job.”

He is also every inch the Washington policy critic, eager to hold forth on how the world should be ordered. [1]

So, even at the ripe old age of 28, he was confident that soldiers were
barely a step above cavemen and that he was qualified to speak about how the world should be ordered.  At least he is consistent.  So, how should the world have been ordered in 1985, according to Arkin?  The Globe and Mail mentioned four of Arkin’s policy recommendations:

  1. That the U.S. should “encourage the growth of democracy among the world’s nations, rather than supporting dictators because they are strategic allies.” (Globe and Mail’s words, not Arkin’s);
  2. That “the U.S. and the Soviet Union dispose of nuclear weapons, get better crisis-management techniques and demilitarize the rest of the world.” (Arkin’s words);
  3. That “we should freeze our military, technological and political development until we have the opportunity to sit back and decide what the hell we’re doing.” (Arkin again); and
  4. That “the upgrading of Arctic ground-based radar stations about to be undertaken by Canada and the United States is a mistake… The money would be much better spent on movable radar systems such as Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) planes, he says.” (Globe and Mail) [1]

Interesting.  So, I guess that his lack of support for the war in Iraq means that he has pulled the eject cord on #1.  Number 2 and the fact that his speech was sponsored by the Toronto Disarmament Network seems to be a good indication that he was a nuclear freeze advocate.  Apparently his opposition to new weapons went beyond nukes, however, to include all “technological and political [huh?] development.”  Finally, how the U.S. and the Soviets were going to “demilitarize the rest of the world” would be interesting to know.

What is more interesting is that this super smart guy who supported-opposes promoting democracy and who used to support a nuclear freeze and demilitarization has been critical of the idea that the U.S. would use force to prevent the nuclear militarization of Iran.  It makes perfect sense.  If democracy, nonproliferation, and demilitarization can be achieved by writing op-ed columns, then he’s all for it.  It it requires the use of force by half-literate, naive, arrogant, intolerant, raping and murdering mercenaries (i.e. the U.S. military), then he’s against it.  But the Globe and Mail assures us, “Mr. Arkin is no pacifist.” [1]  Judge for yourself.


[1] KNOX, PAUL. 1985. Arkin stalks U.S. arms network Military expert stirs ripples abroad. The Globe and Mail (Canada), March 19. (Sorry folks, no hyperlink available.  We’re doing it “old school” here.  The article is available through Lexis-Nexis if you have access.)

[Full disclosure: I have not myself served in the military.  I do not disparage anyone’s service.  However, by Arkin’s own admission, his stint in the Army was not done for the purposes of service, but for rather “mercenary” purposes (i.e. “merely for money or other reward [emphasis added]”).]

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