Rare internal voice of dissent leaving US Army to start nonprofit
By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 21, 2015
WASHINGTON — After three lonely years firing missiles at the military power structure, Lt. Col. Danny Davis is leaving the Army with a new target in sight: big money in politics.
Davis’ scathing 2012 report, “Dereliction of Duty II,” criticized top U.S. generals for misleading the American public in order to push failing policies in Afghanistan. The report made headlines in part because it came from an active-duty officer.
Since then he has written regularly published opinion pieces, many critical of the military, and says he has avoided overt retaliation because of whistleblower protection laws.
Davis, 52, is retiring from the military and has just launched a fundraising campaign for a group he created named Democracy Awake, which he hopes will become a national voter education effort to combat the sway of powerful donors with deep pockets on the political system.
Davis says he has mixed feelings about leaving a military he says he loves and has been proud to serve. Critical to the end, though, he says the state of U.S. military leadership worries him.
“There’s no fresh blood, there’s no fresh ideas, there’s no one who wants to do anything against the system,” he said.
Davis, who is divorced, says that the military reneged on a promise to keep him in the Washington, D.C., area, forcing him to decide between retirement or a three-year assignment far away from his sons, ages 12 and 7. He says he did not experience any overt retaliation for his past criticisms but wonders whether his writings finally caught up with him.
In response to a Stars and Stripes query, Army spokesman Wayne Hall said the Army “works diligently to balance the needs of the Army with the individual needs of its soldiers and their families when considering soldiers for assignment.”
As a rare active-duty soldier willingly to publicly criticize the military, Davis says his activism has left him isolated in the Army, with many colleagues avoiding him out of anger or fear of being associated with a controversial figure. “Can you imagine going to work every day with people who saw red every time you entered the room because they hate you?” he said.
Hall, who did not specifically mention Davis, said the Army encourages officers to write about their experiences as long as it is “clearly identified that those opinions are personal and do not necessarily represent official U.S. Army policy.”
While Davis has drawn praise for his courage in speaking out while in uniform, he has also received criticism for being too black-and-white in his conclusions.
“I was prepared for a real critique and came away profoundly disappointed,” Retired Army Col. Joseph J. Collins wrote of “Dereliction of Duty II” in a 2012 Foreign Policy article. “Every veteran has an important story, but this work is a mess.”
As he readies to leave the service, he is calling for a purging of the top tier of the military, just like then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall did before WWII, when he fired hundreds of officers and promoted many who would go on to be key leaders during the war.
Davis says a handful generals wield nearly absolute power, many still trading on their roles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The myth of success is still there in the Iraq surge and even the Afghan surge, which I can’t figure out,” he said.
Davis says his new venture will be nonprofit, “staunchly non-partisan” and provide voters a rundown of candidates by issue. Democracy Awake will also help those who want to run for office without large donors backing them. His recently launched indiegogo.com campaign aims to raise $30,000 to get the group started.
One hope is that his group can blunt the effect of political ads, where hundreds of millions in campaign contributions go each election cycle.
“It’s an attempt by someone with a lot of money to manipulate you to do what they want,” he said.