This article appeared on June 15 in AOL Defense. The author, Joan Johnson-Freese, is a professor at the Naval War College. I reprint it here without comment. I’ll publish my own thoughts in a future post.
Teach Tough, Think Tough: Why Military Education Must Change
The National War College at Fort McNair. The Army War College at Carlisle. The Naval War College at Newport. The Air War College at Maxwell Field. These are the launching pads for America’s senior military leaders. The Pentagon spends substantial monies on these august institutions but are their graduates getting the education they need and which the nation deserves?
In April 2010, the House Armed Services Committee issued a report titled “Another Crossroads” examining professional military education (PME) two decades after the landmark Goldwater Nichols Act, which mandated comprehensive reform of the PME system aimed at broadening the intellectual foundations of U.S. military officers. They concluded that, while improvements had been made, America could do better.
The report began with a quote from Thucydides: “The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.” Despite this ancient wisdom, however, the valuable mission served by PME is still hindered by a clash of cultures.
Military officers and professors have good reasons to be the way they are, but they are not the same. The two cultures are rewarded for doing exact opposite things: academics who do not raise questions are considered poor academics, just as military officers who can’t provide answers to their bosses problems don’t get promoted. In the war colleges this plays out as conflict that pits encouraging intellectual curiosity and challenging received wisdom — the very essence of academic inquiry, against the need to prepare graduates for their next assignment. In trying to accomplish both, differing attitudes, work habits, and cultures get in the way, which leads to conflicting goals as well.
The most extreme solution to this cultural clash was suggested last April, when defense journalist Tom Ricks blogged: “Need Budget Cuts? We Can Probably Start By Shutting the Air War College.” Ricks was reacting to a piece written by retired Air War College (AWC) Professor Dan Hughes, which painted an unflattering picture of that institution and questioned its value.