In the most recent Armed Forces Journal Gregory Foster, a professor at the National Defense University, writes that America's military is overdue for a dramatic overhaul.
The U.S. military, if it is to measure up to its future responsibilities as an effective instrument of statecraft and a trusted institution of society, must embark on the path of thoroughgoing transformation. This means truly sweeping overhaul, not the marginal incremental change that has characterized the self-justifying, self-deluding rhetoric of "defense transformation" to date.
The international environment the U.S. faces and is destined to continue facing in the years ahead requires a military significantly different from the one we now have. What we have, arguably and at best, is a militarily effective military: an instrument of force, designed and able only to wage war — usually disproportionately, often indiscriminately — on its own preferred terms on behalf of those in power...
That there would be widespread strategic and civic illiteracy in the military should come as no surprise to anyone truly familiar with the institution and its deeply entrenched tradition of anti-intellectualism. In a society that is itself anti-intellectual, the military — a demonstrably action-oriented, physical culture — stands out as being especially so. Notwithstanding the fact that the military has an extensive professional schooling system and also underwrites civilian graduate schooling for many of its officers, it remains institutionally indifferent at best, hostile at worst, to intellectual pursuits. Education, with its focus on intellectual development, invariably takes a distant back seat in the military to training, with its focus on skill development, subject-matter familiarization and topical immediacy. The constant tension that exists in military schools between military and academic priorities consistently favors the former. Academic job assignments, for students and faculty alike, at military or civilian schools, are widely eschewed as a low-priority, unproductive, career-diverting cost (rather than a worthy investment) that comes at the expense of higher priority, more productive, more career-enhancing, institutionally more essential operational assignments. The handful of individuals in uniform who actually seek to write for publication must, even today, submit their work to internal clearance review — always, ostensibly, for security reasons — before public release. Doctrine, long a defining hallmark of military praxis, imposes a suffocatingly pervasive overlay of forced standardization and routinization on virtually every facet of military life. And political ideology (predominantly conservative) is an ever-present, if latent, intellectual crutch for the many in uniform who seek nothing more than reaffirmation and reinforcement of their pre-established core beliefs.
Collectively, these things severely retard free thought and free expression throughout the institution. Nothing so angers those in uniform and puts them on the defensive as the suggestion that they are representative — or captive — of the so-called military mind. Such defensiveness owes to the painfulness of truth. If the military is to extricate itself from the fact that its members are afflicted by a self-imposed common mindset that is unimaginative, reactive, ossified, even pedestrian, it must create a central space for intellectuals and intellectualization. Intellectual stagnation, in fact, threatens to be the military's undoing in a future where success will be determined far more by brains than by brawn...
On an e-mail discussion group David Gurney; Editor, Joint Force Quarterly; takes exception and granted SWJ permission to publish his response:
It seems to be a rite of passage for former military personnel pursuing a second career in academia to establish their bona fides by endorsing the threadbare stereotype of anti-intellectualism in the armed forces. That Greg Foster extends this malady to the general population generously confirms the heroism of academics from coast-to-coast. More now than ever before (thanks to technology), I see Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, & Marines engaged in distance learning and seminar studies in the minimal time available in the face of duties where incompetence can precipitate death and organizational failure. Our self-styled intellectuals exhibit a remarkable failure of imagination (and in Greg's case, amnesia) when they diagnose military hostility to intellectual development. It is laughable in general, yet occasional artifacts are eagerly marshaled to reinforce the charge, not least because of its rhetorical utility in university and think tank circles.
To my mind, Greg's greatest error--in an essay chock full of them--concerns doctrine. For Professor Foster to characterize doctrine as a "suffocatingly pervasive overlay of forced standardization and routinization on virtually every facet of military life" is as specious a flight of fancy as anything I have read of late. I reply with conviction that ignorance of doctrine (especially joint doctrine) is endemic in the armed forces and easily eclipses "anti-intellectualism" as a problem. Doctrine is not prescriptive; only dilettantes regard it so.
Allow me to conclude my objections (confined to a single one of Greg's "ten deeply rooted features of established military culture") with his misapprehension of writers in the armed forces. When Greg asserts that there are only a "handful of individuals in uniform who actually seek to write for publication" he reveals surprising ignorance of the facts. I receive more than a hundred manuscripts each month from military authors and my Book Review Editor has to beat military petitioners off with a stick! When one considers the plethora of military publications (many dozens!), whether technical, tactical, functional, or broadly military, the lie is given to such an uninformed claim. Similarly, Greg is out of his depth when he implies that security reviews are tailored to impede communication with the public. Security & classification problems are frequent and sometimes dangerous; these reviews are one of my greatest burdens as editor of JFQ, but they are essential and those who deny it lack either imagination or experience.