Almost three decades ago Professor Samuel Huntington published his landmark treatise, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. In the five hundred (plus) pages, he argued strongly for recognition of the military career field as a profession. Relying heavily on Karl von Clausewitz, he remarked:
The fact that war has its own grammar requires that military professionals be permitted to develop their expertise without extraneous interference. The "military virtue of an army" (Clausewitz's term) is not found in the nature of the cause for which it fights any more than the skill of the lawyer is judged by the persons of his clients. The inherent value of a military body can only be evaluated in terms of independent military standards.
While Huntington expressed cognizance of the wide variations of duties within the totality of land, air and naval services, he based his case on the stronger similarities and commonalities, which he suggested characterize the duties of all participants. While conceding that "the captain of a cruiser and the commander of an infantry division appear to be faced with highly different problems requiring highly different abilities," he went on to point out that there is a common "sphere of military competence" which includes the organizing, equipping and training of forces; the planning of their activities; and the direction of their operations in and out of combat. The skills with which these tasks are discharged, he averred, constitute the essence of military professionalism, regardless of the service or branch with which an officer might be identified.
Quoting Harold Lasswell's memorable phrase, Huntington crowned his case with the assertion that the military profession is unique and derives intellectual value from its focus upon "the management of violence."
As satisfactory as many observers may find Huntington's argument, it must also be noted that the second step-that of the identification of an academic discipline underlying the profession-has been slow to gain substantial recognition. Some have dismissed the effort as unworthy, preferring to view military service as a trade, rather closer to plumbing or electrical repair than to the more respectable fields of law, medicine or the clergy. And such views have not been limited to officials in academia. Prominent figures in uniform have, from time to time, argued against such recognition, expressing a fear of losing much of the spirit of physical achievement in military life to competitive requirements for study and writing, and, perhaps even further, to the point of losing a sense of service and subordination to the national political leadership.
But the Huntington school has not been without support from leading figures in the military services. Outstanding among important proponents was Lt. Gen. DeWitt C. Smith, commandant of the U.S. Army War College in 1975, who made a strong case for military art and science (MA&S) in an address to a distinguished group of visitors at the 21st Annual National security Seminar. He remarked:
The Army War College is dedicated to the highest professional military education of carefully selected, highly individual human beings. The academic discipline underlying our programs derives from our purpose and mission. It incorporates studies in those fields of academic and practical endeavor which constitute the military profession. This body of knowledge, a wide one, can be called "military art and science."
Another prominent spokesman in favor of broader recognition of military service as a professional pursuit with its own underlying discipline is Col. Lloyd J. Matthews, U.S. Army retired. Matthews contributed an important and detailed examination of the matter in ARMY Magazine in January 1994-perhaps one of the best yet by a member of the field.
He balanced his work with a summary of the arguments of opponents, but he persuasively led the reader through the debates to convincing conclusions. Of particular note, Matthews cited Professor Allan R. Millett's six criteria for a legitimate profession. They are: a full-time and stable job, serving continuing societal needs; a lifelong calling by the practitioners, who identify themselves personally with their job subculture; an organization to control performance standards and recruitment; [underpinned by a] formal, theoretical education; [an endowment with] a service orientation in which loyalty to standards of competence and loyalty to clients' needs are paramount; and [a service that is] granted a great deal of collective autonomy by the society it serves, because the practitioners have proven their high ethical standard and trustworthiness.
Not surprisingly, military professionalism has been growing at a steady pace since World War II. The continuing threat of communist aggression, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the subsequent rise of regional crises and global terrorism, have paved the way for a prolonged prominence of military affairs in the national psyche.
And, not surprisingly, these same factors have contributed to a broadening recognition of the substance underpinning the study of the wide-ranging dimensions of the profession. The U.S. Army War College catalog has stated boldly, "A distinguishing characteristic of a recognized profession is its related scholastic discipline. Military art and science is the scholastic discipline of the military profession."
The U.S. Congress had no difficulty in recognizing the validity of the argument when, in 1963, it authorized the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College to seek accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools to grant degrees at the master's level. The important point here was not so much that the curriculum was one of valued content, which was well known and which for some time had been used by member institutions in the development of cooperative programs. The important point was that the institution itself was recognized as one with a curriculum of value and one which deserved to be counted among those meeting association standards. Essentially, military art and science had arrived.
But the pattern was still incomplete. There was no direct connection between military courses at the undergraduate level-such as one might encounter under the ROTC program-and those offered at Fort Leavenworth and higher level (war college) military institutions. Nor was there any established higher level of achievement, such as has long been associated with other professions-the doctorate level. The field has remained largely an inchoate and somewhat jury-rigged one, that is, until the entry of the Class of 2007 at the U.S. Military Academy. For over a decade, West Point has offered a few courses in "military art and science," forming a rough link between the Academy's regular academic and military programs. Enrollments in MA&S have run between two and three hundred of the 4,000-cadet student body. But now the picture is changing.
Beginning with the Class of 2007, cadets may choose to major in the field and to receive their diplomas with appropriate recognition. Notably, enrollment in MA&S has jumped to more than 400 participants and may jump far beyond current levels. If so, it would appear that a key step has been taken toward closing the missing links and that military professionals may advance through ever higher levels of education without having to patch into some field of less than central importance to their interests.
The question of doctoral programs in the military field may be less pressing than those which have received most of the attention, but there may be a few promising students in such places as the advanced program at Fort Leavenworth who could benefit from the establishment of a doctoral program capping the process. Certainly, the Army could benefit from encouraging particularly bright officers to exercise their skills in the development of focused dissertations on worthwhile topics.
As matters stand, few doctoral programs approach the field of military art and science with sufficient specificity to be of value to the Army.
So the matter lies in the court of those responsible for developing thinkers in the Army and those responsible for identifying the major fields in which the exercise of military intellectual skills might produce the greatest benefit.
By Maj. Gen. Edward B. Atkeson
U.S. Army retired
MAJ. GEN. EDWARD B. ATKESON, USA Ret., Ph.D., is n senior fellow at AUSA's Institute of Land Warfare. He has written four books and more than 100 articles on military affairs.…