Two Cultures in Military Education

By Farrell, Alan | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview
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Two Cultures in Military Education

Farrell, Alan, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Borrowing C.P. Snow's "two cultures," the author insists that, no matter what apparent distance separates the military from the academic world, a citizen's curriculum must share the rostrum with the military regimen. Lessons in human value and passion from literature, in judgment and expression from language, in eccentric thinking and analogy from poetry, in the physical world and its limits from mathematics, science, engineering, in human behavior from psychology, economics, history, sociology complement military discipline with its eclipse of personal fantasy; its denial of latitude; its surrender of privacy. The military ethos, though, becomes the vehicle for study of traditional, "civilian" subjects, requiring no special curriculum for the soldier and none for the civilian: only one for the citizen.


For twenty-six years I served as a sergeant of Special Forces. Still a novelty, we wound up for every mission briefing any field grade officer with time on his hands: endless dog and pony shows, duly tracing infiltration routes, laying out demolition plans for that bridge to go up, ticking off contingencies, and on and on. That, sir, concludes my portion of the briefing. What are your questions? Now, since the days of Caesar no officer has ever declined that invitation. Mostly we knew what we were doing, so it didn't get ugly till the Old Man fetched up with theoretical issues. From those ticklish interrogations, one could actually follow the evolution of American business school curricula since all officers standing the grade of major had to have a master's degree and since most viewed that requirement as a mandate to acquire credentials in something "practical." Each rising class of field grades would testify to the current shibboleths: now it's Theory Z; now it's Total Quality Management; now it's Management by Objective; now it's Core Values. Where's our tree diagram? What would Maslow say? Had we "war-gamed" outcomes? And on and on. We were always one cycle behind, alas, and in that ignorance at once gratified the commander and exposed ourselves to patient disquisitions on the reigning template.

An essay in the Harvard Business Review ("What Leaders Really Do") distinguishes, for the umpteenth time, between "management" and "leadership," but it's the illustration to the article that strikes me: a couple of guys and a woman in business suits, ties, briefcases in hand, struggling up a hilt. But ... look again. One is carrying a guidon. They all wear helmets. Explosions burst behind them along a smoky horizon. The guy up front is doing what we call Fort Benning yoga: he waves his arm in that Follow me! gesture. The article drones on about "aligning," "organizing," "staffing," the inevitable "problem-solving" ... Yeah, yeah. But, in rendering into graphics the notion of "leadership," the artist resorts to a cast off metaphor, namely that leadership, the kind understood and recognized even by civilians, is that practiced by military leaders ... even if we read again and again of the "bankruptcy" of the top-down military model. Out there they do wonder, though: just what is the secret one learns in military school? What is the state of mind of the product? And how does it differ from, well ... the normal?

In a bizarre, futuristic 1941 novel penned by a member of the academic establishment in England, a fictional "Air Vice Marshall," high priest of military culture and technology, addresses servicemen and villagers in the small community upon which an "Aerodrome" has imposed its structures and values. He reveals in this harangue an officer's arrogance, that is true, but a darker, subtler tendency of military thought as well, utopianism: "The civilization into which History has brought us," thunders the Air Vice Marshall, "wholly indefensible as it is, is yet part of our duty to defend. You will discover in the course of time that we aim not entirely to defend it, but also to transform it" (Warner, p.

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