Academic journal article Military Review

Preferring Copies with No Originals: Does the Army Training Strategy Train to Fail?

Academic journal article Military Review

Preferring Copies with No Originals: Does the Army Training Strategy Train to Fail?

Article excerpt

"You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss." (1)


(From the motion picture The Matrix)

THE U.S. ARMY spends a vast amount of energy, resources, and time on training, perpetually seeking improvements to forge a better force. The latest Army Training Strategy (October 2012) tasks our Army to "hold commanders responsible for training units and developing leaders through the development and execution of progressive, challenging, and realistic training." (2) This implies a shared understanding of what training is realistic, and what is not. Although our training strategy employs the terms "training realism," "replication," "operational relevant training," and "adaptive" throughout the short document, it never defines or differentiates this lexicon. Without any contextual depth in these myriad concepts, is it possible that due to fundamental flaws in our training strategy we are unaware when we conduct unrealistic training instead? In other words, do we train to fail?

This article does not suggest failure with respect to military trainers, tactics, operational or strategic level training objectives; one must look at an even bigger picture above all of these things. (3)

Our training centers are full of dynamic, dedicated military professionals who might take offense at the notion of "training to fail"; however if our overarching training philosophy is faulty, even the best efforts will not matter. To contemplate our training philosophy, can we consider on a holistic and ontological level how the Army approaches training, and how we "think about thinking" with respect to training? (4)

To bring some context to this abstract proposal, I introduce in this article several design concepts that draw from post-modern philosophical and sociological fields that help us consider whether our Army may inadvertently train to fail, and how it has effectively insulated itself from even questioning these institutionalisms. (5)

"Design" as it relates to military applications has a broad range of conceptual, holistic applications for dealing with complexity, although most services attempt to brand their own design approach for self-relevant concerns. (6) Army design methodology does not include any of these concepts in U.S. Army doctrine nor does our training strategy specifically reference design theory. However, critical reflection and holistic, systemic approaches might illustrate our training shortfalls. (7)

To conduct this inquiry, we draw from philosopher Jean Baudrillard's concept of simulation and simulacra. We also reference sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann's collaborative concept of "social knowledge construction," to demonstrate how the Army potentially trains in an approach that is in conflict with what we expect our training to accomplish. (8) Are we spending our energies, resources, and time in training approaches that are detrimental to our overarching goals because they train us in the wrong ways? To return to the plot of the science fiction movie quoted at the beginning, shall we swallow the red pill and face uncomfortable truths, or swallow the blue pill and continue enjoying the false realities we create for ourselves through training the force toward national policy goals? (9)

The writers behind The Matrix were heavily influenced by Baudrillard's work on simulacra, which emphasizes a stark contrast between false "realities" that we as a society often prefer over the painful, bleak, and more challenging "real world" we tend to avoid. This proves useful in that while Baudrillard's work is relatively unknown, the Matrix movies are extremely popular in Western society and address the same existential concept. This article's introductory quote features a conversation between a treacherous character and an agent of the Matrix where the conspirator acknowledges his shared understanding that the steak he is eating within the Matrix is imaginary; it is "fake steak. …

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