Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Thinking beyond the Books: Sociological Biases of Our Military Institutions

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Thinking beyond the Books: Sociological Biases of Our Military Institutions

Article excerpt

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed or implied in the journal are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government. This article may be reproduced in whole or in part without permission. If it is reproduced, the Air and Space Power journal requests a courtesy line.

Professional military reading lists have expanded in recent years so that now nearly every senior organizational seat or position presents some recommended series of books or articles. As institutions, most militaries have reading lists for various groups and audiences as a means of fostering professional development and improving organizational knowledge. This article focuses on the American military (US Air Force and US Army) since that institution continues to exert significant international influence across the greater military profession. For the Air Force and Army, diverse reading lists tend to encourage positive narratives on academic development with subtle additional devices designed for nurturing a particular institutional legacy.

For militaries to be a profession, they require the continuous exchange of ideas and growth of new concepts, language, and emergent forms. Older, outdated, and unpopular ideas and language are discarded while some ideas retain important symbolic and institutionally self-relevant statuses that tend to cement them into our organization. Thus, every military library now possesses the familiar piles of books and a printed sheet listing the latest favorites for institutional consumption. But to what ends-and, more importantly, how-do we expect institutional development to occur beyond "reading books (and other media) deemed valuable to us"?

Any book list is potentially useful, but the value of a single book (or concepts within it) becomes a rather biased and frustrating process about which we might argue relentlessly on whether On War should be read by all commissioned lieutenants or perhaps how Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ought to be reinserted into the required reading curriculum of the US Army's School of Advanced Military Studies.1 Instead of debating over this book or that, this article presents a broader discussion that looks above books entirely. We need to consider how the military as an overarching profession thinks (socially established ways of perception) and how we tend to practice self-referential maintenance of how we think by selecting certain types of books (as well as lists, videos, and other media) and excluding others. We exercise selective knowledge production, yet the deeper organizational reasons for which we do so often escape us.

To illustrate the implicit manner by which we often go about selecting reading lists, we examine the 2014 professional reading lists of the Army and Air Force chiefs of staff and frame the selections within a holistic and sociological approach that gives pause for reflecting upon our institutions.2 We use these reading lists only because of their prominence within the established military hierarchy and the strong representation they offer to other associated and similar lists. Potentially, these annual American military reading lists may have no significant effect upon other militaries although more research is needed to explore that possibility. The 2015 and perhaps 2016 lists also came out during the publication timeline of this article, but they will undoubtedly follow the 2014 model and previous ones. We tend to repeat the same actions year after year, expecting different results.

Thking a sociological and at times abstract philosophical approach, this article finds that our book lists tell us more about how our Air Force and Army socially construct institutional perceptions of reality. Furthermore, some book lists might actively champion one singular way of thinking at the expense of all others. …

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