Academic journal article Military Review

Foreign Language and History: The Enlightened Study of War

Academic journal article Military Review

Foreign Language and History: The Enlightened Study of War

Article excerpt

The greatest leaders must be educated broadly.

-Maj. Gen. George H. Olmsted, U.S. Army

Thirty-eight years ago, as a combat-seasoned captain of infantry, and a recent Olmsted scholar fluent in Spanish, I was counseled by a revered senior officer distinguished for valor and highly esteemed. I had served under him in war and would again serve under his command in peacetime. He was a consummate professional and a gentleman of the first order. The officer bluntly informed me that my ongoing pursuit of a master's degree at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., undertaken on my own time while carrying out demanding duties at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, was a waste of time. In the 1970s, the Marine Corps did not permit returning Olmsted Scholars to pursue a master's degree while on duty. Funding for my studies, regardless, was borne by the Olmsted Foundation and GI Bill education benefits.

In the 1970s, U.S. military culture tended to devalue graduate study. Today, advanced, refined education cannot be treated as a nice-to-have frill for the officer corps. For all of recorded history, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse-war, death, pestilence, and famine-have ridden stirrup to stirrup as causes of human misery and political change. Of the four, war still rides a glossy steed, foddered by many of the advances that have weakened its companions. The war-horse remains a charger that casts a long shadow. The design of its bit and bridle should become one of the principal, if not the principal, preoccupations of political leaders, military officers, and learned thinkers. That preoccupation should take the form of advanced study.

The study of the causes of war, in contrast to its course or its conduct, is a modern phenomenon that dates no earlier than from the Age of Enlightenment. The attention the officer corps has now grown accustomed to paying the subject is more recent still- coterminous not only with a sense of horror of the military failures of the past century but also with an interest in political and social sciences.

One author states that studying war is somewhat similar to studying economics.1 Western scholars have made some progress in mastering the intricacies of economics, but not so much the study of war and preserving peace. In fact, in the United States, it was not until the dawn of the nuclear age that the study of war and peace commanded anywhere near the degree of intellectual attention that had been devoted to economic analysis. Suffice it to say the incidence of war today, the state of play in the actual study of war, the rising Far Eastern powers, and the actions of Russia suggest focusing intellectual attention toward the study of war. Moreover, it behooves the military services to engender and to ensure an enlightened study of war. That study is accomplished only through advanced education that includes languages and history, in order to come to grips with the dynamics of human social behavior.

The Field of Strategic Studies as a Human Endeavor

The field of strategic studies, that is, the analysis of force in international relations, has not found its own John Maynard Keynes. Can we isolate strategic studies, as economists isolate topics of study with varying success, from the problems of human organization and international politics?2 Perhaps not.

First, war is a product of the clash of ideas and beliefs. Ideas are not to be grappled with, much less understood, unless the cultures from which they emanate are understood. A culture cannot be understood other than through an in-depth knowledge of its language.

Second, history must be the handmaiden of those who would be policy shapers. Those who ignore or eschew the importance of ideas and beliefs as propellants of human action are on a fool's errand. Moreover, to comprehend and understand human cultures requires grounding in such diverse disciplines as anthropology, sociology, social sciences, brain science, psychology, and much else. …

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