Anti-intellectualism and the Military
Hats off to Col. Lloyd J. Matthews ("The Uniformed Intellectual and His Place in American Arms," July and August) for tackling the subject of anti-intellectualism in the military. He has composed a splendid, well-written essay on a complex, multifaceted issue.
First, I would like to address the advanced degree aspect of anti-intellectualism. Considerable confusion seems to exist on what a Ph.D. really is. In short, it is a research degree. It requires mastering academic skills in the areas of research methods and design and advanced statistical and computer courses. These are necessary precursors to doing original, empirical research, usually a requirement for the degree in all disciplines. Few CEOs and senior executives in America have had the interest or opportunity to pursue doctorates. Those who do are generally effective in that they have learned how to think, how to ask crucial questions underlying strategy, and how to appreciate the detail required in even the simplest of initiatives. Most, through experience, have learned to avoid analysis paralysis. American culture in general, and today's military-industrial complex in particular, admire the can-do, makeit-happen, win-at-all-costs spirit. The focus is on doing (as opposed to reflecting) and, most important, seeing tangible, measurable results quickly. It is this type of approach that has given us the Titanic, Enron and Worldcom. Norman Dixon in his classic On the Psychology of Military Incompetence has given us a roadmap into this phenomenon. Dixon identifies a "tendency to reject or ignore critical information" as one of the elements in his definition of military incompetence.
Last, it may be useful to identify, more clearly than Col. Matthews has attempted, some of the factors that help in determining whether an antiintellectual climate truly does exist in the military or not. Some of these might be: Is publishing (articles/books) rewarded by the profession? Are careers of individuals who have acquired advanced degrees (from legitimate programs of study) carefully managed so that both the individual and the institution can benefit from that experience? Do institutional policies and practices support (or suppress) critical thinking and professional dialogue through its policies on honorariums, manuscript clearance/ copyright, and participation in academic forums, workshops and conferences? Does the institution truly value candor, thinking outside the box and innovation, or merely give lip service to it?
Col. Matthews has, once again, helped to illuminate some of the historical and philosophical themes underlying anti-intellectualism in the military. His article elegantly assesses the role of the personnel system in reinforcing the muddy boots and ivory tower stereotypes. It is a relevant and timely analysis deserving of further professional review and debate.
ALAN GEORGE VITTERS, USA RET.
As I read Part II of Col. Matthews' article, I became concerned about the author's apparent bias against those who have seen combat. For a while it seemed that he felt that only intellectuals were fit for the highest level of command; however, at about the time I was ready to quit reading, he neatly turned the corner and said what needs to be read by all in the military.
Once he quoted the Snider and Watkins study he arrived at a summary that contained the same conclusions I had reached in industry many years ago. The ideal top management team is made up of those who have both muddy boots experience and a broad intellectual background. The team is even more ideal if it does not micromanage, does not have a zero defects mentality, seeks counsel from others (including lower ranks as well as staff), and occasionally treks back to the field to visit the troops.
I agree with Col. Matthews that there is a glimmer of hope. He used some excellent examples of muddy boots intellectuals who have risen to the top and made changes that helped to win Desert Storm. …