Monday, March 24, 2008

Soldier and the State...

I have just finished reading Samuel P. Huntington's The Soldier and the State, a book which I've been meaning to read since I began in the Sosh Department. It's one of those books that, like the bible to modern day literature, agree or not, you have to know it to understand the language today.

It was a very compelling read which I found challenged me in very many ways. He throws down the gauntlet of what is expected of a Professional Officer (before that term had all the implications it does today and before it became a cliche) in a way that forces me to evaluate not only myself, but my superiors, subordinates, peers and institutions. One of his premises, however, is that the professional officer ceases to be professional when he embarks upon non-militant activities. He gives some leeway to officers, understanding that sometimes non-military issues (economic, social, political, environmental, etc.) must be taken into consideration to achieve the political aim of the civilians appointed above you, but very little.

Interestingly, there is a really great article in Newsweek right now, which I commend to everyones reading list. It is all about young Officers in today's army and how they are winning, losing, fighting and executing the war on terror. The Officers have had to do exactly what Huntington warns against, which is give up their warfighting expertise and take up politics. They are building schools, talking to sheiks, making political, legal, ethical, judicial and police decisions along with the decisions to shoot or don't shoot.

I wonder what Huntington would think about the new understanding of the "Professional Officer". His book was written decades ago and, in many ways, is rather prescient. For example, he argues that West Point should abandon its engineering heavy courses and focus on creating a more liberal arts school which would better prepare officers for fighting wars, something which has now happened. However, I wonder if he would think our Army has grown more or less "professional" in the terms he set out. Or, has the "warfighting" function that the professional soldier provides simply become even more multi-faceted. Has "soldiering" really become an all encompassing one man show? If that is the case or not, America has unwittingly built a whole generation of Army officers who, if they get out, will be able to lead America in ways we haven't seen in decades. The soldiers fighting today's wars have an understanding of political, interpersonal, economic and military skills that has not been afforded generations of officers in the past. I would not be surprised if another Eisenhower is currently wearing Captains bars.


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