Professional Military Education (PME) has been a hot topic in Australian Army circles of late. As an organisation we are aiming to formalise PME to sharpen our cognitive edge, however in the past our professional development pursuits have largely been orientated towards practical training, with an unintended consequence of perhaps diluting the value of education itself.

The article, 'Research, Writing, and the Mind of the Strategist' by Gregory D. Foster states that strategic thinkers must be broadly educated, not narrowly trained. It further suggests that the measure of education is not simply the level of formal schooling, but rather in the degree of open-mindedness and active mental engagement that it produces. The article will almost certainly challenge your thinking in certain areas, especially for those of us who have served in the military for over 10 years and suffer from a degree of institutionalisation. The author suggests that the military does not prepare us well to write or to carry out research. He indicates that we perceive ourselves as real-world decision makers who take action, not scholars who simply ponder, and that we rely too heavily on experience which arms us with conviction and credibility... but rarely additional wisdom. 

Foster highlights that the military places very little stock in serious writing and even less in research. He suggests that many 'cream of the crop' officers believe they write well, but that in fact they are not proficient writers as the military largely discourages independent thought and critical inquiry. He exposes the fact that more information does not necessarily lead to more (or even any) knowledge, and suggests that relative to the volume of information available, there may now be less knowledge than in years gone by.

The author states that 'mind-numbing workaholism leaves many dedicated military professionals drained of sufficient energy to develop' their capacity, as there are few rewards for 'unproductive intellectual pursuits.' He argues that within the Army, the perception is that serious writing is not required nor appreciated, and due to the constant pace and unit tempo, people prefer to be briefed rather than dedicate time to reading. Most military writing tends to be descriptive and linear, requiring little thought due to the organisation placing greater value on what is factual rather than hypothetical.

Foster suggests that the work the Army does is 'more consumptive than productive, it consumes time but leaves little more in its wake than new work for others'. Perhaps one of the most confronting realisations that the author highlights is that it is 'ironic and disappointing' that almost all the world's leading experts in strategic and military affairs are civilian academics. He clearly states that if the military is to be effective in the strategic realm, they must produce their own strategic thinkers which demands an 'institutional commitment to education that includes serious and sustained attention to writing and research'.

Read the article here and let us know your thoughts:

  • What are your thoughts on the Army's approach to writing and/or research?
  • Has unit tempo diminished our perceived value of knowledge?
  • How do you think the Army could improve its culture around learning and growing more strategic thinkers?