Why I write... And ResearchBy David Beaumont May 4, 2018
Major-General Chris Field recently wrote of his two reasons to write; education and humility. His insights were based on a view that ‘standard officer training, education and experience’ was not enough and that ‘doing more was a personal responsibility’. He regards ‘humility’ as coming from the recognition you do not know as much as you think you know, and that writing and learning lessens the gap between the two. I have read many articles on why, as a member of the profession of arms, it is important that we write. To be frank, I have felt that more people have been recently writing about writing, and emphasising the importance self-paced professional military education than engaging in debate and discussion within military circles. However, I found Major-General Field’s comments articulated the two fundamental reasons I write, but probably more importantly, allude to the importance of self-research and self-education. I would like to offer some additional points for you to consider.
Before I do, and at the risk of self-indulgence, it is worth understanding where I have come from as a writer. Like Major-General Field, I have written extensively on my chosen topic area – military logistics – through blogs, journal articles and academic-level papers. While I get personal satisfaction in developing a deep understanding for the subject area, I have also found the writing has been professionally important to raise and discuss issues that may otherwise have remained cloistered away in an obscure logistics-oriented conference. I think the introduction to my blog, Logistics in War , says it enough:
‘The conclusion is irresistible that the military themselves know next to nothing about logistics’.– United States Marine Corps Colonel George C Thorpe, Pure Logistics, 1917.
Logistics In War’ seeks to instigate and inspire, continue and create, a professional discussion on military logistics that is sorely lacking. Furthermore, ‘Logistics In War’ supports the development of an international community of military logisticians that can share ideas, concepts and useful material in an insightful, courteous and professional manner reflective of the values of the militaries and Defence organisations that its readers may serve in.
The act of writing, and my experiences that have followed, have absolutely confirmed to me that Army and Defence wants to read. It wants to learn, and where it might not have the capacity to innovate or alleviate systemic problems, it wants to understand where risks lie. Sometimes Army just wants to know what the question should be! This is especially relevant to the topic of logistics which has the real potential to destroy our operational plans, disrupt tactical execution and challenge Army’s sustainment budget if we fail to give it the attention it deserves. Although individuals may not see the value in writing, at an organisational level, I have found nothing but support from the Service and in Defence more broadly. With this in mind, I would like to introduce three ideas as reasons to professionally write.
It brings greater understanding, and from understanding, professional relevance
The importance of researching and writing as an activity of personal professional military has been described ad nauseum. It fills the gaping hole in our professional knowledge that the individual and collective training on offer can never overcome. Army will try to offer us all experiences as a compensation for the inability to prepare people any other way as they assume particular appointments, or ascend to higher ranks. However, this is usually not enough. The research and writing process, as Major-General Field describes, comes a substantial part of the way to identify gaps in knowledge, enabling us to respond to those gaps accordingly.
It is to your own personal benefit that you write. You will gain authority and respect for eloquent and literate debate on issues, demonstrating your competence in the most public of ways. Occasionally you will get a personal email of support, or contacted by a distinguished reader who offers you an encouraging word. Army desires writers from within the profession of arms, and has been quite active in recent years in facilitating constructive and considerate debate on a variety of topics. It is therefore a great time to contribute. Writing can be your opportunity to leave a mark on the Army, and a way in which you will be recognised for a permanent contribution to the profession of arms.
To write is to convince and influence
Another important reason to write is to influence and to convince others to see your point of view. In this regard there is a place for contemporary short form articles (blogs) just as there is for much longer and detailed papers and books. I believe we are in a time where both are required to balance quality and depth of content with the accessibility. If you seek to engage with, and ultimately convince, as broad an audience as possible, be prepared to do both. However, there is little doubt that a well-researched paper creates a greater gravity, and its contents considered with greater seriousness.
Don’t worry yourself with a fear that your work is not being read. I have had many conversations with people who contend that papers rarely get read, and that we should instead focus on making writing more accessible. The recent explosion of blogs including my own Logistics in War, professional military education sites such as The Cove, and other forms of ‘accessible’ writing are all part of this trend. Even then, there is always a niggling doubt as to whether material is being read, including in those times when social media analytics reinforces your concerns as to whether your work may be popular or not.
The ‘accessibility’ of your writing, however, is only partially relevant. What matters is who reads it, and the way in which your writing convinces. Reliability, quality and depth of information is often more important to an audience, especially if that audience is testing your credibility. Furthermore, it may matter more to convince and influence others and the organisation if greater effort is applied to your research and writing. If you are trying to improve your own ability, practice with short articles and work towards the long-term goal of producing a more substantial work. Writing, like most things, is a skill that you can improve.
It is part of organisational renewal
Writing for yourself is important for your own education. Writing to improve that of others is contributing to your profession. We are raised, and often measured, as officers by our ability to convince others through inspiration and engaging with our soldiers at a personal level. This is an essential aspect of command, which is rightly and irrevocably about people. Although memories and reputation follow us all through our military careers, the improvement of the profession of arms requires something more permanent. There is nothing more permanent than words when it comes to communication, especially when those words synthesise problems through research and lead to alternative points of view than the normal. Rather than convincing individuals, your team, even your formation, with writing you are contributing to something much larger.
If we no longer take the time to research and write, our understanding of war will diminish, history’s lessons forgotten, and our exploration of the future will be left to others. Army would be in a state of decline, bereft of intellectual debate or direction, and unable to break the hold of myopic ideas and outdated concepts. The Chief of Army recently challenged Army’s senior leaders (and by extension, all in Army) to consider what Army’s next ‘big idea’ should be. Discussion may be important, but the debate must be manifested on paper and by electrons if it is to encourage a broad-based renewal and stimulate collective involvement and critique. Many of Army’s senior leaders have already contributed to public discussion and support those that write. Take that as a hint that there is no better time than the present to contribute to blogs, journals or larger research papers which can influence, even if only in a small way, the future of Army.