Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 16 the US Joint community, want war. Instead, it means the US Army’s doctrine does not yet reflect a broader view of armed conflict. If some of the US Army’s senior leaders have such a view, they did not acquire it by studying the expert knowledge of their profession. Instead, they acquired their views despite what their doctrine says, not because of it. Winning battles and destroying an enemy’s military might can prove necessary in any conflict; however, the assumption that battlefield victories suffice to win wars can result in prolonging conflicts unnecessarily, increasing human suffering beyond what is bearable, and delaying or seriously undermining the accomplishment of national security objectives. The US Army’s operational doctrine avoids explaining how different political and socio-cultural contexts can affect militaryoperations and the principles and tenets that govern them. This oversight must change. The US Army profession deserves, indeed is owed, a more robust discussion of the relationship between military operations and political and sociocultural conditions. In its current state, the US Army’s operational doctrine is not performing its function as a corpus of expert knowledge. Not only does it still retain its bias toward battle rather than war, it also is at times highly subjective in nature due to the fact that “lessons learned” in one conflict are not necessarily transferable to another, and due to the military’s tendency to modify knowledge to protect individual and institutional interests. But the more subjective it is, the less generalizable it is. The tendency to modify knowledge is also to be expected in an institution that actively identifies itself as artists rather than scientists, and its vocation as an art rather than a science. It is not clear the US Army (or any military institution in general) understands the difference between art and science; for it thinks of the latter as a search for fixed formulae and predictive doctrines.[xiv] Science, in fact, is little more than the use of the scientific method, rather than guesswork or superstition, to gain knowledge or to solve problems. If it wishes to preserve its status as a profession, the US Army would do well to acknowledge its debt to the scientific method and avoid placing its faith in superstition or guesswork. In fact, so many of the processes the US Army uses in its missions—from after action reviews to the military decision-making process—derive from some form of the scientific method. The search for fixed formulae and predictive doctrines do not capture the entirety of science, and instead stem from specific scientific fields, such as physics which rely on equations to transmit knowledge, and these simply should not be applied to dynamic activities like armed conflict. In sum, the US Army and the larger Joint community require amore objective process for generating, correcting, and updating professional knowledge. Regrettably, if the US Army’s Professional Knowledge is foundationally weak, then by its own definition its status as a profession is also weak—unless it changes that definition. [xv] Its contract with the American public is predicated on trust that it will school itself properly to perform essential tasks, not unlike the medical and legal professions. Unfortunately, a flawed foundation of professional knowledge means the US Army is internalizing flawed ideas, which means the public’s trust is misplaced. This problem does not mean the US Army’s operational doctrine must be perfect. The professional knowledge of lawyers is not perfect; nor is that of the medical profession. But both can be corrected through accepted processes. In sum, the US Army has three choices. First, it could do nothing and continue to muddle through with a way of battle, allowing itself and America’s national leadership to struggle in complex conflicts which do not fit neatly into a battle-centric framework. Second, it could retain its way of battle and its status as a profession by finding a different model of a profession, one that does not require the US Army to have a body of expert knowledge or which defines it differently, possibly outside doctrine. As a final option, the US Army could choose to revise its way of battle, moving it toward a way of war, and thereby preserve its status as a profession according to its current definition. The latter is the better choice for the US Army and for the public it serves. V. Recommendations: Toward a Way of War If the US Army opts for the latter choice, it should take the following steps. First, it should require its doctrine writers to identify, consistently and explicitly, the basic political and socio-cultural assumptions underpinning operational doctrine. This step is not meant to punish or unduly burden doctrine writers, but rather to require them to ask the questions necessary to identify those assumptions before, or while, they begin writing. This will not be an easy process at first. But it will lead to clearer expert knowledge and to a better understanding of the conditions under which the doctrine may be reliably considered valid. Second, the US Army (and ultimately the US military) needs to develop a rigorous process fordeterminingwhat elements of its operational doctrine can be verified objectively, and what must be accepted on faith. In every profession, some room must exist for the testing of unproven concepts, particularly when novel technologies appear or when unexpected sociocultural situations develop. Otherwise, it is difficult to encourage innovation and to develop new techniques and new knowledge. The US Army’s doctrine will, in fact, fail to keep pace with a rapidly changing strategic environment, characterized by technological and sociocultural changes, if it adheres only to proven concepts. While military doctrine should consist of proven and unproven concepts, the ratio between the two must not damage the credibility of the military as a profession. Third, the US military must educate itself to distinguish between verifiable knowledge and articles of faith. As stated above, it clearly needs both. But it must understand the The Persistence of America’s Way of Battle Antulio J. Echevarria II