This edited collection examines the changing character of military professionalism and the role of ethics in the 21st-century military. The authors, Tyrell Mayfield and Nathan Finney, who range from uniformed military to academics to non-uniformed professionals on the battlefield, delve into whether the concepts of Samuel Huntington, Morris Janowitz, and Sir John Hackett still apply, how training and continuing education play a role in defining a profession, and if a universal code of ethics is required for the military as a profession. Redefining the Modern Military puts a significant emphasis on the individual agency for military professionalism as opposed to broad organizational or cultural change.
What is the backstory behind Redefining the Modern Military?
The idea for Redefining the Modern Military began with a tweet. Dr. Pauline Shanks-Kaurin was preparing for a course in military ethics and tweeted to get some inputs before heading into class. We weighed in with our thoughts, as did many other future contributors. Seeing the enthusiasm for the topic, we decided to collect a series of short articles on the profession and ethics for The Strategy Bridge, the online journal we were both affiliated with. The series went remarkably well and we saw that most of the articles could be expanded and developed deeper, so approached authors to create a collected volume on the topic.
Redefining the Modern Military is the result. Was there an experience that you had that caused you to see a need for Redefining the Modern Military?
In our minds, being a part of the profession of arms requires constant and consistent discussion and internalization of key concepts. History shows that this reflection on the profession is generally done during periods of relative calm between large conflicts. We think our situation as the military has changed, and that the profession requires our attention now. While we are not engaged in large scale conflict now, we don’t believe a break in our state of continuous conflict is coming. As officers that have and could again deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hot spots around the world, we don’t mean to imply there is no conflict or that our men and women are not in danger every day. However, when it comes to the application of the preponderance of forces and the institutional focus of our militaries, we are currently in a period where we are – or at least SHOULD – be assessing performance in our most recent conflicts and thinking deeply about the character of conflict in our future – AND WHAT ANSWERS TO BOTH MEAN FOR THE PROFESSION OF ARMS.
Historically, after a major conflict, there generally occurs a period of introspection. In the U.S., the two most prolific introspection periods that focused on defining the profession of arms and its role were following the Korean and Vietnam Wars. One might speculate this was because of the relative painful and inconclusive results of those conflicts, despite significant resources – including men drafted directly from civil society into uniform – applied to them. Introspection from these two conflicts led to studies by Samuel Huntington and Morris Janowtiz, which attempted to define the profession and place them within the context of civil-military relations. Huntington largely looked back and at his present time to set the framework for defining the profession. Janowitz sought definition but also projected how militaries might look and act in the future, including a smaller, more professional force that better represented its population. Others have since attempted to define, describe, and refine the profession of arms and its place in society, whether to add to the Huntington-Janowitz foundation or to refine it based on the circumstances of their day. These include Sir John Hackett, Dr. Abbott, Dr. Snider, as well as the military services themselves, including the assessment of Army leadership chartered by Gen. Westmoreland at the end of the Vietnam War. Note, however, that the last real look into the profession of arms, Dr. Don Snider’s The Future of the Army Profession, was almost 20 years ago – an entire full career for military leaders.
Because of this situation – a period of relative calm to reflect, previous conflicts that remain unresolved in our professional minds, the distance back to rigorous reflection on the profession, and the opportunity provided by Dr. Shanks-Kaurin’s tweet – we felt a book like this would not only be useful, but critical to the development of our uniformed men and men.
What is the biggest takeaway that you hope a reader will take from Redefining the Modern Military?
Redefining the Modern Military really digs into the need to conduct more focused introspection on the profession and changing character of war. Chapters by military ethicists like Drs. Shanks-Kaurin and Becky Johnson and practitioners like Casey Landru, Steve Foster, and Jo Brick set the foundation for where the profession is today in reference to its place in society and ethical practice. Other chapters, like those by Dr. Tony Ingesson, Mike Denny, Dr. Brian Laslie, and Holly Hughson question the idea of those in (or currently not considered a part of) the profession. Finally, chapters by Drs. Ray Kimball, Simon Anglim, and Will Beasley address the evolution and management of the profession in practical terms. In our minds, the real power of this work goes beyond its content. It is a testament to the changing nature of professional development via non-traditional means. From discussions on social media to initial ideas published on an online journal to in-depth work published in traditional media, Redefining the Modern Military is an example of the depth of tools available to the profession, as well as ways they can be used to reflect, understand, and share to grow the profession. It also demonstrates that the community of practitioners, educators, and supporting actors is vibrant, engaged, and concerned about the status of the profession.
What advice would you have for a mid-career military officer who is considering writing a book?
It takes a ton of work, but the value it provides both personally and professionally is worth it. It’s never too early—or late—to start writing. There are lots of online and print publications to use as sounding boards to test the waters on your thoughts and perspectives. Write, consult with your peers, and seek publication. One of the core tenants of a profession is that it develops and works with expert knowledge. This is a responsibility carried by all of us and we must seek the continuous evaluation of our profession. Don’t hesitate to reach out to either of us if you have questions or we can support your efforts – our profession needs and demands we think and publish.
What are you reading now?
As I am working on a Ph.D. in history, my reading is really focused on that. Key books on my nightstand or office desk at the moment include:
- Isabel Hull’s Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany which digs into Germany’s tendency toward institutional extremism and the Prussian-German army’s habitual inability to formulate strategy in support of rational state policy.
- Jennifer Keene’s Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America which explores how First World War American soldiers gained substantial ability during their mobilization to affect policy decisions and shape organizational habits, and how they used that power.
- I am also reviewing Jeremy Black’s Military Strategy: A Global History for ARMY Magazine and listening to Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile about Churchill’s first year as prime minister and the Nazi aerial bombardment of London. I highly recommend you always have an audiobook going as you work out…it’s a good time to either put some mind candy in the rotation or keep up with a book that requires less focus.
My reading remains widely varied. I spent the 2018 academic year at the US Army War College where much of my reading was directed—I still made time to do as much personal reading as I could to fill in the gaps focusing on fiction, science fiction, and using the time to try and break into some poetry as well. I’ve spent the last two years in command, and so I have turned to fiction as a break from the day to day grind but also sought out books to help me better understand and lead teams. Much of what I read online revolves around my continued work as an editor for The Strategy Bridge.
- Kent Haruf’s Plainsong was one of the most powerful works of fiction I’ve picked up in a very long time. The prose is sharp and beautiful, and I learned a lot about what families mean the value of relationships and the power of empathy. It’s a great book and for me, it reinforces the idea that we have as much to learn from great literature as we do from history.
- Chip Espinoza and Mick Ukleja wrote a great book called Managing the Millennials. I’m solidly in the Generation X camp, but as a squadron commander, I’ve found myself leading an organization full of Millennials and Generation Next Airmen—it has at times been a challenge. One thing that has become clear to me, and that this book helped me understand is how the democratization of information changed the nature of relationships between leaders and those they lead. There are powerful insights in this book, and it helped me see myself through the eyes of others as well as helped me better understand the motivations and intentions of those I’m leading today.
- David Epstein’s book Range was also something that really spoke to me. I’ll admit to some personal bias here, but I’ve long held that generalists are often overlooked in favor of specialists. There is a time and place for deep and niche expertise, but leading large formations responsible for a wide variety of tasks and capabilities often requires a broader view. Our focus as a nation, and as a global economy has driven us towards specialization especially in the STEM fields, but we still need leaders with social science backgrounds, knowledge of the humanities, ethics, and literature to help us make sense of the world we’ve created.
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Nathan K. Finney, an officer in the U.S. Army with a focus on strategy and planning, currently serving as a Goodpaster Scholar and pursuing a doctorate in history at Duke University. He is the creator and co-founder of The Strategy Bridge, the founder and first managing director of the Military Fellowship at the Project on International Peace & Security, a founding member of the Military Writers Guild, a term member at the Council on foreign relations, a non-resident fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point, and a visiting fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He has published in several online forums, print publications, and peer-reviewed journals and is expecting to publish his second book, On Strategy: A Primer later this year. He lives in Durham, NC.
Tyrell O. Mayfield is an officer in the U.S. Air Force with a focus on advising foreign partners and expeditionary security. He is a co-founder of The Strategy Bridge, a founding member of the Military Writers Guild, and has published photography and written work in several online forums, print publications, and peer-reviewed journals. He is a current squadron commander and lives in Oklahoma City, OK.