The Military Imperative for the Liberal Arts
Kaufmann, Joseph Gregory, Jr
Collins, Michael J
After more than a decade of war involving close and often personal interaction with people of other cultures, beliefs, and customs, the Army is once again turning its attention to the need to re-establish its competence and capacity for conventional, force-on-force combat. As seen in past historical patterns of post-conflict reorientation, the Army is trumpeting its high technology edge and its anticipation of future high technology advances. Unfortunately, as captured in public statements and regulatory guidance, the Army concurrently champions an undergraduate education in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines for its future leaders in the precommissioning phase of professional military education (PME). However, that endorsement of a STEM education stands in direct opposition to the leadership narrative that emerges through close textual reading and analysis of the many publications addressing leadership and leader preparation. This narrative clearly emphasizes outcomes that can only be met through a broad-based education best accomplished through a liberal arts education.The national security establishment is a massive bureaucracy. Unsurprisingly, it publishes thousands of documents that serve to direct, guide, or suggest actions to the armed services in the execution of their duties. Starting with the National Security Strategy published by the White House, and following the cascading narrative thread through the various textual levels of the establishment--Congress, Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and ending in this case with the U.S. Army--a distinct and ever-more specific discussion of leader expectations, knowledge, attributes, and competencies are identified. With specific attention to the Army, this textual narrative thread belies the public statements supporting STEM education.Unsurprisingly, given the massive amount of written texts, contradictions arise. However, this particular contradiction carries implications beyond the normal. When the future officer graduates from college and is commissioned as a new second lieutenant, he or she immediately assumes responsibility for soldiers assigned to his or her platoon and for leading them across a full range of missions from direct combat to post-conflict stability operations in a foreign location surrounded by indigenous populations to defense support to civilian authorities within the United States. The human complexity of the lieutenant's responsibilities argues for the liberal arts as the optimum precommissioning education for the future officer.Using literature as its primary example, the thesis argues that a liberal arts education is the best means of producing the leaders that the Army itself has described in its own literature as ideal. The argument is made through first person teaching examples, a literary theory of how literature study supports the learner, examination of recent, empirical research on the role of reading fiction and need for cognitive closure, and recent work on the multi-faceted cognition of the integrative thinker. Consequently, the close alignment of these outcomes with the textually defined leadership model will support the conclusion that a liberal arts education is the more appropriate and helpful undergraduate education during the precommissioning PME.
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