15 January 2010

A Question of Perspective: Ivory Tower vs. Boots-on-the-Ground

There's kind of an age-old question when it comes to defense strategy and military writing--do we prefer books, papers, and ideas from seasoned Soldiers, or do we prefer to get or analysis from those detached from the battlefield? A few bloggers have tackled this question recently, ranging from Kenneth Payne (Kings of War) and Pat Porter (Offshore Balancer) to British war reporter Mark Urban and the infamous Commander Herb Carmen, US Navy (indeed, not only is he a resident fellow at CNAS and a guest blogger at The Best Defense, but he's also responsible for some awesome Youtube videos. He might be the second awesomest person ever...after the dancing Stormtrooper guy)

Quite frankly, there's no easy answer to this debate, as I've seen both academics and Soldiers give laughably bad analysis of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, I really can't add anything to the debate that hasn't been said; however, I'll leave you with some words from the famed British military historian John Keegan, faithfully recalled by not only Ken Payne, but also by Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper in an essay penned in "The Past as Prologue".

I have never been in a battle, and I grow increasingly convinced that I have very little idea of what a battle can be like....I...have generally avoided making a close tactical analysis of battle, entailing as it would my passing judgment on the behaviour of men under circumstances I have not had to meet, and have concentrated the weight of my teaching on such subjects as strategic theory, [and] national defence policy.

Nevertheless, even though Keegan had never worn the uniform, Lt. Gen. Van Riper still held Keegan's "The Face of Battle" in high esteem, vowing from that day on to never shun the works of those who hadn't served, as they might often have just as valuable an opinion as those who had served for decades.

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