Tags: Book, Maritime Strategy
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
– Mark Twain
In the introduction to his book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era, LCDR BJ Armstrong, USN speaks to a problem with a lot of the foundational thinkers on the military art. Referring to modern policymakers, naval leaders, and analysts who do bring up Mahan, Armstrong states,
These writers and thinkers are mistaken. They focus solely on his most famous work and unthinkingly repeat the analysis taught by some academics. Few of these writers appear to have actually read the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
Bingo. Many people have a Cliff’s Notes thick understanding of Mahan because they have never been asked to, or made the independent effort to, read the primary source. As a result, many of them are reading modern commentary run through the intellectual grinders of deconstructionism and critical theory to the point that they aren’t even really reading about Mahan any more. They are reading one academic’s commentary on another academic who read a summary of Mahan.
The utility of Armstrong’s work is really rather simple; in each section he tees the ball up for a few pages and then steps away. He lets Mahan speak for himself in long form; not pull quotes or some temporally transposed mash-up of different works stitched together to make a post-modern point.
Some of the worst commentary on Mahan I have read has come from people who really should know better, and a lot of the fault lies in how we teach Mahan.
If you try to take a short cut about learning about a thinker by simply quoting what other people have said about them using a two-line pull quote followed by 55 pages of pontification – then are you really studying the thinker? Are we teaching from primary sources, or are we letting commentary and conjecture of lesser minds come to the fore?
Live by the gouge … be ignorant by the gouge.
Along those lines, there are other naval and military thinkers out there that most of us know about, but do we really know what they said – have we been provided the primary source in an easily digestible format like we see in 21st Century Mahan? As such, have we had a chance to see what can inform our decisions as we prepare for this century’s challenges?
Who would you like to see given a treatment like Mahan was given by Armstrong? Who should be next in line to be introduced anew?
Put your ideas in comments.
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
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- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC