Events

The U.S. Army War College: Military Education in a Democracy

October 24, 2002 // 12:00am

"The Army War College is a nearly invisible institution," according to Professor Stiehm, although it offers the last formal military education given to officers in the pool from which generals are selected. Most political and other social scientists ignore the military; the few who write about military education focus entirely on the academies. Stiehm therefore spent a year as a participant-observer at the War College, seeking to determine whether it does an adequate job of preparing its students for their future responsibilities.

Eighty percent of the College students arrived with masters degrees, with both college and graduate degrees having been earned in non-elite universities. Forty of the 320 students came from abroad. They were taught by a faculty only 25% of which had Ph.D.s. All students took a first semester core seminar, which carefully mixed native and foreign students, Caucasians and members of minority groups, and so on, in each group. The emphasis was on peer-teaching, with the faculty giving no lectures but relying in part on lectures by non-faculty such as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Stiehm particularly wanted to explore the way the College addressed the civilian-military relationship. What, she wondered, convinces the people who have guns that they should take orders from those who do not? Her fellow students, most of whom become colonels within months of arriving at the College, said that in fact the role of the military in a democratic state was the most important thing they learned about there.

She nonetheless found that critical thinking, which she described as the essence of education, was not encouraged. The College stressed loyalty to the group, discipline, and sacrifice, unlike the more individualistic and libertarian values found in both the Constitution and the general civilian population. On balance, she thought the College did more training than educating.

Dr. Korb, who served in the navy and has taught at the Naval War College, commented that few members of the military understand that their role is not merely to defend a piece of geography but, rather, to defend a way of life. The military is largely unwilling to listen to civilians and knows that civilian critics are likely to back down, as President Clinton did with his policy about behavior toward gays in the military. He advocated emulating the British system and providing future members of the military with a civilian undergraduate education, rather than the education some of them now receive at the military academies, combined with a year to be spent at a military educational institution similar to Sandhurst.


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