Introduction (Cont.): The Marine Corps

After I joined the Marine Corps, my ideas about the profession of arms and my place in it waxed and waned. I went through some fairly idealistic periods. I might call them my bouts of chivalry. At other times, I succumbed to the mercenary model, the idea that I was a guy trained and paid to fight, and don’t bore me with the causes involved. In fact the less cause the better, since that made it a purely “professional” matter. Either way, starry-eyed idealist or hardened cynic, I wasn’t so much thinking about the military profession as feeling: reacting to or against the company I kept, the views of my superiors or staff NCOs, maybe the latest book I’d read (or movie I’d seen).

This started to change when I left the active duty ranks, remaining as a Marine reservist, marrying and attending grad school.  The move to reserve duty and grad school was partly prompted by a nagging sense that I wasn’t using my head enough and that I had a lot to learn. In grad school, I wound up writing both my masters thesis and doctoral dissertation on war literature, so grad school became both my training as an academic and my advanced education as an officer.

In the 90’s I took on the additional duty of adjunct faculty for the Marine Corps Command and Staff Course, non-resident program. I conducted a seminar to discuss the required readings, which ran from theory and history to nuts and bolts tactics and operations, the whole course tapped off by a war game.  The students were mostly reserve Marine majors, although we almost always had some officers from active duty, the other services, and of greater or lesser grade.  These were officers of some experience, getting ready for the broader responsibilities of a senior command and staff positions. I came to think of the course as an inquiry into the nature of military professionalism.  What were military professionals expected to know, to be able to do?  What ethos ought we hold to?  Were reservists professionals? What had we learned from our earlier service that would be valuable going forward, and what assumptions did we need to question?  How could we communicate our knowledge and beliefs to others?  As either reserve officers or active duty officers on independent duty, the subject of civil-military relations was one we lived with every day.   These experienced men and women had ideas of their own about these topics.  Being away from the big Marine Corps and in most cases pursuing civilian careers gave us added perspective, a basis for comparison between the military and other  professions.  From our conversations about the nature of military professionalism arose the conviction that military professionalism consists of a deep knowledge of the nature and impact of armed conflict, and that the POA (profession of arms) was in essence, and considered most broadly and contextually, a subset of the humanities, in its concern with language and values, with history and the goals of civilization. Although ours could be a brutal business (by the mid 2000s, I and most students were coming back from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan), only a civilized person was fit to do what we did. Only a student of the humanities could see armed conflict in all of its tragedy and complexity.

All for now. More to follow.


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