The physician, poet, fiction and essay writer William Carlos Williams wrote of “something urgent I have to tell to you.” The “something urgent” that someone tries to relate in a book may grow gradually, over the course of years and even a lifetime. The search for inspiration, for urgency, requires openness and curiosity. Of course, it took more than persistence, curiosity and inspiration to write the book. There were of course other influences than those I have listed. All books are perhaps acts of presumption, although mine may have been more a matter of effrontery than most, since I was telling people how to think (although, in my own defense, generally not what to think!)
The high concept of military officership and professionalism explored and expressed in my last two books is made urgent, I believe, by several factors. Armed forces are being called on to prepare for and to conduct a wide and changing spectrum of operations. This is taking place in a complex, divisive domestic political context and an unsettled global situation that the current pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated. The moral and personal challenges to the profession of arms have perhaps never been greater. Officers are going to be required to learn more quickly, to think more deeply, and to move out more smartly than perhaps the soldiers of any other era. Very recent and current events in the United States seem to be writing a new page in this history of civil-military relations, potentially placing a strain on the American officer’s Constitutional oath without precedent for over a century and half. We hope that this feverish period will pass quickly, but some of the questions of duty and obedience will remain even when the crisis is passed.
One way to meet these present and future challenges is to practice our cognitive and communication skills by reading widely and trying to write every day, even when we’re tired and frankly fed up. I hope that what I have written in this short essay might encourage some readers to write their own books. Most people likely have a book in them somewhere, and that might be especially true of military veterans, our minds full of stories and unprocessed impressions crying out for development and articulation. Keep it up: keep hitting the keys, and keep your eyes and ears open for inspiration. One day maybe you’ll wake up find you’ve written a book, as I did, and that it was worth the effort, a belief in which I persist while the jury may still be out on How to Think Like an Officer!
Coming up: The Intrepid and Phil Klay’s Missionaries