In 1934, the US Army was racing to transform quickly enough to win the next war. Knowing successful modernization would require the full ingenuity of the service, Major General Edward Croft, the chief of infantry, sought to revive the flagging Infantry Journal. He hoped doing so might solicit from the Army’s wide base of talent—with all of the experiences, interests, and professional education within it—the ideas needed to modernize well. To pull off the revival, he named Major Edwin “Forrest” Harding as editor.
Croft picked his man well. Harding had a literary mind. When they served together in China a decade before, a young George Marshall had nicknamed Harding the “poet laureate” of the 15th Infantry Regiment. Harding’s literary talents paid off as Infantry Journal editor. In four short years he more than doubled the journal’s circulation, and kicked off a revolution in Army writing.
And the United States is lucky he did.
Under Harding, the Infantry Journal fostered critical debates over changing tactics and technology before America joined World War II. Soldiers hashed out the best use of the rapidly developing tank and means of combining arms.
Today, once again, the Army again finds itself in an interwar period, seeking to modernize before the next war. And today, once again, it needs the input of the entire Army to succeed in doing so. To that end, the Army’s journals again require renewal.
While Military Review—the professional journal of the US Army—has modernized into a web-first, mobile-friendly platform supported by social media, other professional bulletins have missed this transition. Branch magazines, in particular, should be the venue for discussion of branch issues and should be associated with the branches’ centers of excellence. But they now publish less content, less often, and more erratically than ever before. These publications are also distant from the forces they serve, employing no uniformed editors and having only weak connections with authors.
The Harding Project is a grassroots effort to organize those interested in renewing professional publications, inform that community, and solicit their ideas. We are proud to partner with the Modern War Institute on this effort. MWI has led the modern professional publication renewal today as Harding did with the Infantry Journal in the 1930s.
Over the next year, the Harding Project will advocate for four specific actions to renew the US Army’s journals: (1) updating policy to encourage modernization, (2) educating the force on the professional publication landscape, (3) improving archive accessibility, and (4) empowering volunteer editors.
The Five Functions of Professional Writing
Two interwar cases—one leading up to World War II, when Harding revitalized the Infantry Journal, and the second following the Vietnam War—highlight the five important purposes of the Army’s professional journals. First, leaders can inform the force. After Vietnam, the Army found itself transitioning from a low-intensity conflict to a period in which it sought to enhance its readiness for a major war with a peer adversary. Gen. Donald Starry published an article in Military Review, “Extending the Battlefield,” that reflected his observations from the Yom Kippur War and foreshadowed the publication of a new Army operating concept, AirLand Battle. With the Army now in a similar position—preparing for large-scale combat operations after nearly two decades of counterinsurgency and stability operations, and looking for lessons in conflicts like the ongoing war in Ukraine—professional journals offer the same opportunity today.
Second, articles can help connect communities of interest. The Infantry Journal certainly did this, publishing articles in the interwar years like “Tank Divisions” and “Infantry Caterpillar Club” that connected American military thinkers with one another and fostered shared understanding of emerging ideas. It even tied in the work of foreign officers, exposing US Army readers to ideas taking shape outside the country—Heinz Guderian’s article, “Armored Forces,” was published in a 1937 issue.
Third, journals can serve as an outlet for ideas that may not find support from their originators’ local chains of command. The Infantry Journal’s use of pen names provided an outlet for individuals like “Captain Tenderhide,” who complained about woolen Army shirts, or “Private Heelclicker,” who skewered officers that failed to return salutes. But more broadly, the journal provided a venue for ideas to be shared outside of the rigidly hierarchical silos characteristic of military organizations.
Fourth, archived professional journals serve as a repository of earlier thinking that can be repurposed for contemporary challenges. This is an invaluable resource for a force in transition—like the US Army in the wake of the Vietnam War and today’s Army after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And finally, the act of writing and editing builds written communication skills so necessary for leadership. Unfortunately, today’s professional writing landscape needs renewal before these five functions can be fully realized.
The Need for Renewal
The Army’s professional military publications need renewal. From 1982 to 2020, four branch magazines published fewer issues and fewer pages, more erratically, each year. The Army’s professional outlets also publish in outdated formats. While outlets like Military Review have modernized, professional publications largely publish as downloadable PDFs that are incompatible with today’s web-first and mobile world. These downloadable PDFs also make the Army’s archives relatively inaccessible. Those searching for historical documents must rely on topic guides or scrub complete back issues to find information of interest. The decline in content and inaccessibility may be related to the distance between the field and the press. Over the same time period, military editorial staff declined to zero officers working at branch magazines, with just one at Military Review.
This distance between editors and the troops in the field may also contribute to weak engagement on social media, in scholarly work, and with authors. As a social media example, MWI’s more than seventy thousand Twitter followers are nearly ten times the total of Army University Press. On the scholarly side, a forthcoming Harding Project research brief demonstrates that military authors cited professional military writing only 254 times in a sample of 9,014 citations. The lack of social media and scholarly engagement suggest the Army’s publications are not currently reaching their audiences.
Furthermore, the authors contributing to these publications overwhelmingly fail to reflect the diversity of the Army. When the body of officers engaging in professional writing in these outlets is more white and more male than both the Army and the country, the discussions taking place in their pages can hardly be described as representative of the force. These missing perspectives, combined with weak engagement with the field may send eyeballs elsewhere, to non-branch-specific outlets, like MWI, or even to those published entirely outside the military, like War on the Rocks.
The Harding Project Platform
With a modest investment, the Army’s professional journals can be renewed for the modern information environment. The Harding Project advocates for four steps toward renewal.
1. Perfect the policy.
The first step in renewing the Army’s professional publications is to update the Army’s publication policy to support the transition to web-first, mobile-friendly platforms with robust social media support. Outlets like the Modern War Institute embody this approach.
Currently, Army Pamphlet 25-40 and associated policy documents implicitly assume that the “publishing program” they govern takes the printed form, specifying the “cover paper stock,” prohibiting “full-page reversals” and “full-page screening,” and requiring the inclusion of certain information on the cover. While the policy does include a mechanism to request exceptions to professional bulletin standards, the requests must flow from the editorial team, through commanders of the Army command, to the director of the Army Publishing Directorate. No professional bulletin appears to have requested exceptions to policy.
Better publication policy would explicitly encourage modernization to a web-first, mobile-friendly format. Rather than publishing as thirty-eight-megabyte PDF complete issues, professional bulletins could publish articles with relevant content on a rolling basis. When supported by social media, these articles could directly reach their branches’ soldiers and officers on their phones or work desktop computers.
To further encourage change, the Secretary of the Army Awards for Publications Improvement could focus for the next two years on professional bulletin modernization. This awards program recognizes “military and civilian personnel who have made superior contributions in publications.” The awards program has categories for both editors who produce superior publications and for individuals who “develop, manage, or support a program or effort that improves the activity’s publishing system, process, or program.” By tying criteria for these awards to modernizing professional publications, the Army could further encourage renewal.
Changing the policy as described would mean the end of picking up printed copies of branch magazines laying around the company area, but those days are largely over already. Few or no branch magazines are published in hard copy today—they just retain the format from the days when they were. By modernizing to web-first, mobile-friendly platforms, the Army’s professional bulletins will again reach their audiences.
2. Educate the force.
Evidence suggests that as things stand the profession does not read what it writes. Low engagement on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS), low citation rates by Army students, and weak social media presence indicates that many soldiers are probably not even aware of the Army’s fifteen professional bulletins and many other publications. On DVIDS (where many branch magazines are published), Infantry, Armor, Engineer, and Field Artillery in 2022 and 2023 averaged only six downloads and 1,287 hits per issue. Likewise, a forthcoming study of 90 Command and General Staff College (CGSC) monographs and 120 issues of Military Review found that less than 3 percent of citations were of professional bulletins or military student monographs. Finally, no professional journal has its own social media and journals are rarely mentioned on associated branch center of excellence accounts.
The value of a publishing culture compounds but only if soldiers read and build on what each other write. To this end, the Army could adopt several policies. One would be the publication of an annual anthology of each year’s best articles, and the incorporation of that anthology in professional military education (PME) curricula. Another such policy would be mandating the citation of just one professional article per written assignment. Another would be to award noncommissioned officers promotion points for publishing in a professional journal.
None of these suggested policies is a silver bullet and not every soldier in the Army will write, but it is clearly in the Army’s interest for all of them to know that these resources exist, and to program into institutional development exposure to the Army’s publishing ecosystem.
3. Improve the archives.
The Army could gain more from its professional publications. Any student of Socrates or veteran of a good seminar knows that ideas best develop in dialogue with others. But because most Army publications have no indexed archives, every article currently run in an Army publication is more like a shout in a void than a contribution to a conversation.
To more rapidly find solutions to the Army’s tough challenges, the Army should transition archives from the issue-level to the article-level and improve metadata to ease the use of research tools like Zotero.
Today, the Army largely archives professional journals by complete, scanned issue in single PDF files. Unfortunately, issue-level archives challenge students and researchers interested in specific topics rather than what was published at a specific time. In recognition of this challenge, the Army maintains guides to accessing our information. As examples, Infantry maintains a 216-page subject-author index and the Army Heritage Center Foundation hosts dozens of research bibliographies. Issue-level archives make it difficult for action officers or students to access the Army’s rich history of intellectual engagement with important subjects.
Consider recruiting. Recruiting is a continuous process for the Army and a rich subject of professional writing, yet accessing previous writings on the subject is difficult. Notably, Infantry’s index includes only four articles relating to recruiting, while the Army Heritage Center Foundation’s website does not include a bibliography focused on recruiting issues.
Because the Army archives at the issue level, searching is also difficult. A search of Military Review at the Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Library for “recruiting” returns 218 complete issues. Searchers must then download each of the multi-megabyte PDF files, scour the hundred or more pages of each to find the material on recruiting, decide whether the material is suitable for their research, and then record key information including the bibliographic information for future citation. This is a laborious process.
Transitioning to article-level indexing with improved metadata would allow for rapid screening of each search result. Academia and other professions have already transitioned from archives of paper issues to digital archives of articles, so this transition should not be overly burdensome. One option for hosting articles could be with the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC). While this might require some negotiation, DTIC’s holdings are already indexed by search tools like Google Scholar and include document metadata.
4. Empower volunteer editors.
Volunteer editorial teams could increase the capacity of civilian editorial teams at professional journals, develop a capable cohort of military writers, and better connect professional journals with the force. Extrapolation from a recent survey suggests there could be more than 360 potential volunteer editors for Army journals, many times the number of professional staff. This is important, as military authors have limited connection with overwhelmingly civilian editorial staff.
Professional journals could adopt an editorial format similar to that used by law reviews, with military volunteers augmenting a permanent civilian staff. At the branch level, each center of excellence could recruit and train junior editors from lieutenants in their basic courses with the aptitude and inclination, who could perform basic functions like social media support, screening articles, and copy editing. Centers of excellence could then either promote junior editors into senior editors or recruit new senior editors from those so inclined at career courses. Volunteer editors would thus constantly refresh as new editors are recruited and other volunteers drop off as other commitments require their attention elsewhere. This constant cycle of volunteer editors is a feature that ensures that the professional journals modernize their formats as media continues to evolve, builds a cohort of talented writers, and fosters a continued connection with the issues in the field.
Together, the four elements of the Harding Project platform will renew the Army’s professional publications. New policy will modernize outlets. The citation requirement will educate the force on the Army’s publications and create a demand signal for more accessible archives. Then, improved archives will unlock our history for both students and professional military authors who want to build on the work of previous authors. Finally, empowering volunteers will improve outlet capacity to edit, publish, and publicize articles while also building a cohort of talented communicators and connecting journals with the field.
The Harding Project, and the greater reinvestment in professional military writing, will not succeed unless the full complement of Army talent buys in. We invite those passionate about renewing military writing to follow the Harding Project here at MWI, where regular feature pieces will be published, and to subscribe to the Harding Project Substack newsletter. If you’d like to submit an article or post for consideration, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The US Army finds itself in an interwar moment of great consequence, but not for the first time. In similar periods in the past, Army leaders such as Major Edwin Harding seized the moment to renew military professional writing. That reinvestment ensured that there was a professional venue for essential debates about doctrine and technology needed to ready for the next war. It is time for the US Army to make such a reinvestment, and the Harding Project represents the beginning of it.
Zachary Griffiths is a major in the United States Army.
Theo Lipsky is a captain in the United States Army.
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.