Tag: Profession of Arms

The Value of the Historical Staff Ride

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

Having just returned from a historical staff ride to Gettysburg, there are still some things fresh in mind that seem worth sharing.  There are generally three phases to a historical staff ride: preliminary study, an in-depth site visit, and an integration (or reflection) period.  The step which connects the site visit to the reflection is the most important, as this is when memories are formed and lessons stored for future use.  What follows are some thoughts I offer cadets at the start of the reflection period to help enable this connection along (Note: the use of “you” – this is typically directed toward cadets).

Beginning Integration/Reflection

First, you must learn to fight wars in your mind before learning to fight with your hands. Three days at Gettysburg is every bit as important, as, say, three days in formal military schooling (i.e. Officer Basic Course).  It’s often said that the greatest weapon on the battlefield is the radio (or the rifle), but one could counter that it is actually the sound military judgment of a member of the Profession of Arms. When one thinks in specific of the Battle of Gettysburg, many consider Major General John Buford’s vision on June 30/July 1st as critical in Union victory.  Certainly his judgment – his simultaneous consideration of a multitude of factors (time, space, and firepower to name just three) – is noteworthy and indicative of the lessons on offer for military professionals at Gettysburg.

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Balancing the Search for Truth with Obedience – Where the Profession of Arms (Often) Fails

Friday’s Last Word – Pull Pin, Throw Grenade, Run Away: A provocative thought to kick off the weekend…

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

In war, as in the Profession of Arms, two major concepts often collide – the search for truth – and obedience.  George Orwell wrote about this indirectly in 1946,

“The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

On one hand, the battlefield can be conceived of as one gigantic “problem” that takes curiosity, patience, and persistent study.  Clausewitz wrote in On War, “Bonaparte rightly said that …many of the decisions faced by the commander-in-chief resemble mathematical problems worthy of the gifts of Newton or Euler.”  On the other hand, a military (armies in particular) can be thought of as a single organic body.  If it does not function as one, or with “unity of effort,” then it’s effectiveness is significantly degraded.  In short, from my perspective, the U.S. military tends to lean towards the second at the expense of the first. 

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