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Old Myths, New Myths: Renewing American Military Thought

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Journal article

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Our Army is worn-out. Not in the ordinary sense of being physically tired on the contrary, units in the field are making it happen with an astonishing energy that comes from having good troops and dedicated, well-intentioned leaders. Rather, whats worn-out is our thinking--the fundamental ideas that give the Army its character and inform its basic policies. As used here, the phrase fundamental ideas suggests nothing so transitory as doctrine or organization or management systems. It refers to the assumptions or beliefs that define the constants in the Armys style of managing its peacetime affairs or fighting its wars. These beliefs do little to explain the differences between the Active Defense of the 1970s and the AirLand Battle of the 1980s. Of far greater importance, however, they help us understand why such doctrinal change, supposedly so far-reaching, has had such a negligible effect on the Army--why, in the eyes of those of us tracing our service back to the 1960s, when so much has supposedly changed, so much remains the same. The historian William A. McNeill has labeled such fundamental ideas myths, emphasizing their elusiveness as well as their persuasive power. According to Professor McNeill, myths playa large role in determining the behavior of any complex institution. In referring to such ideas as mythic, McNeill is not suggesting that they are false or mistaken. Instead, he is acknowledging that such myths are not subject to empirical proof. Seldom factual, such myths nonetheless reflect in broad terms what a majority of the institutions members know to be true.

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  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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