Redefining the Modern Military Cover

Redefining the Modern Military

The Intersection of Profession and Ethics

Edited by Nathan K. Finley and Tyrell O. Mayfield

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2018, 264 pages

Book Review published on: August 2, 2019

The nature of the military profession is a topic of much study by academics and military practitioners in the post-World War II era. Scholars such as Samuel Huntington, Morris Janowitz, Sir John Hackett, and Don Snider wrote extensively on this topic. Beginning with the Army War College study of 1970, the Army periodically engaged in critical examination of the nature of military professionalism. The Army eventually codified its thinking in Army Doctrine Reference Publication 1, The Army Profession (the most recent version is dated 14 June 2015). In Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics, Nathan Finley and Tyrell Mayfield argue that a reexamination of the nature of the military profession is in order given the many changes in the conduct of warfare and in technology observed over the last two decades.

Finley and Mayfield present a well-edited collection of essays on the subject of military professionalism. The contributors, although diverse in their viewpoints, focus on three common themes regarding military professionalism: consideration of ethics, the importance of education, and the role of mentorship.

The editors organized their book into two parts. The first part considers the nature of the profession, the ethical considerations of military professionalism, and even whether the military should properly be considered a profession. It includes a well-presented discussion of the history and evolution of the military as a profession over the last six decades.

The second part examines education, mentorship, and other topics such as the professional culture of the Navy, Air Force, and humanitarian aid workers. Their contributors are international, multidisciplinary, and from differing professional backgrounds. The reader is thus exposed to viewpoints from academia (civilian institutions and war colleges), the practice of law, civil service, and military officers from all branches and components. Their educational background is also quite diverse, including historians, political scientists, philosophers, and ethicists (as well as a gentleman who is the victim of an engineering education). This diversity is a collective strength of this book, and the individual chapters are well presented and thought provoking.

The consensus of Redefining the Modern Military is that the military is a profession based on development and maintenance of expert knowledge, a unique ethical foundation, and a responsibility to serve the interests of the client (the United States). Even so, there are dissenting voices from contributors that merit consideration by the reader. Brian Laslie asserts that there is no one monolithic profession in the U.S. Air Force. In his account, the service is a federation of professions that evolved over time to meet the needs of the various communities within the Air Force, and that the status quo meets the needs of the service.

William Beasley offers a cautionary tale of what happens when professionals place too much emphasis on the technical aspects of their practice. He argues that the U.S. Navy has done so at the expense of developing and sustaining knowledge in the application of sea power and maritime strategy. In his view, the Navy surrendered its claim of professionalism by overspecializing and overemphasizing the technical and operational aspects of service and ceding exclusive jurisdiction over professional knowledge of strategy and sea power.

Tony Ingesson argues that there is no such thing as a universal military profession. He asserts the modern conception of a military profession is linked to Huntington’s The Soldier and the State, and that the requirements of the military vocation are far more demanding than those placed on traditional professions because of the political aspects of the vocation. His perspective is that equating military service to a profession is an inappropriate oversimplification of the nature of military service. Each of these dissenting views warrant serious study.

Finney and Mayfield’s purpose is to stimulate a dialogue about the military as a profession. They succeed. Redefining the Modern Military is relevant and appropriate reading for today’s military professional. This book is interesting, thought provoking, informative, and gives a voice to dissenting opinions about the nature of the military as a profession. The contributors do an excellent job of describing what makes the military a profession and the development of the professional ethos in the military. They also emphasize the importance of education, mentoring, and individual development to the continuance of this professional ethos. Finally, they make a compelling argument that periodic reexamination of the profession, carried out by practitioners, is a defining professional characteristic of the military. Their book is timely, and relevant, and should be added to your professional reading list.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Stephen V. Tennant, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas