#Monday Musings: Robert Mihara

"Monday Musings” are designed to get quick, insightful thoughts based around three questions from those interested in strategy, from the most experienced and lauded, to our newest thinkers/writers.

1. Who had the greatest impact on you intellectually (whether through writing, mentorship, etc.)?

I think the greatest contributors to my intellectual development have been Prof. Thomas Nimick, my undergraduate thesis advisor at West Point, and Prof. Brian Linn, my graduate advisor at Texas A&M University. I believe their essential contribution was not any discrete piece of wisdom but the quality discourse that they elicited. I am amused when I hear someone volunteer how many master’s degrees he has or will have, as if degrees and certifications are akin to merit badges. What Linn and other professors taught me through example is what I believe to be the essence of graduate education and intellectuality. Quite simply, it is the pursuit of wisdom out of a love for understanding and what it empowers professionals of conscience to accomplish for society. I think too many students approach graduate degrees as just another credential, and it manifests in their focus on answers rather than the questions that should precede them.

It is the primacy of seeking rather than drawing conclusions that characterize sound intellectual practice whether one is an intellectual or not. Not all graduate students will make a career in the academy, but, having earned their degree, all graduate students ought to grasp how vast their ignorance will always be...more than they ought to be impressed with their expertise however hard won. Wisdom first requires an admission that there are vast unknowns that exist and always exist. Many holders of master and doctoral degrees are deep in knowledge but light on wisdom. Both Nimick and Linn instilled in me an understanding of how to discern the difference and a personal commitment to reject the narcissistic temptations of expertise.

2. What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?

The best books on strategy describe the challenges inherent to solving problems through violence. There are select works that represent the essential introduction to strategy, but, beyond that stage, the most important book for any individual is the one that becomes an intellectual touchstone—a cognitive space that defines fundamental relationships between people and phenomena. For me, Alistair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace became that all-important book. The relationship between the tactical and the strategic, the consequence of violence, and the immutable features of war and society were brought out to me in reading and re-reading Horne’s account of the French-Algerian war, and I have since relied upon those meditations in my work as a historian and a strategist.

3. What do you want your legacy to be?

I would like my legacy to be a history of opportunities for leaders to take a road previously unseen, for colleagues to make their own leaps by learning from the insights and fallacies of my work, and for students and subordinates to learn from their mistakes without being branded with a scarlet letter. Opening doors for others is the essence of what I believe professionals of conscience are called to do. The work I do in print, behind the lectern, and in meeting rooms are only means to the end of helping individuals to do and to be better for themselves and for society. I hope that what I do ultimately fulfills that ideal.

Robert Mihara is a Featured Contributor on The Bridge, a strategist in the U.S. Army, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and holds an M.A. in U.S. History from Texas A&M University. From 2007 to 2010, he taught courses at West Point on general military history and the history of irregular wars. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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