From Screen to Paper: Redefining the Modern Military

Nathan K. Finney and Tyrell O. Mayfield

There are some topics that always bear revisiting. These conversations never truly end, and one of them that resurfaces time and again is the status of the profession of arms. Nearly four years ago, Dr. Pauline Shanks-Kaurin hit send on a tweet renewing this conversation in ways that were, at the time, unpredictable. Today, given the ensuing course of events, it seems even more important than it did at the time.

Social media has transformed the way we communicate, and this initial tweet from Dr. Shanks-Kaurin set in motion an intellectual debate about the status of the profession of arms, its history, and its arc into the future. Tweets led to conversations, which resulted in an extended series of seventeen articles on The Strategy Bridge discussing the intersection of profession and ethics in the modern military.

The depth of the conversation and the response from our readers made it clear that the series held a great deal of potential beyond just the articles in The Strategy Bridge. Just as their predecessors had, a new generation of military officers, professors, and intellectuals addressed the topic of the profession of arms in new and meaningful ways. We set to work curating the articles and reaching out to a few additional voices to ensure the discussion reflected not only a historical perspective on the profession of arms, but also looked into the future and addressed the continued evolution of modern militaries. A book following in the footsteps of Samuel P. Huntington's The Soldier and the State, Morris Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier, John W. Hackett’s Profession of Arms, and Don Snider’s The Future of the Army Profession began to take shape.

Over sixty years have passed since Huntington’s seminal text was published in 1957, yet it remains a foundational document and still serves as a starting point for military professionals to think about the status and future of the profession of arms. Huntington, Janowitz, and Hackett, all writing during the brief interlude between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, saw the demise of a conscripted force and the need for the professionalization of modern militaries. Reassessments of the military profession follow a predictable cycle: nations fight wars employing militaries developed between conflicts; following conflicts they assess their performance, modify training and organization, and then reorganize and refocus on efforts to improve the lethality and professionalism of their force. The twentieth century alone is replete with these cycles. For the American military, such cycles are present following the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the conflict in the Balkans, and Operation Desert Storm. Dr. Don Snider’s The Future of the Army Profession, published in 2002, began to readdress the status of America’s professional army at the onset of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The half-life of a military professional is short in the larger context of the profession of arms. Therefore, the cultivation of expert knowledge and the development of new generations of professionals is a constant endeavor. This is where we believe Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics, the cultivated fruit of The Strategy Bridge series, enters the conversation.

In the days ahead, The Strategy Bridge will re-publish the original essays selected for inclusion in the forthcoming book from the U.S. Naval Institute Press. Contributors include a diverse set of practitioners and thinkers of the profession of arms: military officers who have served during the nearly two decades of sustained conflict since the publication of Don Snider’s work; academics who have trained and educated this new generation of professionals; and, importantly but often overlooked, civilians and lawyers who serve alongside that generation on the battlefield, providing guidance and counsel. This book seeks to rekindle the conversation and advance the continual reevaluation of the military profession into the twenty-first century.

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been no less influential in the development of the American military and its Western allies than the near disaster of the Korean War. These conflicts have, at times, also been just as controversial as the Vietnam War. Because of these dynamics, the professionalism of Western militaries is ripe for another discussion. The practitioners who make up the profession of arms—and those that study and teach them—owe it to their citizens, their governments, and themselves to shape their forces, and educate their professionals, in preparation for the future. It is their duty to ensure they are prepared to ethically and effectively achieve the military objectives their leaders lay before them, no matter the adversary or the context of the conflict.

Nathan K. Finney is an officer in the U.S. Army with a focus on strategy and planning. He is a co-editor and author of Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics. He has published in a number of online forums, print publications, and peer-reviewed journals.

Tyrell O. Mayfield is an officer in the U.S. Air Force with a focus on advising foreign partners and expeditionary security operations. He is a co-editor and author of Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics. He has published photography and written work in a number of online forums, print publications, and peer-reviewed journals.

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Header Image: then-President Barack Obama introducing General Martin Dempsey as his choice for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in May 2011. (Charles Dharapak/AP)