The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H100/101 Critical Thinking and Military History

One of the recent popular books that delves into the subject of critical and creative thinking is Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. This book y is a fairly in depth discussion of intuitive decision making. What is interesting is that I was not expecting Gladwell to talk about the military, but he does. The following is one excerpt from the book:

“Of all the interviews I conducted while researching Blink, the one that made the most lasting impression on me was my interview with General Paul Van Riper –the hero (or villain) of the Pentagon’s Millennium Challenge war game…. I remember being surprised when he took me on a tour of his house by the number of books in his study. In retrospect, of course, that’s a silly thing to find surprising. Why shouldn’t a Marine Corps general have as many books as an English professor? I suppose that I had blithely assumed that generals were people who charged around and “did” things; that they were men of action, men of the moment. But one of the things that Van Riper taught me was that being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous course of education and experience. Van Riper beat Blue Team because of what he had learned about waging war in the jungles of Vietnam. And he also beat Blue Team because of what he had learned in that library of his. Van Riper was a student of military history.”

So, given the above and the readings for H101, consider the following questions:

Do you agree that military history is a critical tool for the professional officer? If so, how do you rate the army as an institution, providing and emphasizing that skill? Why?

If you think its an important skill, is it only important for senior leaders and field grade officers? Does it have uses for the company grade officer and NCO as well?

If it is an important skill –what can the Army do to teach the skill better than it does?


August 19, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Just a few of my thoughts on this issue:
    Military history is a critical tool for the professional officer because it provides the individual with developmental information regarding their chosen profession. The Army professional military education (PME) system, focuses on historical vignettes to apply leadership lessons, a couple of these that come to mind are COL Chamberlin at Little Round Top and SGT Alvin York in World War One. I remember these from when I attended the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC) in Grafenwohr, Germany, during the summer of 1993.
    Reading and studying military history is an important skill for all leaders in the Army. As one matures through the ranks whether from E1-E9, WO1-CW5, or O1- GO, the lessons learned through previous military recordings can positively shape the individual to make decisions in the future. It is impossible for one individual to study all historical data, but it does allow for one to develop a deeper intuition for informed decision making. As we learn and work through the decision making process, historical lessons can be our ally as we can learn vicariously from those who were there. As an enlisted Soldier, I had the opportunity to participate in boards: Soldier of the Month, NCO of Month, and for promotion. One subject area that was common through these boards was Army and unit history. A continued emphasis on military history integrated into regular training opportunities could be of benefit for Soldiers, instead of primarily during PME. Through studies of historical events, we can create counterfactual scenarios to apply and solidify lessons learned for current and future military leaders.

    Comment by William H Edmonds | October 16, 2016

  2. it is a good article that makes me think with a different way. First, I do agree that military history is a critical tool for the professional officer, but to be fair I think the army as an institution provide and emphasize that skills but not with the sufficient quantity, and I can give him a rate of 7 to 8 because the army concentrates more in the applicable thing but not history, for example in CGSC, the student take only 2 hours per week for history which is very little comparing to the other materials.Second, yes I think studying the history in general and military history specific is an important skill and it is not only important for senior leaders and field grade officers but also for the other component of the military organization. The officers and NCOs as well should learn history from the beginning but not everything of the history. they should concentrate on the tactics of it and the technics that was used, and with being promoted to higher rank, they study transfer their concentration point and begin to studying reasons of the war and the other concepts, and then they begin to study the environment and link it to different part from the history to apply it the current oprations.Always with the higher rank, they reach they should study more conceptional but to be able you should know detail which they should study earlier. Military history is the greatest Art and Science for the military leaders.

    Comment by mohamedmillataryleader | November 3, 2016

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