I was honored to be invited to the historic Naval War College to speak to the staff and student body this week. I never attended the school as a student, but during my short visit, I learned a ton.
There is something dignified about an institution that is dedicated to developing the cerebral skills of the military officers who will some day run their respective services. I say services because all services are represented there, as are many civilian agencies.
First, they study the history of warfare with an emphasis on how to avoid war.
Second, they study the politics and logistics of the massive preparation necessary to wage and win wars.
Third, they learn how to successfully wage war.
They read classic works by such giants as Clausewitz, McCullough, and Monsarrat for context; and read modern books with a decidedly present day emphasis (“Moneyball: the Art of Winning an Unfair Game”, “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”, and others). The students participate in complex war games using state of the art facilities. They participate in developing future strategies for Navy planners.
The school has a jaw-dropping museum, hosting artifacts from famous names from naval history, but the history isn’t limited to one building. A stroll through the halls of the school itself is like visiting the Smithsonian.
It is in the shadow of the great naval leaders that students study the art (and science) of modern war. The overwhelming feeling of the campus is one of quiet study, as if the whole place were one big library. The men and women who study there are deadly serious about learning, and the results speak for themselves. When they leave, they leave enlightened, with a real appreciation for the strategic considerations that must be part of a global military presence.
International officers comprise a full 17% of the population. Of those, about half are destined to become flag officers. Many will some day fill the top spots in their respective services.
The 53rd and current President is RADM John Christenson, a Surface Warfare Officer not only with an impeccable reputation, but also with a passion for naval history. He has nurtured a culture of scholarship there, and it shows.
What jumped out at me was the focus on putting people with different backgrounds and skills together, encouraging new perspectives to be applied to military problems. It also allows officers from different services and nationalities to get to know one another. Imagine how important that can be when future leaders can pick up the phone and talk to old classmates to avoid a crisis or resolve conflict.
Thank you, Admiral, for the hospitality you and your staff showed me this week. It was an honor to walk in the footsteps of past – and future – leaders of our Navy, and a privilege to meet the incredible men and women who teach and study at one of the country’s great military institutions.