Midshipman Reading List
When discussing reading lists, most people will respond, much like me that a reading list concept is nice, but we really don’t have the time, especially as a young officer to just sit down and read.
Several years ago, I had the pleasure to work with, then, COL John Allen, USMC, when he was the Commandant of Midshipmen. His view, and his personal example, of our profession and our roles and obligations as officers in that profession changed my personal view on reading and educating myself beyond what was required. Following is a quote from, now, General Allen. (The complete memorandum from General Allen can also be read online):
“Learning our profession...the profession of arms...must be a lifelong and abiding pursuit for the professional serving officer. There can be no equal to, and indeed no substitute for, the officer who has spent a career immersed in the study of the art and science of war. An officer will likely spend no more than three and half years in formal, resident professional military education (PME) over a twenty-year career. With the preponderance of our time split between the operating forces, the support establishment, and "B" billets, we must assume the responsibility and provide for our own development. Unfortunately, unit level PME programs wax and wane based on commanders’ predilections and experience, and operational commitments or other periodic interruptions. Only the individual officer can be fully in charge of his or her professional development.”
Samuel Huntington also provides more insight for us as professionals in his description of the professional officer in The Soldier and the State:
“It is readily apparent that the military function requires a high order of expertise. No individual, whatever his inherent intellectual ability and qualities of character and leadership, could perform these functions efficiently without considerable training and experience. In emergencies an untrained civilian may be capable of acting as a military officer at a low level for a brief period of time, just as in emergencies the intelligent layman may fill in until the doctor arrives. Before the management of violence became the extremely complex task that it is in modem civilization, it was possible for someone without specialized training to practice officership. Now, however, only the person who completely devotes his working hours to this task can hope to develop a reasonable level of professional competence. The skill of the officer is neither a craft (which is primarily mechanical) nor an art (which requires unique and nontransferable talent). It is instead an extraordinarily complex intellectual skill requiring comprehensive study and training. . . The intellectual content of the military profession requires the modern officer to devote about one-third of his professional life to formal schooling, probably a higher ratio of educational time to practice time than in any other profession.”
I think that General Allen’s thoughts and the perspective of Samuel Huntington are applicable whether you plan to stay in for five years, 20 years or 30 years. If you are like me, five years can turn into 30 years - don’t let those first few years slip by. So I commend to each of you to develop a desire to learn our profession and the recommended readings in the following web pages will start you on the road to becoming a professional, Sailor or Marine, better able to serve our nation.
- CAPT James A. Campbell, USN (RET)
Class of 1972 Distinguished Military Professor
Senior Fellow, Vice Admiral Stockdale Leadership