The Why Of The Review

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated recently that the American military is undergoing a major review of itself. He explained that this was not unusual–the military often does this after a major war or wars. Routine.

OK. Routine. But I want you to go a little deeper here.

When you have a predictable basis for review and reflection, that suggests you may fall into a trap. It’s the trap of replaying history. Think about it. One of the standard criticisms of the US military has often been that they refight the last war. It’s a frustration that has been said about other militaries in history, too.

There’s nothing wrong with learning from what didn’t go well, from failures. You want to do that. But when the culture emerges that we always do it as such and such a time, after such and such event or experience, then you better be extra careful that the whole thing doesn’t just become rote, ending up with fixing what didn’t work and not doing anything more.

You see, it’s possible that what didn’t work may not even be likely to happen again. The circumstances may have changed, including technology. The problem won’t even appear again in that form. I know what you’re thinking–but wait, Dan, they may appear again in almost exactly that form because it’s something we just don’t do very well.

True enough. But I do want you to use extra effort and creativity to ensure that you’re not slipping into a jacket made of metal, the metal of the last war. History can affect you in ways you might not even think about. Just pay a little extra attention.