Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics 

  • Published

Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics edited by Nathan K. Finney and Tyrell Mayfield. Naval Institute Press, 2018, 246 pp.

In Redefining the Modern Military, Nathan Finney and Tyrell Mayfield set out to explore the meaning of military professionalism and the military ethic as an element of professionalism. Finney and Mayfield are field grade officers in the Army and Air Force, respectively. With many years of military service and multiple advanced degrees between them, they bring a unique perspective to the topic of military professionalism. Namely, they blend an understanding of military realities and academic theory. The edited volume consists of a foreword by General Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an introduction by the two editors, 12 substantive chapters by 12 diverse authors, and a conclusion also by Finney and Mayfield. In the context of other works on military professionalism, this volume picks up where Samuel Huntington’s The Soldier and the State, Morris Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier, and Sir John Hackett’s The Profession of Arms left off. Throughout the work, authors reference some of the major professionalism initiatives within the services and relevant literature that either tangentially or directly relates to military professionalism.

The book is divided into two sections. The first six chapters explore what it means to be a military professional more broadly and whether the military is a profession (the consensus is that it is). The remaining six chapters analyze specific topics in the context of professionalism. In the first section, authors did an excellent job of summarizing the points made by Huntington, Janowitz, and Hackett and placing military professionalism in the context of other professions such as medicine or law. While philosophically fascinating, these chapters can become repetitive and leave this reader wanting more of an applied approach. Instead of each author discussing Huntington, for example, the work could have benefitted from an introductory chapter on the relevant literature. The most compelling chapter in this section is H. M. Denny’s “Professionals Know When to Break the Rules.” Here, a personal experience of leadership and decision-making in wartime is used to set up a discussion on professionalism. It is a powerful tool and makes the rest of the otherwise academic discussion more meaningful. For junior personnel without operational experience, these examples and anecdotes are extremely beneficial. Their absence is felt in the chapters without them. Overall, however, this first section is an excellent introduction to the idea of and debates around military professionalism. Pairing readings here with discussion and reflection on real-world scenarios will only enhance the learning experience.

The second section dives into topics such as professionalism in the Army, Navy, and Air Force; professional military education and mentorship as tools for professionals; and the role and professionalism of humanitarians on the battlefield. The sections on a specific service’s professionalism are the highlight of the book. By analyzing the history of each service’s professionalism, the authors can help readers critically reflect on their service’s professionalism today. For example, while many officers might know Air Force history, the chapter on Air Force professionalism by Brian Laslie analyzes the impact of figures such as Billy Mitchell on service culture and professionalism. The chapter on mentorship, written by Raymond Kimball, also shines. It examines the benefits and requirements of mentorship while also discussing how many can be left behind by the lack of mentorship. I found myself reflecting on my own mentorship experiences and how they might have been improved as a result. While these chapters seem to jump around, they are linked by the thread of professionalism. One notable omission, especially because it is often hailed as a highly professional force, is the lack of any chapter specifically on the Marine Corps. Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen will nevertheless appreciate the chapters on their respective service.

Ultimately, the book makes the argument that there are no easy answers. Military professionalism is a constant pursuit, not an end state to be reached. Ethics, notoriously difficult to teach as the authors point out, is a core component of professionalism. Professionalism is not simply following checklists, although the absence of doing so might indicate a lack of professionalism. Each service has unique characteristics and challenges. As warfare constantly changes, service members of all rank and tenure will need to continually reflect on what it means to be a professional.

This book would be ideally read with a group of other service members to discuss in the context of past or anticipated situations. As a stand-alone entity, it is likely too esoteric for a junior officer to fully appreciate without guidance (this reviewer included). The authors do, however, point out that many of those faced with the most difficult decisions on the battlefield often have the least military experience and training on professionalism. It is thus imperative that neither rank, nor age, nor experience be used as an excuse not to study and reflect on what it means to be a professional. Service members coming off a first tactical tour or with some years of experience would likely find this work beneficial as a tool to reflect on their own professional conduct and how they might improve in the future.

As the editors and many authors argue, the current security situation—namely, the American military’s shift to great power competition after two decades of conflict in the Middle East—makes this an ideal time for thought on what it means to be a military professional. Finney and Mayfield make a valuable contribution to starting a discussion on the topic.

2d Lt David Alman
Alabama Air National Guard

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."