Saturday, May 08, 2004

Military Education IV

Part I
Part II
Part III

Up till now, I've discussed the long-term benefits the military receives from its established education system. But there can be powerful short-term benefits even with newly formed schools.

Ideas don't just move though an organization on their own: they are carried by people. Even when an organization has no formal apparatus for knowledge transfers, they go on. Lessons are learned and imparted but, often, they are the wrong lessons.

When an organization starts a formal education system, it sends a message that this is important-- not just learning but the specific subjects and viewpoints being taught. And, in some cases, the person doing the teaching becomes a person to be listened to in the larger organization.

That is exactly what happened in 1947 when Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal had George Kennan made the Deputy Director of the new National War College.

In February 1946 Kennan was the number 2 man in the Moscow embassy. In response to a query from Washington he wrote a lengthy analysis of Kremlin foreign policy (the famous Long Telegram). Kennan was a realist, not a romantic, when it came to Stalin, a viewpoint Forrestal shared. The Navy Secretary became an advocate for both Kennan and his views.

The appointment to the National War College was a highly visible symbol of Kennan's new importance. As Forrestal's biographers wrote: "The result of such sponsorship from a ranking Cabinet officer was to lift George Kennan out of bureaucratic anonymity to a high place in the policy-making elite."

Symbolically, Forrestal gave Kennan a megaphone. As Kennan acknowledged: "My reputation was made. My voice now carried."

The high profile post also positioned Kennan to take over the State Department's Policy Planning Staff when George Marshall became Secretary of State. From that spot he was at the center of the critical foreign policy debates that defined America's stance in the Cold War. He and his staff created the Marshall Plan. Kennan himself was the intellectual architect of containment and gave it an Atlantic/European emphasis that lasted for the life of the conflict.

By bringing Kennan to the National War College, Forrestal did not just ensure that his ideas would influence the next generation of generals and admirals. He also made it possible for Kennan to shape American strategy in the short-term. The War College proved to be a powerful lever in 1947. Similar leverage is available today to every CEO.

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