Over the course of the summer of 2018, War on the Rocks published five articles on professional military education that each described a distinct vision of what American schools for field grade officers ought to be. One of these, by David Morgan-Owen, argued for a larger role for civilian academics one that, among other things, gave them greater freedom in the choice of subjects and methods. Two of the articles, by Paula Thornhill and Celestino Perez, Jr. respectively, proposed reforms that would push institutions of professional military education in a different direction, replacing much academic work with additional opportunities to practice particular military skills, although they have different views of what these skills should be. The two remaining articles, one by Tammy S. Schultz and another by Richard Andres, championed approaches that, while different from each other, would employ mixtures of academic and military elements similar to those currently seen in American war colleges.
In this article, I offer an alternative to the three paths laid out over the summer. Neither a compromise between pure pragmatism and unalloyed academic abstraction, nor a combination of the two approaches, this fourth way might be called “Socratic application,” “the Xenophon option,” or “reflective professional practice.” Whatever we end up calling it, it promises to produce officers who are immediately capable of producing first-class staff work and, at the same time, fully prepared for the cognitive challenges of a world rich in rapid, repeated, and radical revolutions.