25 August 2009


It’s a powerful question.

Good teachers relish it, poor ones loathe it.

So it is in the Army—trainers and leaders ought to understand the potential that this query brings. It is a gift, an opportunity for them to instill in Soldiers an understanding, and a better fighting ability, than they would otherwise have.

Sadly, too many Army leaders are afraid of the question, “why?”


Glad you asked. It is because they misinterpret it as a sign of dismissive disrespect. They see it as a challenge to their authority. Having taught high school for several years before enrolling, in my thirties, as a freshman into the School of the Army, I can empathize with the view that experts should be trusted.

When I explain to my students the best way to tackle a complicated problem, or how best to work in teams, I shouldn’t be afraid to have to justify it. I should, and usually do, recognize it as either a desire to get down and dirty with the issue, or a chance to share and improve on a method.

George Santayana called skepticism “the chastity of the intellect.” According to his aphorism, there aren’t many virgins in the Army.

Too many Soldiers refuse to understand why they do what they do. The powers that be have a stake in creating the culture that despises understanding, similar to the way that Frederick Douglass’ slave master feared his slaves’ education.

Soldiers are often held in intellectual bondage. But our masters have no need to fear—we are here voluntarily! We can be trusted! Please, tell us why we do what we do!

When I get back to the classroom, I will encourage students to ask “why.” It makes for better learning, better students, and better citizens.
The Army should do the same—it will make for better Soldiers.


  1. Please explain what it would accomplish to instill a questioning culture in the U.S. military? Ok, I just had to ask a skeptical question to preserve my chastity. Good post!

    With social media and blogging, everyone is faced more and more with this issue. Companies can't control their message entirely, nor can churches or organizations. People will pick up discussion of it somewhere else. Embracing transparency and openness is the best way to respond. If people don't like what you are doing, suppressing discussion of it (while impossible in today's world anyway, but trying to do so) doesn't change it, but rather deepens resentment and mistrust. Tackling the tough questions head on is the best approach.

  2. Of course we need to know and understand the purpose and meaning of what we are doing and why we do it. We shouldnt ignore the question of "why" and getting to the core of it. We need to speak up.

  3. Hey there,

    I found you linked off of milblogs.com. Couldn't find a contact email address so I'm dropping you a note here.

    I'd like to invite you to the beta of a conservative grassroots news site, rightriot.com. The site isn't strictly military but a number of our members are past or present soldiers. You can join and link to your blog there, or just post a blurb about rightriot.com on your blog so that your readers will see it. Help us in the fight against socialism in the United States.

    Bill Wilson

  4. The problem with asking why is people with rank over you who either fear or know you are smarter than them are worried you wont follow orders if you question them. If i was told why i am guarding the big box with the giant question mark on the side of it i might understand and do a better job of guarding it