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.