Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession was published by the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. Its authors, Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras, are two highly qualified Ph.D’s with remarkable service records as well as post-service achievements. It is notable that Dr Wong is an alumni of the school I call home (Texas Tech) which makes this review even harder for me to do.
Bottom line up front, I found this monograph wanting.
The authors conducted several discussion groups from across the entire Army structure; that is to say Captains and above and Department of the Army staff along with some civilians. The dialogue driven format relied completely on self-reporting mechanisms and highlighted a world of anecdotal evidence. The first is troubling enough as, anyone who has taken even a research course knows, self-reporting is about as reliable as an S-1 is at properly processing paperwork the first time. But the use of anecdotal evidence as the backbone of the monograph? I would hate to rely on a bunch of stories that start with, “So no shit, there I was…”
To their credit, the authors site other studies quite well. But that is the problem I have. They did not do their own study. It is not as if, with the same end state in mind, the authors could not have devised a single blind method of exposing untruths in the operational Army. Simply constructing an inspection methodology and randomly inspecting four or five battalions on two or three major bases could have easily done the trick. This would give the study raw data and real end results.
It is not surprising that the monograph resonated so well with the Army community. When I first read the excerpts of it, I immediately related to every story and every quote, much like many of my peers. And if the monograph did nothing else, it started a firestorm of conversation, both within units and on the internet.
But like hot celebrity gossip, the monograph has had its fifteen minutes in the sun and now it is relegated to the a coffee table in the lobby of the Brigade Commander, waiting to be dusted off from time to time by bored subordinates that have been summoned to see the old man.
This could have been a landmark study in false reporting; something that could have spurned our leadership to take real action to realize the dangers of overbearing requirements. It could have highlighted the dangers of these unrealistic expectations and highlighted how our thought process has shifted from striving for excellence in all aspects of duty to determining what we can afford to fail.
In the end, the authors presented a snapshot of what we already know. Is it worth a read? Yea, if you have nothing else on your plate. But the anecdotes don’t reveal some deep hidden secret from within ranks. It simply exists to codify a conversation that already happens at beer calls and smoke pits across the Army.