Friday, December 5, 2008


Other things being equal, a superior rating will invariably be given to the officer who has persevered in his studies of the art of self-expression, while his colleague, who attaches little importance to what may be achieved through working with the language, will be marked for mediocrity.

A moment's reflection will show why this has to be the case and why mastery of the written and spoken word is indispensable to successful officership.

As the British statesman, Disraeli, put it, "Men govern with words." Within the military establishment, command is exercised through what is said which commands attention and understanding and through what is written which directs, explains, interprets or informs.

Battles are won through the ability of men to express concrete ideas in clear and unmistakable language. All administration is carried forward along the chain of command by the power of men to make their thoughts articulate and available to others.

There is no way under the sun that this basic condition can be altered. Once the point is granted, any officer should be ready to accept its corollary - that superior qualification in the use of the language, both as to the written and the spoken word, is more essential to military leadership than knowledge of the whole technique of weapons handling.

It then becomes strictly a matter of personal decision whether he will seek to advance himself along the line of main chance or will take refuge in the excuse offered by the great majority: "I'm just a simple fighting file with no gift for writing or speaking."

From: The Armed Forces Officer, 1950

1 comment:

Dean said...

Interesting post, even though it comes from the middle of the 20th century:-)

Applicants to Towson University's MS in Professional Writing program are required to submit a writing sample that addresses their reasons for pursuing such a degree.

Here's an extract from mine:
"...effective written communication emerged as a deciding factor in aggressive competition for scarce fiscal resources. Programs of equal merit are often decided on the strength --or the weakness-- of their written justifications. I currently lead a group of exceptionally talented and hardworking intelligence analysts. They deal with complicated problem sets, complex technologies and demanding audiences. Often our biggest challenge is not understanding our adversaries, but getting the results of multidisciplinary analysis integrated into a cogent written product appropriate to the intended recipient. Our audiences are as diverse as the functions of government: a Marine Corps company commander in Baghdad is a considerably different audience than an information systems security specialist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, and has vastly different content and delivery needs."

Related to this is my experience that peers of otherwise equal capability are more often differentiated by their writing ability more than any other factor.

Information on Towson's professional writing program: