[July 29, 2018] There’s an old stereotype that soldiers in the military are a bunch of knuckle-dragging dimwits who don’t have a creative thought or significant accomplishment in their pathetic lives.1 Contrary to that view, however, is a growing trend among most Western-nation military leaders to study the Greek classics.
Several of my neighbors at a recent get together in our clubhouse were a bit surprised when I told them about it. They told me that I must be dreaming or smoking pot or something to believe this. So they said, in spite of only one of them having served in the U.S. military. At the time, in my mind, I asked why was it that this old stereotype was so persistent notwithstanding being contrary to the facts.
The reaction I received is common. Ultimately, the more important question is why military leaders are studying the classics. I believe the answer lies in the philosophy of an ancient Chinese General, Sun Tzu. This general wrote that to, “know thy self, know they enemy, a thousand battles, a thousand victories.”
In the U.S. and in many Western nations, we really don’t know ourselves that well. This may be an unpopular observation but I think the reason is that we’ve been told since childhood that we are special and can do nothing wrong. Of course, that is not true and when reality meets truth, the results can be messy. That is why military leaders are trying to get back to the basics by studying the Greek classics.
By studying the Greek classics we can get a much better understanding of other cultures, an idea why people act the way they do, and we can pick up a few military lessons along the way. Ultimately, studying the classics provides us with a much better understanding of ourselves and – for soldiers – a better understanding of a potential enemy.
The reason there is a military is to protect the nation from outside forces. History has demonstrated militaries are often misused (e.g., putting down internal dissent) but their value outweighs the risks of not having one. Yet, to protect the nation, those who are in the armed forces must be strong, smart, resilient, and know ourselves and the enemy.
Leaders can learn many valuable lessons from the Greek classics. We are studying them more. At Hillsdale College, there is a free on-line series about the classics (see link here where you can sign up). I highly recommend listening to the lectures.
- This applies to more than Army soldiers but to any of the armed force members, especially U.S. Marines. Those in the military are often believers too.