A somewhat pompous title, I grant you.  Perhaps the formal tone is because I’ve been reading Jane Austen lately, which is always time well spent.

Speaking of reading, I was at a training review meeting several weeks ago and we were talking about how soldiers learn what’s important.   For some things simple direction (e.g., wear your helmet) is direction enough, and for others the actual performance of a task, learning by doing, suffices.   But how do soldiers learn values and accept, even embrace, the military ethos?

This topic allowed me to mount my personal hobbyhorse and bemoan the absence in the Canadian Armed Forces of the commander’s reading list.  There is an official CAF-published reading list from 2009, a substantial volume in its own right giving members a comprehensive list of resources on a wide variety of subjects for their own professional education.  Such a guide is well and good, but I would like something both more current, and more influential in the sense that the list comes from the boss.

If you google “Chief of Defence Staff Reading List” you will find a page published by the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.   Australia’s Army Chief published a reading list in 2012
and the US military’s service chiefs each have a list published by the National Defence University.  The US Marine Corps, and this may surprise some, is apparently an intellectual hothouse and boasts six of its own reading lists.  Canada also has a Chief of Defence Staff, but I searched in vain for a reading list published by a senior Canadian officer in the last ten years, up to and including the CDS.

Besides the official military reading lists, there are a wealth of reliable guides to good books for soldiers.  Tom Ricks, one of the best defence journalists in the business today, published this list of lists in 2012 which will keep anyone going for years.   There are other such lists out there.

Returning to my original point, a senior commander’s reading list, assuming that the boss has actually done the reading and has not simply delegated the task to a staff officer, is a way of signalling what he or she thinks is important.  The military ethos is built on emulation.  Junior officers will read whatever their senior officers, up to and including service chiefs, are reading. Everyone wants to be like the boss, because everyone hopes their career will also lead them upwards.  Thus, junior ranks will read whatever their sergeant majors, and especially their command sergeant majors, are reading.  In a military like my own, where that intellectual example and curiousity doesn’t seem to be happening, that’s a concern.

I missed an opportunity recently, when Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Vance, came to CFB Borden where I worked.  General Vance is a good soldier and a busy man, and he gave the assembled audience a lot of time and as much candour as he could.   I now regret that I didn’t stand up and ask, “Sir, what three books have you read this year that you would recommend we all read?”

General Vance, sir, if you happen to be reading this, please leave the answer in the comments and I’ll post it.

What about you, readers?  What books should we in uniform be reading?


0 Responses

  1. For the wars you will be fighting over the next few years, I'd say
    Larteguy's The Centurions is a given.
    Also read up on and study everything by and about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and understand how he and his crew thinks.
    Read Sun Tzu, Mao and Giap, because I can promise you that if not Abu then at least his advisors do.