The Talk Series – Why?

Last Autumn I attended a Firepower Demonstration on Salisbury Plain.  In addition to the entertaining pyrotechnics and impressive armoured equipment on display, there was also a static display manned by personnel from the First Battalion, The Royal Welsh Regiment.  It was this less showy production, and the majestic regimental mascot, which left the most enduring impression.  The message they had to impart, gleaned from their experience of exercising on the Albertan prairie, was that the doctrine needed revision.  Having spent the Summer of 2002 taking part in similar exercises on the same Canadian plains, I was surprised/amused to find that the lessons they had identified were precisely the same lessons the First Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers had identified fourteen years earlier (less the sheep).

The premise of John Nagl’s book, ‘Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife‘, is that the British Army was successful in Malaya because it was a learning organisation, whereas the Americans lost in Vietnam because they were inflexible.  David French, in his superb examination of the British way in counter-insurgency, counteracts this narrative by suggesting that the British Army learns over and over again.  Rather than being a Learning Organisation, the British Army is a Forgetting Organisation.  Many writers have observed that the British Army is anti-intellectual, in my experience this is undoubtedly true.  Soldiers’ military education is incredibly low-level, delivered by young officers with little more, in the main, than Batchelor’s degrees and the results of their training from the RMA Sandhurst.  The education that tends to be encouraged is technical and based around giving soldiers transferable skills for civilian life; for all the rhetoric, the soldier-scholar is a rarer breed than the Royal Welsh’s sheep!

The subject of the Army’s cultural aversion to study and learning has been talked about regularly on Twitter over the last few weeks, it seems academia and practitioners are in agreement that something needs to be done, and I don’t mean vanity projects attempting to capture ‘lessons learned’.  My decision to start a talk series at the Prince Consort’s Library in Aldershot stems directly from the military’s lacuna (a word a soldier should not know, as it is not really a word within his trade) to educate it’s personnel to identify the lessons training identifies.  I won’t pretend its a panacea for the Army’s cultural ills, nor that it’s easy to organise, nor even that it will definitely bear fruit, but if we soldier-scholars (?) don’t grasp the nettle, who will?

As you all probably know by now the Talk Series commences on Tuesday, 4th July 2017 with a talk by the irrepressible Dr Matthew Ford.  If you are interested in tickets please drop me a line at paul.barnes768@mod.gov.uk and I’ll book you in to what promises to be a superb evening.  The series will continue to bring superb speakers to Prince Consort’s Library all year round, I hope you will find the talks inspirational and surprising, sheep not included!!

All the best,

Barney

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Defence Studies Talk Series Update

A couple of weeks ago I outlined a new initiative which aims to deliver valuable CPD to the Field Army.  This blog will update that information and give an idea of the progress I have made in driving it forward; it will also give further details of the speakers and subjects.  I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important I think this Series is to the British Army; the Army desperately needs opportunities to think about War and Warfare, and encourage military education for officers and soldiers alike.

Our first speaker is Dr Matthew Ford, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex.  Matt Ford holds a PhD from the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London and had a very successful career in management consultancy before entering academia.  A former West Point Fellow and winner of the Society for Military History’s Russell F. Weigley Graduate Award, Matt has written extensively about military-technical change, especially as it relates to the infantry and their experience of battle.  Matt is an Honorary Historical Consultant to the Royal Armouries at Leeds.  Matt’s subject is ‘Is it Gucci?  What small arms can tell us about the military’s attitude to innovation and adaptation’.  Matt will be selling his new book, ‘Weapon of Choice’ following his talk at PCL, Aldershot on Tuesday, 4th July. 2017.

Our second speaker will be Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely KCB MC.  Sir John is a former CO of the 1st Bn, Scots Guards and commanded 7th Armoured Brigade, 1st UK Armoured Division and Regional Forces.  He has seen operational service during the Falklands Conflict, the Bosnian War and in the Iraq War, where he was Deputy Commanding General, Multinational Force, Iraq in 2004-5.  Sir John’s last post was as Director-General of the UK Defence Academy, retiring from the British Army in 2008 after almost 40 years service.  Following his military career, Sir John was National President of the Royal British Legion from 2008-12.  Sir John’s subject is ‘The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940 – Lessons for Today’.  Sir John will be selling his new book, ‘Anatomy of a Campaign: The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940’ following his talk at PCL, Aldershot on Tuesday, 25th July. 2017.

After the Summer break, our first speaker will be Professor Gary Sheffield FRHistS, FRSA.  Gary is the Co-Director of the First World War Research Group at Wolverhampton University, having previously held Chairs at King’s College, London (2006-06) and the University of Birmingham (2006-13).  He has huge experience with the British military having been a Lecturer at RMA Sandhurst and JSCSC Shrivenham.  Whilst at Shrivenham, Gary was the Land Warfare Historian on the Higher Command and Staff Course, the UK’s senior operational course for senior officers.  Gary has been instrumental in the revision of military and academic thought on the British Army’s role in the First World War, his work has been inspirational to many historians of that War.  Gary is also President of the Guild of Battlefield Guides and Vice-President of the Western Front Association.  Gary’s subject is ‘The Duke of Wellington and the tradition of British Generalship’.  Gary will be selling his new book, ‘Wellington: Pocket Giants’ following his talk at PCL, Aldershot on Tuesday, 12th September. 2017.

I also have a talk booked with Drs Stuart Mitchell and James Kitchen of RMA Sandhurst  in late September 2017 examining current British military doctrine, and an exciting talk by Dr Daniel Todman on Tuesday, 3rd October. 2017 with details to be announced later.  I hope this blog has whetted your appetite for this exciting new Talk Series.  If you’d like more details or if you’d like to book a place, please e-mail me at Paul.Barnes768@mod.gov.uk

Thank you.

Barney