View Full Version : Dr. Elizabeth D. Samet

08-19-2009, 05:58 PM
Elizabeth D. Samet just finished a great presentation on the perils of preparation and is now entertaining questions and commentary. Dr. Samet is author of Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/books/review/Pinsky-t.html). From a NYT review (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/books/review/Pinsky-t.html):

... By writing a thoughtful, attentive, stereotype-breaking book about her 10 years as a civilian teacher of literature at the Military Academy, she offers a significant perspective on the crucial social and political force of honor: a principle of behavior at the intersection of duty and imagination.

Honor is a reality: people have been known to live by it and die for it. As Samet points out, it has been invoked as a reason to continue sending troops to Iraq. It has also led some of her students, former students and colleagues to question the nature and conduct of that war. Normally, honor and loyalty re-enforce each other; in bad times, they can come suddenly into conflict.

Like love and art, honor comes from the imagination as a force that determines the fate of individuals and nations. And like love and art, honor has also attracted a thick enveloping tonnage of baloney, an encrustation of lies and exploitations. The lies and exploitations, in turn, have attracted debunking counterforces: the acids of doubt and the harsh illumination of exposure. A literature teacher at the academy deals with the imaginative forces of lofty aspiration and earthly truth-telling in an especially germane, intensified community — all the more so in a time of war...

You can read chapter one of Soldier's Heart at this NYT link (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/books/chapters/1st-chaper-soldiers-heart.html?_r=1&ref=review).

08-19-2009, 06:29 PM
Elizabeth Samet, an English professor, gave a surprisingly relevant presentation to the group. Her theme was that preparation, a core process for any military organization, can be hazardous. So what is wrong with preparation? And what does the study of literature have to do with this topic?

Samet asserted that excessive attention to preparation can lead to tunnel vision. Few would dispute that, although I will assert in reply that the process and practice of preparation is a skill that enhances adaptability.

What does literature have to do with this? Samet explained that her students at West Point who study literature learn about coping with differing sets of "facts" and differing cultural views. Ambiguity and interpretation are a key part of literature, which her upper-level students learn to deal with. Thus, she asserts, the study of literature is a good way to learn adaptability.

Finally, the wars of this decade have reacquainted everyone with the primacy of the human journey. Samet explained that the study of literature prepared her West Point cadets for "the journeys out and back" that both they and their soldiers would take.

-Robert Haddick

08-19-2009, 07:48 PM
Finally, the wars of this decade have reacquainted everyone with the primacy of the human journey. Samet explained that the study of literature prepared her West Point cadets for "the journeys out and back" that both they and their soldiers would take.

I concur with the majority of the thrust of Dr. Samet's presentation. Indeed, the liberal arts portion of my USMA experience assisted in expanding my own ability to conduct problem-solving in time-constrained, complex environments.

Specialization in military occupations is necessary given the vast amount of technology and equipment in use today; however, specialization can also lead to tunnel vision, blind spots, or conceptual blocks. Creativity and innovation can be minimized by one's own perception of how one looks at the world. This paradox is not limited to the military profession. Doctors, lawyers, policy makers, and engineers face the same types of challenges in adjusting to creative thinking.

In the military, my observations are that different communities approach problems in different manners. When the problem at hand is outside of what expected, many people become stuck. For instance, the armor community would prefer to conduct all operations in tanks and bradleys, the airborne community tends to believe that all operations can be solved with an airborne operation (there is some truth to that:cool:), artillerymen want to see the guns go boom, etc... This training and indoctrination can actually hinder operations particularly in small wars.

Another challenge in small wars is our view of leadership. From day one, military leaders are taught to take charge of an area of operations and accomplish the mission given x amount of men and equipment. This form of leadership is often contradictory in small wars where one quickly finds that one may not be able to solve any given problems outside of security operations. Instead, we have to relearn the art of combat advising where one is assisting and not in charge.

Final thought- In trying to cope or breakout of these dillemas, I found that it was useful to study areas that I was unfamiliar or uncomfortable with (poetry, wicked problems, anthropology, sociology, etc). In some ways, sometimes one must give up control to regain control. Having had the opportunity to spend time in grad school and reflecting, I can now apply these tools into the Military Decision Making Process in a manner that will probably be much different than taught at Leavenworth.