Best Defense

A clear warning from the Australian Army about ‘Fuzzy Writing and Fatalities’

That’s the title of an article in the Australian Army Journal that a reader kindly mentioned to me after our recent discussion of the disastrous U.S. Army paper on optimizing human performance. Why do Army officers write so poorly, especially when addressing sensitive institutional issues such as the future of the Army? The answer, writes ...

via Hillary/flickr
via Hillary/flickr

That’s the title of an article in the Australian Army Journal that a reader kindly mentioned to me after our recent discussion of the disastrous U.S. Army paper on optimizing human performance.

Why do Army officers write so poorly, especially when addressing sensitive institutional issues such as the future of the Army? The answer, writes Ross Buckley, often is simple fear. That is, they hide inside the jargon of bureaucracy for a reason. "Managerial language hides and obfuscates because it is meant to," he explains. "One of its attractions is deniability. It takes courage to say clearly what one means, for if wrong, one’s error is apparent to all."

This is, he warns, not just a matter of the military classroom. "The fog and chaos of war is no place for anyone who doesn’t think and communicate in sharp, straight lines and clear, simple concepts."

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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