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The Decay Of Critical Military Thinking And Writing

With Particular Reference To The RAAF

An RAAF Central Flying School instructor at Point Cook (RAAF Museum)

Air Power Australia Analysis 2009-03
  8th May,  2009

A Paper by Air Commodore Ted Bushell AM (Retd)
Text © 2009 E. J. Bushell

Executive Summary

Since the end of WWII, and particularly over the past few decades, Australia has witnessed a marked decline in the good governance of its government bureaucracies.

Those bureaucracies, in turn, have developed an adversity to employing experts in the fields of activity for which they are responsible, resulting in a dysfunctional bureaucratic/expertise interface at the working level, with the bureaucrats not understanding what they are managing and so not realising the adverse effects of their decisions.

This dysfunctionality is seen most clearly in our health and education systems, but it is pervasive. At the heart of this general loss of competency lies the erosion of the quality of Australia’s basic ability to think and communicate in a clear and logical manner; that is, the failure of our education system at all levels.

Australia’s defence forces have not escaped this trend. However, within the Services, this core problem has been aggravated by the series of ill-considered structural and functional changes that led to a dramatic downsizing and de-skilling of our Services. The combined effects of eroding public education standards and the government-imposed and bureaucratic implemented changes are seen clearly in the poor standard of professional military thinking and writing coming from the Services, particularly RAAF, the most highly technical of the three Services.

Unless those trends are reversed, and the RAAF regains the high standards of professional military thinking and writing that it had established and maintained over decades of peace and war, Australia can look forward only to continuing poor air power decisions which carry the risk of Australia’s irrelevance in air power capabilities over future decades.

This analysis sees the solution as raising Australia’s education standards in the longer term, while re-introducing immediately the standards of Service thinking and writing that once existed.



“Don’t you know that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” 

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.”

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”[1]

George Orwell had a keen eye for social developments during the immediate post-WWII era; leading us though the way in which Newspeak limited the span and depth of human thought and expression, as well as its impact upon political debate. His antidote was the exercise of freedom of speech. Given the exercise of that freedom, Newspeak and Doublethink could not flourish.

Unfortunately, the sixty years that followed have seen the evolution of an even more institutionalised form of the disease, driven mainly by the mass media and government bureaucracies.

Over the past two to three decades, governments in Australia, at all levels and of all persuasions, have largely abandoned their responsibilities for the good governance of their departmental bureaucracies. The Westminster principle of ministerial accountability has fallen victim to this , as ministers now plead that they were ‘only acting upon the advice of their department’, and so see no reason to accept personal accountability.

Bureaucracies, in turn, have developed the practice of not employing experts in the fields for which they are responsible, but call in consultants as and when they see fit. In this way, departments can avoid being accused of having knowledge that could have avoided trouble, and any problems that might arise can be shifted to others. A public relations, rather than a management, approach has now become the preferred way of handling departmental problems and statements.

However, being bureaucracies without organic expertise, they soon find that they cannot interface with the experts that run the organisations over which they exercise control. The solution to this problem has been simply to create a layer of mirroring bureaucracy at the top of those organisations. In this way, health, for example, is now ‘managed’ through a layer of bureaucratic policies and procedures at each hospital. As a result, we have the situation where[2]:

“The basic aim of the bureaucracy is to avoid making mistakes. And what that creates is a paralysis of decision-making throughout the system that now has kneecapped every single hospital general manager, health leader, and nursing leader. What has happened? What has happened is that local single-point accountability has been taken away from the hospital, so there isn’t that opportunity for someone to say this needs to be changed. At the ward level, the solution is to take the power away from the bureaucrats and give it instead to the clinicians and managers within each hospital who would then once again have the power, and incentive, to ensure their own units ran efficiently.”

A similar situation has developed in Australia’s education systems, from pre-school, through primary and secondary levels, to our universities. PM Rudd has promised that both health and education would be reformed, but he has been met with a loud rallying cry from those who created the problems in the first place to resist change. At the pre-school level, one would expect one to five year olds to be simply made sociable, friendly, and caring, and equipped with a basic ability to read, write and count.

However, the Association for the Teaching of English, in its submission to the National Curriculum Board, declares that studying literature is “inherently a political action in creating the type of people society values.”  The Association recommends that “Meaning-making in and through language, across a range of forms, media and expressions, should be the core organiser of the (English) curriculum.”  The NSW teachers want the curriculum to be about “other models of English such as personal growth, cultural studies and critical literacy as that is how teachers understand and have operated within the subject.”

Other statements made by the Association include:

“Any learning framework should include post-structuralist theories that offer insights into issues of power, equity and social justice in early childhood settings.” Under Reflective Practice, we have: “Critical approaches to reflection enable early-childhood educators to focus on implications of their decisions for equity and social justice.” Under Fairness and Social Justice: “Educators should draw children’s attention to bias in texts and how that affects our view of people and themselves and that the development of our children be gauged by their ability to understand and critique ways in which texts such as movies, books and magazines construct a limited range of identities and reinforce stereotypes.’ 

The reader is challenged to identify just what these quotes mean; they carry an obvious lack of critical thinking and clear expression.

As Oscar Wilde noted[3]: “We must give a child a mind before we can instruct the mind.” Those who see the teaching of English as inherently a political action seek to narrow the range of human thought by denying children and students the freedom to develop their inherent rich diversity of interests, perceptions and capabilities. Left uncorrected, this will lead inevitably to the loss of free speech, as we become unable to think or say anything that does not comply with the political dogma – whatever that may be at any point in time. Freedom of speech, as he suggested, is the only remedy for Newspeak and Doublethink.

The thinking and writing targeted by Orwell is thus still with us and spreading. If our Prime Minister is to get anywhere with his promised and long-needed reform, and so return Australia to the high world ranking that it once held, then the difference between education and indoctrination must be identified clearly and corrected.

The poor standard of education of those graduating from our secondary education system and entering the workforce is also evident amongst those entering our tertiary education system. Tertiary students are not accepted solely upon the basis of their meeting the required standard of education and motivation, but rather upon the numbers needed to make the university system as cost-recovery effective as possible in the provision of a marketable commodity defined as ‘education’. Education is thus now seen simply as a commodity to be marketed to targeted ‘consumers’, with costs having to be cut to the minimum in order to gain an economic advantage over competing suppliers.

Traditionally, Australian universities were concerned with meeting the needs of their ‘customers’ – those public and private enterprises that relied upon a steady supply of well-prepared professionals over a wide range of disciplines. As the customers’ skills requirements evolved over time, under the pressures of advancing knowledge and technology, courses were amended accordingly. At a deeper level, Australia looked to its universities to establish and maintain the national body of professional knowledge and expertise at a competitively high level when compared with overseas universities. Applied and basic research programmes formed an important part of this broader objective. 

One result of this new “business approach” to education has been to force our universities to accept students who have not reached a satisfactory entry standard in basic literacy and numeracy, and who often lack an adequate work ethic and motivation, leaving the university to fill the gaps from within their own resources before any professional teaching can start. However, the effectiveness, efficiency and standards of our universities are further shackled by departmental policies that require the performance of university academic and management staff to be measured primarily by student ‘satisfaction ratings’.

As one Australian university academic summed it up, “the customer has now become the student rather than those who depend upon the quality of the output of the University for the well-being of their, and Australia’s, enterprises”. The student, being the customer, now wields the power. He may often be poorly prepared for tertiary education, and lack drive and motivation, but, having paid, he has a ‘right’ to a successful tertiary education, and it is the responsibility of the university to fill any gaps and ensure that he passes. The onus for success has thus shifted from the student to the university.  There are sufficient numbers in this bracket, both from home and abroad, to impact those who do not fall into this definition and wish to move ahead faster, as well as threaten the careers of highly motivated and competent academic and management staff should life be made too onerous for the paying student.

A model which depends upon professional university academic staff being judged by their students, rather than by their professional peers and seniors, is a guarantee of entrenched mediocrity and a hindrance to a university’s potential. Handicapping competent academics by giving priority to such a one-dimensional measure of performance is antithetical to all that a university should stand for.

Throughout the bureaucratic processes imposed upon our universities, only cost and return are recognised; those elements such as quality, intellectual brilliance, creativity, motivation and dedication have no role to play as they cannot be expressed in monetary terms. Under such a regime, any hope of Australia becoming the smart country that once it was is remote.

Finally, by imposing upon universities a growing number of social and administrative rules and processes, the education bureaucracy ‘keeps the universities in their place’; that is, under the tight control of the education bureaucracy.

In summary, Australia has a potential fault line running through its pre-schools, and a fault line of long standing through its secondary and tertiary education systems. The common thread that runs through all levels is the absence of sound literary (English) and numeracy skills – the building blocks of all advanced thinking and communication processes. Far too much of what is communicated today is either incomprehensible, lacking in robust substantiation, misleading, or is plainly deceptive. More and more often we are asked to accept things purely on unquestioning faith, a sure path to losing sight of reality.

Not surprisingly, deficiencies in Australia’s education system were reflected amongst those joining the Services, but for many years the RAAF was able to select its entrants wisely and correct many of those deficiencies. This ability however changed under defence reform programmes which, amongst other core changes, replaced professional military thinking and writing with something more akin to those practices seen within a government department, its bureaucracy, and its media arm.


One reliable measure of the standard of professionalism in an enterprise, whether military or civilian, is the quality of its critical thinking and the clarity of its writing. Traditionally, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) emphasised the importance of Service Writing at all levels. High standards were set and maintained through training, examination, and an insistence upon high quality staff work at all levels. Failure to meet the required standard would place a limit upon a member’s career. The reason for this was simple: a lack of clarity of thought and expression cannot be tolerated in a military organisation. The consequences of false, confused, or ambiguous thinking and information are too high to accept – confusion soon leads to chaos, and chaos leads to defeat in battle.

Today, little, if any, evidence of those high standards can be seen, all having fallen victim to the de-skilling that resulted from the Defence Efficiency, Defence Reform, and Commercial Support Programs approved by government and implemented by an over-zealous Defence bureaucracy. As a result, the RAAF, as well as the other Services, now think and write in much the same way as their political/bureaucratic masters, and so are exposed to the ubiquitous consequences of poor Service critical thinking and writing.

The current standard of service thinking and writing may be judged from much of what is emanating from the Air Power Development Centre, the ‘think tank’ of the RAAF, over recent years. Two discussion papers distributed recently provide examples; the first titled ‘An Air Force of Influence: A Strategic Framework for the Future Air Force’ (March 2008), the second ‘Decision Superiority: Air Force Concept Paper 28’ (November 2008). Both see fundamental changes as being needed to take advantage of evolving technological developments and operational environments, essentially to “break through the rigid mind set [of platform replacement].”

The first concludes “Our Air Force is a dynamic organisation. It embodies an organisational structure, is sustained by people, possesses a culture, and exists to serve a purpose and function along prescribed lines” and, “Faced with the choice of seizing control of its future or leaving this to others, Air Force has chosen to become a strategic force of influence disproportionally greater than its size.)”, and emphasises “As a strategic force, we will be guided by an enduring and systematic strategy that links government intent to militarily achievable objectives, within a national effects based approach, through the coordinated and sustained application of air power effects, be they first, second or third order effects.”, and in summary, “Faced with a choice of distinct but equally viable means of satisfying the challenges presented through these developments and afforded by this opportunity, we, the Air Force’s senior leadership, have chosen to continue Air Force’s maturation as a key strategic national security contributor by transforming our force into a strategic one. We call this strategic force an air force of influence.”

The second paper develops the idea of ‘Decision Superiority’ and expands some of the matters raised in the first paper. Of interest is its proposal that:

“Simply put, individuals who enjoy a broad and diverse education combined with a broad experience base appear to be more adaptable and exhibit better decision making skills and greater judgement, and make better decisions in complex and ambiguous environments. In particular, there appears to be a strong case for educating military professionals in a broad range of disciplines, such as strategy, politics, religion and society, and metacognition (thinking about thinking), so as to better equip them for the rigours of decision-making in the complex security environment in which Air Force operates.”

This very erroneous and dangerous concept resonates closely with the role of the civilian bureaucracy in the management of military affairs at all levels, as seen by one Defence Secretary, who stated:

Civilians are “generally more readily able to tolerate, and even be comfortable with, unclear lines of command, divided authority, and open-ended guidance or ambiguous instructions” (Mr R.C. Smith, Deputy Secretary (later Secretary) Defence, 1995)[4].

This may be so, but they do not have to train, motivate, discipline, mentor, command and control troops in war. More importantly, they should never suggest or require that such open-ended and ambiguous approaches are suited to those who do.

Both suggestions fail to recognise the critical differences between civilian and professional military approaches to management. Nowhere do we see any suggestion of the need for the bureaucracy to gain and maintain any of the professional military attributes upon which success in the use of military capabilities depend. Making professional military officers develop a generalist, bureaucratic mindset in the manner proposed is the surest way to guarantee military defeat and national irrelevance.

Not surprisingly, the Defence White Paper 2009 released recently also reflects a lack of critical thinking. It starts from a sound re-assessment of the emerging regional strategic environment, but then fails to translate this into realistic plans and programmes.  There are at least seven major contradictions in the Paper, such as our reliance the United States Vs the United States’ capability to assist. The thinking is muddled and does not provide an implementation requirements baseline against which credible capability planning can proceed.

The Paper thus fails at the hard interface between policy and implementation.  The policy may be capable of absorbing some, but not too much, political/bureaucratic prevarication. The implementation, however, has to rest upon critical thinking and planning based wholly upon feasibility.  The White Paper provided only a sound basis for interminable and shifting argument about what was really meant and what should be done and when. This critical shortcoming may also be traced to the decay in critical military thinking that has resulted from bureaucratic intrusion into Service matters under the guise of the Defence and Commercial Support Programs.

The insidious impacts of liberal thinking upon the military in leading Western nations, particularly the US, the UK, and Canada, and now Australia, were identified by General Sir Michael Rose, Adjutant-General of the British Army, who saw the remedy as getting rid of the ‘top brass’ who ‘kowtow’ to Whitehall, and to distance military decisions from politics from wherever it emanates. In particular, he saw the British Army as needing its own jurisdiction, administration, discipline, ethos, and all those things have to be different from civilians, and outside their meddling.[5]

In general terms, both cited RAAF APDC papers are built upon bald statements of intention, unqualified assumptions and opinions, and conclusions unsupported by any critical analysis. The structured and rigorous professional military analysis that characterised pre-reform RAAF staff thinking and writing is entirely missing. Overall, what has been written smacks of marketing jargon rather than the accuracy, clarity, conciseness, and convincing argument and style that was a central feature of RAAF service thinking, writing, and management.

As one Senior Administrative Staff Officer would remind students at the RAAF Staff College during the early years of imposed change:

“Before any revolutionary change is initiated, there is a need, in organisational and management fields as well as others, firstly to indicate clearly in what way the existing system is deficient. That is, in what way the current system cannot meet the over-all aim; and secondly, in proposing change, to indicate with similar clarity that the change proposed will not only achieve the aim, but the change is feasible. Any advantages must be demonstrable and feasibility assured. There is no need for a forced-fed blossoming of iconoclastic fervour, but rather a well-balanced and, above all, a well thought-through response to current and future circumstances.”


While freedom of speech lies at the core of a nation’s defence against Newspeak, Doublethink, and political attempts to defend the indefensible, that freedom in turn rests upon replacing indoctrination with a sound education system based upon critical thinking, emphasising clarity, accuracy and logic in both thought and expression.

The RAAF, if it is to become the Air Force that it once was, will firstly have to regain mastery of its professional critical military thinking and writing at all levels, and apply that mastery to the management of Australia’s air power capabilities.


[1] Orwell, George. Quotes from Nineteen Eighty-Four and Shooting an Elephant (Politics and the English Language). Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Oxford University Press, 2004, pages 576-578.
[2] Khadra, Mohamed. The Patient, Random House 2009.
[3] Wilde, Oscar. (The Decay of Lying), The Wit of Oscar Wilde, The Folio Society, 1997.
[4] Bushell E.J., Rebuilding the Warrior Ethos, 27th December 2008. APA Analysis 2008-10,
Sir Michael Rose, Washington’s War, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2007; cited in Bushell E.J.,
Is This the Future for Australia’s Military Capabilities?, 13th January 2008. APA Analysis 2008-01.



The standards that the RAAF had established and maintained were included in Australian Air Publication (AAP) 103 – Manual of Administration. This analysis will visit selected chapters of this manual, using the September, 1952, revision, in order to highlight RAAF approaches to thinking and writing that are as valid and needed today as they were over decades of war and peace. Firstly, the RAAF saw Administration as the over-arching means of directing and controlling Service activities. In effect, it was the backbone of Service management. Hence, the Forward to the Manual included: “It is difficult to over-estimate the value of sound administration. It has become so important in modern war that Administration has now been included as one of the Principles of War.”


The broad aim of service writing is to initiate any required action quickly and efficiently. The particular aims of service writing are:

·      To impart knowledge.
·      To express intentions.
·      To convey orders and instructions.
·      To persuade and convince by logical argument.
·      To record discussions and decisions.     

Characteristics of Service Writing
      The normal rules and usages of written English are observed in service writing, but special stress is laid on the achievement of simplicity, clarity, and accuracy. In service writing, as in other writing, particular attention must be paid to the purpose of the writing and the type of reader for whom it is intended. There is, in addition, a need for standardisation.
Style of Service Writing.  Because of its special aim the style of service writing should be factual rather than imaginative, decisive rather than leisurely. Short sentences and paragraphs expressed in simple English should be used in preference to long involved sentences or highly-coloured prose. It is a fallacy to suppose that official documents must be written in official jargon; they should be written concisely in a clear, simple, and direct style. A capable service writer is a person who can express his thoughts on paper clearly and convincingly. He must have a good vocabulary, and a sound knowledge of grammar and composition.
Basic Requirements of Service Writing. There are five basic requirements of service writing. The first four are applicable in varying degrees to any kind of writing; the fifth is purely conventional and is applicable only to service writing:
1.Accuracy. In service writing accuracy is essential. Nothing should be written unless the writer is certain beyond all doubt that it is correct. Similarly, deductions drawn from facts must be no less accurate. A paper however well written cannot be a good one if misleading and inaccurate deductions have been made.
2.Clarity. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘clear’ as ‘distinct, unambiguous, intelligible, not confused, manifest’. When preparing a service paper, the writer should always think in terms of a reader who will take the wrong meaning if he can. He should be careful to avoid any possibility of ambiguity, should lay out his paper in conformity with current service writing rules, and present his facts and arguments in logical sequence.
3.Conciseness. To satisfy the requirements for conciseness, ideas must be stated fully but in as few words as possible. Conciseness is an attainment; it demands an extensive vocabulary, constant practice, and ruthless pruning during the revision of the paper. Long words must not be used if short ones will do; verbosity must be avoided and irrelevant information excluded. Whenever possible, the active voice is preferable to the passive. Note Mr Winston Churchill’s instructions quoted later under ‘Official Correspondence’.
4.Convincing Argument and Style. The acceptance of ideas by a reader depends on his being convinced that the ideas are worth accepting. There may be very little to choose between two ideas on the same subject presented in papers by different writers, but it is probable that the paper likely to convince is the one written in a simple, direct style, with an orderly arrangement of material, a logical sequence of argument, and a standard layout. If an officer has to present arguments with which he personally does not agree, he must not allow any lack of enthusiasm to cloud his style and so make his work less convincing.
5.Standardisation. Strict standardisation is necessary in service writing, because in a large organisation like the Royal Australian Air Force a uniform system of writing helps to convey information quickly and easily. Uniformity of layout is a means to an end and indeed only obeys a basic rule of good organisation of any kind. A place for everything and everything in its place”. If this is fully appreciated, the stress laid on standardisation will not be misunderstood.


Uniformity can be achieved only by the observance of rules. These include the normal rules for writing good English, together with the conventional service rules relating to paragraphing, headings, numbering, abbreviations, appendices, and the preparation and presentation of service documents such as appreciations, orders and instructions, and summaries.
Correct paragraphing, good headings, and a logical system of numbering are required in a service paper to show the logical structure of the paper, to present the argument clearly, and to facilitate reference to any part of the paper. The mechanics involved are not covered here, as they may be simplified today, so long as the objectives are met – to ensure that the reader can absorb the scope and content of the document quickly and effectively, and refer accurately to its content.


The term ‘service paper’ covers practically all forms of service writing and to that extent the guiding principles contained in the following paragraphs can be said to apply to all service writing.
Choice of the Aim. Any form of writing must have an aim and the service paper is no exception. After examining the task or terms of reference, study the problem carefully and before writing anything , decide on the purpose of the writing – the aim the writing is to achieve – and keep this in mind throughout the preparation and construction of the paper.
Collection of Material. The next step is to collect all available material relating to the problem, examine it carefully in relation to the aim, and discard all that is irrelevant.
Initial Planning of the Paper. Arrange the material into its main divisions so that a broad framework can be evolved and used as a basis for the initial construction of the paper.
Arrangement of the Material. Arrange the material carefully under headings in an order that will bring out the argument most logically and convincingly.
Final Planning of the Paper. Construct a detailed framework to show all centre, side, and paragraph headings and the titles of all appendices, and make notes under these headings where necessary.
Check Before Writing. Check that all aspects of the subject have been fully covered and are dealt with in a logical sequence. The more time spent on the preparation of a paper, the less will be required for the writing.
Main Sections. Although there are variations in construction to suit individual requirements, a service paper generally consists of the following six main sections:
·      Heading.
·      Introduction.
·      Body of the paper.
·      Conclusion.
·      Subscription.
·      Appendices.
Of these sections, the first five are essential to any service paper; the last one is optional.
Heading. Selected to identify clearly the subject of the paper.
Introduction. The introduction expands the title and states more precisely what the paper is about. It introduces the problem or subject matter of the paper and defines the scope or terms of reference. It should be informative, not controversial. Its length will vary according to the type of paper, but it should always be kept short.
Body of the Paper. Careful preparation is required if the body of the paper is to be coherent, concise, and logical. It should carry the reader smoothly from the introduction to the conclusion, and should cover all the relevant aspects of the subject within the terms of reference of the paper. All relevant facts should be clearly stated and logical deductions drawn when possible. It is important to choose suitable headings for all sections and paragraphs, so that the reader can, if he wishes, see at a glance the general trend of the subject matter merely by scanning the headings.
Conclusion. The conclusion is the climax of the argument towards which all the former sections of the paper have been leading. Like the introduction it should be brief. It is a summary and a synthesis of the deductions drawn in the body of the paper and therefore should not introduce any new arguments. It should be complete in itself and should include any recommendations, requests or decisions made.
Subscription. The subscription varies with the type of paper. It should normally cover the signature of the writer and his identifying details, and the place, time, date, and distribution details.
Appendices. If the arguments in the body of the paper are based upon statistical data or information that is too bulky to go into the body of the paper, it will be necessary to use appendices. For the purpose of the argument, only the deductions arrived at in or from the appendices need be inserted in the body of the paper and the reader can be referred to the appropriate appendix. In this way the body of the paper is not encumbered with a mass of detail and the smooth flow of the argument is not impeded. Appendices are lettered and attached in the order in which they are referred to in the paper.
Revision. It is important to revise a paper carefully after it has been written. Considerable alteration is often necessary during the revision. For this reason the first typing of a paper is normally done in draft form, i.e., with double spacing between the lines, to make the task of alteration easier. The amount of revision will usually vary inversely with the amount of time and labour spent in preparation. The following tests should be applied:
·      Has the aim been kept in view throughout?
·      Does the title fully and aptly describe the paper?
·      Is the introduction concise and complete?
·      Have all aspects of the subject been covered?
·      Have all facts been correctly stated and are they in the right order?
·      Is the reasoning sound?
·      Is the conclusion concise, complete and logical?
·      Can the English be improved?
·      Is the distribution complete?
If this approach to writing is followed as a general rule, then the objective of the writer is far more likely to be understood and accepted. Alternatively, if a reader assesses what he reads against this template, he is far more likely to be able to determine whether what he is reading is well researched and argued logically, and based on fact rather than in error, or is just misleading or false.


While service papers were the vehicle for the majority of day-to-day staff work, there were occasions where a more rigorous treatment was needed to determine situations and how they might best be met. This need was met by Appreciations and Staff Papers.


An appreciation of a situation is a logical process of reasoning, the object of which is to determine from factors known or surmised the best course of action to adopt in any given circumstances.


All problems derive from ‘situations’. A new ‘situation’ may arise or an existing one may alter; or it may be necessary to create a new ‘situation’ or alter an existing one. Whenever a problem arises, as a result of a ‘situation’, its solution always involves an examination of the problem and the selection of a course of action.
All rational action is governed by definite purpose and sets out to achieve that purpose. This purpose derives from the ‘situation’ and is concerned with initiating action directly related to the ‘situation’. As a first step, therefore, anyone attempting to solve a problem must become conversant with the ‘situation’, and must fully recognise the ‘purpose’ of the contemplated action. Only then is it possible to take the subsequent steps in the logical sequence of thought: the examination of all facts relating to the problem, and the choice of a course of action.
Although, as stated above, the solving of a problem cannot be undertaken until the situation has been studied, the reasoning process proper begins with the recognition of the purpose. In dealing with any problems, therefore, a reasoned and logical train of thought will always conform to the following sequence:
·      Recognition of the purpose.
·      Review of the relevant circumstances.
·      Consideration of the methods available.
·      Choice of the best method.
When the train of thought has been completed, the course of action decided is ready for planning.
Within limits, even the untrained mind is a highly efficient instrument and is quite capable of dealing logically with simple everyday problems and arriving at satisfactory solutions. But in complicated problems even the trained mind is liable to make mistakes; first because it is incapable of covering in a logical sequence all the circumstances related to the problem, and second because it retains in some degree the impatience inherent in all of us; and so tends to jump to conclusions without sufficient thought.
This defect of the mind may be overcome if all complicated problems are dealt with on paper so that each stage of the reasoning may be carefully analysed, tested, classified, and checked, to ensure that no stage is omitted and that all stages are dealt with in alogical sequence. The result, which is, therefore, a record of the process of reasoned and logical thought, is a written appreciation.


The correct solution of military problems and the selection of the best course of action in war are matters of the highest importance. The history of the world is largely shaped by the decisions of the great military commanders, and consequently such decisions must be made with the greatest care. As these decisions are normally derived from the recommendations in appreciations, it is obvious that such appreciations are most important documents.
In the Services, the written appreciation serves the following purposes:
It clears the writer’s own mind about the prevailing circumstances, and ensures that no relevant points have been overlooked and that the recommended course of action is the right one.
It endeavours to convince higher authority that the action recommended is the best in the circumstances.
It provides a permanent record of the reasons why a certain course of action was adopted in preference to other possible courses.


The logical process of reasoning that constitutes an appreciation can be analysed in three sections:
·      The aim to be attained.
·      The factors that affect the attainment of the aim.
·      The best course of action to adopt in order to attain the aim.
These sections form the basis of every appreciation no matter how the final construction of an individual appreciation may vary.


If allowance is to be made for variations in construction of individual appreciations, it is undesirable to insist that they should invariably be written in a specialised form, so long as they are always constructed upon the three basic sections given above.
Experience has shown, however, that the employment of some formal method helps to:
·      Train beginners in the art of appreciation writing.
·      Solve the more complex and involved problems.
A standard detailed form has therefore been evolved by adding a number of additional sections to the three basic ones, and by arranging them in an order that conforms to the logical sequence of reasoning referred to above.
When this standard form is used, the paper is given a formal heading and is divided into seven main sections, each of which has a standardized centre heading. These headings are:
·      Review of the Situation.
·      The Aim to be Attained.
·      Factors Affecting the Attainment of the Aim.
·      Enemy Courses of Action that Affect the Attainment of the Aim.
·      Courses of Action Open to us to attain the Aim.
·      Selection of the Best Course to Attain the Aim.
·      The Plan of Action.
The construction of an appreciation based on this standard layout is described in the following paragraphs.


The Heading
The heading of an appreciation follows closely the standard heading of a service paper, except for the following additions:
·      A reference showing for whom the appreciation is being written
·      A reference showing by whom the appreciation is being written
The title is always to begin ’An Appreciation on…’. It should go as far as possible in specifying the subject of the appreciation without prejudicing the aim or referring to any possible course of action. In other words the title must be definite but non-committal.
It is important to ensure that the ‘For’ and ‘By’ portions of the heading are completed correctly, as the level and scope of the appreciation depend largely on the level of the appointments of the writer and of the reader.
Review of the Situation
The review covers broadly the general situation as it exists at the time at which the appreciation is written, and provides the material from which the aim is selected; it is in effect a pointer to the aim.
The review serves two main purposes:
·      If the reader is not fully informed of the existing state of affairs, it provides him with a picture of the situation that has led to the choice of the aim.
·  Alternatively, if the reader is the officer who has ordered the preparation of the appreciation and who has already specified the aim to be attained, the review will indicate to him whether or not the writer fully understands the situation and is mentally in tune with the views of his superior.
The main difficulty in writing a review lies in determining how much or how little of the ‘situation’ to include in the review. As a general guide, it should consist solely of a statement of facts, giving a clear and concise indication of the situation so far as it concerns the problem under consideration. It must be confined to essentials and must contain information in broad terms only.
The normal tendency is to include too much detail, and care must be taken not to include data that properly belongs to the ‘Factors’ section of the appreciation. It is important to conclude with the intention of higher authority, thus reassuring the reader that the intention is in the forefront of the writer’s mind when he decides the aim.
When selecting facts for the review from the ‘situation’, it is important to think in terms of the person for whom the appreciation is being written. If this is done, a mass of unnecessary detail that is obviously known to this person will be excluded; all the reader wants to know is that the writer fully appreciates those facts that have led to the selection of the higher intention.
When the review has been written, the following tests should be applied:
·      Does it give the reader a clear enough picture of the situation if he is not sufficiently conversant with it?
·      Is it sufficiently comprehensive to show that the writer himself fully understands the situation and is mentally in tune with the views of his superior?
·      Does it indicate the intention of higher authority, and is this intention placed last in the review?
·      Does the review lead logically to the aim?
The review should be carefully checked and any points that seem to be illogical or do not fit with the rest of the review should be eliminated.
The process of argument and reasoning begins with the statement of the aim to be attained. The aim is the keystone of the appreciation. One, and only one, aim must be set down. When this has not been set down by higher authority, or when two or more aims present themselves, a subordinate must select his own aim.
The selection is usually easy if the review has been carefully written and concludes with a statement of the higher intention. Once defined, the aim must be kept constantly in mind during the writing of every subsequent paragraph of the appreciation.
The aim must be defined in a clear, vigorous, and concise form. It must be actively expressed, definite and simple, and must begin with the word ‘To’. It must not be qualified by any condition, any suggestion of method to be used, or any indication of an ulterior aim. It may, however, contain qualifications of time or space. Words to avoid are ‘if’ (which qualifies by condition), ‘by’ (which qualifies by method), and ‘so as to’ (which qualifies by indicating an ulterior aim). The method by which the aim is to be attained must not be considered at this stage, and the ‘aim’ must not be confused with ‘objective’.
Great care is necessary in choosing the right verb when expressing the aim; this is most important, and is where beginners usually go astray. It is well worthwhile, when a verb has been selected, to look up its various meanings in a dictionary to make sure that the correct word has been chosen. In doing this it will often be found that the chosen verb does not give quite the required meaning, but during the search a better one may be discovered. As far as possible, negative verbs such as ‘prevent’, ‘stop’, ‘delay’, should be avoided. Such verbs lack vigour, and automatically imply that the enemy holds the initiative; they are, therefore, psychologically unsuited to offensive action. Verbs that should also be avoided are those which place the main aim beyond the capacity of the force available; examples are ‘destroy’, ‘eliminate’, ‘annihilate’.
The ‘Factors’ section is the main body of the appreciation and consists of statements of known facts or reasonable assumptions, and deductions that can be drawn from them. The deductions must have a bearing on the attainment of the aim; some will be in its favour, others to its detriment, but in either case they must not be influenced by a preconceived course of action. No facts or deductions that are not essential to the problem and that have not a definite bearing on it should be included. In the light of the aim it may become necessary to consider as factors points that have already been mentioned in the review of the situation.
The factors should be considered not only in relation to ourselves but also in relation to the enemy, and should be arranged in a logical sequence suited to the situation. Each factor must be subject to an exhaustive and impartial examination. It is not sufficient to draw a deduction and assume that the factor has thus been adequately dealt with – the deduction itself must be examined to see if it, in its turn, will not yield a further deduction, and so on. Factors must be grouped together logically, for it is often possible to draw general deductions from the various groups. If an examination of all deductions in the ‘Factors’ section leads to a general deduction, or deductions, the section should end with a paragraph setting out these general deductions.
When factors are being considered, care is to be taken to avoid committing oneself prematurely to a course of action and thus prejudicing the issue before reaching the stage at which all possible courses of action have been examined. Avoidance of the words ‘can’ and ‘will’, and care in the use of the words ‘should’ and ‘must’ will help to eliminate faults in reasoning of this kind.
Before attempting to consider the ‘Factors’ section, the writer should collect all relevant material and select from it those facts which affect the attainment of the aim. These facts should be jotted down in any order, then arranged in logical order, and finally placed under suitable side headings in the ‘Factors’ section.
There are two kinds of factors: objective facts such as the relative strengths of the opposing forces, vital points, ranges, ranges of aircraft, time and politics; and factors that are introduced by the uncertain course of the enemy’s action. The former are all dealt with in the ‘Factors’ section; the latter are dealt with as ‘Enemy Courses of Action’. ‘Factors’ and ‘Own Courses’ should not be confused by the use of such phrases as ‘our action should therefore be…’.
It is usually advisable to discuss points on both sides before discussing relative strengths of opposing air forces. This ensures that the air forces on both sides are not treated simply as opposing air forces determined to wipe each other out. The correct method of dealing with vital points is as follows:
·      Define the vital point.
·  Show to what extent the enemy’s or our own dependence upon the point affects the attainment of the aim.
·      Assess the vulnerability of the point.
·      Show to what extent a successful attack on the vital point could influence the attainment of the aim.
The smooth flow of argument in the ‘Factors’ section must not be obscured by a mass of detail, such as figures of aircraft performances and strengths, which are more conveniently included in appendices. Having referred the reader to an appendix the write need only include in the body of the appreciation the relevant deductions drawn from that appendix provided that information is set out so that the deductions are readily apparent to the reader. When discussing the ranges of aircraft it is usually advisable to attach, as an appendix, a sketch map with the radii of action shown as arcs with airfields as centres.
Each factor must be discussed in relation to the aim and must produce some form of deduction affecting the attainment of the aim. If it does not, it must be discarded.
In service appreciations, enemy courses of action must be considered because they may affect our selection of a course of action. They are really factors and must, therefore, be treated in exactly the same extensive and impartial way as the factors proper. But whereas factors proper are indisputable facts whatever the situation may be, enemy courses are imponderable. They should be expressed in broad terms, and logical deductions affecting the attainment of the aim must be drawn from them in the same way as from factors. In addition, it is wise here to draw deductions relating to measures for security or defence that may be indicated by the study of possible enemy courses. It is essential that these measures should be taken, whichever course of action is adopted, they should be recorded separately at the end of the ‘Own Courses’ section. If, however, the measures are only a matter of prudence it is sufficient to draw attention to them again in the plan of action.
It is logical that enemy courses, which are really factors, should be considered before our own. Indeed, if the enemy has the initiative his possible courses of action must be considered before deciding on our own. Even if neither side has the initiative, or if it is in doubt, it is prudent to consider the enemy courses first, although we should avoid limiting the forcefulness of our own action by giving too much weight to the enemy’s probable action. But there are exceptions to this rule, and that is one reason why this particular class of factor is treated under its own separate heading. Thus, if we have the initiative and reasonable freedom of action, we should not be unduly influenced by what we fear the enemy may do, for this may prejudice our own courses of action. In such circumstances we may be well advised to consider our own courses first.
It is obviously a matter of judgement to decide the order in which to discuss the courses open to the two sides; but whatever order is decided upon, and whether or not we have the initiative, due consideration – and no more than due consideration – should be given to the possible action of the enemy. If the enemy courses are dealt with first – that is, as factors – the deductions drawn from them must be solely in relation to the attainment of the aim. If they are dealt with after our own courses, their effect on these courses must naturally be included.
The courses of action open to the enemy should be considered from this point of view, and he should be credited with acting wisely unless he has shown in the past that he is likely to behave otherwise. The best guide when dealing with enemy courses of action is the base them on the discussion of the vital points in the ‘Factors’ section. We should, therefore, study the paragraphs dealing with vital points, and then try to decide first what the enemy could do to attack our vital points; and secondly what he could do to counter attacks against his own vital points.
It may be of importance to decide which of the enemy courses will have the most unfavourable effect on the attainment of the aim. In general, however, it is best to resist the temptation to try to forecast the most probable enemy course, since it may influence our courses of action unduly and, in any case, may be wrong.
When considering purely defensive operations, however, the attainment of the aim may depend entirely on what the enemy may do, and it may be necessary to argue out which of the courses he is most likely to adopt; by this means it will be possible to provide for that course with all resources instead of trying to meet every contingency in a half-hearted manner. Whenever possible, however, it is better to leave this question open so as to avoid laying down the law for the enemy.
It is incorrect to think of ‘Enemy Courses’ and ‘Courses Open to Us’ as being allied sections of the appreciation, simply because they both deal with courses. The former are factors, the latter are not.
Each course open to us should be examined separately on its merits, its advantages and disadvantages should be discussed and its chances of attaining the aim assessed. In examining the courses, full use should be made of all relevant deductions that have been drawn from the previous study of factors and enemy courses; even though some repetition may be involved.
Each course included in this section should be stated fully and should be capable of attaining the aim. Courses of action that obviously cannot attain the aim should not be discussed merely for the satisfaction of proving their inadequacy. A detailed examination of the selected courses will often show that a combination of twp or more of the courses, or parts of them, is also likely to attain the aim. If this happens, the ‘combination course’ must be included after the other courses as an entirely separate course, and must be examined separately on its merits in the same way as all previous courses.
There is a temptation when discussing courses of action to weigh one course against the other. This only results in confusion. The pros and cons of each course should be weighed impartially, and no attempt should be made to compare the relevant advantages and disadvantages of the courses until dealing with the next section, ‘Selection of the Best Course’. Just as when discussing factors the word ’therefore’ is more or less unavoidable, so when discussing courses of action the word ‘but’ will naturally present itself.
This is the culmination of the appreciation. Under ‘Courses of Action Open to Us’ the pros and cons of each course were stated separately, but no attempt was made to compare courses. Now is the time to do this and, if the previous section has been fully and clearly argued, it should not be difficult to make this comparison in a few brief paragraphs. Repetition may be unavoidable but should be kept to a minimum.
The section is to conclude with a clear statement recommending the best course of action to adopt. The course selected must be one, and only one, of the courses examined in the ‘Courses Open to Us’ section, and must not be altered in any way.
The argument is now complete and a definite course of action has been decided upon. The final section – ‘Plan of Action’ – makes no contribution to the actual solution of the problem. But it is added because it serves two special purposes:
·  By indicating the roles of the forces available it shows that the course of action is practicable.
·      If the appreciation is accepted by higher authority without serious modification, it serves as a basis for the production of the necessary orders.
It is particularly important to bear in mind the second of these purposes when writing the plan of action. It should not go into detail, but should give sufficient general instructions to enable any competent staff officer to draft without further briefing the operation orders and administrative instructions required to put the plan of action into effect. The plan must be a clear, definite, and practical proposal for the employment of the available resources. It should not be executive and should be written in the infinitive. It should, if necessary, be illustrated by a diagram or sketch map, so that the salient points may be easily grasped.
Nothing should be included in the plan which is not based on, or which does not logically follow from, material already discussed in the previous sections of the appreciation. A plan of action usually includes:
·      Proposed allotment of command and control.
·      Statement of forces available.
·      Role of forces in broad terms only.
·      Indication of administrative arrangements, also in broad terms.
The appreciation is not complete until it has been revised. It must stand up to the following tests:
·      Is the reasoning sound?
·      Is it set out in logical order?
·      Is it free from ambiguities?
·      Is it accurate? – eg, are place names properly spelt and map references correct?
·      Is everything in the appreciation relevant to the problem?
·      Has the aim been kept in view throughout?
·      Can the selected course in fact achieve the aim?
Value to Staff in Appreciation Writing
Practice in writing appreciations is the best way to train officers to think and write clearly and logically and to develop the ability to make rapid decisions in an emergency. A process of clear thought and logical argument is the basis of appreciation writing, and indeed of most other forms of service writing.
This is the discipline so clearly lacking today.


Many papers that set out to examine and solve problems are written neither in standard appreciation form nor in any other forms of service writing. The term ‘Staff Papers’ is used to describe them.
The staff paper is basically the same as the standard appreciation, in that it has the same purpose as the appreciation and contains the same three basic constituents of a logical process of reasoning, ie:
·      Statement of the aim.
·      Examination of all relevant factors.
·      Selection of the best course of action to adopt.
It does not, however, follow the rigid, detailed layout of the appreciation, and is therefore much more flexible and adaptable, and can be produced more concisely. It is an appreciation in compact form.
There is invariably a great deal of repetition involved when writing an appreciation. This usually means that more time will be required, both for the writer to produce his work and for the reader to read and understand it. On the other hand, there may be less likelihood of the writer going astray in his argument or of the reader failing to follow the argument. The decision whether to produce an appreciation or a staff paper is mainly a matter of judgement, and must be decided by the writer after an examination of the problem. The advantages of a staff paper are:
·      The writer is free to use whatever framework he considers to be best suited to the subject matter.
·      It contains only the essentials of the argument.
·   The subject matter is presented in its most readable and concise form and should be quickly and easily understood.
Although the staff paper has no set layout, and therefore allows the write to choose whatever framework is most suited to the problem, there are principles that must be observed:
·      It must contain an aim, an examination of factors, and a recommended course of action.
·    Like any other form of writing, it must have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. It should also contain the other basic elements of a service paper, ie, heading, subscription, and appendices if necessary.
The introduction should define the problem, and the purpose for which the staff paper is being written. It should contain much the same material that would normally be found in the ‘Review’ and ‘Aim’ sections of an appreciation. In most staff papers, an introduction should include the following:
·      Terms of Reference.
·      A review of the situation.
·      Any assumptions on which the argument is based.
·      The aim to be attained when this has been clearly defined and/or a clear and unambiguous statement of the problem that the paper sets out to examine and solve.
The body of the staff paper should contain in a concise and logical framework only the essential arguments leading up to the conclusion. In subject matter, it should deal with the same material as that dealt with in the ‘Factors’, ‘Enemy Courses’, and ‘Own Courses’ sections of an appreciation, but it must deal with the material more concisely.
The conclusion should sum up the various arguments and set down the best course to adopt. This conclusion must follow logically from the arguments put forward in the body of the paper. No fresh arguments should be included, nor should any statement be made that is not supported by the arguments in the body of the paper.
Recapitulation of argument may be desirable, but should be brief. A recommendation may be included in the conclusion if the circumstances in which the paper is being written demand it.
We have seen that the reasoning process in an appreciation ends with the statement of the selected course, but that a ‘Plan of Action’ may be included to show the roles allotted to the forces available, and to provide a basis for the production of the subsequent orders necessary to bring about the required action. In the same way, although the conclusion of a staff paper completes the reasoning process, it is usually necessary to indicate the suggested role of forces. This is done by attaching to the staff paper an appendix called ‘Outline Plan’. The same basic rules apply to the construction of this ‘Outline Plan’ as to the construction of the ‘Plan of Action’ in an appreciation.
Although the conclusion of a staff paper will normally contain some form of recommendation, it is not always necessary to attach an outline plan. For example, if the problem is relatively simple, such as the question of increasing a unit establishment, a simple conclusion followed by a summary of recommendations is all that is required.

Air Power Australia Analyses  ISSN   1832-2433

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