The capacity of a government to protect its citizens pivots on the ability of its leaders and high-placed specialists to think critically. Few times in history point so clearly to this principle than the 9/11 disaster. In 1941, the same year that the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, Edward M. Glaser published a book titled, An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking. Glaser's practice of psychiatry was remarkable in that he dispensed with the Freudian deep dive into past events, pushing his patients to deal with problem solving in the present -- a critical thinking practice he called reality therapy. Many of Glaser's tenets were adopted by other disciplines because of their universal utility and association with positive results. Glaser defined critical thinking as, "A persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports or refutes it and the further conclusions to which it tends." The gem in this quotation is: "the further conclusions to which it tends." This is the nexus at which facts, intuition, and imagination meet -- and sometimes collide.
A Failure of Imagination
In the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, the commission asserted that the 9/11 attacks occurred because the measures taken by the U.S. government in the period from 1998 to 2001 "were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities, and management" ("National Commission," 2004, p. 9). Of these, imagination was the key variable that prevented the U.S. government agencies and the military from perceiving that the threat posed by al Qaeda in 2001 was not cut from the same cloth as the usual terrorist threat that had plagued the United States for literally decades. Given the information available to the government and the military at the time of the 9/11 attacks, it is fair to say that it would not even have been a stretch of the imagination, if you will, to perceive the extent to which al Qaeda radicalism had progressed. Prevailing thought at the time was insufficient to imagine "the new brand of terrorism[as] posing a threat beyond anything yet experienced" ("National Commission," 2004, p. 9).
The Critical Thinking Frame Juxtaposed
The Paul-Elder model of critical thinking model applies universal intellectual standards to the elements of thought. These intellectual standards are as follows: Clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, significance, breadth, depth, logic, and fairness (Paul & Elder, 1995, 2001). Through the application of the intellectual standards to the elements of thought, a person develops a habit of mind. In the briefest form, the elements of thought are: Purpose, question, information, assumption, interpretation, concepts, implications, point-of-view. The fundamental purpose in establishing a habit of mind that utilizes these frameworks is to improve thinking and improve the ability to think about thinking, or practice metacognition (Eichorn, 2012).
The relevance of critical thinking to matters of the government and the military are commonly noted. Indeed, Eichorn, (2012) suggested that the emergence of critical thinking as a metacognitive framework, circa 1941, was not coincidental and may well have may have been associated with the "chaos that was unleashed by aggressive, totalitarian governments. In his article introducing the changed curriculum at the Army Management Staff College, Eichorn underscored how much the old paradigm from the "fearsome stability" of the former Soviet Union had changed. Indeed, Eichorn argued that the Army now requires critical thinkers and stipulated that, according to the April 1997 draft of FM22-100, Army Leadership, critical reasoning is "one of the key conceptual skills leaders must possess starting at the junior leader level" (Eichorn, 2012). Presumably some time in the late 1990s[footnoteRef:1] Eichorn wrote: [1: The exact date that Eichorn wrote the curriculum introduction is unavailable, although the webpage information shows the last modification occurring on January 4, 2012. ]
"[T]he Army has an immediate and widespread need for people who can examine assumptions, work through problems and evaluate different courses of actions, consider the implications of situations, and look to not only first order consequences of actions, but second and third order consequences as well. In other words, the Army needs people who can think critically."
Clearly the U.S. Army recognized the need for critical thinking among its members and was actively working to embed critical reasoning skills in its quotidian practice. The 9/11 Commission unequivocally stated that, "At no point before 9/11 was the Department of Defense fully engaged in the…