Reality is a Joke

About a month ago, I noted that the Army had quit using the term “Lessons Learned” prefering instead “Lessons Identified.” A commenter joked,

If they’re not going to call them “lessons learned,” then what do they plan to call them? Maybe, “mistakes you can plan on making in the future”?

Now, StrategyPage is passing this off as “military humor:”

During wars and other operations, the troops often encounter situations for which they have not been properly trained, or are not properly equipped. In the interests of improving their warfighting capabilities, careful study is given to these problems.

The Army and the Navy call these studies “Lessons Learned”, and promptly shelve them. The next time there’s a war, they say things like, “Hey, here’s a bunch of new ‘Lessons Learned’,” and promptly shelve them.

In contrast, the Marines say these studies are “Lessons Identified”, and promptly shelve them. The next time there’s a war, the Marines say, “Hey, we still haven’t done anything about those ‘Lessons Identified’,” and once again shelve them.

The Air Force also terms these studies “Lessons Learned,” and also promptly shelves them. The next time there’s a war, USAF announces, “See, if we’d only had the F/A-22 these problems would not have arisen”.

Only the Brits have the right attitude; they refer to these studies as “Mistakes we’re bound to make again.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Boyd says:

    I still like my original suggestion.

    And yes, that was me under my old nom de plume. I’ve come out of the closet now.

  2. Rodney Dill says:

    Well the consequences are usually a lot more dire when you are discussing “lessons learned” as part of a military operation. But, this pretty much spills over into regular life as well. The saying goes you “learn from your mistakes”, and while that may be the way a lot of people do learn, even more don’t even learn from their own mistakes.

    It takes an even greater amount of discipline to learn from the mistakes of others. I can claim no great success in this myself but I do tend to analyze, and overanalyze, actions and consequences to prevent mistakes from repeating.

    I wish the military success in being even somewhat successful at trying to learn from past mistakes. I hope that getting caught up in what to call the process will just become another “past mistake.”