The military is increasingly using and relying on the term
"narrative" in its lexicon. United States strategic guidance
documents generally implore commanders to "shape the narrative"
doctrinal publications recommend commanders to "exploit a single
narrative" and operational plans direct commanders to execute an
"operational narrative." Although the concept of narrative is
generally understood as telling a story, it is more important for
practitioners to recognize narrative as a methodology for
understanding and as a mode of communication. Integrating a
narrative approach to military operations would be beneficial
because it offers the potential to convey the meaning of our
actions in a context that is relevant to a rival's understanding. A
survey of current U.S. doctrine provides multiple and ambiguous
definitions and functions of narrative. A shared understanding of
narrative is required to prevent misunderstanding as future
military commanders contemplate executing operations within a
narrative framework. Specifically, this monograph will provide an
analysis of the current military narrative development, narrative
theory, and explore the current paradigm of U.S. communication
efforts. Lastly, based on shared understanding this monograph
provides with regard to the utility of narrative in planning and
communications, it makes recommendations on potential application
narrative theory to military operations. This monograph argues that
the absence of understanding about what narrative is and what it
can do limits the military's ability to utilize the tool
effectively. Applying narrative theory to military planning and
communicating activities will make messages and actions consonant
with, and part of, military operations.
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