Mackinder Forum Virtual Seminar #42: “Is There Genuine Strategic Utility in ‘Knowing Thyself'”? by Jeannie Johnson

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On October 30, 2021, Professor Jeannie Johnson addressed the Mackinder Forum Seminar on “Is There Genuine Strategic Utility in ‘Knowing Thyself'”?

Abstract: Strategic culture theorists often cite Sun Tzu’s dictum to Know Thyself and Know Thy Enemy as something close to sacred verse. Those same theorists, however, do not always provide a commensurate explanation of how exactly a knowledge of oneself delivers strategic utility. Some of the most influential first generation strategic culture theorists, including Colin Gray, argued that knowing one’s own strategic culture did not deliver much by way of power to change it. If an understanding of the weak spots and distinctive practices within our own strategic cultures does not enable us to address and change them when strategically appropriate, then what is the point of knowing them in the first place? Using the case study of American strategic culture, Dr. Johnson will explore this topic and offer a somewhat tempered but strategically relevant perspective on the utility of introspective study of one’s own strategic culture.

Reading: “The ‘Know Thyself’ Conundrum: Extracting Strategic Utility from a Study of American Strategic Culture,” forthcoming.


Jeannie L. Johnson is the Director of the Center for Anticipatory Intelligence (CAI) on USU’s campus. The CAI uses interdisciplinary problem-solving teams to tackle complex security concerns resulting from converging trends in emergent tech, bioengineering, data science, and a changing climate. 

Dr. Johnson worked within the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence as a member of the Balkan Task Force from 1998-1999 and served with the US State Department in Embassies Paris and Zagreb. The Cultural Topography analytic method she pioneered with co-author Matt Berrett was featured in CIA’s June 2011 edition of Studies in Intelligence

Dr. Johnson’s primary research interest, strategic culture, examines the impact of national and organizational cultures on the formation of security policy. Dr. Johnson has applied strategic culture analysis to the nuclear issue and has co-edited two books on that topic. She has also conducted in-depth research on US national and military service cultures, including critical blind spots in US foreign and security policy. Her book, The Marines, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Culture: Lessons Learned and Lost in America’s Wars includes a foreword from former USMC General Jim Mattis (Georgetown University Press, 2018). She served on US Defense Secretary Mattis’s Close Combat Lethality Task Force as a subject matter expert and continues to work with the intelligence community and military services on advancing the strategic impact of cultural analysis.

Dr. Johnson received her doctorate in strategic studies from the University of Reading in 2013.