Reclaiming Lost Skills: From Top Gun to Modern Debating “A TOP GUN DEBATE SCHOOL ONLINE”

Share this:

By Bob Rutherford*

How many bad decisions have you made as the President or CEO of your business because your employees don’t have the skills to argue with you about your next stupid decision?

The last high-profile debate has brought a flood of memories back to me about my salad days on my high school and college debate teams. My debate skills have served me well over fifty years of business. I also always look for messages and lessons in movies, books, and TV shows.

As an example, in the 1986 film Top Gun, the U.S. Navy recognized a critical need to revive lost dogfighting skills among its pilots. The movie’s protagonist, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, joins an elite fighter pilot school to relearn and master aerial combat techniques that have diminished over time. This revival of crucial skills was essential for maintaining superiority in aerial warfare. Today, a similar call to action is needed, but instead of aerial dogfighting, we must bring back the art of debating for better social discourse.

The Need for Debate Skills in Modern Society

I’m not being political here, but using the last televised Presidential debate as an example, the recent debate between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden underscored a significant problem in our society: the degradation of meaningful, respectful discussion. The exchange was marred by Donald Trump’s flood of lies, and a lack of substantive debate because he never answered questions on critical issues. All Joe Biden could say is “THAT’S NOT TRUE!”

Changing the Rules did not Solve the Problem

When Donald Trump lied that abortions are being performed after birth, President Joe Biden should have BEEN ABLE TO ask Mr. Trump specific questions, BUT HE DIDN’T:

How are these newborn abortions done? Do they cut the newborn’s throat? Are they putting a bag over the newborn’s head? If the newborn is tiny enough, are they putting the entire baby in a bag? Why hasn’t social media exploded with videos of this widespread practice? Indeed, nurses and orderlies with cell phone cameras surely are willing and ready to take videos and sell them to TMZ.

This spectacle’s lack of a Top Gun Debate was a stark reminder of how far we’ve strayed from the principles of compelling debate and how we have lost our fighting skills, which are crucial for a functioning democracy and productive societal discourse.

Hunter S. Thompson, known for his incisive commentary, once said, “Freedom is something that dies unless it’s used.” This sentiment is particularly relevant in the context of debate. The freedom to express ideas, challenge assumptions, and engage in intellectual discourse is fundamental to our society. Without these skills, our ability to progress and solve complex problems is severely hampered.

Lessons from the Masters

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a pioneer in the field of quality management, believed in continuous improvement and learning. He famously said, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” This principle applies to our need to rejuvenate debate skills. If we do not take deliberate steps to improve our ability to engage in constructive discourse, the quality of our public conversations and decision-making processes will continue to decline.

Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, emphasized the importance of preparation and strategy. “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity,” he wrote. Our current state of polarized and often chaotic public discourse presents an opportunity to reassess and reinvest in our debating skills. By doing so, we can foster a more informed and engaged citizenry capable of tackling the challenges of our time.

Let me introduce myself as An Advocate for Learning, any and all learning

In line with this need for educational revival, I have signed on as an ambassador for Learning Without Scars. I am a strong proponent of online education and believe in its potential to bridge gaps in knowledge and skills. Learning Without Scars aims to provide accessible and high-quality educational resources to individuals seeking to improve their professional and personal competencies.

By leveraging online platforms, I advocate for a modern approach to learning that can reach a broad audience. This approach aligns with the need to reinstate lost skills, much like the Navy’s initiative to revive dogfighting expertise through “Top Gun”. Through online education, we can provide tools and resources to help individuals improve their debating skills, enabling better social discourse and more effective communication.


The “Top Gun” story illustrates the importance of recognizing and addressing skill gaps to maintain excellence. Today, as we face a decline in practical debating skills, we must take inspiration from the past and invest in education for excellence in business and politics that promotes critical thinking and respectful discourse. With advocates like me and platforms like Learning Without Scars, we have the opportunity to reclaim these essential skills and foster a more informed and engaged society. As Sun Tzu advised, we must find opportunity in chaos and strive for continuous improvement, echoing Deming’s call for deliberate change in pursuit of survival and progress.

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *