Are generals important?




 
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Boots
 
June 9th, 2006  
Lilmissflamethrower
 
 

Topic: Are generals important?


Due to the recent high up Al Queda member dying, I wrote to a friend that experts were saying on the telly and radio that this would have great repurcussions on Al Queda. That you cannot just replace a person of that calibar over night. He wrote back that generals are over-rated and not what wins a war, its superior power. I am enclosing his argument here for your opinion:

<<That's the funny thing about history. It's written after the facts, and it's often written to support the facts as we remember them. History lionizes victors. It makes victors superhuman. It makes losers flawed. History also lauds human achievement, and tends to ignore non-human systems and processes because they are less romantic, less inspiring.

For example, many historians say that commanders are crucial to victory. Yet, how often does the bigger, most technologically modern, best trained army ever lose a symmetrical war? I can't think of one. Even in assymetrical wars like Vietnam, it's arguable that the US military never lost a campaign. When Germany was the largest, most modern, best trained military, it won. When an even larger, in some ways more modern, highly trained military arrived in the form of Americans, we won. Similar argument could be made with the American Civil War. South had better commanders, arguably. But the North was richer, bigger, more modern.

Personally, I side with the historians who say that the nation with the better system wins wars. Commanders are much more fun and stimulating and romantic to focus on, but I think it's factories, logistics, technology, and weight of overwhelming numbers which wins wars.
Now, political leaders in times of war are a different animal. It's much easier to argue that Churchill or Roosevelt or Stalin were irreplaceable. But ever since army commanders stopped personally leading charges, military commanders are more like the chief cogs in the war machine. The lead cogs, perhaps, but still cogs.

While it's easy for historians to imply that certain accomplished leaders are chosen by destiny, and therefore were irreplaceable, we have no way to judge it, because, without omnipotence, we will never know if circumstance might have picked a General Smith instead of Patton, or an Admiral Jones instead of Halsey, etc. We will never know if that General Smith could have been even better than Patton.

Think of it this way. History records plenty of poor generals, which implies that there were other, better, nameless colonels who didn't make general, who may have been the next Ulysses Grant instead of McLellan. Therefore, why is it more difficult to accept that for every good general, there may not have been someone better who wasn't as politically correct, or who was Jewish, or Catholic, or worse, an avowed atheist, or who wasn't a Mason, or who was a Mason? Who ever heard of a famous popular American general who was an avowed atheist? Not me. Were some generals atheists? How could there not have been? How about the great military commander who wasn't a military academy grad? In WWII, I don't think many non West Pointers were given major commands. High commands are GIVEN by other generals. They aren't earned or achieved. Great commanders in the 20th century didn't ASCEND to command. They are GRANTED command. That's an important distinction.

In most cases, military commanders do not create opportunities. Instead, they react to opportunities. Sure, this is an important skill, but it indicates a lack of control over their victories.

As for Rommel...that's a different type of problem. He lost in Africa, and he lost in Europe. Rommel personally prepared the coastal defenses in Normandy, and those defenses failed in less than 24 hours. In fact, as soon as he encountered a well equipped modern army (British were underequipped and less modern than Germans) Rommel continued to lose.
Most historians want to make Rommel the misunderstood genius, who lost only because he was ground down by the irresistable American military-industrial juggernaut, and that he didn't get the necessary support from Hitler. I suspect that's convenient rationalizing by overly enthusiastic Rommel romanticizers.
It's a flaw of military historians to tend to embue military commanders with an almost mystical sense of power and insight. Usually, minor laudatory traits are expounded upon, while flaws in skill or judgment are given one-liner mention. For example, Patton was prone to be blinded by bias and personal prejudice and an inflated sense of self which bordered on delusion and loss of grasp on reality. What a potential huge flaw for a military commander. Could that flaw have stopped him from doing things even greater than he did? Could a more open mind have shortened the war or saved American lives? Very possibly, but we'll never know now. War is a very murky, poorly recorded sequence of simultaneous events. No one can honestly claim to be able to sort it all out with certainty. Without that certainty, we are left with best guesses. That's all most history really is. Best guesses. And that's even when we're talking about events which occurred in our parents' lifetimes. >>

So what do you think of this argument?
June 11th, 2006  
loki
 
I dont agree. Its true that the role of commanders is often exaggerated. However the assumption that its only technology and logistics that determine the course of events in war is ridiculous. Its the use of those that does. With better technology you have more choices but you can still make poor decisions and you can still lose against a weaker enemy. However decisions are made on any level of the military hierarchy, the commander's decisions affect all his soldiers but the soldiers decide how to implement an order. So their determination, their beliefs and their abilities are at least as important as those of any commander.

Quote:
Rommel personally prepared the coastal defenses in Normandy, and those defenses failed in less than 24 hours. In fact, as soon as he encountered a well equipped modern army (British were underequipped and less modern than Germans) Rommel continued to lose.
In the Frankreichfeldzug (France 1940, dunno what you call that campaign) the French and the BEF together had more material than the Germans and at least parts of it where more modern than the german counterparts. E.g. the french Renault Char B1 is considered the best tank at that time. The Wehrmacht commanded about 2200 tanks in the campaign, the French alone 3100. I think the reasons the Wehrmacht won this campaign were:

- political and social instability of France
- unexpected strategy of the Wehrmacht
- lack of coordination between French, British, Dutch and Belgian military

Especially the first one. I read many French conscripts saw their officers as oppressors from the upper class, the same people that were domineering them in their civilian lives. IMO this had an immense influence on the course of events.

Quote:
Most historians want to make Rommel the misunderstood genius, who lost only because he was ground down by the irresistable American military-industrial juggernaut, and that he didn't get the necessary support from Hitler. I suspect that's convenient rationalizing by overly enthusiastic Rommel romanticizers.
I wonder why any (non-german) historian would want to "romanticize" some random Nazi general if he didn't do anything oustanding at all. Doesn't make much sense to me.
June 12th, 2006  
Ted
 
 
The way I look at it is that an army, like any team needs good players. They have to understand the tactics good and team spirit. All the elements like materials and transport should betaken care of. But they always need a good manager. Bad managers disrupt the team and have no added value. I hope you like my metaphor and that it answers your question?
--
Boots
June 14th, 2006  
behemoth79
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ted
The way I look at it is that an army, like any team needs good players. They have to understand the tactics good and team spirit. All the elements like materials and transport should betaken care of. But they always need a good manager. Bad managers disrupt the team and have no added value. I hope you like my metaphor and that it answers your question?
to add on to your metaphor. the generals are mainly make an impression before and after a battle. during the battle it all comes down to the readiness and ability of the troops. i think it is unfair to say that a result of battle is soely due to a general. the general can only put people where they should be. it is up to the soldiers to execute.
June 14th, 2006  
godofthunder9010
 
 
You say, "Are generals important [in the case of Al Qeda or in any other militant structure]?" I say, "Do smores contain marshmallows?"

To sum up, absolutely, yes!

By the way, Rommel makes a lousy example for me since I've always considered him extremely over-rated. But there are many generals who have successfully made all the difference in the world on the battlefield.
 


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