The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Grooming and Picking Generals

In his article, A Failure in Generalship, Paul Yingling argues that the American army’s process for selecting generals is flawed.  He advocates taking the general officer promotion system away from the military and making  it a task for Congress.  Recently, retired MG Scales wrote an article which seemed to back up Yingling’s view (see previous blog).  Numerous other analysts believe that Yingling’s general point is accurate. 

 There are essentially two different military philosophies regarding the system used to pick general officers.  One view is a view that comes from the French revolutionary armies of the 18th and early 19th century.  That view is promotion should be based strictly on merit.  In this system officers are selected from among their peers for promotion based on their demonstrated performance  of duty.  Ultimately, this promotion by merit system results in the most competent officers achieving the highest rank.    

A second system comes from the Prussian army of the 19th Century.  That view is to identify through rigorous testing a small elite cadre of the most intelligent officers in the army.  These officers then are specially educated and assigned for the rest of their careers.  They are specifically groomed to lead the army at the  highest levels.  Promotion in this system is based on intellectual ability, special education, and talent.

The promotion by merit system assumes that the best qualifications for command are demonstrated by success in command.  This philosophy is traditionally the bedrock of promotion in the naval service (both in the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy) where time in command of ships and at sea are the ultimate test of fitness for command.

Which system does the U.S. army promotion system seem to follow?  Is Yingling right?  Is there a failure of generalship in the U.S. Army?  If so, is it because of  the selection philosophy the army uses, or, is it just that the execution of the process is flawed?  If the selection process is flawed, how does that explain Generals like Patraeus and McCrystal?  What process or philosophy do you believe produces the best senior leaders? Does the senior officer promotion system need to change?    

October 19, 2009 Posted by | H100, leadership, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A new demension of war: leveraging the Economic Instrument

The American Civil War vividly demonstrated how the products of the industrial revolution, the rifled musket, steam powered trains and ships, the telegraph, banking, and mass production manufacturing techniques changed tactical and operational warfare.   Less noticable was the way in which the economic base of a country became an important aspect of its war making capability.  Limited economic base meant limited war making capability while a large robust economic base meant a large war making capability.  General Grant consiously developed his attritition strategy followed in the last eighteen months of the war based on his understanding of the economic advantages of the Union.  Simply put, the Union could sustain losses of manpower and material and the South could not.  Thus, tactical and operational victory, though desired, was not necessary to winning the war.  Continuous fighting was necessary to make this happen –not continuous victory.  Thus Grant’s guidance to his subordinate :


Though focused tactically on battle, the purpose of battle was not to achieve tactical victory, but rather to deplete Southern resources, regardless of tactical victory.  Thus, there was no direct link between military tactical victory and strategic victory.  Military operations were necessary to enable the leveraging of the Union’s economic advantage, but the economic advantage was what was decisive not the supporting military campaign.

Today, the economic potential of a country, along with the other instruments of national power,  is captured in the acronym DIME (dipomacy, information, military, and economic).  Do you think the current strategy proposed by General McCrystal for Afghanistan (including the increase in troop strength) is a military strategy within a larger DIME strategy for the region, or is the MacCrystal strategy inclusive of the DIME?  If it is a purely military strategy, when and by whom was the larger regional DIME strategy articulated?  By doctrine, who articulates the comprehensive DIME strategy and in what form?

Click below to read the General McChrystal Assessment.


October 7, 2009 Posted by | Current Events, H100, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Who Noticed General Scales in our Classroom?

This month in Armed Forces Journal Major General Robert H. Scales wrtoe:

We have too few of these officers because the services tend to accelerate the careers of officers who, early in their careers, show talent at the tactical level of war. Battalion, squadron and ship commanders habitually reward subordinates who mirror themselves. These subordinates tend to be officers who get things done, the go-to, can-do types who make their mark with managerial brilliance. The irony of the system is that the requirement for competence shifts from the tactical to the strategic at just the time in their careers when tactical officers leave command to move on to higher levels of responsibility at the colonel and flag level. As a result, too often we see skillful tacticians thrust into strategic staff jobs they are ill-prepared to perform.

I’d like to know how come I didn’t notice him in the classroom during our discussion of Jomini?  Did someone tape the class and send it to him?  Maybe it was someone from last year’s class because he also hits on subjects from the article in Small Wars Journal and from my notes for next week’s class.  Regardless, it is also very interesting.

If you are interested in the complete article click here.

Comment below on any aspect of the article.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Current Events, H100, leadership, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment