The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Military Genius?

Genius has been defined in several different ways:

Genius:  Distinguished mental superiority; uncommon intellectual power; especially, superior power of invention or origination of any kind, or of forming new combinations; as, a man of genius. [1913 Webster]

Genius refers to a person, a body of work, or a singular achievement of surpassing excellence.

More than just originality, creativity, or intelligence, genius is associated with achievement of insight which has transformational power.

Many military historians, and many of Napoleon’s contemporaries think that he was a genius: Napoleon conquered all of Europe and dramatically changed the way wars were fought. Many French believe that Napoleon’s rise was because of the French system’s emphasis on promotion due to merit.  Thus it put the best man, Napoloen, in position to command the Army.  The French then built a command system to support him.

Was Napoleon really a genius or just the leader “lucky” enough to be in the right place at the right time?

Was Napoleon’s rise based on merit… or did he lead France due to factors besides merit?

Is the commander centric command system designed to leverage “genius” the right model that the U.S. military should be following?  Is the current US system overly commander centric?

What do you think of the idea that in a commander centric system, the commander becomes the single point of failure of the entire system?  Is “commander centric” the only logical way to run an army?


October 2, 2014 - Posted by | H100


  1. The commander centric system was effective during the napoleon period, but is not the logical way to run the army today. During Napoleons reign, a time that helped define the concept of total war, he led an army built from mass conscription. This army was not comprised of well trained professionals dedicated to their art. This was a quickly formed army thrust in to the fire of combat that did not have a leader corps trained in the art of war. This type of army was primed for a command centric system. You had a large army that was able to be successful by executing a clear set of orders from a single source. Today’s army is no longer comprised of conscripts but of volunteers. The army of today has spent a great deal of time learning lessons from past conflicts and strive to evolve not just as an organization but as a profession. Soldiers at all levels are immersed in a tier system of constant leadership development. Soldiers who demonstrate leadership ability and technical competency are promoted and given responsibility. Both officers and NCOs are expected and encouraged to be creative, make mistakes, learn from past lessons and work towards making the organization better. The result is a multi-tier system of leaders who act as filters for failure. Leaders provide the commander with insight, ideas, experience, alternate points of view, and critical feedback. This results in a commander who can now make a more informed decision. However, in the end it is the commander who takes full responsibility for both the success and failure of their unit. It is not feasible to seek out enough genius’s to fill every leadership position in the army. It is feasible though to create a system that pools the knowledge and skills of many in order to reach a similar outcome.

    Comment by R. Edwards-17B | October 3, 2014

  2. The U.S military is a commander centric system that closely relates to Napoleon. However, the one exception was that Napoleon was the head of the state and the military. While Napoleon was a military genius especially at the operational level of war, he biggest failure was at the strategic level and overextending his nation. However, the U.S is still reliant on the “genius” of its Generals just as in the day of Napoleon. In the current operational environment, the combatant commander is responsible for all operations within his/her theater. In WW II, Eisenhower and MacArthur were the supreme allied commander’s for the European and Pacific theaters of operations. The effectiveness of the military is determined by the “genius” of these military leaders that are in command just the same as in Napoleon’s day. President Lincoln went through six Union Generals before he found his “genius” in General Grant. This commander centric system has its share of problems because its so reliant on the effectiveness of the top General. However, in the professional military of the United States, we mitigate this danger because this person rose to the top based on merit and performance. Also, for effective command and control its the only system that truly works. If command and control was dispersed among multiple individuals, the system would be latent with inefficiency. The U.S military leverages the command of its top generals by providing them staffs that give advice and assist the commander in organizing and leading the military.

    Comment by Eric Peterson, staff group 17B | November 6, 2014

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