The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H105 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?

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September 21, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized

8 Comments »

  1. Napoleon was a military genius whose leadership capably forged the Revolutionary Army into a military juggernaut while simultaneously overhauling European society and modern warfare. The genius inherent to Napoleon had definite aspects of fortune. From his Corsican background and rise through the ranks to his selection as an artillery officer that directly shaped his battlefield prowess, Napoleon’s luck seems astounding. The true measure of his genius, however, rests in his ability to manipulate the initiative. Albeit battlefield initiative by intuitively seizing upon dynamic centers of gravity or political initiative by masterfully manipulating the National Assembly to relinquish power to his indomitable personality, Napoleon used genius in his leadership of France.

    The American model of command-centric design is imperfect; there is no possibility that a military genius of Napoleon’s caliber would patiently navigate the bureaucratic confluence that is the American system. Instead, a modern Napoleon would channel his or her resources elsewhere. Nevertheless, in the regard of tempering the passions and prejudices of the military professional, the American institutions effectively produce a stable command echelon without the faults inherent to Napoleon’s ambitions. Napoleon overthrew his government and proclaimed himself emperor; the United States military system must prevent the spawning of a Napoleon.

    The commander-centric model is the only viable option for the military currently available. The single point of failure is necessary for meeting America’s doctrinal expectations. The changes that the services must capitalize upon are the forced integration of the human dimension by commanders. Delegation, brainstorming, staff management, and empowerment of the lower ranks will set the conditions for a future solution that potentially galvanizes living institutions to eliminate or at least mitigate the current commander-centric model.

    Comment by Matt Wunderlich, 19A | September 22, 2015

  2. Napoleon was a military genius and was enough to be in the right place at the right time. We have talked about his rise to power, and that was truly luck. However, his genius lies in his foresight and situational awareness that he translated to temporary world dominance. He had incredibly capable field generals such as Ney and an excellent chief of staff in Berthier. As an artillery officer, he was able to use effectively combined arm in his battles to overwhelm his opponents. It was not luck that Napoleon won so many battles, it was his genius that required over six countries to form a coalition to defeat him.
    The commander-centric system worked very well for Napoleon because the battlefields were not overly complex. The system saved time and allowed swift battle execution; however it is resultant in the physical presence of the commander. If Napoleon were not able to perform his duties, then there would be an incredible gap in command and control. In today’s operating environment, there has to be autonomy and mission command. The commander gives commander’s intent and allows subordinate commands to run their operations as best suited for that unit’s environment.

    Comment by Tim Lawrence 19C | September 23, 2015

  3. A commander-centric system is not an effective way of running an Army. The Army is a very large organization and it is impossible for the commander to be directing all actions. It creates a single point of failure that is solely dependent on the commander. The system is also not resilient because of the lack of redundancy and flexibility built into the system.

    An alternative model is a team-based command system. The commander relies on his team for advice and collective decision-making. The different perspectives represented in the team adds depth to the collective decision. It also engenders a sense of ownership because the team collectively made the decision.

    Comment by Luke Goh, 19B | September 23, 2015

  4. I like Matt’s comments that part of military genius being able to capitalize on events around you. I think that Napoleon is a great example of that. He was able to see circumstances and twist them towards his goals. He was also able to identify the weaknesses and mistakes of his enemies and exploit them further.
    The article we read for this lesson also stated that Napoleon was “lucky” to have the capable subordinate commanders in several of his victories. In those cases, I believe that promoting and placing those commanders is just another testament to Napoleon’s military genius. Eventually Napoleon’s subordinate commanders failed him, but I think that this was also caused by natural attrition of leadership and burn-out of forces caused by decades of war. Perhaps Napoleon’s options were degraded over time.
    I think that Mission Command is not a commander centric system of leadership. We are promoting based on merit so that logical assumption is that each commander is the best for that unit, but since he cannot be everywhere at once, he must rely on subordinate commanders/geniuses to do their part. Although American commanders are the final decision makers, they are not the planners. MDMP requires staffs (non-genius personnel) to collect, analyze, develop, test and recommend decisions to the commander. Once a decision is made, that same staff writes the OPORD that subordinate commanders execute through the theory of Mission Command. The subordinate commanders may also conduct MDMP to determine how their units will execute a task.

    Comment by Laura Proffit 19C | September 24, 2015

  5. I think Napoleon was an incredibly effective leader but I would not go so far as to call him a genius. Napoleon had a lot of external assistance in becoming successful, most significant is the time he lived in. Napoleon did not create the Revolution, he just happened to rise during it. He was also fortunate enough to be in government that would allow him to rise from CPT to Emperor in 10 years. Napoleon did create the military award system and he understood how to manipulate the psychology of Soldiers by acts such as wearing a Corporal’s uniform during battle to show he was “just like every other Soldier.” Examples like these make him a very intelligent leader but not necessarily a genius.
    While today’s military has a lot of similarities to Napoleon’s military, there are big differences that make it more effective and lasting. First, we use MDMP not NDMP. There is not one single point of failure in the planning process for military operations and commanders rely heavily on their staffs to procure all information necessary to make informed decisions. We also use Mission Command which Napoleon would never have used. It is still a command centric military but probability of success is greatly enhanced by the ability of junior leaders to exercise disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent.

    Comment by Laura Pangallo, 19A | September 28, 2015

  6. I would call Napoleon a genius. He took the tools available at his disposal: massed artillery, Levee En Masse etc and shaped them into his own design. Understanding how to command and control a large Army, the psychology of Soldiers and how simple a thing of awarding ribbons affect morale, and the power of forward logistics separated him from every other military leader. While the timeframe was advantageous for Napoleon I would not say he was “lucky.” He spent significant time developing his theories and battle plans and implemented them through his staff. I would argue that not every military leader could have shaped the future of battle the way he did, thus making his body of work genius.

    Our military is very commander centric; however it is not so centric that it becomes a single point of failure. Our MDMP process calls for the staff to develop options for the commander and therefore gives him the ability to weigh their staffs’ thoughts versus their own. The other significant difference in our military is the leader development. Our Staff officers generally work for the purpose of promotion and future command. Commanders understand this and in theory work to develop subordinates. In the event a commander should fall in battle their subordinate would be able to assume the role of commander.

    Comment by MAJ Robert Schaffling 19A | September 29, 2015

  7. 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?

    Napoleon was a military genius. There is no such thin as luck, the ways Napoleon fought and conquered was all his doing and the utilization of his forces. He rose to the top initially on merit, then used that to his advantage to take over. As he was successful the gained even more popular backing which enabled him to become the leader of France.

    The US military should have a model where genius is rewarded and promoted, however there must be a balance between genius and combat experienced commanders. One may be a military genius however without experience then he may not be effective. The US is not overly commander centric, the commander must be in charge to command. However, he should have staffs where geniuses are employed.

    No, the commander is not the single point of failure. Through education and succession of command our military is designed so that if the commander is out then the next in command can take over with initiative and succeed. Commander centric is not the only logical way to run an army however I believe it is the most effective.

    Comment by James Stall, 19A | November 11, 2015

  8. Napoleon was a military genius. There is no such thin as luck, the ways Napoleon fought and conquered was all his doing and the utilization of his forces. He rose to the top initially on merit, then used that to his advantage to take over. As he was successful the gained even more popular backing which enabled him to become the leader of France.

    The US military should have a model where genius is rewarded and promoted, however there must be a balance between genius and combat experienced commanders. One may be a military genius however without experience then he may not be effective. The US is not overly commander centric, the commander must be in charge to command. However, he should have staffs where geniuses are employed.

    No, the commander is not the single point of failure. Through education and succession of command our military is designed so that if the commander is out then the next in command can take over with initiative and succeed. Commander centric is not the only logical way to run an army however I believe it is the most effective.

    Comment by James Stall, 19A | November 11, 2015


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