The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H105: Military Genius

pg-35-napoleon-1-dea-gettyGenius 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 4, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. The fact that Napoleon was so successful as a military commander does certainly add to the argument of his inherent “genius.” However, genius as a military tactician does not guarantee the intellectual ability to be the leader of your recently conquered lands. In the case of Napoleon it did, but this is more of an exception than a rule.

    The idea of merit based promotion is something that is sorely missing in today’s professional military. Even though there are those that would claim that promotion is based on merit, the sad fact is that it is truly based on statutory requirements, and pre-determined time in grade. Were there a system in place to identify those with the greatest potential and issue true meritorious promotions, it might be easier to identify the type of “genius” that Napoleon possessed.

    There have been many examples of military leaders going on the be the President of this nation such as Washington, Grant, and Eisenhower, but those presidents were the product of a conscript driven military just like Napoleon and were promoted based upon merit. With the current system in place it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to see a leader rise based truly upon merit rather than statutes unless those statutes are changed.

    Comment by Justin Reddick | October 7, 2016

  2. Napoleon inherited conditions that facilitated his rise, but he ultimately demonstrated the appropriate traits and abilities to take advantage of the conditions, exploit them for his gains, and transform France and the military in the process. To me, this speaks to his genius. Napoleon recognized the opportunities to re-shape France after the Revolution and particularly the military. His re-organization of the Army into the more flexible “Corps” system provides the basis of some of our organization today. Additionally, Napoleon recognized how an “Army of the People” could re-orient warfare towards offensive operations, decisive action, and using overwhelming force to destroy an enemy. It took a visionary genius to implement these monumental changes. His successes and body of work between 1795-1809 provide evidence of his genius. Even after 1809, when Napoleon began to suffer defeats, many of his enemies began to employ his tactics and organize their forces like Napoleon. The attempt by other contemporary leaders to emulate and imitate Napoleon’s tactics (after his campaign in 1812) and the longevity of his innovations are indicators of Napoleon’s genius.

    Comment by Scott | October 7, 2016

  3. Very great article, and a lot of great point in it. From my opinion, Napoleon was really a genius but he was also “lucky” leader who was in the right place at the right time because of his success to reach to all of his accomplishments in this short time, but his genius treat in military affairs was not the same in the political affairs.
    I may disagree with many of French who believe that Napoleon’s rise was only because of the French system’s emphasis on promotion due to merit, as I think there are many other factors like hi luck, charisma, and also the situation of the french revolution. I think all of that did not happen he may not reach to this point.
    I think the commander-centric command system is not designed to leverage “genius” and I do not think that it is even the right model that the U.S. military should be following. because form my opinion commander-centric command system kill the opportunity to create a genius because the genius is talent person who improved his talent by practicing and within this practice he could make faults, go out of the box, or ever break some low or deviate from it. All of that is not permitted in the commander-centric command system where there is no opportunity to make a fault. Finally, I think that the Is the current US system overly commander-centric which is practically based on merit but this merit definition sometimes varies.
    I think the idea of a commander-centric system, where the commander becomes the single point of failure of the entire system is not good at all, he has responsibility but not the full responsibility. the commander centric system is not the only logical way to run an army, there is the integrated system and Moltke system when he integrates the staff with the commander in one system.

    Comment by mohamedmillataryleader | November 3, 2016

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