The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H208: Feel Lucky?

The title of a famous book on the battle of Midway Island is “Miracle at Midway,” indicating the degree to which “luck” played a role in the US victory in the battle. How do you feel about luck in military operations? Clausewitz called it chance –and recognized that it had a role in determining the outcome. Jomini might have said that things like luck and chance play on both sides and cancel each other out and therefore are irrelevant. Where do you stand? Also, how do you think the role of chance or luck should be addressed in PME or should it be addressed at all?


January 30, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I think Luck/chance should be addressed in PME only insomuch as to acknowledge that it exists and can play a defining role in military engagements. However, the nature of luck precludes planners/strategists from exerting any control over it-so to devote time analyzing its role would only make students more aware of its presence while not giving them any practical methods to guard against it.

    PME should focus on teaching the military student all about the aspects of military engagement that he/she can control through solid planning, creative thinking, and disciplined understanding.

    Louis Pasteur said “fortune (luck) favors the prepared mind. This adage sums up how military PME should approach luck: one cannot control it, so the best defense is to be supremely well-prepared in the aspects you can control

    Comment by Scott Harr | January 31, 2017

  2. Luck can be a misnomer. In the case of the Battle of Midway, America had a key advantage, and that was the availability of intelligence. Had the Americans not had an initial search location for the Japanese based on this intelligence, then things may have gone quite differently. As far as what Clausewitz considers “chance” I think can be minimized by appropriately managing risk based on the stakes. For Midway, the stakes were incredibly high, but based on the intel, the U.S. was as prepared as they could be on June 4. This gave them the initiative which Japan was unable to overcome. So, even though it could be considered luck, I believe it was the execution of sound tactical decisions based upon the available intel that made the difference.

    As far as referencing luck during PME, I agree with Scott, don’t try to affect what you can’t control, but focus on what you can and this will make the difference.

    Comment by Justin Reddick | January 31, 2017

  3. I believe “luck” plays a role is most conflicts. For example, the attack on Pearl Harbor was spotted by the radar station on Oahu before the attack commenced. However, as “luck” would have it, the radar operator assumed it was US aircraft returning from a mission and did not report it. If that wasn’t the case that “attack” may have been less severe. Pearl Harbor and Midway are just a few examples of how luck can change the tide of a battle.

    During PME I believe luck should be referenced and the role that it plays. That can force strategist to always build in a contingency plan. But luck should not be a focus area because it is something that no one can control.

    Comment by Jeffery Hoover | January 31, 2017

  4. It would be a fallacy to believe that luck plays no part in military operations. With that said, I agree that PME should address luck to the point of discussing its existence in military operations, but really there is nothing anyone can do to control, otherwise it wouldn’t be called luck.

    Prudent planning, critically thinking through various scenarios that could occur (time permitting), and ensuring that plans are flexible enough to adapt to rapidly changing situations and conditions should be the focus of PME. Though we cant control or anticipate when luck may or may not appear, good planning may reduce the instances of “bad luck” which could be nothing more than a failure in planning.

    Comment by A.J. Redden | February 1, 2017

  5. I believe that the luck played a role in the US victory throughout WWII, however, I want to name it by another thing which is ” The God Will”. From my perspective, there is nothing called luck but there is what the God want it to happen, happens. The God always stands beside the right people and whoever deserves the victory, who pay all of his effort for the good. However, sometime in the beginning of a situation, it seems the opposite. If you look at the situation from a narrow vision you will think that the winner does not deserve his winning, but if you know the overall vision and if you know all of the facts, you will believe the winner always deserves his victory. I am not talking about a small victory or victory of a battle or a war but I am talking about the complete victory. The God will always play an important role in military operations, everyone can see it as result of WWII in a different situation. For example, The God will, was beside Russia during the Germans invasion, as we can see the change of command that happened to the Germans forces and how that affected their performance, or the severe weather in Russia once the german became near to Mosko. In addition, the God will also stand with the US military during the WWII, as we can see what happened with the invention of The Bell P-59 Airacomet, or the Battle of Midway. I agree with the name that Clausewitz the God will by “chance” and I see that this ill always plays with whom deserves it. I think the role of chance or luck or by my perspective, the God will, should be addressed in PME, but not depend on it unless you pay all of your maximum efforts to achieve a noble goal.

    Comment by mohamed ibrahim | February 12, 2017

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