The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H104: 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?

September 20, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I think Napoleon was a genius of his time, but also “lucky” enough to be in the right place at the right time. It takes a lot more than luck to achieve the status of Emperor, especially for a nation of which you are not a natural born citizen or of royal bloodline. Napoleon took advantage of the merit system and made the most of every opportunity until he reached the top. Only a genius could have achieved the height of the French military and supreme leader of the state, simultaneously.

    Napoleon got his foot in the door based on the merit system, but that’s not what made him the supreme leader of France. He was able to achieve success after success, which is a huge benefit in the merit system. However, without success on the battlefield, he would have been left behind in the dust of his successors. The merit system was definitely the vessel, but Napoleon provided the genius necessary to be successful.

    I do not think the commander centric command system is designed to leverage “genius.” Military leaders do have to be smart, but a strong team is what makes our commanders great. A commanders true mark of success is the ability to establish a team of teams and maximize the strengths to the organizations advantage. The commander cannot become the single point of failure, nor can they allow any single staff member or section become the single point of failure. Commanders avoid this by building teams, redundancy, and empowering subordinates to make decisions as they see fit.

    Comment by Aaron S. Griffin | September 20, 2018

  2. Napoleon’s rise to immortality was due to a combination of events. Certainly, his “genius” was a factor in his meteoric rise within the French army, but his initial opportunities were due to having a patron that gave him the opportunity to be in the position to succeed. His tactical genius was proven time and again on the battlefield, where he showed an amazing array of tactical knowledge combined with unshakeable bravery. However as time went on, his weaknesses started to creep through and eventually became his undoing, as evidenced at Waterloo.

    I don’t have a problem with the current commander centric system with the commander being the single point of failure within it. Accountability is an important part within the armed forces and without a commander from which it starts with, the system will start to break down. Without accountability, responsibility and authority would not be as prevalent and I think we would have less effective forces.

    Comment by Chris Brooks | September 21, 2018

  3. I am going to address if Napoleon is genius and if the commander centric command system in the army is right.

    First, from my perspective, Napoleon in genius in terms of the military issues. I acknowledge that many factors have influenced his success at the time. For example, merit and patriotism have put the best man in his army. However, he has reorganized France army and invented the division system, tactical level training system, mass field artillery fire, and innovative logistic solution. Beside those, he had a outstanding leadership which has leaded the France army in chaotic security environment. Those are presenting his genius ability.

    Next, the decision with if the commander centric command system in the army is right depends on the level of war. In my opinion, the system is needed in the tactical and operational level of war. But, in high level of operational and strategic level, even the grand strategic level of war, the system might be harmful to achieve the goal of the nation. Since the combat situation and security environment change very fast, so rapid decisions are required in the area. In this context, the strong commander centric command system would work effectively and efficiently. However, in high level of operational and strategic level, it is very difficult to define a problem and a direction to achieve a win of a war in order to gain the nation’s interests. Therefore, nowadays higher level chains of commands need advisers from various areas such as economics, internal politics, international politics, technical, and even mass-media. Through discussion and argues, they would make a consensus and a decision to keep going on the war. As you know, today is in very complex, dynamic, and chaotic security environment.

    Comment by kwon.moon | September 22, 2018

  4. My perspective of Napoleon Bonaparte is that he was both a military genius and he had luck on his side to be in the right place in France during the right period of time. Below I will examine both perspectives starting with the latter first that he was in the right place at the right time.

    Napoleon was lucky in that he was around during the formation of the French revolution. Due to mindsets of change, that is, from a king’s monarchy ruling over his people to the French citizen’s mindset that the individual people can rule their nation. Additionally, the citizenry increasing belief in nationalism, independence, and liberty led to social revolution in France. These societal changes allowed Napoleon to go through the military ranks due to his sharp skill-sets, not necessary due to his nobility if any. Further, the new concept of nationalism provided him with the manpower for a large French army to take over many countries in Europe. Thus, that is why I believe he was lucky.

    In comparison, I firmly believe Bonaparte was also a military genius in that he was a skillful military strategist which achieved this status by his competent merits. First, he studied and read books pertaining to military generals of the earlier eras that enabled him to gain knowledge and an understanding regarding their strategic and tactical methodologies. He wanted to achieve a grand understanding of the positive outcomes, as well as, the negative conclusions of previous military operations from these military leaders. Next, Napoleon was a quick thinker and believed in the speed of the French’s Army operations. Case in point, Napoleon would mass his troops and one decisive point, flank when appropriate, disrupt lines of communication, cause confusion, and then destroy the enemy outright. With his large army, he was able to move and maneuver and take much of Europe. Further, Bonaparte adapted his military strategy by taking advantage of living off of the country that his military occupied, which allowed his vast army to sustain for additional operations. Thus, the above reasons are why I believe he was a military genius.

    However, what led to his greatness eventually led to his fall. Perhaps it was Napoleon’s overconfidence in his ability as a strategist and tactician. Whatever it was, he did not continue to adapt to the evolution of war from his enemies (i.e., guerrilla warfare). Nor did he adjust to the overburdening of his military over a long period of war, which lead to inadequate and incompetent officers that command his army. However, even though Napoleon Bonaparte’s last campaigns did not go well, overall to summarize his remarkable military career, he was both a genius in military strategy, and he was also lucky to be in France during that period of time.

    Comment by Shannon Gorman | September 24, 2018

  5. Napoleon was undoubtedly a genius, but also was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. The new French system based on merit separated him from his peers early in his career. In his rise to power, Napoleon developed several revolutions in military affairs that gave the French Army the structure and flexibility that no other army possessed.

    Napoleon’s development of foraging extended his Army’s reach considerably while organizational changes such as the establishment of Brigades, Divisions, and Corps fixed several command and control issues. Concepts such as L’Ordre Mixte and massed artillery formations gave Napoleon a distinct advantage over his adversaries due to his ability to mass combat power. The development of a Cavalry reserve also gave Napoleon the ability to pursue his enemies to the point of total destruction. Other concepts such as the “Pieces of Ribbon” created pride and the willingness to fight amongst his soldiers, while his idea of decisive battle enabled his ability to destroy his enemies in single battles instead of long, expensive campaigns.

    By definition, Napoleon was a genius, but he had his limitations. Since he depended on his own intellect, Napoleon made himself the single point of failure. No matter how much of a genius you are, no one is capable of taking on the world alone and succeeding. While many have come far, they are frequently limited by their lack of trust in their subordinate leaders. Napoleon was a brilliant leader and an innovative tactician, but his lack of trust greatly contributed to his decline from power.

    Comment by Andrew Lincoln | October 1, 2018

  6. According to Clausewitz, Napoleon was not a genius because he did not balance temperance with intellect. Napoleon fell into a system largely already advanced and innovative, like the merit based system. He did make contributions, however. For instance, a change in logistics with bread-makers going to the field. Also, his Soldiers lived off of the land. Napoleon was also, for the most part, an operational genius. While Napoleon was operationally a genius, his ambition clouded his judgement and his policies. His enemies adapted to his logistics and he lost a lot of men in Russia because he was unable to adapt. His enemies adapted in Spain, but he didn’t. Geniuses adapt.

    Comment by Dustin Murphy | October 1, 2018

  7. I believe Napoleon was able to rise based on merit. The monarch/noble system prior to the French revolution would not have afforded him that opportunity. He’s rises to power and his military achievements certainly provide evidence of him as a military genius. However, his abilities, at least in my mind, are questionable in his later years. Once other Armies learned how he was fight, he doesn’t seem to develop a different way to conduct war fare.

    Comment by Taron Epps | October 21, 2018

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