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Command Failure in War

Psychology and Leadership

Philip Langer and Robert Pois

Publication Year: 2004

Why do military commanders, most of them usually quite capable, fail at crucial moments of their careers? Robert Pois and Philip Langer -- one a historian, the other an educational psychologist -- study seven cases of military command failures, from Frederick the Great at Kunersdorf to Hitler's invasion of Russia. While the authors recognize the value of psychological theorizing, they do not believe that one method can cover all the individuals, battles, or campaigns under examination. Instead, they judiciously take a number of psycho-historical approaches in hope of shedding light on the behaviors of commanders during war. The other battles and commanders studied here are Napoleon in Russia, George B. McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, Robert E. Lee and Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, John Bell Hood at the Battle of Franklin, Douglas Haig and the British command during World War I, "Bomber" Harris and the Strategic Bombing of Germany, and Stalingrad.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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pp. ix-xiv

"The reader will observe that these essays provide a forum for exploring the contributions of a broad spectrum of psychological models to selected military events and individuals. We wish to emphasize, however, that none of these psychological perspectives was ever intended to represent a complete and exhaustive analysis of events and participants. Rather, our objective was to. . ."

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pp. xiiv

"We wish to express our gratitude to our colleagues who have lent us support over the years. We are grateful to Robert Sloan, our editor at Indiana University Press, for his encouragement, and to Prof. Dale Wilson of American Military University for his superb job of copy editing. Patricia D. Murphy of the Department of History, University of Colorado at Boulder, was of invaluable..."

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pp. 1-4

" Long after Immanuel Kant wrote Concering Eternal Peace (1795), an essay seemingly rendered pathetic by courses of events since that time, war remains a subject of intense interest, at times bordering on morbid fascination. Even as we recognize its role as a dangerous anachronism in an age of potential universal destruction, people of all nations and political persuasions are drawn to it. Even as we, consciously or not, nourish atavisms that..."

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1. Frederick the Great at Kunersdorf, August 12, 1759

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pp. 5-24

"Even after the twentieth- century events have demonstarted for all to see the follies and horrors attendant upon modern war, Frederick II of Prussia (1740–1786) remains a fascinating individual for many people, mostly because of his military adventures. The thought of a possibly epicene lover of French language and culture leading a collection of rough-hewn—and, for the most part, ferociously Protestant—peasants, journeymen and, increasingly, mercenaries..."

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2. Napoleon in Russia, 1812

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pp. 25-48

"Some years ago, a student in my Western Civilization class posed the following question: “Well, what happened to Napoleon in Russia, anyway?” Emphasizing what I perceived to be decisive logistical and tactical considerations, I offered what the instructor thought to be a convincing explanation. Such was accompanied by a patronizing smile. The student smiled sweetly back, and..."

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3. McClellan’s Flawed Campaign: The Wounded Ego

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pp. 49-72

"This was to be the culmination of all of Lee’s efforts over the past week. On July 1, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee watched as his laurel-laden Army of Northern Virginia advanced straight uphill at the Army of the Potomac, a supposedly beaten force commanded by Maj. Gen. George Brinton McClellan...."

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4. Lee at Gettysburg: The Failure of Success

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pp. 73-98

"Probably no single action during the Civil War has received more attention than Pickett’s Charge, the culmination of the three days of vicious conflict at Gettysburg. On July 3, 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, delivered what was to be his coup de main, a massive and decisive stroke at the center of what he presumed to be a battered and..."

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5. Franklin, Tennessee: The Wrong Enemy

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pp. 118-121

"The Confederate Army of Tennessee had known both triumph and failure. However, on November 30, 1864, an incongruously warm, late autumn afternoon, its destiny was writ in the blood of an incredibly ill-advised attack on entrenched Union forces. The battle fought at Franklin, Tennessee, has often been characterized as the Gettysburg of the West. Like its more famous predecessor, a massive frontal assault resulted in the strategic demise of a campaign..."

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6. Beyond Conventional Historical Explanations:The British Military in World War I

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pp. 122-156

"Leon Festinger, in his work A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, has declared that “dissonance” results when an individual’s choice of action or belief is challenged by new situations and information. In such a case, the individual attempts to preserve consistency—or “consonance,” as he calls it—by “actively avoid[ing] situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance."

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7. Winston Churchill, Arthur Harris, andBritish Strategic Bombing

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pp. 156-172

"The area bombing approach of the British Bomber Command in World War II was, and remains, highly controversial. Culminating in the pointless bombing of Dresden in February 1945, it cost the lives of more than three hundred thousand German civilians and more than seventy thousand British airmen, while its strategic value was debatable. Winston Churchill, who as early as World War I questioned the value of mass aerial assault against urban populations..."

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8. Stalingrad: A Ghastly Collaboration betweenHitler and His Generals

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pp. 173-214

"In view of the complex nature of the Stalingrad campaign, it is useful to bear the following in mind: The invading German Army, and attached allied units, were divided into: Army Group North, Army Group Middle, Army Group South. For the ill fated 1942 offensive, Group South was divided into Groups A and B, the former attacking in the Caucasus, the latter north, toward Stalingrad."

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pp. 215-229

"Let us assume that we can leave behind the hoary Social Darwinian assertion that war is necessary to preserve the biological health of nations.However, arguments as to whether such deadly aggression is an innate trait or the consequence of external influences have been going on for centuries without a universal resolution. Still, it is quite apparent that humans are perhaps..."


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pp. 231-265


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pp. 267-276


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pp. 277-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110930
E-ISBN-10: 0253110939
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253343789

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2004