On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf. By Owen Connelly. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-691-03186-X. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. viii, 347. $29.95.
To use one of the author's favorite terms, this book is a celebration of winners. Owen Connelly presents the writings of twenty military commanders from the past 250 years who represent the "muddy boots school of leadership," men who "all led from the front" (p. 3). Except for some original material contributed by Harold G. Moore (who commanded American forces at Ia Drang in Vietnam) all these selections have previously been published in other texts. Connelly provides a brief introduction and conclusion to the book, and for each individual chapter; chapter introductions are biographical in nature, and the conclusions reiterate what he deems to be the salient points of a commander's writings or experience.
Most of Connelly's chosen leaders fought in twentieth-century conflicts, and of these about half made their reputation in World War II. Earlier commanders include Frederick the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and T. E. Lawrence; later ones include Moshe Dayan, Harold G. Moore, and Nicholas F. Vaux (who led a Royal Marine commando unit in the Falklands). However, not all the selections actually present that particular officer's views on leadership: many rely wholly or in part on battle narratives, from which Connelly infers a commander's attitudes. His choice of excerpts is often arbitrary, leading to selections of varying relevance for his purpose. For example, whereas the chapter that presents Archibald Percival Wavell's views on leadership is quite insightful, half of the chapter devoted to Erich von Manstein actually presents that commander's criticisms of Adolf Hitler. Connelly should be commended for attempting to include Vo Nguyen Giap in his work, the only example of a non-Western commander; but this selection presents more Vietnamese Communist propaganda and theory than ideas about commanding in battle, and Connelly seems unsure of how to address Giap as a leader.
Lacking from this book is any deeper analysis that places the men Connelly considers in historical context. In his conclusion, he expounds upon a laundry list of desired attributes in a commander: personal leadership, presence, capacity for improvisation, belief in unity of command, among others. Although one of these attributes includes "the best use of modern weapons" (p. 282), Connelly's final assessment is that "basic doctrines of leadership seem to be unchanging" (p. 283). The author never addresses what, over the period his work covers, is the most significant development regarding the recruitment, training, and education of military commanders: the advent of institutions devoted to advancing military professionalism.
The book is geared towards readers seeking examples of effective
leadership. Hence it is appropriate for popular audiences, and students
new to the topic of military history and leadership. In this regard,
Connelly's thirty-page bibliography is a great aid for those interested
in further reading. Scholars
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and individuals who already possess significant knowledge of either
military history or executive decision-making will prefer works on
specific military commanders, or that elaborate on the forces that have
shaped military leadership in the modern era, such as Andrew Gordon's
The Rules of the Game.
Matthew S. Muehlbauer