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Command failure in war : psychology and leadership
Pois, Robert A.
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Publication Information:
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, [2004]

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xiv, 282 pages ; 24 cm
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UB210 .P555 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

Robert Pois (1940-2004) was Professor of History at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Among his books are The Great War; National Socialism and the Religion of Nature; and Friedrich Meinecke and German Politics in the Twentieth Century.

Philip Langer is Professor of Educational Psychology and Faculty Fellow of the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

In a remarkable collaboration, historian Pois and educational psychologist Langer (both of the Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) demonstrate the explanatory role of psychology in the historical analysis of military failures. In eight case studies, ranging from Frederick the Great at Kunersdorf to Lee at Gettysburg, from Sir Douglas Haig in World War I to Hitler and his generals at Stalingrad, the authors analyze the psychological state of the defeated commanders. They do not attempt to apply an all-encompassing form of psychological dysfunction to all eight studies but instead draw upon different psychological approaches appropriate to the individual and circumstance. The authors do conclude that common to each leader's dysfunctionality was an inflexible adherence to old beliefs and mindsets. Less convincing is their suggestion that this same single-minded inflexibility, as practiced in the costly "wearing down" campaigns on the western front and the British Bomber Command's strategic area bombing of World War II, may have been an unavoidable necessity for achieving final victory. Nevertheless, this scholarly work is superior in its historical sources and more incisive in its varied psychological approaches than Norman Dixon's landmark On the Psychology of Military Incompetence. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries supporting history and psychology programs.-Edward Metz, USACGSC Combined Arms Research Lib., Ft. Leavenworth, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
2 Frederick the Great at Kunersdorf, August 12, 1759 "Will not some accursed bullet strike me?"
3 Napoleon in Russia, 1812 "Whose blood have I shed?"
4 General George B. McClellan, The Wounded Ego "If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other person in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice the army."
5 Pickett's Charge: The Failure of Success "Too bad. Too Bad. O, too bad."
6 Franklin, Tennessee: The Wrong Enemy "In my utmost heart I questioned whether or not I could ever succeed in eradicating this evil."
7 Conventional Historical Explanations: The British Military in World War I "The machine gun is a much overrated weapon, and two per battalion is sufficient."
8 Winston Churchill, Arthur Harris, and British Strategic Bombing "It was as heroic, as self sacrificing, as Russia's decision to adopt her policy of 'scorched earth.'"
9 Stalingrad: A Ghastly Collaboration between Hitler and his Generals "I will not go back from the Volga."