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3.0 out of 5 stars Few Generals understand the job: the reason?, 15 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: British Generals in Blair's Wars (Military Strategy and Operational Art) (Paperback)
Graeme Lamb's paper: `On Generals and Generalship.'

Had Graeme not been supplied with a book of quotations this paper would not have amounted to much. Nor do they, for the most part, support a thesis. If this is what is learned at Sandhurst and Camberley, the job is not well done. There is little structure to this thinking and not much originality: nothing we would not see for ourselves. I do not think that the task of the general is well explained. Even, that the problems in the field which should have been addressed at the time, have not been. Of that more later.
Graeme begins his paper with a quote from Paddy Mayne, SAS [4 DSO's], about the value of `true friendship.' G does not believe that attitude exists now. What has this to do with the subject? Not much. The paper is in a book about the views of generals who took part in Blair's wars with the title above. The quote may be a by product of that title but it is no fundamental.
Declaring himself to be a Cadmian type general: attritional, with suitably many casualties, G instantly puts himself behind generals (like Monty) who were very sparing with their men's lives and cared for them to the nth degree. `Foul-mouthed, intolerant and dangerously indifferent' is how G describes himself. Not good: nothing about it is good: it does not even fit the Cadmian label. That he views most of his fellow generals listed as mostly fair [and not average, good or excellent] and some dangerous to associate with is not good either. He is entitled to that opinion but how it might affect relationships with other generals in the field thereafter was not considered: it should have been [G had not then retired] . Monty's problem precisely. He really was a great general, in my view: great insight. Forget his vainglory and effect on lesser generals. He had it all and knew it; they did not have it and envied it.
That G should deny he is ambitious when he has reached his exalted rank is delusional. Of course he is ambitious, could not have got there otherwise. That he does `not give a damn to (sic) those who think badly' of him, is not a wise confession and even an unwise attitude, even if concealed: another delusion. Every general should care when others think badly of him: it might matter in many situations in the future. Where the view exists it should be changed, if possible. Only common sense.
For Graeme the key to generalship are the 3 C's: Character, Competence and Communication.
I disagree. Instead, I favour Insight, Preparation and Inspiration. [Of course many other things are necessary like resolution, will etc but these are common to many]
You can be competent without ever seeing the best solution, the original one that solves the problem, still less harbour a pervasive attitude of forever seeking a master-stroke in every situation. if you do this, you will find them some of the time; if not, you never will. You will be merely competent. What distinguishes the great general, I suggest, is his ability to see the best answer to the problem, to get it right. Preparation and Inspiration will ensure that the execution, too, is right.
G sees his task as a manipulator who gets people to do what they ordinarily would not do. That suggests a deviousness that is unnecessary. His men do not want to think they have been manipulated. Better to think of an inspirer who lights a divine fire in his troops. They want to do battle, they want to win; they have the resolve to give their all for the common cause.
To label `the blast of war' quote in Henry V as `communication' is an understatement. It goes far beyond that. `And men in England now abed will think themselves accursed they were not here..' Is that `communication'? No it is inspiration. It is the fuel that makes the troops run at the enemy blazing with energy and fight.
According to G (p147) we `operate in a Hobbesian world: no arts, no letters. no society; and worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death.' Hobbes would not have recognised this world as his. Of course there were letters in it: he was a writer, a practitioner, a man of letters. He knew Ben Jonson and Bacon@. He knew Classics, translated Homer* taught mathematics [which is full of letters, most of them Greek!] Of course his Leviathan is mostly about society: how it comes to be. That he may have lived in fear of death is hardly unexpected: everybody did in those days, especially during the Civil War [made worse by plague]. It was even widespread in Iraq under Sadaam. Your wife awaiting your return from work could receive your bits in a bodybag and be asked for the price of it.
To the militant threat of terrorism, G says: `My contention is not that we cannot deal with such emerging threats, but that our inability to craft a compelling response is increasingly the problem.'
What a bad sentence this is: what does it mean but: `None of us know what to do.' How can you deal with threats if that is the case?
Why is that? Because none of them have the necessary insight.
What then is the answer? One answer is to invest in a vast array of surveillance for the protection of the population. Let Big Brother be watching our every move. Damn George Orwell: it would save lives. The expense is worth it. Honest people need never fear Big Brother. The rest do not matter. Every individual's ID should be his defining feature and, if he needs to know where we are, Big Brother should be able to get us on his GPS. We would soon know where every terrorist is and every illegal immigrant. The loss of personal privacy and freedom is a trifle to pay for making the evil doer in society stand out and be taken before he damages it. Of course GCHQ is already monitoring almost everyone of interest, whatever anyone says. Anything different is madness. If it helped for every citizen of the UK to have a chip embedded in him (like the Bourne agent by Ludlum) I favour it. Of course in the wrong hands we might be controlled by it. Ensure they are the right hands, then. Make a system that is foolproof. We already have them for nuclear submarines [or if we do not none of it matters]. Problem solved. People's lives come before everything. Terrorism might even dry up altogether if its detection were very likely. If it would help for everybody to be filmed 24/7, I favour it. Honest folk need not fear it; the rest do not matter. It would at a single stroke practically eliminate wrongdoing.
G makes a plea for support for the general. This is fair. It is a feature of our world that the general has taken almighty flak from the political masters and the media when things go wrong [even when activity with a woman not his wife: as if that should count when what is at stake are the lives of thousands].
What should happen is that the General, once appointed, gets all the supplies and kit he needs and is left to get on with it at least for a time. He should get full support from every section of the country. Of course he does not.
How is it that Bravo 20 in their intrusion into Iraq were so poorly supported? They had no decent boots (Ryan, alone bought a pair of £90 climbers which almost wore out on his 300 km trek) and no GPS (except Ryan had his own but he got separated) and the communication codes were incorrect so the team was cut off from succour as soon as they were dropped: helicopter rescue was impossible. Of course that was the first absolutely necessary factor. These errors were disastrous. So was the lack of intelligence: they were in a bleak landscape with a diabolically low temperature and no warm clothing. One of them froze to death. No one in command knew this in advance. Why not? Why was the system of planning so bizarre that the two sergeants in the team of nine were responsible? That was madness! On every SAS patrol of that kind, the very best tactical brain should be employed as a matter of routine. Even if he is not going. To leave the planning, the very vital details, up to the ordinary squaddies is just another facet of the belief that `competence will do.' It won't do! The SAS does not exist merely to be competent. It's lifeblood is excellence: the very best that is possible. That is what we expect of it. It is what we should have always. They get killed when they are merely competent. Every detail ought to be checked, in advance; every contingency considered and covered. Yet I bet they are just the same as before. Bravo 20 were viewed as competent before their intrusive move. As soon as they went they had become incompetent; their preparations were rubbish. And no one told them they would be. Competence is not enough.
Why, even was there not a plan for the goatherd who stumbled into the LOP? Of course he should have been killed immediately. Left alive he was bound to report their presence. In a war, behind the lines, that is the best solution. If capturing and holding him was practical that might just have been tried. But he would have been missed anyway and a search made for him. How can you allow the task to fail and our men to be captured and killed because you let him go? Madness again. How was it that a man, Considine, who was only 5ft 2 was on the team when he had to carry a bergen of 160lbs for many miles? How did that make sense? Why was a sergeant who was past his sell by date in the squad? It killed him. That should have been noticed in advance. God knows, plenty of others could have replaced him. The command structure within the SAS is clearly defective and should be made 100% efficient. So far from being an admirable performance, the actions of Bravo 20 were a disaster: 3 men out of nine were killed and 5 captured and tortured. Only one went free; and very little was achieved. Their plans were never going to work, had no chance of success and the top manager, Graeme Lamb, should have carried the can. The world's elite troops should have achieved something worthy for so much effort, danger and so many lives ruined. It was, I believe, an elementary matter to have solved these problems which made success impossible before they ever set out. Because of the attitude since to this, it looks a certainty that the same failures will still be a factor in SAS operations. These men are distinguished by their stamina, determination, their courage, their idealism and capacity for self sacrifice and their skill. It is simply appalling that these important factors should be worth nothing because the planning was so defective.
Why was the problem of IED's in Afghanistan not solved by vast surveillance? The technology exists. For years they went out in vehicles that were death traps. Our soldier's lives matter! We should never go to war on the cheap. If it means another fifty quid each in tax, pay it! The MOD should be disbanded and rebuilt from the ground up. Then equipment failures would be a thing of the past. And why is it that a fixed price contract cannot be negotiated and adhered to? Every time the price doubles. Better to get what we ordered and then order a different, improved weapon again five years later, if necessary, to cover technical advances. How could it make sense to have two aircraft carriers without state of the art fighters to fly off them? The MOD is a hidebound, wasteful and incompetent, madhouse. No bonuses or honours should go to its incumbents.
What are the qualities of the general? Three things are not enough. He must have great courage. He must be there at the front to lead: Caesar did, US Grant did (Grant, learning that his army was on the point of being routed, made haste to the position and ordered his men: 'Fill your cartridge boxes and line up: the enemy are escaping and we must not allow it.' he won the battle. That was leadership. They needed a command and he was there to give it. He even changed their mindset from facing defeat to the verge of victory. That was brilliant. He needs to have gallopers (Monty's middle rankers) who went all over the battle field and returned to tell him what was happening. Then he could adjust and adapt and respond. He needs then to be in continuous communication. Preparation (building up men and supplies, after training) is vital: another Monty factor. But he must have insight: the ability to see what few people can. Alan Brooke, CIGS, realised that Marshall, the American counterpart, did not have it. Brooke has to be right about that. Neither did Ike. Monty was a far better strategist. He has to have the resolution which will win the battle even at the loss of more men: When some generals asked Monty for permission to retreat back through the minefield at Alamein through which they had just passed through at great cost, Monty's response was: NO! Get the job done instantly or be deprived of it. Ruthless in the pursuit of victory. Shed anybody who has not the stomach for it. Does the General need to be a nice guy (like Ike, Marshall?) No. He will win respect by victory. Does it matter if he is undiplomatic and even boastful as Monty was? No. No wonder he was. He could see far better than the other generals. When writing his memoirs, Monty was unaware that the Germans [General Model] had received his plans before the Arnhem fiasco. No wonder he lost. But Ike could have saved it: put in the weight of weapons, armour, aircraft and supplies which would have guaranteed it. Ike allowed the available forces to be distributed all across Europe from the Switzerland to the Sea, most of them to Patton, glory hunter, who had got ahead of himself. ie Ike was confused: the plan was to support the Arnhem attack, not to support Patton's private ventures. Ike lost sight of that.
Is it possible to encapsulate generalship in just three factors? Probably not. Not even thirty. The word character is not enough: what kind of character? Everybody has character. The word is useless without careful definition. And leaders are not even alike in this factor. Nor is competence: it is outrageous that Graeme Lamb thinks it is. Bravo 20 were incompetent in so many ways that the mission was a virtual catastrophe. If you must introduce the level of performance of a skill: there is only one word that will do: excellence. Anything less is not good enough. And it is achieveable! A unit of nine can be prepared so that there are no errors that arise from the planning stage. Everything can be triple checked down to the last microdot by independent checkers who will notice every flaw. Not to have this in the system is a mistake that will have cost lives in the past, that long journey since Bravo 2o's. A general must be an all-rounder, physically and mentally tough, able to do without sleep and even work round the clock when necessary for days on end. But these are just basics many soldiers possess. This itself accounts for Maj Gen Fuller's insistence on youth: 35-45: the old cannot do this; need their comforts and never agree to be supplanted on that ground, which is why Fuller advanced no further and generals are invariably past it: it is a closed shop and they keep the door shut out of self interest. The one soldier who must be on trial in exercises is the general to see if he can respond. He must be resolute, yet willing to listen and on the qui vive for the information that tells him he must change course, adjust the plan in the light of circumstances. He must have the habit of crystal clear thinking, especially in the bullet zone when it counts most and the ability, given to few, to articulate explanations, reasons, orders very precisely so anyone can understand them fast. Of course he must have courage, must be able to put himself in the forefront of the action where by his steadiness and confidence he can inspire the men around him. He must be respected as a man with all the usual manly qualities. But unless he can see better than anyone else, has the insight to know what to do for the best, he will not make a strategist or a tactician and he needs to be both. Let us be clear: he must be better than anyone on the other side: otherwise we have lost before we have even begun. And if he is, he will be victorious and he will gain respect; but by his peers he will be envied and they, lacking this divine shaft of intelligence, will not understand the full calibre of his mind. Marshall never understood that Brooke was miles better than he; nor did ike that Monty was far better than him. It is essential to keep the big picture in mind all the time, not being distracted from it (the strategy) and yet being alert to tactical possibilities that arise. But there is something beyond all these, as Maj Gen Fuller pointed out: creative intelligence: taking the art of war forward by some new outlook, idea, or device. Something the mediocre general will not expect, has no plan for and will be defeated by. This even affects other battles, the very war itself. The enemy general is made to look ridiculous not only by his own troops but by himself. Inventiveness is always high on the list of the great, even of generals. The truly great general transforms the art of war itself.
How do you know when this is present? There is only one way: by the articulation of the insights, the production of clear arguments that are compelling and cannot be bettered. That is the only way of identifying this most vital ingredient without handing over the reins in full battle. And how do you train for this? By the activity of planning strategy. Is there an outside activity which would help? Yes. Philosophy. Not the study of its history but the mastery of insight and the merciless destruction of false arguments and (which follows or can follow) the development of the faculty of insight which is necessary. Eg PF Strawson got a second in philosophy before becoming a lecturer in the subject. He came to prominence when, in 1950 at the joint session of the Aristotelian and Mind Societies£, after the paper had been read, Strawson, instantly and off the cuff, mercilessly exposed the intellectual failings of a well respected philosopher JL Austin. When he had finished everyone knew that that theory had been demolished. This is the kind of critical intelligence which is necessary. It does not compel because it carries a weight of past victories, still less because it is loaded with honours and titles but because it is correct in the insights provided. Strawson was soon a professor and knighted for his achievement. He did advance the subject: it was not the same after his passing.
Why is that important? Because unless you can demolish the wrong answers, immediately, off the cuff, the right answer that you alone can see will not prevail.

@Hist of Western Phil, Russell, p532
* ibid p533
£ See Times Obituary of Sir PF Strawson c 2005
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Dec 2014 19:37:24 GMT
This is not a review of the book. It smacks of self-indulgence on a grand scale.
90% of this is a torrent of half-baked criticisms by someone who has no knowledge or understanding of the military.
Suggest you focus on fiction from now on.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Dec 2014 17:54:35 GMT
W. Scott says:
It is not intended to be a review of the book at all. It is a review of one paper in the book. And I know the person who wrote it. I have also read most of the books relevant to the issue addressed. A number of people agree with the review. Anyone with 'no knowledge of the military' would have been unable to write such a criticism. Has Clayton read Major-General JFC Fuller? Probably not and for the usual reasons: ignorance and snobbery.
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