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Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Force, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II
Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Force, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II
by Jorg Muth
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging traditional perspectives, 10 Nov. 2012
In this fascinating book, Muth presents a relentless attack on the US Army's system of officer education, constantly contrasting it negatively with the equivalent approaches in the German Army.

In essence, Muth argues that the system at both West Point (and similar officer cadet institutions such as VMI) and Fort Leavenworth was based on the twin beliefs that the best education for officers was through a mathematical / engineering paradigm, coupled with rigid peer discipline and total submission to hierarchy. This led to a reliance on rote learning of 'school solutions', with any alternative solution to a problem being by definition incorrect, and vicious 'hazing' of junior cadets by their seniors. This reliance on rote learning led to there being minimal pressure for instructors to be experts in their subjects or for the syllabus to reflect modern trends in warfare.

Muth contrasts this model with the cadet schools and war academy in the German Army. Here, he argues, great efforts were made to prevent bullying and to promote flexibility of thought. Instructors were selected on the basis of their educative and professional skill, there was an emphasis on the need for each unique tactical problem to have its own unique solution, with the solutions of the students treated as seriously as those of the instructor, and students were given responsibility based on their professional development, rather than simply their time seniority.

A particular contrast, resulting from these different traditions, Muth suggests, is that US Army officers tended to see battlefield problems as technical challenges, to be solved through mechanical application of staff doctrine, with minimal engagement with the troops, usually from the rear, whereas German officers sought to identify the crux of the situation, place themselves personally at that point and lead their men from the front.

While the book is relentlessly once-sided, Muth emphasises that he has had a love of the US Army since childhood and that current practice is very different from that he describes.

The work has several flaws. First, despite the title, the focus of the assessment of the German Army is largely based on the Reichswehr period between the two world wars, whereas much of the US evidence is taken from the period up to the First World War. Second, there might have been value in comparing the West Point experience with that of a British public school, where the emphasis on discipline and logical thinking (through the study of Classics rather than maths) may have led to similar narrowness of thinking, but which it can be argued did produce generations of subalterns demonstrating enormous personal bravery and commitment to their men. Third, the examples of combat performance feel somewhat limited, such that Muth's sweeping statements are not always fully evidenced. Finally, the limited evidence for the German Army prior to 1914, and the limited treatment of the negative perspectives of the cadet schools, suggest that the superiority of the German system may be overstated at times. The Reichswehr was an exceptional force, in a very special context.

In summary, a challenging and thought-provoking work, unlikely to win many friends in the US, but a very welcome investigation of a key area of performance that has previously been explored to only a limited extent.


The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results
The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results
by Stephen Bungay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons for the modern business leader from the Prussian Army, 28 Nov. 2010
It has become a commonplace for management books to refer to military thinkers on leadership, but normally these thinkers are ancient Chinese writers, such as Sun Tzu. Here, Bungay has taken Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, architect of Prussia's astounding victories over Austria in 1866 and France in 1870.

Bungay shows that the system of command developed by Moltke addressed the problem of 'friction', first identified by Clausewitz, in ways that are fully applicable to modern business - and which show how incorrect is the traditional view of the German Army as rigid and inflexible. The explanation of friction presented here is the clearest I have seen in any work, and I would recommend the book for this alone, as it sheds light on a central factor in the problem of converting strategy into action that seems to escape most leaders. Bungay then goes on to discuss its implications for business in a straightforward and relevant manner, contrasting its core tenets with much of the management literature, which pulls in quite a different direction. Reading the book has certainly caused me to review my own approach as a senior leader, which must be the ultimate litmus test of any management book.

I should end by declaring an interest, in that Bungay references my own historical studies on Moltke.


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