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Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2004

    Supreme Command: Very Unusual Cocktail of Traits

    Elliot A. Cohen masterfully discusses the normal theory of civilian control and how Abraham Lincoln, Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill and David Ben-Gurion breached the theory. All four men were four great democratic leaders at war for the survival of their respective nations. Cohen also looks at the civil-military relations in the current war against terrorism and WMD proliferation that our country is waging. The normal theory of civilian control posits that the civilian leadership take the back seat after defining the overall strategy. It is then up to the military leadership once given a mission to get near total discretion in its execution. Cohen persuasively demonstrates that Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion rightly believed that war was too important to be left to the generals. Unsurprisingly, they were all embroiled in conflict with their respective military establishment. They were accused of being ¿micro-managers¿, making some blunders here and there to be truthful to their records. Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion were all somewhat open to influence, and practiced what Cohen calls an unequal dialogue with their generals ¿ a dialogue in which both sides expressed their views bluntly, eventually offensively, and not once but repeatedly. Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion made very clear to their generals that the final authority of civilian leadership was unquestionable. Interestingly, in their book ¿Execution The Discipline of Getting Things Done¿, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan come to a similar conclusion. The most effective business leaders are not out of touch with day-to-day activities but are deeply involved with all aspects of execution. Although Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion lived in different times and dealt with very different sets of problems, Cohen brilliantly demonstrated that they were remarkably very similar on several key points: 1) Mastery of Detail: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion demonstrated a measure of intuition and genius that stands well above the norm in human affairs. They all shared a capacity for integrating a vast amalgam of constantly changing information coming from many sources and an ability to synthesize and comprehend how a multiplicity of factors were interacting with one another. The eye for ¿ indeed, the fascination with ¿ detail displayed by these four men was not a mere irritating trait on their part but an essential element of their art and science of war. Furthermore, these four great statesmen were all not only well read in history, politics and literature but also the most gifted orators and authors. 2) Ruthlessness: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion were very good ¿butchers¿, the first requirement for success as a prime minister to quote British Prime Minister, William Gladstone. These four statesmen, who had an exceptional ability to judge other men, strikingly had an unusual hardness in dealing with their enemies, wavering allies or internal opposition. 3) Fascination with Technology: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion had a great interest in new technology and were great learners who studied war as if they felt compelled to know in many ways as much as their generals did. 4) Obstinate, Unyielding Determination: The resolution Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion personified was the hard will of men who dealt with the greatest task of their lives, who had seen much and who did not make themselves illusions about the potential lethal outcome of their enterprise. 5) Moderation: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion displayed moderation totally compatible with their steely determination. The emotional state of these four statesmen was in deep contrast with that of those around them because of their unusual courage. 6) Courage: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion were blessed and cursed with the ability to see thi

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2003

    Interesting account of leadership

    Cohen is Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University. In this fascinating book, he studies the art of wartime leadership by examining Lincoln in the American Civil War, Clemenceau in World War One, Churchill in World War Two, and Ben-Gurion in Israel¿s war of independence. Cohen relates how Lincoln rightly dismissed Major John Key from the Union army for private remarks about the Union¿s strategy that conflicted with agreed Union policy. Cohen shows how all military matters are linked to wider political issues, how for instance a dispute in 1918 over whether to integrate American divisions or even regiments into larger French units had vast ramifications: as he sums up, ¿a seemingly tactical or even technical issue was fraught with the largest implications for French national morale, manpower policy, strategy, and alliance relations.¿ Cohen over-praises Churchill¿s strategic abilities. Churchill¿s imperialism led him into the disastrous foray into Greece in 1941, into underestimating Japanese military and naval abilities, also in 1941, and into diversionary adventures in North Africa in 1942, Italy in 1943, and Greece in 1944. His anti-communism led him to refuse to open the Second Front, as he had promised, in 1942 and 1943, and to his stingy attitude to supplying the Soviet Union. Yet Cohen calls him `the greatest war statesman of the century¿. Perhaps if Cohen had also studied the leadership of the country whose forces alone shattered more than 200 Nazi divisions - more than three quarters of Hitler¿s army - he might have found a greater! A chapter on `leadership without genius¿ covers US wars since Korea - Vietnam, the Gulf War, Somalia and Serbia - `a period in which the United States finds itself chronically resorting to the use of force¿, as Cohen quaintly puts it. He sums up that leaders need to listen, to be fertile and resourceful in act and speech, and must see things as they are, without illusions. And they must never accept the dogmatic division between civilian and military spheres of responsibility. As Harry Truman said, ¿the buck stops here¿, for military and political decisions alike.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2005

    Thank you Mr. Cohen!

    Cohen deals with the mistaken idea that military and political aspects of war are separate, or at least are better dealt with separately. Presently we tend to see a hands-off approach as the best way for political leaders to manage warfare. The example of Lyndon Johnson, going over the lists of bombing targets in a lost war, has come down to us as a warning: but Cohen says it is a false warning; he shows that Johnson did not intrude enough in the military sphere. Johnson did not ask the hard questions or insist upon answers; and that is what distinguished the four great war statesmen profiled. They questioned and they insisted upon answers. Sometimes they prodded the generals and other times they restrained them, but they were never passive. They immersed themselves in the details of war making and never forgot that their goals: thus Clemenceau restrained Foch¿s ambitions for a Rhine border, and Ben Gurion wisely stopped short of conquering the west bank. They could see a larger picture. Cohen¿s final chapters analyse the issues of war and strategy and ask what can really be done in the way of political control once the war beast is running wild: he notes John Keegan¿s observation that, that politics played little part in the First World War, certainly something to give one pause when contemplating `elective war¿. This is a superb book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2004

    Great leaders in time of war

    The four great leaders Elliot Cohen writes about are Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben - Gurion. Cohen tells the wartime story of each one , focusing on their relationship with their military commanders. He shows how the great political leader balances between being deeply involved in understanding the military situation, and allowing the military leader the degree of independence sufficient for accomplishing his work. He argues that these great political leaders showed a capacity not simply to evaluate their generals correctly, but to when necessary dismiss them, and replace them with those better capable of doing the job. He shows the four great statesmen here as determined and ruthless leaders for whom the word ' defeat' did not exist. He emphasizes their special quality of judgment in being able to evaluate complex and changing situations . He underlines their own personal courage. He in case shows how the leaders were tremendous students of every subject they had to deal with. He too writes in a fascinating and pleasurable way about the distinctive personalities of the great leaders. This is a highly readable, pleasurable and insightful work. It is much recommended.

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