Monday, November 2, 2009

Command Failure

Command Failure

It is part of human nature to always blame someone for when things go wrong. There always has to be a direct reason, and particularly a person, whose fault it is for whatever mishap may have happened. Most often, we look to those in charge for fault. Often times, there is substantial evidence that points to them - in all areas of command, whether it be in the military or an office, even in a school or restaurant. But for this discussion, we will concentrate mostly on command in the military.
Individuals only reach positions of command through substantial achievement, either academically, or through a display of over-qualified skills. So how do these seemingly strong and powerful individuals make it to their positions of command, only to fail at them?

It has been noted throughout history that by attacking the enemy's command mentally so as to disrupt his decision-making process, there would be a less costly fight and more secure victory. The Desert Storm campaign which sought to "isolate Iraq's national leadership" (Dahl, 2), is a good example of this type of theory, known as C2W.
The Joint Doctrine for Command Control, defines Command and Control Warfare (C2W) as: the integrated use of psychological operations (PSYOP), military deception, operations security (OPSEC), electronic warfare (EW), and physical destruction, mutually supported by intelligence, to deny information to, influence, degrade, or destroy adversary C2 capabilities while protecting friendly C2 capabilities against such actions. (Joint)
Military commanders make decisions in many different settings under various conditions. Dahl discusses the differences between the rational process and the limited rational process, and how military leaders are often faced with limited rationality. The rational process "surveys the environment for all solution strategies, determines their consequences and makes a comparative evaluation of these solutions and their consequences against one’s preferences" (Dahl, 11). The limited rational process is explained as "decision makers have limited abilities to focus attention, remember, communicate, and comprehend large amounts of data... [and] typically arrange incoming data into simplified models, stereotypes, typologies or schemas" (Dahl, 12). Perception, cognitive, cultural, individual, organizational, and political biases all play a part in a leaders decision-making process (Dahl, 13-21). Not to mention the stress effects such as uncertainty and time pressure all have an effect on a leader's decision.

Another theory which discusses command failure is Martin van Creveld's C3 theory, C3 standing for Command, Control, Communications. Creveld discusses the evolution of C3, especially in modern times from increased demands, technological developments, changes in the nature of the command process from these demands and developments, increased vulnerability, and the rise in costs of command (Creveld, 1-2). "Command may be defined as an exercise that has to be exercised, more or less continuously, if the army is to exist and to operate" (Creveld, 5). But command is not just a rational process, "since war is an irrational business par excellence" (Creveld, 16). Moral and fixed coordination both play a part in a leaders ability to lead successfully or failingly.

Robert Pois and Philip Langer discuss how a continuous theme of "inflexibility" among leaders appears to be a main cause of command failure. The inflexibility refers to the "inability of even the most imaginiative military leader, as well as established dullards, to adjust to new or changing circumstances," as applied to various psychological studies. Pois and Langer focus mainly on how the command structure before and during conflicts and attacks effects the commands rational decision making. Leaders during conflicts such as Robert E. Lee and the battle of Gettysburg, Adolf Hitler and WWII, and John Bell at Franklin, Tennessee, are all prime examples of how the chain of command, organization, and communication leading up to the decision ended up determining the decisive action. Each of the leaders were "inflexible" in their command, and often it was this inflexibility that allowed them so many successes, but in the end caused them the ultimate failure (Pois, 3).

Overall, leaders are most often assigned as the person at fault, yet, going back through studying the events, situations, and people involved leading up to that leader's decision, we see it was not solely that individual commander's fault. So many issues impact a commander's decision, despite his training teaching him how to make decisions, and his own personal experience on making decisions in tough situations and carefully executed actions in sensitive issues. Personal stresses also make a difference, such as inflexibility, last-minute recognition, and nervousness can greatly impact the mentality of the commander. Unfortunately, all of these factors allow for command failure, causing devastating repercussions for all involved, directly or indirectly.

To make a clear statement of the impact command failure makes, reporter, Melanie Gouby of the London File recently wrote:
"According to Richard North, the cost of the war and the number of soldiers’ death could have been significantly lower had the High Command adapted its strategy and technology to the type of insurgency they faced" (Gouby).


Creveld, Martin Van. Command in War. New York: Harvard UP, 1987. Print.

Dahl, Arden B. "COMMAND DYSFUNCTION: MINDING THE COGNITIVE WAR." Thesis. School of Advanced Airpower Studies, 1996. Print.

Gouby, Melanie. "Troops let down by High Command in Iraq." 11 June 2009. Web. 2 Nov. 2009. .

Joint Chiefs of Staff. Joint Doctrine for Command and Control Warfare (C2W) (Joint Pub 3-13.1). Washington D.C.: Department of Defense, 7 February 1996.

Pois, Robert A., and Philip Langer. Command Failure in War Psychology and Leadership. New York: Indiana UP, 2004. Print.

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