Saturday, 16 March 2013

On the Psychology of Military Incompetence - Norman Dixon

In a war where so much human error had been eliminated by technological advances alone, human error was still the principle factor in determining the war’s outcome.
                                                                                      John Strawson: Hitler As Military Commander

Title: On the Psychology of Military Incompetence
Author: Norman Dixon
Publisher: Pimlico
Pages: 447

Content: What constitutes the psychology of military incompetence? How is it that individuals are given responsibility and command that they are psychologically unsuited for? How is this determined and how is/has it been addressed? Drawing upon the expertise of historians, sailors, psychologists, soldiers and sociologists, Dixon takes on these questions in an effort to explain why command fails in war. He is quick to point out that military incompetence is not a problem of the majority but that, given the cataclysmic effects of failure on human as well as material resources, even the minority to whom this does apply cannot be ignored. Commencing with a series of examples from the late 19th and 20th centuries (such as Kut, Singapore and Arnhem), he identifies common themes that may be seen as markers for behaviour. He also stresses that incompetence cannot be equated with stupidity but rather with character traits such as fear of failure, need for approval and egocentrism that serve paradoxically as the very strengths that help them to arrive at senior levels. Further, the advent of technology, rather than curbing these tendencies, augments them through more destructive firepower, increased C2 capabilities and the larger staffs required to manage these resources (and therefore serve as increased filters/distortions to needed information). A fascinating study and one that provides an alternative perspective on the challenges of command. 

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