January 16, 2009

Clausewitz on wartime leadership

It is the impact of the ebbing of moral and phsycial strength, of the heart-rending spectacle of the dead and wounded, that the commander has to withstand-first in himself, and then in all those who, directly or indirectly, have entrusted him with their thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears. As each man's strength gives out, as it no longer responds to his will, the inertia of the whole comes to rest on the commander's will alone. The ardor of his spirit must rekindle the flame of purpose in all others, his inward fire must revive their hope. Only to the extent that he can do this will be retain his hold on his men and keep control. Once that hold is lost, once his own courage can no longer revive the courage of his men, the mass will drag him down to the brutish world where danger is shirked and shame is unknown. Such are the burdens in battle that the commander's courage and strength of will must overcome if he hopes to achieve oustanding success. The burdens increase with the number of men in his command and therefore the higher the position, the greater the strength of character he needs to bear the mounting load.

On War (Howard and Paret, ed.), pp. 104-105.

The burden of wartime command in the field are difficult to explain. My fellow lieutenant colonels lost men on the battlefield and each loss took a piece out of them. Nevertheless, they saddled up and went out every day because that is what leaders do.

Posted by LMC at January 16, 2009 09:17 PM | TrackBack