Please recommend some books about incompetent military leaders.
April 18, 2010 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend some books that deal with incompetent military commanders and, ideally, the competent ones who replaced them.

I've been reading "Wahoo" about a WWII submarine and have found that I really enjoy the "studies in incompetent commanders" material, especially when a *competent* leader gets their chance too, in the same story. I've also seen "The Caine Mutiny" and was wondering if anyone could recommend:

- Books
- Plays
- Films
- Video games

...that deal with this subject.

Thanks!
posted by circular to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe too juvenile, certainly pure adventures, Lieutenant Hornblower and almost all of the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell deal with this theme.
posted by Some1 at 3:05 PM on April 18, 2010


We Were Soldiers Once, and Young. But the competent/incompetent order is reversed.
posted by procrastination at 3:11 PM on April 18, 2010


Seconding Lieutenant Hornblower, which is a very enjoyable romp, and its adaptation into the second Hornblower miniseries, Duty and Retribution. You might enjoy the TV show better if you've seen the first series (four films), which also deals with military politicking and bad command to a lesser extent.
posted by bettafish at 3:42 PM on April 18, 2010


Band of Brothers has such a situation early on, as the Captain who trains Easy Company turns out to be awful as a platoon leader in the field. The man who then actually led the company in battle in Europe has become rather legendary.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 4:15 PM on April 18, 2010


Jim Dunnigan has written about that kind of thing. "Getting it Right" is about how the US military was reorganized after Viet Nam, but that may be larger scale than you're really looking for.

"Shooting Blanks" is more along the lines of what you're looking for.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:30 PM on April 18, 2010


It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy It's a management book, the guy is now a management consultant, but it's a good read and does exactly what's it says on the cover: describes the effect good management can have on a crew (military or otherwise).
posted by wrok at 4:39 PM on April 18, 2010


"Once an Eagle" by Anton Myrer is perhaps the prototype for this in the American military.
posted by Etrigan at 5:02 PM on April 18, 2010


Anything about the American Civil War. Most histories of this are fairly huge, so I'm not sure if you want to slog through them, but the entire history of the Union side of the war is "we could have won, but our generals were criminally incompetent, and then Grant showed up". Bruce Catton has a good volume with nice illustrations of the various battles. Ken Burns's documentary is also excellent. Shelby Foote's 3 volume history is fantastic, but a really long read. Bruce Catton also has a multi-volume set on the Army of the Potomac (by far the most mis-managed of all the armies) that has some good stuff but might be more in-depth then what you want.
posted by ghostiger at 5:14 PM on April 18, 2010


A Peace to End all Peace by David Fromkin is a detailed history of the British military in the eastern Mediterranean during WWI and its commanders, both competent and incompetent.

Spoiler alert: there's a lot more of the latter than the former.
posted by Tsuga at 5:40 PM on April 18, 2010


It's not purely a military history, but Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam might be a good read for you.
posted by paulsc at 5:59 PM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


All the Ships at Sea, by William Lederer
posted by atchafalaya at 7:22 PM on April 18, 2010


On the Psychology of Military Incompetence by Norman Dixon is specifically about the British military, pre-WWII. Summary: culture stagnates into convention, which drives out the unconventionality you need to succeed. On the Psychology of Military Incompetence is case studies of failures and their replacements, who were often competent but despised by the establishment.

One interesting aspect of the institutional incompetence: In Dixon's view, the British military suffered from groupthink and valued particular upper-class traits over merit. It's astonishing that military personnel would need to be told that the map is not the territory, the signifier not the signified, but indeed they cared more about the signs and forms of morale and professionalism (such as clean clothes and polished brass) than about warm clothes, edible food, and working equipment.
posted by brainwane at 8:37 PM on April 18, 2010


Another non-fiction book about a WWII submarine has elements of this - Thunder Below by Eugene Fluckey (plus this is one of the better written books of its type as well.) Also, the movie Mr. Roberts might work for you (I've never read the book it is based on, sadly.)
posted by gudrun at 9:21 PM on April 18, 2010


A Bright Shining Lie, about the Vietnam war. At the risk of sounding like an uneducated rube, the stuff in this book about the run-up to the war eye-opening.
posted by Gorgik at 9:38 PM on April 18, 2010


Perhaps David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter and the firing of MacArthur by Truman in 1951.
posted by turbodog at 11:38 PM on April 18, 2010


Seconding brainwane. A more recent book in the same general pattern as Dixon's book is called Lions Led by Donkeys (can't remember the author's name and my copy is inaccessible at the moment).
posted by Logophiliac at 12:18 AM on April 19, 2010


Great answers! Thanks, everybody.
posted by circular at 10:50 AM on April 19, 2010


A legacy of ashes about the history of the CIA. I haven't gotten to the part where the incompetents are replaced but I'm optimistic.
posted by mearls at 6:28 PM on April 19, 2010


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