Does Combat Experience Make a Better General?

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Almalexia

Her Flamboyance, the Calipha
Duke
M&BWBNW
Archonsod said:
Urlik said:
well Hitler had combat experience in WWI and it didn't make him a great strategist or tactician
Not directly, he was an adjutant.

I thought he was a runner? (maybe an adjutant is a runner; if so, excuse me.  :lol:)
 

Lord Burgess1

He didn't do a bad job on the V3, well in theory at least.

Even though he didn't really do much with the design.
 

Captain Pyjama Shark

Grandmaster Knight
AWdeV said:
No, but not having the experience wouldn't be likely to make it worse methinks.
Well he did originally reject the Stg 44 because of it.

Cause the whole thesis of the guys who built that gun was that infantry didn't need rifles that could shoot **** 2000 metres away, cause soldiers essentially never had to fire at that kind of range in WW2.  Then when they showed Hitler the Stg 44 he said it's range was too short, which caused many face-palms for the people trying to explain the concept to him.  They made it in secret and Hitler got to like it later anyway though.

Anyway Hitler did have some direct combat experience, and I'm pretty sure he had an Iron Cross for bravery too.
 

Aqtai

Sergeant Knight at Arms
A good general should be good at tactics, strategy and be charismatic so he can inspire his men to follow his orders. combat experience is not a prerequisite.

Narses was one of Justinians greatest generals and completed the reconquest of Italy. Narses was a Eunuch who had a civilian administrative career until he was given troops to command during the Nika riots; he was in his 50ies. He was sent to Italy 20 years later and defeated the Ostrogoths and Franks in several battles. He eventually recaptured Rome.
 

noosers

Grandmaster Knight
M&BWB
Yet Hitler realised the advantages of the more modern and recent disciplines of warfare opposed to WWI trench tactics enabling the early Blitzkrieg pulled off by his generals. Anything after 41 is a different topic though.

Bascially I´d say knowledge and experience are most valuable assets to a commanding general because it will enable him to know what, how, when and where his underlings are capable of certain things under certain situations.

However, you´ll be able to say that about any good manager - he´ll know which wheels to grease to keep the clockwork running smoothly, the more if he´s been part of the machinery which got clogged.
 

SMST

Knight at Arms
Generally speaking, expierience in any subject will help you do it better than having none. Applicable to anything, and to military tactics as well.
 

Swadius 2.0

Grandmaster Knight
NovaTitan said:
I've had something in my mind this afternoon about combat experience providing a better general than an equivalent that only used theory and practice from teachers/scholars. Throughout history you end up with individuals, particularly princes, that have undergone military training both physical and mental. These princes would then become kings without real military experience other than the training, and end up soundly defeating enemies in pitched battles using their learned tactics/strategy.

What I've wondered is if that general would have been better at his job if he were to join combat in one of these battles to understand the combat and difficulties of his and his enemy's military firsthand.

I mean, you do end up with kings that do join the frontlines, such as King Henry V in the Battle of Agincourt. Richard the Lionheart particularly loved battle and used his English funds for the Crusades. I think Saladin didn't engage in battle but used strategy alone. Presumably, Alexander the Great rode out into battle as well.

I do not think Genghis Khan ever did such a thing.

These are examples of land battles, but I also have the same question for naval engagements. Would an admiral be better if he had experience as a naval soldier both in modern and ancient/medieval times?

There's a lot more to war than where combatants give direct exchanges of violence. Someone could be a very good platoon or cohort commander and not have any idea about how to move large bodies of troops, supply them, or give them any more insight into the objectives of the war. Lets say that the person could win any battle he fights, it doesn't mean that this person would win a war, and this I believe is what a general is for. Granted, diplomats do a lot of the negotiating, but generals are generally the ones giving them favorable terms to argue with.
I for one, think it's a much more impressive feat for a general who has lost every single battle he's ever been in, or better yet never engaged in any significant direct battles, yet through other means ends up being the last one standing at the end.
There aren't many people who can have so much insight, that the person would know all the abstractions derived prior from direct combat experience. Direct combat experience might help him, but there are limits to what he can derive from his experiences.
If Henry and Lionheart didn't have any knowledge of what's important in the wars they were fighting, it wouldn't really matter how many fights they won. Hannibal is an example of this, won a great deal of the major battles he was involved in, but all it took was one for him to lose the war. You might say that this was due to the nobles at Carthage not supporting him as much as they could, or for unforeseen forces he didn't take into account. But we have to keep in mind that throughout a good deal of history, generals were as politically involved as they are militarily so. Saying that he was still a good general and the main actor in which the war hinged on yet lost, isn't consistent.

But all else being equal, knowing the psychology of how troops react is going to help a great deal, but this can be taught much more easily than subjecting oneself to the harms of violence.
 

Winterz

Sergeant Knight
I doubt any General or other high ranking officer that never saw combat with their own "hands" can be as good as the ones who have experinced it all.....experience makes skill. To trully know it..you must see it and you must interact with it, books aren't enough although they can still make you good but not that good.
 

Swadius 2.0

Grandmaster Knight
Winterz said:
I doubt any General or other high ranking officer that never saw combat with their own "hands" can be as good as the ones who have experinced it all.....experience makes skill.

Well yeah. But the OP isn't asking whether combat experience can have a negative value. Generally having more experience and knowledge generally makes a person better at what they're doing.

To trully know it..you must see it and you must interact with it, books aren't enough although they can still make you good but not that good.

I think it's important to take into account that they can't be a general at all, good or bad, if everything they know if derived from combat experience.
 

Winterz

Sergeant Knight
Swadius said:
I think it's important to take into account that they can't be a general at all, good or bad, if everything they know if derived from combat experience.

Didnt understood what you are saying here...but still I'll reply it with what I think:

Well there is never a "just did that"....everyone has its personal life experience and it isnt all in combat...obviously he must have some life...and then the very combat experince make promotion so much easier, if you are still alive at least.... :razz:
 

Captain Pyjama Shark

Grandmaster Knight
Aqtai said:
A good general should be good at tactics, strategy and be charismatic so he can inspire his men to follow his orders. combat experience is not a prerequisite.

Narses was one of Justinians greatest generals and completed the reconquest of Italy. Narses was a Eunuch who had a civilian administrative career until he was given troops to command during the Nika riots; he was in his 50ies. He was sent to Italy 20 years later and defeated the Ostrogoths and Franks in several battles. He eventually recaptured Rome.
Narses was a bro, he liked curb-stomped the Goths at Busta Gallorum. 
 

Feragorn

Marquis
M&BWBNW
Combat experience does however help him to relate to his men and while it may not inspire them, gives them a significant morale boost due to a sense of camaraderie.
 
Swadius said:
this I believe is what a general is for.
No, you're confusing the role of the general with that of the commander in chief. A general leads an army in battle, the commander is the one responsible for the overall conduct of the war. The general's task is simply to win the battle he's asked to wage; while an understanding of the strategic goals or overall picture of the war are useful (insofar as they can influence the strategy he adopts on the ground) it's not his place to make decisions at that level.
Direct combat experience might help him, but there are limits to what he can derive from his experiences.
Not really. Theory is something that's not particularly useful until things like combined arms begin to make an appearance. Until then, it's simply a case of understanding how to ensure your troops are victorious which broadly speaking is something you can learn entirely from experience.
 

Devercia

Grandmaster Knight
WB
Archonsod said:
Devercia said:
Also note that theory is a synthesizer of experience. If the theory is perfect than experience becomes redundant.
Um, not really. You might want to try reading Clauswitz rather than Sun Tzu, he knew what he was talking about :lol: There are certain elements of warfare that can be enhanced by an understanding of theory; for example the ability to identify and understand the goals of yourself and your enemy. There are however those which can only be taught by experience, such as avoiding panic.

I'm not particularly read up on military doctrine, but that's more or less beside my particular point. However I stand by what you quoted of me. The purpose of a theory is to provide a set of rules and sometimes just guidelines from which to come to a conclusion about a particular situation. Sounds like synthesized experience to me. My experience tells might tell me that shoving a fork into an electrical socket is not wise. Basic understanding of electrical, biological and mechanical theory would allow me to imagine what would happen if I did, which is the moment I would synthesize the experience. Going about the actual experience would be redundant, as I said. That said, theory has its obvious limits, its not divination.

I will concede that theory is not always practical, but it can be done. The real blind spot for theory in the point you provided is bodily control, which is where panic falls into. The amygdula bypasses and supersedes the frontal lobe, which throws rational thought out the window, but that is hardwired, and therefor a bodily function. If you're talking about avoiding panic in others, Sun Tsu talks about that by forcing them into a forlorn hope for victory by removing all avenue of escape.


(prepares massively digressive topic)

One of the big issues with the theory vs experience debate is psychological. According to Piaget(I'd hate to rely on ethos, but to convert his authoritativeness to logos would be a paid job), there are 4 stages of cognitive development. The last two are stages carried into adulthood, but are developed in late childhood. Both stages are distinguished by mastery(defined by the ability to use it in all situations), or the lack of mastery of the cognitive ability associated with the 4th stage. Both stages use both thinking styles.

The third stage, relies on concrete evidence(and experience is at the top of the list) before they have an easy time of gleaning information and making conclusions.This stage is roughly 2/3s of adulthood. Winterz statement shows him to be in the category by the manner of his argument. I believe Archonsod is here as well, even if I had never read this thread I would think so. It does not mean they are less developed or intelligent than the third stage(I have the utmost respect for your intelligence Arch); the third stage is merely a prerequisite state to be in before moving to the 4th.  A good sign of 3rd stage is concise speech and focus on precise points within an idea. Like experience and examples, they start with small ideas and build bigger ones out of them. If they are dim, they stay with small ideas.

The 4th is concerned with systems and theory and is very willing to abstract. Ideas are holistic systems that are then chipped away into smaller ideas for practical issues. If they are dim, they form crackpot ideas and superstitions.

Ideas must be completely re-engineered to change. Linear points and examples don't re-engineer they merely point out oversights.Only in the case that the theory is completely wrong headed is the theory ever abandoned, so 4ths can seem wishy woshy as they re-engineer their concepts. 

As a person in the 4th stage I can say it is extremely difficult to explain the mannerisms of 4th stage thinking to those that are in 3rd stage, more so for aural/phonetical text language being very much a 3rd stage method of linear thought. It requires translation even before it escapes the mouth. You can see this in how people speak. 4th stagers stagger over their words in a run-on attempt to create a sentence that contains all the peripheral ideas outside the linear point to be made. It ends up being a comma cluster **** like this whole paragraph.  Because ideas are holistic to them, they are often dissatisfied with their communication, because with every point is it's peripherals, and with every peripheral and new set and so on.

The point I am making here is that there are people with fundamental differences in how they process information that effect how they use what they know, and define the usefulness of what they derive. One can make use of inductive thinking in great amounts, the other is a deductive specialist, and often sees inductive thought as unreliable.

(/deviation)

This might be why your idea of theory is a set of instructions to be learned(making it a linear thought). It is a goal driven perspective that is not particularly concerned with the process or the systems that define and direct that process as more than a means to reach a goal. Theory, for many people, is intuitive, and need not be learned from a tutor.

If the question is which path is the way to greatness in generalship, it is both. Not just because both are helpful, but either will get you there. The effectiveness has more to do with the person and not so much the theory or the experience alone.

tldr: It depends...
 
Devercia said:
The purpose of a theory is to provide a set of rules and sometimes just guidelines from which to come to a conclusion about a particular situation. Sounds like synthesized experience to me. My experience tells might tell me that shoving a fork into an electrical socket is not wise. Basic understanding of electrical, biological and mechanical theory would allow me to imagine what would happen if I did, which is the moment I would synthesize the experience. Going about the actual experience would be redundant, as I said. That said, theory has its obvious limits, its not divination.
It's possible to understand electrical theory however, because electricity along with the rest of physics is based on predictable, repeatable patterns. A given material will always conduct electricity to a specified value, always. You don't have that in war, it is by it's nature unpredictable. An entire battle can be won or lost on a simple factor like whether it rained on the morning or not.
  In addition, no general even in the modern era has managed to have a full and complete awareness of the battlefield. He's dependent on reports from subordinates who may be wrong. Or the messengers may be killed, captured or opt to desert. Some will offer conflicting reports, the situation may render others obsolete before they've even arrived.
What you're essentially doing is removing or granting only a partial understanding of physics and then asking the general to predict whether or not the fork will conduct electricity, and in those circumstances the guy who's seen forks jammed into sockets before tends to have a better grasp of the likely outcome than one who hasn't.
If you're talking about avoiding panic in others, Sun Tsu talks about that by forcing them into a forlorn hope for victory by removing all avenue of escape.
Yes, but that's one of the reasons Sun Tzu isn't the best source for military tactics. If you force troops into a forlorn hope, they have this nasty habit of surrendering.
 

Urlik

Sergeant Knight
in the past, combat experience may have hindered a General (although the theory he would have been taught could also have been just as bad)

fighting the Zulus in Africa was probably the last time that a general could look to past battles for strategies and tactics

WWI generals weren't really prepared for the way that war changed and many took a long time getting used to the fact that they couldn't use cavalry in the ways it had previously been used.

WW2 came along and trench warfare was no longer the fashion
 
Urlik said:
WWI generals weren't really prepared for the way that war changed and many took a long time getting used to the fact that they couldn't use cavalry in the ways it had previously been used.
That tends to be a gross oversimplification. Cavalry could and was indeed used in the same way it had been during the Franco-Prussian and Boer war; while some sabre cavalry did exist they'd been heading towards obsolescence since the Napoleonic wars and nothing much had changed.
In terms of preparation the real problem had been pre-war rather than anything during the war itself. The cold war between Germany and Britain had led to much frittering of resources on extravagant achievements (such as the infamous "who's got the biggest battleship") rather than anything of practical value, and neither side was particularly ready for the war to turn hot, or for that matter a prolonged conflict rather than a flashpoint.
In terms of strategy it was a technological problem rather than a tactical one. Fortifications and entrenchment had reached the point they could provide adequate protection against artillery, and at the outbreak of the war there was nothing to replace it in being able to smash a fortified position. It doesn't really matter how good your generals are or how prepared for war you get when you literally lack the means to accomplish your goals. It's not until their replacements arrive on the field that things can get moving again, but by then both sides had been locked in what amounted to a war of attrition.
By WWII equilibrium had been restored thanks to the development of air power and the tank, so once again it became a question of manoeuvre. I wouldn't say the tactics were that new either; Blitzkreig at the basic level is to smash the opponent suddenly with overwhelming force and prosecute the advantage before they can regroup, which as a tactic certainly has a claim to being one of the oldest in the book. And again, largely successful because nations failed to prepare adequately for the war, and in some cases, such as France, a lack of understanding of their opponent's goals. 
 
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