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Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime Hardcover – June 4, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0743230490 ISBN-10: 0743230493 Edition: First Edition (1 in number line)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition (1 in number line) edition (June 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743230493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743230490
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #787,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Abraham Lincoln, Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill and David Ben Gurion what made them great wartime heads of state, according to Eliot A. Cohen (Military Misfortunes), a professor of strategic studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, is that they were able to finesse a relationship with their military leaders that kept the balance of power squarely in (their own) civilian hands. In his lucid study, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime, Cohen looks closely at the strategies of the four premiers and addresses broader questions about the tension between politicians and generals in a wartime democracy.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The constant tension between political and military leaders is exacerbated by wartime conditions. The director of strategic studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins and author of Military Misfortunes, Cohen examines how four civilian statesmen Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben-Gurion successfully exercised control over their military services during wars that threatened the very existence of their countries. The challenges and complexities that they faced were immense, and how each leader overcame them is the important issue in this study. Cohen stresses key individual traits (e.g., making tough decisions, not worrying about a general's feelings, being willing to stick it out to the end) rather than the totality of these men's experiences, showing that they took a direct hand in the operations of their country's armed forces. Cohen thus concludes that some selective skillful intervention is needed to keep the military on track. This well-documented book will be accessible to lay readers as well as scholars. For academic and public libraries and for anyone else interested in the civilian-military relationship. Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I am an academic who has been fortunate in many ways - teaching at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, the country's leading school of international relations; serving in government, most recently as Counselor of the Department of State from 2007 to 2009; and having the freedom to move from political science, my original discipline, to history.

One friend who looked at the manuscript CONQUERED INTO LIBERTY, wrote to me -- "Aha! A love note!" and in some ways it is that. It deals with almost two centuries of battles along the Great Warpath route from Albany to Montreal, and it does, I hope, show some of my affection for this part of the country. A good part of the fun of writing the book was tramping around all the sites that I describe in it. But its purpose is serious: to show how the American way of war emerged from our conflict with an unlikely opponent: Canada. It tells the story of ten battles and shows how they reveal deeper truths about the American approach to war. The title, in fact, comes from a propaganda pamphlet strewn about Canada before the Americans invaded in 1775: "You have been conquered into liberty..." it began, and that notion is one that is still with us.

But the argument of the book, I believe, should not detract from stories that will appeal to readers. I hope that you will be as fascinated as I am not only by the events, but by characters you knew (George Washington, for example) whom I show in rather different lights than is customary, and even more so by characters you will probably meet here for the first time. A personal favorite: La Corne St. Luc, the incredibly wily French aristocrat who fought the British, sided with them, joined the Americans, rejoined the British and died one of Canada's wealthiest men after several decades of terrorizing the northern frontier. But there are others: enjoy discovering them!

Customer Reviews

This book is a fast read and is very interesting.
William J. Romanos
Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion made very clear to their generals that the final authority of civilian leadership was unquestionable.
Serge J. Van Steenkiste
His quote underscores many of the opinions outlined in Cohen's book.
S. Miska

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Q. Publius VINE VOICE on July 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This well researched book will have an impact on civilian-military relations as long-lasting as Samuel Huntington's "Soldier and the State," published fifty years ago but still a landmark. The author examines four examples of excellent democratic leadership of the military during wartime: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben-Gurion. These four break the current "normal theory of civil-military relations," which holds that civilian leaders should set political goals and leave the details of implementation to the neutral competence of military professionals. The "normal theory" is currently the predominant orthodoxy: Lyndon Johnson meddled in Vietnam military matters, irretrievably messing up that effort; George H.W. Bush set the goals in the Persian Gulf and left the military unimpeded to execute policy. The four supreme commanders Cohen expounds upon break the current orthodoxy: they were deeply involved in military matters, Churchill to the point of driving his generals nuts with questions about the details of operations. If anything, the author argues, Lyndon Johnson was not involved enough, failing to question Westmoreland's attrition strategy. Cohen's books will have significant impact and will be debated in U.S. war colleges for years to come. He significantly contributes to the quality of the debate on civil-military relations. He also brings new life to the question: what exactly is the military profession? Huntington and the traditional definition describe it as the management of violence for political ends. Yet many military work their entire careers in support fields which aren't directly related to combat, and even military who spend their entire careers in combat forces often are only in combat a small percentage of their service time.Read more ›
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Ralph H. Peters on June 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is Eliot Cohen's most intriguing and accomplished work to date. As one who has disagreed with Professor Cohen almost as often as I have agreed with him in the past, I must acknowledge the immediate (and likely enduring) value of this very well-done study of the relationships between heads of state and the military men working for them. While this book will not end the debate over "Who's on first?", it certainly deepens it. And it's simply good reading. I'm still not convinced that civilian leaders always know best--especially given their often-willful ignorance of the military experience--but I certainly believe that the civilians must always be firmly in charge, and Cohen makes that case indisputably along the way. It would have been interesting to bookend these studies with a look at the relationship between Bismarck and the elder Moltke, who enjoyed perhaps the most suspicion-laden symbiotic relationship in history--and whose grand successes illustrate Cohen's thesis with something near perfection--and the relationship, so very different, between President Clinton and his generals, all of whom were hobbled by fear, though of very different things. But this is Professor Cohen's book, not mine. I recommend this book highly--especially to military officers, not all of whom will be pleased by it. Intellectually engaging in the best sense.
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55 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Max Boot on June 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Eliot Cohen shows that the Pentagon's preferred model of civil-military relations--namely that the civilian leadership should leave war to the generals--does not make for a successful policy. By profiling four supremely successful war leaders--Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben Gurion--he demonstrates that they all took a very active hand in the conduct of war, and that they were often right, and the generals were often wrong. Whereas when political leaders have deferred to the generals--for instance in the original Bush administration's determination, made at the urging of Gen. Powell, to end the ground war in the Gulf after 100 hours--the results have often been far from satisfying. Not only is this an important argument, highly relevant to today's policy debates, but Cohen also offers interesting profiles of four very different leaders. I was particularly interested in the discussion of Clemenceau and Ben Gurion, since I know less about them than about Churchill and Lincoln. This is a book that all our leaders should read.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By "harryblum" on August 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you want the best ever book to assess the command and leadership of a single FIGHTING leader, buy Joel Hayward's highly praised "For God and Glory: Lord Nelson and His Way of War". Its assessment is original, thorough and relevant to today's leadership studies.
But if you want a book that deals with that highest level of leadership, the political employment and direction of fighting forces, then this is your book. As you would expect from author Cohen, you get rigorous and insightful analysis of the difficulties and responsibilities involved in wielding massive force. You get lucid explanation, fluent writing and clear and compelling argument. In short, this book is better even than Martin van Creveld's book on military leadership.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Emil L. Posey on December 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Cohen's thesis is that wars cannot be left to generals. Using four case studies involving successful heads of state who took an active role in their nations' wars (Abraham Lincoln, Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill, and David Ben-Gurion), he debunks the "normal theory of civil-military relations." That theory holds that once war is upon us, politicians must step out of the way and let the military take over and, unfettered, win it. This view goes back at least to the American Civil War (for example, read the same admonition in Sheman's memoirs). It became most fashionable in this country after the Vietnam War, when comparing it and Korea to civil-military relations during the two World Wars.
I was skeptical. Having fought in Vietnam and still a bit upset at our not having achieved victory (albeit still today I'm not sure what our goals were...ahh, but I get ahead of myself), and having ascribed that failure to this nation's civilian leadership, I, too, espoused this theory. Cohen has turned me around.
Cohen keeps a narrow focus: civil-military relations at the highest levels. Each case study deals with a head of state's involvement with the conduct of a war for national survival (in Lincoln's case, national unity). He makes the point, "The odds in each of these cases were so finely balanced that leadership could and did make the difference. Take away each leader, and one can easily imagine a very different outcome to 'his' conflict." In the process, he describes the leadership style that made these statesmen great:
· None dictated to subordinates.
· Each tolerated, even advanced, men who strongly disagreed with them.
· Intuition and judgment, based on an ability to observe, make sense of, and use a huge amount of information.
Read more ›
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