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Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime

4.1 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0743230490
ISBN-10: 0743230493
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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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (June 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743230493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743230490
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #823,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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.
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