Letter From Military History – May 2016 | HistoryNet MENU
Greek rebels and Ottoman troops clash outside the walled fortress of Salona in 1825 during the Greek War of Independence.

Letter From Military History – May 2016

By Stephen Harding
2/25/2016 • Military History, MH Editorial

The Perils of Heirarchy

Military forces throughout history—from tribal bands to regional militias to standing national armies—share certain attributes. Whether successful in combat or not, all have used weapons, all have developed and utilized tactics, and all have considered means to feed and provision themselves while on campaign.

Most such forces have had some sort of leadership hierarchy, commonly known today as a chain of command. Those with no such hierarchy—anarchists, for example, or those whose politics demanded each operation be planned by committee and voted on by all members—have been almost universally self-defeating and, understandably, quickly succumbed to their better-organized adversaries. Successful military operations require planning, of course, but a requirement to achieve consensus before taking any proposed action has historically been the fast lane to death, destruction and defeat. Simply put, effective military organizations must have designated leaders at various levels; such forces are not democracies, and not everyone gets a vote.

That said, overall control of a military force by a single, all-powerful person whose decisions are final and irrevocable—particularly one who believes him or herself imbued with godlike powers or infallible judgment—has rarely been a good thing. Czars, dictators and those claiming to be the handpicked earthly representatives of the almighty tend to be uniformly poor military commanders. With no requirement to heed the advice of “inferiors,” they often make decisions that lead to widespread death and destruction—often followed by their own untimely demise and the end of their dynasties. MH

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