Command Failure in War: Psychology and Leadership

Robert Pois and Philip Langer

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Why do Military Commanders, most of them usually quite capable, fail at crucial moments of their careers? Robert Pois and Philip Langer—one a historian, the other an educational psychologist—study seven cases of military command failures, from Frederick the Great at Kunersdorf to Hitler’s invasion of Russia. While Pois and Langer recognize the value of psychological theorizing, they do not believe that one method can cover all the individuals, battles, or campaigns under examination. Instead, they judiciously apply a number of psycho-historical approaches in hope of shedding light on the behaviors of commanders of commanders during war. Rather than adhering to theoretical uniformity, the most parsimonious explanations drive their applications of psychological theory. Their goal is to provide plausible explanations for the failures of command discussed within.

The other battles and commanders studies here are Napoleon in Russia, George B. McClellan’s Peninsular campaign, Robert E. Lee and Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, John Bell Hood at the Battle of Franklin, Douglas Haig and the British command during World War I, “Bomber” Harris and the strategic bombing of Germany, and Stalingrad.

Robert Pois and Philip Langer Robert Pois (1940-2004) was Professor of History at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Among his books are The Great War; National Socialism and the Religion of Nature; and Friedrich Meinecke and German Politics in the Twentieth Century.
Philip Langer is Professor of Educational Psychology and Faculty Fellow at the University of Colorado-Boulder Institute of Cognitive Science. Although his previously published research focused on issues relevant to psychology and education, a lifelong interest in military history has culminated in this book.



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