The story starts off in World War II where leaders in the 90th Infantry Division were fired one after the other for cause. You have a couple of months to succeed or you are out. It didn’t take long before the 90th Infantry Division made outstanding progress in shaping up. But why were there so many poor leaders in the first place?
Fast forward to today. The same problem has taken root in the US military – bad leadership has gradually taken hold of the military.
… A culture of mediocrity has taken hold within the Army’s leadership rank—if it is not uprooted, the country’s next war is unlikely to unfold any better than the last two.
The swift reliefs of World War II were not precise, and while many made way for more-capable commanders, some were clearly the wrong move. Nonetheless, their cumulative effect was striking. The 90th Division, for instance, improved radically—transforming from a problem division that First Army staff wanted to break up, into “one of the most outstanding [divisions] in the European Theater,” as Bradley later wrote. Retired Army Colonel Henry Gole, in his analysis of the 90th Division, directly credits the policy of fast relief:
Because incompetent commanders were fired and replaced by quality men at division and regiment, and because the junior officers of 1944 [who were] good at war … rose to command battalions in a Darwinian process, the division became an effective fighting force.
Generalship in combat is extraordinarily difficult, and many seasoned officers fail at it. During World War II, senior American commanders typically were given a few months to succeed, or they’d be replaced. Sixteen out of the 155 officers who commanded Army divisions in combat were relieved for cause, along with at least five corps commanders.
Bad leadership in the military today can get the entire country wiped out, but that is where we are. Iraq and Afghanistan are merely examples of what exists throughout the military. Of course there are good leaders too, but the number of bad leaders has grown too much.
It is during the good times that these kinds of problems silently grow. When a crisis hits then all the problems come out.