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Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

On the Temperment of Military Leaders – I

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GrantThe review of Jomini’s theories on the art of war brought back some thoughts about the purpose of military philosophy itself and a debate we had in class over whether the conduct of war – in all of its complexity - should be reduced to principles, systems, models, tactics, etc. I suggested that war has both quantifiable and unquantifiable aspects. Arguably, it is the unquantifiable – human passions, values, and beliefs – that bring us to war as nations and as individuals. These same things certainly contribute to war’s unpredictability. To mitigate against the unpredictable, we focus on that which is quantifiable: structure, planning, training and execution. Systems, categorization and modeling allow better problem solving, preparation, and control. In war, as in any complex human endeavor, they can also reduce the risk of failure and conversely increase the probability of “the win.”

All of that said, I would suggest that there are deeper reasons why those responsible for the conduct of war focus on systems and organization and it has to do with their innate personalities. While there is debate about whether successfully military leadership can be attributed to personality type, I believe that there is good evidence that it can. David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates built upon the research of Carl Jung (archetypes), Katheryn Briggs, Isabel Myers (Myers-Briggs Trait Indicator), and a host of others in identifying distinct types of personalities. Keirsey introduced the concept of “temperaments” which, he suggests, “places a signature or thumbprint on each of one’s actions, making it recognizably one’s own.”  While I won’t go into details on the building blocks of the temperaments, I will focus on description of those traits Keirsey suggests are often seen in commanders of the military and I’ll give an example from the Civil War. It’s fascinating stuff. More in the next post…

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