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On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence
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On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  126 ratings  ·  16 reviews
This unique and penetrating book surveys 100 years of military inefficiency from the Crimean War, through the Boer conflict, to the disasterous campaigns of the First World War and the calamities of the Second. It examines the social psychology of military organizations, provides case studies of individual commanders and identifies an alarming pattern in the causes of mili ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published January 6th 1994 by Pimlico (first published 1976)
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Emmanuel Gustin
Dixon's study of military incompetence deepens the traditional observation that peacetime armies and wartime armies prefer (and promote) very different types of officer. Dixon seeks to give this observation an explanation a basis that is rooted in Freudian psychology. The work appears rather dated in its psychology. I doubt many modern psychologists would credit the idea that Field Marshall Haig sent thousands of men to their death on the battlefield of the Somme because his mother had been too ...more
The book was interesting in that it brought a whole new approach to thinking about military leaders and where they come from. It also brought an interesting perspective about military leadership, military organizations and who they potentially attract for leaders. The author suffers from not having a deep or particularly wide understanding of war. Additionally, he is very focused on the British military which really narrows many of his conclussions. It is a topic that is worth thinking about, I ...more
Nov 14, 2014 Wilte rated it 4 of 5 stars
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The book starts with short description of unnecessary carnage in WW-1, Boer war and Crimea, among others. Very helpful for someone who is not a history-buff like myself (buffs are advised by the author to skip this first part).

Then Dixon tries to psychologically explain what caused these mishaps, quoting from many sources.

For example on British in America (p.199): "The men in their scarlet uniforms and white spatterdashes, marching in columns, were the sort of target an ambush force dreams of.
This book is worth reading on several levels. The anecdotes of military incompetence are fascinating and the reasons for failure are well linked in. More importantly anyone who works in a heirarchy (most of us?) should read this book. It explains why those most anxious to increase their status are often the least suitable for management positions. It should not only be read by the military but also in business schools. It's only the emphasis on Freudian psychology that prebents me from rating it ...more
Interesante análisis sobre las causas psicológicas de a incompetencia militar. Comienza con una breve reseña de grandes desastres militares, enfocados en el ejército británico, y luego realiza un análisis de los puntos en común que tienen las personalidades de los generales que estaban a cargo.

La tesis del autor es que la estructura misma del mundo militar atrae y premia a personalidades autoritarias (aunque pueda parecer evidente) y que éstas tienen tal falta de amor propio que terminan siendo
OTPMI opens with a bang (potential "spoiler" alert, in that I was happily surprised by the below, which you won't be if you read it now):

'In war, each side is kept busy turning its wealth into energy which is then delivered, free ... to the other side. Such energy may be muscular, thermal, kinetic or chemical. Wars are only possible because the recipients of this energy are ill-prepared to receive it and convert it into a useful form for their own economy.'

This really has little if anything to d
Interesting read, though the psychological theories are somewhat (and entertainingly) out of date
Make no mistake, this is a psychology book. While the first half is an in-depth examination of (primarily British) military incompetence from 1850-1950, the second half is a psychological examination of the factors that could have caused such incompetence. The data and theories were still current when the book was written in the 1970s, but would not hold water today.
A great book for examining military leadership and understanding some of our current leaders. I'm not sure if many of the psychological theories are still current, however it's still a great book for helping leaders become self aware of their own leadership shortcomings. I really enjoyed reading it.
Fascinating brief analyses of the personalities who were responsible for the worst military disasters in history. Just a little bit dated, in the Freudian part (1976 edition in paperback).
Sean Chick
I agree with the thesis, but I'm wary of psychology being the answer for everything and the author is not a very good or organized writer. He does have a laudable sense of humor.
John Brown
Superb a must read. The premise. That the skills that get you promoted in a peace time army are not the skills you need in wartime. A simple premise.
Olli Helttula
A bit dry and some of the psychological conclusions seem outdated but interesting nonetheless.
Peter McC
A collection of poor military decisions over the years. Yes, the Brits have plenty of entries
Bar none, one of the best books I have ever read on the decision-making process.
witty, insulting, and very revealing
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Norman F. Dixon, M.B.E., Fellow of the British Psychological Society, is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at University College, London.
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