Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Churchill Series - Jun. 3, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Readers Note: I hope this post, a repeat from Dec. 2007, leaves you smiling.


Military leaders have often been critical of civilian leadership. Some were retired, but others made public criticisms while on active duty: Generals MacArthur, Patton and Stilwell come immediately to mind.

In his biography of WW II Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, Forrest Pogue recounts an instructive and amusing episode that relates to military-civilian leadership conflicts and how, in at least one important instance, conflict was avoided.

In late December 1941 Britain and the U. S. agreed that the Chiefs of Staff of the two nations’ service branches would form a combined group which would set war strategy, identify and prioritize major military operations, and allocate resources. Most WW II historians agree the group, The Combined Chiefs of Staff, preformed admirably.

But the group had many sharp and sometimes angry differences regarding what to do when and how. Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke called a heated, three hour-long argument they had “the Mother and Father of all rows.” At one meeting of that sort things got so hot the Generals and Admirals and Field Marshals and Air Marshals could agree on only one thing: it wasn’t good for the Allied cause for them to all be in the same room at that moment.

So they decided to break and return later.

During the break Field Marshal Sir John Dill, who for much of the war served as liaison officer for the two staffs, went back and forth between the groups with the same message for both: If the chiefs couldn’t settle their differences and draw up a document they could all initial, then “they will get to decide.”

Dill’s message had a great effect because, as one of the chiefs later put it, “We all knew what a hash they could make of things.”

When the Combined Chiefs resumed to their meeting, they worked more cooperatively and achieved agreement on a document they all initialed. The document was then passed on so “they” could initial it “FDR” and “WSC.”