Leadership: Off With Their Heads


October 20,2008:  They don't hardly fire generals any more. Some have noted that it's been over half a century since the U.S. last fired generals during wartime. That was during the Korean War, when seven of them were dismissed. During World War II, 95 were fired during their first three months of combat. In World War I, 21 got tossed. In both World Wars, France fired at least a hundred generals in the first three months of combat. Russia was even worse, and they also shot some of the dismissed commanders. Until a few centuries ago, it was quite common to behead unsuccessful generals.

But not so much anymore. Part of that is because there have not been that many big wars since Korea. There were big wars in India (with Pakistan), between the Arabs and Israel, and between Iraq and Iran, where there have been generals dismissed. But not as much as in the past (with the exception of Iraq, where Saddam fired most of his generals eventually, but that had more to do with loyalty, than competence, issues.)

Generals were selected more carefully, at least in the West, during the past half century. There's been a lot more care all around. That, combined with fewer large wars, results in fewer generals getting tossed. Oh, generals still get the sack, but it's done differently. Early retirement and lack of promotion is another way of firing someone, and it is used a lot.

These days, the most common cause of generals getting into trouble is "zipper control" (sex with the wrong person). It's an old problem. Back in 1912 a U.S. admiral suddenly resigned because, it was later found out, he was forcing his affections on a comely cabin boy.



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