Introductory Essay

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Introductory Essay

Kent Roberts Greenfield

"Command Decision" is a term that, although now much in vogue, eludes precise definition. What it immediately suggests is a military commander, faced with a difficult choice or choices, taking the responsibility for a serious risk on the basis of his estimate of the situation.

It implies the presence of certain elements meets as basic ingredients of the action of decision: a desired objective or an assigned mission, a calculation of risk, exercise of authority, assumption of personal responsibility, and a decisive influence on the course of events. While all but one of the decisions in this volume were decisions regarding the use of military means, not all were made by military commanders. Again, in some of the most important neither the exercise of authority nor the assumption of responsibility was personal. But the other ingredients mentioned are present in every case and all are illustrated in a variety of combinations.

Twelve were decisions of chiefs of state. Of these, two (I and 4 were decisions of a national government, in the first case the government of the United States, in the second that of Japan. Six others ( , 5, , 8, 9, and 23) were decisions of the President of the United States acting as commander in chief of its armed forces; three (2, 12 and 20) were decisions of the Nazi dictator. One (10) was a decision o the Allied chiefs of state. Two (16 and 21) were decisions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; one (15) a decision of

General George C. Marshall as Chief of Staff of the U S. Army. The remainder were decisions by commanders in the field: five (6, 11, 18, 19, and 22) by Generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower in their capacity of theater commanders; one (17) by an army group com-

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mander, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley; one (14) by an army commander, Lt Gen. Mark Clark; one (13) by a corps commander, Maj Gen. John P. Lucas. mender, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley; one (14) by an army commander, Lt. Gen. Mark Clark; one (13) by a corps commander, Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas.

The selection of decisions to be included in this book was based on availability of material rather than a theoretical design, and it is not large enough to have the value of a random sampling. Yet the number of cases in which the decision was the outcome of a collective process does point up a tendency that has been generally observed, namely, the increasing role of staff work and committees in military decision-making. The higher the level of decision in the cases here included the more clearly this tendency shows itself. Lincoln sent troops into the Shenandoah Valley against Stonewall Jackson while the main body of the Union Army was committed in the peninsula, without consulting anyone but Stanton. President Roosevelt could do no such thing in World War II. At the highest level of strategy in World War II the final decisions on the Allied side were collective decisions. Furthermore, the Joint and Combined Chiefs of Staff in World War II were governed by the rule of unanimity. Their decisions are therefore to be studied as compromises among representatives of powerful and often stubborn interests, advancing arguments and proposals rooted as much in these as in an objective view of the situation.

The studies in the present collection, extracted from the work of authors writing the history of World War II, represent the historical approach to the subject of decision in war, and derive their value from that fact. Other and more direct approaches to the subject are being made. Scientific analysis is being applied to staff operations in this as in other fields where prompter and more effective co-ordination and management of human and mechanical energies seem necessary to the attainment of economic and social objectives. One conspicuous manifestation of this trend is operations research, of which so much is now expected. It "was born from the need for the scientific preparation of decisions"-a need intensified by the increasing scope and tempo of military operations. An industrial engineer, Charles Kittel of Bell Telephone Laboratories, has hopefully characterized operations research as "a scientific method of providing responsible leaders with mathematically established bases for their decisions.''

No matter what scientific, technological, and organizational advances are made, the use of military power still has to be put in motion

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by fallible human beings. Recognizing this fact as inescapable, behavioral scientists have undertaken to push systematic analysis into this final act of individual judgment and will. They believe that the judgment and will of the individual are channeled by conditions inside as well as outside of his personality, which can be empirically determined; that these also are part of a social and psychological "process" and are therefore a proper subject for "operations research." The analytical model of the act of decision that the behavioral scientists have constructed as a guide to profitable research raises questions that should interest any commander who has to make decisions. These scholars readily admit that the questions they raise are more important, at least for the present, than the answers that anyone can give. But they can legitimately claim that their "approach is one fruitful method of alerting the observer to the major determinants of state behavior and analyzing such factors."

The historical studies in the present collection contain information that will be found useful in the search for answers to questions that such inquiries have raised. The historian knows that "asking the right questions is fundamental to all scholarly inquiry." But he cannot afford to let himself be bound by any predetermined set of questions or assumptions. His business is to establish and relate the facts of experience within the broadest possible horizon of interest. He cannot know what questions his readers will bring to his reconstruction of the past. What he seeks to do is to make it as varied and rich in meaning as his respect for objective fact-finding and his sense of historical perspective permit him to make it. The present studies were written by historians with this outlook and objective, as part of a comprehensive history of World War II. They can be expected, therefore, to provide only partial or indirect answers to the questions of either decision makers or students of decision-making. Furthermore, because the studies included were selected with reference to their immediate availability for publication they cannot be expected to illuminate all of the factors that affected even the major decisions of World War II. Nevertheless, they throw much light on influences at work in the making of decisions under the stresses of the greatest of wars to date, and they have a value of suggestion that

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they would not have had if patterned to answer a predetermined set of questions.

The studies in this volume provide abundant illustration of ways in which staff work and prior consultation tend to narrow the range of choice at the higher levels of decision (Studies 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 12, 15, 16, 20, 21, and 23). This tendency, it will be noted, was by no means confined to American experience: it will be found as well in the decisions of the enemy and the British. At the national level, it was not only the staff system but the organization of government that reduced the range of final choices. The Japanese system of government was such that no one person could make a final decision. The British system gave greater authority to individuals, but committees had a more authoritative role than in the American system. That system, vesting the President with the authority of commander in chief of the armed forces, makes the conclusive decision the responsibility of an individual, as it was under the Nazi regime in Germany. In the cases of the American decision to beat Germany first and the Japanese decision for war (1 and 4), the choice was made only when the force of events rendered a final decision inescapable. In a number of important cases, as previously observed, the final decision was a collective act. In several of the cases where final responsibility fell upon an individual, the facts and recommendations produced by previous staff work had reduced the number of reasonable choices to a minimum. For example, in the case of General Marshall's momentous decision to set a 90-division limit on America's contribution to the ground combat forces of the Allies (15), the fact-finding and advice of experts whom he trusted left him small latitude for choice in making his initial decision, which was to halt activations at that limit in 1943. Only when he decided in 1944 to stick to that limitation against the judgment of the Secretary of War did he take a serious risk on his own responsibility.

All of the decisions referred to illustrate a characteristic of the staff system that gravely endangers the wisdom of the decisive choice. That system, it has been remarked, is shaped to eliminate, "at each level of consideration, . . . alternative courses of action, so that the man at the top has only to approve or disapprove-but not to weigh alternatives." 5 He is expertly briefed on these alternatives, but no brief can be an adequate substitute for experience as a footing for the play of intuition or wisdom, which is the commander's final contribution to the process of decision. "Government by brief may be

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dangerous, but generalship by brief is worse." But it is necessary and unavoidable. Technological advances, operating with revolutionary force on our whole civilization, have introduced into military forces, and the employment of military power, a variety and complexity with which no single mind, not even that of a military genius, can be expected to cope in arriving at an estimate of the situation. Only by elaborate staff processes can the data be winnowed and the issues compacted into manageable form. An intricate organization of staffs and committees has therefore become necessary to the management of big wars, as of big business and big government. But how can the commander be sure that he has within his grasp all the elements of intelligence that, if he were in direct touch with them, might vitally affect his judgment? His besetting problem is to keep alive his intuitive insight, which leaders in the past could nourish on a first-hand knowledge and experience of events. The reader will find in this book interesting illustrations of the way in which leaders in World War II tried to solve this problem.

When Mr. Truman decided to use the atomic bomb (23), he was faced with a "yes or no" choice, and cast his vote in favor of the majority opinion of his advisers, which was affirmative, but he did so after not only weighing the alternatives that they presented but also examining for himself the grounds for their preferences. Mr. Roosevelt habitually stirred up and explored alternatives for himself. He wanted to hear his advisers argue vigorously for various alternatives; encouraged controversy and even contentiousness among them, often at the expense of orderly administration; listened to many voices; then chose his course of action. His methods are illustrated in the present collection not only by the story of his decision in favor of invading North Africa (7) but by his insistence in 1943, against the strong urgings of his military and logistical advisers, on executing his pledge to support the British war economy with American merchant shipping (8). Having overruled his advisers, who believed that such support would wreck the deployment schedule to which their strategic plans were geared, Mr. Roosevelt brought into play other agencies of his war administration and directed his military staffs to recast their estimates and redouble their efforts to find a solution for their problems. In the payoff, both requirements-support of the British economy and support of all major planned operations-which had seemed to be mutually exclusive, were met.

General Marshall wanted his briefings brief, but he insisted on thorough and responsible staff judgments, got them through a remark-

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ably compact and effective organization, the Operations Division of the War Department's General Staff, his global command post in Washington,7 and, by personal conferences and correspondence with his commanders and other means, kept his judgment remarkably responsive to the intangibles of the world situation with which he had to cope. The reader will find interesting variations of this approach in studying the decisions of General MacArthur, General Eisenhower, General Clark, and General Bradley as described in this volume and elsewhere. He must be left to speculate as to the extent to which the commander's recognition of the problem, and his characteristic approach or variations of it, were attributable to training, temperament, and personality, or to the situation each was facing.

Mr. Roosevelt sounded for advice and used it in his own way. But this is not to say that the outcome of Mr. Roosevelt's decisions was not largely dependent on good staff work, both in analyzing the facts and carrying out his directions. The reader will find instructive evidence of this if he compares the cases cited above with the fumbling and delays that attended the execution of the President's Iceland decision in 1941 (3), under conditions of quasi mobilization when the War Department was not yet equipped and organized to handle emergencies. Even after the War Department and its General Staff had been reorganized in 1942, it was necessary, in order to convert the Persian Corridor into a major supply route to Russia, for the President to intervene to get the result which the Combined Chiefs of Staff had decided on as a strategic requirement. The study of this case (9) shows the length of time and the weight of authority that may be necessary to make a strategic decision effective amid the conflicting claims of a big war and with the ponderous overhead that it calls into being.

Hitler, like Roosevelt, refused to let the play of his judgment be bound by briefings. In two of his decisions described in this collection (his decision to occupy Norway and Denmark, and his decision on the defense of Italy-2 and 12), Hitler, after some uncertainty, made his own choice among the recommendations of his military experts. In the third and most fateful-his decision to stake the fate of his nation on the Ardennes counteroffensive in December 1944 (20)-he overruled all expert advice and substituted his own judgment. This he did time and again. The results lend no encouragement to the idea that a commander can afford to break away from the staff system and rely solely on an intuitive estimate of the situation.

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How to keep the tool of organization sensitive and effective as an instrument of judgment is only one of the problems of decision in war. Logistics or economic feasibility is another factor that weighed heavily on command decisions in World War II. It played its part in every decision here presented; it is especially emphasized or illustrated in Studies 7, 9, 15, and 18- Its importance as a factor in the President's decision to give the British war economy a priority claim on American merchant shipping in 1943 is obvious (8). Equally obvious was its effect in stopping the Allied forces' triumphant pursuit of the Germans in September 1944 and its influence on General Eisenhower's decision to follow a broad-front strategy in his advance to the Rhine (18 and 19) In Study 10, which is in effect a reinterpretation of the Cairo-Tehran decisions on strategy (and as such is to be compared with the views set forth in the study of the Anvil decision-16), the author is primarily concerned with the effect of a logistical factor-the availability of assault shipping in narrowing the range of strategic choices. It was an economic factor the claims of war industry and the conclusion of the experts regarding the manpower required to maintain the productive capacity of the American war economy-that made General Marshall's decision to stop activating divisions in 1943 all but inevitable; by the fall of 1944, when he made his decision that eighty-nine divisions would suffice to finish the Army's missions in the war, he was freer to weigh purely military considerations (15).

In view of the number of strategic decisions included in this book, one might expect to find the influence of the political factor on military decisions abundantly illustrated. Actually the instructiveness of these studies on that point is almost entirely negative, even when the designs were made by governments or chiefs of state. Political interests figured in the high-level debates on strategy, and prolonged them, as one can see in the studies of the decisions at Cairo-Tehran (10) and the decision to execute ANVIL (16). When a political authority, Mr. Roosevelt or Adolf Hitler, made a military decision, he undoubtedly had political considerations in mind and the authors point these out when the evidence shows that they were influential. But even m the case of Mr. Roosevelt they had a decisive influence only in one stance here presented the President's approval of the demand that American citizens of Japanese origin be evacuated from the west coast (5) and this, though a command decision and publicly justified on military grounds, was not a strictly military decision. In deciding to commit the American Joint Chiefs against their will to the invasion of North Africa in the fall of 1942, Mr. Roosevelt broke a deadlock between the responsible military chiefs of the United States and

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Great Britain, which made this a politic, if not a political decision, and he also had in mind the effect of timely offensive action on the morale of the American public, a political consideration. But he could, and did, invoke the sound military principle of seizing the earliest promising opportunity to pass to the offensive with decisive effect. However much debate and tension over strategic choices the political interests of the two principal Western Allies produced in World War II, their final decisions, and those of each of the principals, were firmly planted on military grounds, and none was reached until it made military sense in terms of their resolution to bring about the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan.

As far as the United States was concerned, military strategy, conceived in terms of this aim, became national policy for the duration of the war. Mr. Churchill more and more vigorously demurred, as in his open protest against General Eisenhower's decision to halt the forces of the Western Allies on the line of the Elbe (22). But as the war power of the United States increased and that of Britain declined, he found it the better part of political valor to go along with the Americans, convinced as he was that the integrity of the Anglo-American coalition was the paramount interest of his country and of the Western democracies. In short, the prevalence of military over political elements in the decisions comprised in this book is not the result of editorial selection but typical of World War II.

Many readers will find the decisions of field commanders of greater interest than the high-level decisions. While none of the field decisions in this book are below corps level, they deal with battle and with situations in which the military man can more easily imagine himself. They also focus more sharply on the individual, on his loneliness in taking a risk, and on the personal qualities with which he faced the act of decision. Even when the historian is denied the evidence necessary to say what these were, the reader can test his own personality and endowments against the demands of the situation with which a commander was faced, confident that the situation is portrayed accurately and as fully as it can be. Such an exercise can stimulate his imagination regarding the factors, single or in combination, with which war may one day confront him.

Would he have reacted with the promptness and resourcefulness that General MacArthur displayed when he found that his decision to meet the Japanese invasion of Luzon on the beaches had been based on a mistaken estimate of the capacity of the Philippine Army?

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(Study 6) Would he have had MacArthur's sense of the psychological effect of going to Los Negros in person to dramatize his decision ``whether to invade the Admiralties in force? (Study 11) If the reader had been in General Lucas' place at Anzio, when he found that the ,.1 Corps could land virtually unopposed, would he have seized the Opportunity that seemed to exist, though General Lucas could not be sure of it, and struck inland at once at the enemy's line of communications with the German forces in the Gustav Line to the south? (Study 13) Would a general of different personality and temperament have made General Clark's decision in June 1944 to put a loose construction on a direct order of his superior, send the VI Corps directly toward Rome, and confront General Alexander with an accomplished fact? (Study 14) If the reader had been General Bradley in August 1944 would he, in the absence of instructions from the Supreme Commander, have stopped the XV Corps at Argentan and sent it to the Seine, foregoing a fighting chance to close the Argentan-Falaise gap and trap the German forces repulsed at Mortain? (Study 17)

Such a use of history is a legitimate and profitable exercise, though it can never be conclusive. The historian can sometimes sketch with confidence a commander's persistent and dominant traits of character. Unfortunately, he can rarely say, and never be sure, how these operated in producing a given decision. He is bound to use with skepticism what a commander says or writes after the event about his motives, so quickly corrosive is the effect of hindsight, the compulsion to justify ourselves, and lapses of memory. Even when the historian has a diary that a commander kept at the time he cannot be sure that it tells him what he needs to know. But this is the most precious kind of evidence he can get. Fortunately in one case in the present collection (13) the author had it, in the diary that General Lucas kept at Anzio, confiding to it day by day his views and anxieties, and we are here permitted to share at least the feelings with which a commander made his estimate of the situation and a momentous decision.

The quest for the intangibles of personal motivation will continue to be fascinating, if only because of our insistent conviction that the qualities of an individual that affect his decision can never be reduced to a formula and that these qualities have a determining effect on the fate of humanity.