- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wrote in my book The Generals a lot about the need to remove underperforming generals. After writing it, I continued my research and came to believe that high-performing organizations in dangerous environments tend to remove roughly 10 percent of their subordinate leaders every year.
In the book I had some accounts by generals of being fired, or of firing someone. But I can’t recall a single instance of someone witnessing the act. So I was interested to read in Churchill: Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran that Moran, Churchill’s doctor during the war, saw this happen during World War II. One morning in August 1942 Moran was sitting under a tree on the lawn of the British Embassy, reading a book and watching two hoopoe birds. He saw General Alan Brooke, the chief of the imperial general staff (that is, the top officer in the British military), take a seat under another tree with General Auchinleck, then the beleaguered British commander for the Middle East.
Moran wrote that,
I could not hear what the C.I.G.S. was saying, nor could I see the expression on Auchinleck’s face, but I did not need any help to follow what was happening. Auchinleck sat with his forearms resting on his thighs, his hands hanging down between his knees, his head drooping forward like a flower on a broken stalk. His long, lean limbs were relaxed; the whole attitude expressed grief: the man was completely undone.