Best Defense

Churchill: Forgive officers who make mistakes while being aggressive, but clobber those who balk at fighting

Churchill fired many generals, but there was one area in which he was inclined to forgive.

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Best Defense is in summer reruns. This item originally appeared on June 15, 2015.

Churchill fired many generals, but there was one area in which he was inclined to forgive.

“It was one of my rules,” he wrote in Their Finest Hour, “that errors towards the enemy must be lightly judged. They were quite right to try, if with their knowledge on the spot they thought they could carry the matter through.”

In the appendices to the book, which is the second volume of his World War II memoirs, he includes a memo he wrote on 21 October 1940, that, “any error towards the enemy and any evidence of a sincere desire to engage must always be generously judged.”

On the other hand, he was harsh with generals he thought were afraid to take risks.

He also advised demolishing officers he considered obstacles to waging war. “The way to deal with this is to make signal examples of one or two. When this becomes known you get a better service afterwards.”

I wonder what made Putin fire 20 generals recently. If anything, this is a bad sign that he is paying attention to his military.

Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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