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Larrabee, Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War

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Context: Larrabee served in World War II as an intelligence specialist and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Thesis: This book is concerned with FDR as a war leader and with the subordinates through whom he exercised command. It describes FDR and his major subordinates: backgrounds, characteristics, and relation to the overall conduct of the war. It also focuses on their relationships to each other and that impact on the war itself.

Argument: Through exploring the personal relationships with different subordinates, the author attempts to highlight FDR’s leadership in war. The emphasis throughout is on the relationships, direct and indirect, these officers had with the president.

  • FDR’s Characteristics (New Deal, people in work and create source of hope with gov money)
    • Uniquely ready to exercise the constitutional power of Commander and Chief in a world war
    • Kept a close control over political and military power. Was Sec of Navy in 31, gave unique insight
    • Was willing to act against the advice of military leaders when appropriate
    • He trusted his subordinates but checked their actions and decisions
    • Fostered a shared sense of duty among his subordinates and the nation
    • Set up a working relationship with his subordinates that encouraged conflicting opinions
    • Was a realist and believed that the US should wait to take action until fully ready – strategic patience
  • Marshall’s Characteristics (Army Chief of Staff)
    • Was held in highest esteem by FDR – fostered his trust and respect
    • Boldly disagree with FDR when needed – stood up for what was right even if it meant career harm.
    • He sought subordinates that would act independently
    • Produces a substantial Army – well-trained, equipped, and massive
    • He was a great liaison to the press and Congress – this characteristic convinced FDR of his need to keep Marshall in DC instead of Europe – Marshall accepted this graciously
  • King’s Characteristics (CINC, US Fleet)
    • Had a brilliant military mind. (Opposed convoys, learn it effectiveness slower than GB).
    • Was opinionated and not afraid to stand up to FDR – fully supported his ultimate decisions
    • Harsh to those that didn’t live up to his standards – kind and helpful to those who did
    • Demanded recent operations experience from his staff and rotated people appropriately
    • Understood and executed FDR different strategies in the Pacific and Europe
  • Arnold’s Characteristics (Commanding General US Army Air Forces)
    • Liked independent action and acted independently himself – willing to take chances
    • Benefited from FDR’s belief in the necessity of airpower
    • Hired subordinates that could translated his idealist views into reality – fashioned an Air Force from practically nothing. An organization builder.
    • Had an open mind and sought technological solutions
  • Eisenhower’s Characteristics (Supreme Commander in Europe)
    • Cultivated relationships with various people and learned from them – listened to his troops – coordinated Allies to work together
    • Balanced a political and a military view of the world
    • Demanded confidence and optimism from those around him
    • Was willing to stand up to Marshall, FDR, and Churchill when needed

Implications for Strategy:'

  • Great people cannot do everything alone. Instead, they must build strong relationships, chose and empower outstanding subordinates, invite diversity and dissenting opinions, and maintain control.
  • Individuals matter, but relationships are even more important.
  • Organizational behavior and governmental politics is very intermixed, FRD understood this.


Sugar’s tips on Larrabee:

This book perhaps as much about strategy as it is about commanders, and makes some great points of history that are usually overlooked as well (i.e. the decision to embargo oil coming after the Japanese had already made the decision to “go south”, not influencing them to do so as is commonly inferred). Some great points for us from this book:

Not only must you try to come up with a strategy that affects the enemy and their decision making apparatus, but you also must be able to come up with ones that you can use to influence your own to move in the directions you want to go. This book is about a commander in chief who understood almost perfectly how the “organizational behavior” and governmental politics” influence the actions of large organizations like the US government or a multilateral coalition (we’ll see those models soon in Essence of Decision - one of my personal faves), and chose the right people for the key jobs considering both their competences and personalities. Who better than the apolitical Marshall (who refused to even vote on principal, and wore business suits when addressing Congress) to mediate between the various powerful personalities involved? Who besides Arnold, with his extensive prewar ties to American industry (probably illegal today) could have engineered the massive production of aircraft that was eventually required? The list goes on…

Some gems from this one:

“The demands of war impose their own momentum on those who enter it”. P 6. Clausewitz would definitely agree…

“To speak of Roosevelt’s lieutenants is to speak of the continuum that links high strategy to the low, bloody business of carrying it out” p 6 This is why we’re reading this.

“Strategy includes working out the consequences” p 7. This is risk, the most important thing we need to caveat any proposed strategy with, and one that was apparently lacking in 2003 in the levels of decision where it counted.

“We failed to see” (Marshall)” that the leader of a democracy has to keep the people entertained” p 9. Perhaps one of the most important thing a president can do in order to ensure the “generous energies of the people are liberated” is to inspire confidence and give the assurance of progress, which may at times override more local practical considerations (i.e. the relative importance of seizing North Africa) to ensure support for the larger effort (continuing American support for the European effort). Never underestimate the power of multiple, small victories, and in the case of North Africa (and my Starbucks gig last Saturday), “mistakes are golden” if you learn from them before the big show…

New definition for Strategy: “The Reason Why” pg 8 – Second level of the definition - People need a purpose to fight and support those who do. This usually means an oversimplified bumper sticker to wrap it in which can sometimes set your agenda and strategy for you unless it is checked (i.e. unconditional surrender, War against Terror, Everyday Low Prices, etc…). If presented properly, it can mobilize disparate elements of a multilayered bureaucracy – and popular sentiment – to move in the same direction. It’ll be our job to help craft these messages for our bosses in the future.

Great analysis of the strategies of all of the major powers : we tend to miss the full historical contexts that the decision makers were dealing with (i.e. pro British sentiment being equated with anti-American ism by a significant amount of the population that felt the US had been duped into WWI). This book is a great synthesis of historical fact and political analysis.

Here’s one for the realists and the Walzer discussions on Tues: “For all the atrocities the Axis perpetrated against civilians, and they were many, it was the peace loving Anglo Americans – once their blood lust was up- who proved to be utterly implacable in dealing destruction and death to the homes, wives, and children of the men they faced in battle”. P 10. Gulp!

“Speak truth to power” p 121. Marshall in four words, and our aspiration as SAASS grads.

Great discussion on the roles of staff officers - our bosses may need to put us in some tough roles at times (read about the “hatchet men” on p 104) to maintain their ability to stay above the fray (who’s ready to be an Ops O/ Strat division deputy?).

Biggest takeaway – these “giants” were people too. But they had prepared well before the test came, and were ready when it counted…

Cheers,

Sugar

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