Prudence, War and Civil-Military Relations

By Dubik, James M. | Army, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Prudence, War and Civil-Military Relations


Dubik, James M., Army


Prudence gets a bum rap in contemporary society. Too bad, because the classic virtue of prudence denotes one of the most essential and most difficult aspects of the military profession. Prudence has to do with exercising sound judgment, being able to assess the facts of a specific situation and choose the best course of action to follow. A prudent choice avoids both the extreme of being brash - taking too much risk - and of being overly cautious - avoiding any risk. Properly understood, prudence lies at the very heart of our profession.

Some may find any application of prudence in the military profession oxymoronic. After all, on the battlefield, the imprudent is a daily routine. We award Presidential Unit Citations and individual medals for valor for doing what many would consider brash. On the anniversary of D-Day, for example, we still honor paratroopers for jumping behind enemy lines, knowing that at best they would be surrounded as they fought to seize and retain objectives assigned to them. We still visit Pointe du Hoc, France, where Rangers climbed cliffs in the face of withering fire, and we still walk the beaches in silent tribute to those who waded ashore to directly assault the heavily fortified enemy. Add to these examples those of any other war or any other service, and one could easily conclude that a discussion of prudence in our profession is out of place.

Prudence does, however, have a place at the military table; our vocabulary confirms it. "Prudent risks" are acceptable, and we seek leaders who can identify and take them, for they are necessary to win wars. "Gambles" are not, for they represent excessive risk that puts both lives and mission accomplishment in unnecessary danger; leaders do not gamble with lives or missions. Chapter 13, "Planning Overlord," of GEN Dwight D. Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe covers the multiple, extended conversations and arguments among Eisenhower and his senior leaders focused on the risks inherent in invasion - command and control, lines of operations, tactical innovations, air and naval operations, logistical preparation, timing of decisions and so on - and the degree to which they might be mitigated.

Eisenhower's account demonstrates a historical verity: Prudence is - or should be - an essential aspect of a war leader's conscience. One can see it most clearly by comparing commanders. In the Civil War, GEN George B. McClellan was often an overly cautious leader, missing opportunities that the battlefield presented to him; GEN Ulysses S. Grant is more widely seen as an aggressive, risk-taking commander, although some say overly aggressive at times. In World War II, British Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery was usually more cautious (except perhaps in the Arnhem campaign), whereas GEN George S. Patton is recognized as an aggressive risk taker, again, sometimes overly so, according to some. In the Korean War, GEN Douglas MacArthur's Inchon operation is usually understood as an example of bold but acceptable risk; his drive to the YaIu River, on the other hand, many see as imprudent.

Identifying the proper place between the extremes of brash gamble and overly cautious inaction depends upon the specifics of each case. Sometimes the prudent action will lean more toward the brash; other times, more toward the cautious. A prudent judgment is more art than science. Hence, a broad understanding of history, an analytic mind that can discern the relevant facts of a particular case, a synthetic mind that can see coherence amid the fog of ambiguity, the ability to listen to the experiences and judgments of others and allow a decision to emerge from an extended discourse - all are essential war leadership traits.

War leadership extends beyond the military profession. Identifying the prudent course in war also requires an extended civil-military discourse, at least at the operational and strategic levels. Major campaigns are not solely military decisions, for they require significant commitment of national, and sometimes multinational, resources. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Prudence, War and Civil-Military Relations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.