Today’s Military Lacks True Leaders, Says Prize-Winning Author

September 25, 2014 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

On September 11, military affairs reporter Thomas E. Ricks visited Elmhurst College to present a lecture, Why We Don’t Win Wars Any More.

He addressed the topic by discussing the leadership qualities of World War II generals George C. Marshall and George S. Patton, compared with those of generals today.

He said that generals like Marshall had the freedom to succeed or fail, as well as to speak truth to power. But while success was rewarded, failure was unacceptable and the price was the general’s job.

By contrast, today’s generals are “a bunch of organization men,” with a sense of entitlement and a lack of mental discipline. What the military needs is leaders who are “comfortable with chaos, who are adaptable and can thrive in ambiguity.”

For two tumultuous decades, Ricks covered military conflicts and national security issues for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, in the process winning the Pulitzer Prize. He is the author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq and numerous other books and articles on defense topics.

Ricks wrote Fiasco (2006) after serving five gritty tours in Iraq as a reporter. He came away stunned, calling it “the worst war plan in American history.” Fiasco is based not only on Ricks’s own experiences in the region but also on thousands of documents and hundreds of interviews.

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, Fiasco has been described as the tipping point in the national debate around the Iraq war. “We are enmeshed in the Middle East as never before in our nation’s history and cannot wash our hands of Iraq,” he says.

Ricks’s most recent book is The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today (2012).

Why We Don’t Win Wars Any More was part of the Rudolf G. Schade lecture series at Elmhurst College, and was sponsored in part by BMO Harris Bank.

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