Illiterate military officers in the 20th century

Sep 2018
101
transitory
#1
I am looking for examples of formal militaries (not guerrilla groups or other paramilitaries) during the 20th century who included illiterate officers in their ranks. I know that in China during the 1920s, many warlord soldiers and officers could not read or write. In fact, one of the most successful warlords of the period (Zhang Zuolin) was an illiterate ex-bandit.

Also I have heard that, in the very early years of the Manchukuo military, some officers brought over from the northern Chinese army were illiterate, and the Manchukuo army had secretaries to handle writing for them until literate replacements could be brought in.

Does anyone know of other examples?
 
Jul 2016
8,959
USA
#4
Someone would have to be hard up to promote an illiterate to any officer position, let alone senior. It speaks more negatively about an individual and especially the organization that promoted them than positive.
 
Sep 2018
101
transitory
#5
I'm not looking to discuss whether an illiterate would make a capable officer or not. If I can find stats about literacy rates among 1920s Chinese army officers, I was hoping maybe someone here would have information on other militaries from similarly less-developed countries...
 
Oct 2017
112
United States
#6
^ Well that’s probably why it’s going to be difficult to find examples. Literacy is such a basic thing to know for not just formal military officers, but for most accomplished jobs for that matter. It’s not very hard to learn to read & write is it, even if very basic or vulgar? You would expect that even when illiterate people were favored enough to be chosen as officers, the nature of their role & job would have demanded them to eventually become literate? Nevertheless as you pointed out, I guess illiterate officers are possible, probably towards the lower ranks. How to find the data though?
 
Jul 2016
8,959
USA
#7
Look for any country in the midst of a revolution/peasant's revolt, fighting largely against established and educated classes inside their own country, or afterwards having already murdered or purged them all. So Soviet Union, China and the PRC, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, various African and Central and South American nations, probably some in the Middle East and SW Asia like Afghanistan.

In conflicts those nations were involved in they were looking for political reliable ideologues that were from the right background (generally not from the educated upper class), but whom also showed some promise "understanding" basic concepts of warfare as leaders in largely unconventional and disorganized warfare. Since they rarely have secure supply lines or reliant on mass production, logistics, etc, they could get away with having ignorance on the greater subjects of warfare. Also, since many were making up new forms of unconventional warfare, they could play on their ignorance to use innovation to create new forms (many of which didn't work well). As time went on, the illiterates either made themselves literate or more usually either promoted beyond their abilities (Peter Principle) to fail miserably (at which point they were fired, or killed), or else doing the job poorly but not poor enough to die or get fired while serving in armies that typically suffered horrific casualties caused by incompetence at all levels top to bottom, coupled with an ideology that the ends justify the means.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,039
#10
I don't know specifically about illiterate red army commanders. However, in the Russian Civil War, many of the Red officers were Czarist officers who sided with the Reds or remained with the existing government, as the Whites were rebels. There were also many Red officers who were educated or somewhat educated middle class radicals. I know many did not have university degrees. It is possible some were poorly educated.

There weren't that many illiterate people generally in the 20th century, except in some 3rd world countries. In many countries, enlisted men can be promoted to officers. The the US, part of the process is to pass some test. I would imagine having some education was generally a requirement for be promoted to an officer.
 
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