Why don't we see a military genius of the likes of Napoleon, Caesar, or Alexander nowadays anymore?

Nov 2014
335
ph
#1
I mean if you look at the US military, you see a lot of competent generals, but no one who is an unmistakable genius who is capable of changing the entire paradigm of warfare, I mean Schwarzkopf may be in that category, but he defeated Arabs rather than a near peer army, so it is really hard to say if he was at Alexander or Napoleon's level. Maybe the advent of military academies standardized military science so much that in addition to producing more competent officers compared to the times of Caesar, it also hindered creativity, or the decades long standardized promotion system where you do not have 25 year olds commanding entire armies because he is of noble blood means that the true potential geniuses leave the armed service in favor of places like Silicon Valley, while also having the upside of not having total morons command armies?
 
Aug 2014
4,213
Australia
#2
In the past if you wanted wealth and/or status, you entered the military. Even the wealthiest and most influential families pushed their kids to be in the military. These days, geniuses and the wealthy don't join the military. Wealthy families use all of their influence to keep their kids OUT of the military. The only real exception is royalty. There are still intelligent and highly educated warriors, but they aren't geniuses. Anyone who is innovative or thinks outside of the box will have trouble advancing through the ranks far enough to have an impact.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2015
735
Virginia
#3
It's because warfare has become so big and complex in terms of manpower, equipment, distance, communications et al that large (not to say huge) staffs are required to conduct it. Information, plans, options and orders ooze up thru staffs for the ok of the commanding officer. No one man, not even Napoleon, could effectively coordinate and command armies of 2 or 300,000 let alone millions.
Also the pace of modern warfare requires vital decisions be made by low level commanders that can effect the entire battle. This means that a common "doctrine" has to be developed by staff schools etc and taught to officers and non-coms.
It also probably has to to do with what Clemenceau said..."war is too important to be left to the generals." The more communications improve, the more governments can influence the military commanders.
 
Mar 2018
655
UK
#4
I'm not sure that we have less great generals actually. I think its just as likely that we have fewer terrible generals. The professionalisation of the military, and the officer officer class in particular, centralised administration and military academies are probably the main cause of all of this. This causes the range of abilities of generals to bunch towards the top end. As we can only really judge the relative skill of generals with their contemporaries, they all look average.

But really, what does it even mean to say that Napoleon is a better general than Mad Dog Mattis? How is that a thing that can be judged (empirically or otherwise)?
 
Likes: Edratman
Nov 2014
335
ph
#5
I'm not sure that we have less great generals actually. I think its just as likely that we have fewer terrible generals. The professionalisation of the military, and the officer officer class in particular, centralised administration and military academies are probably the main cause of all of this. This causes the range of abilities of generals to bunch towards the top end. As we can only really judge the relative skill of generals with their contemporaries, they all look average.

But really, what does it even mean to say that Napoleon is a better general than Mad Dog Mattis? How is that a thing that can be judged (empirically or otherwise)?
When Mattis is in command of 3 barely alive armoured divisions vs 10 Russian armoured divisions trying to transit the Fulda Gap?
 
Mar 2018
655
UK
#6
When Mattis is in command of 3 barely alive armoured divisions vs 10 Russian armoured divisions trying to transit the Fulda Gap?
Which will probably never happen? And even if it did, no two battles are ever the same (especially 200 years apart where every single piece of equipment is utterly different) and the opponent is different, so deciding if one had a harder job than the other or performs better is somewhere between impossible and meaningless.
 
Feb 2016
4,255
Japan
#8
We have less wars.
We have shorter more tech based wars.
The west at least does not want Empires being built and those guys only really stand out when conquering.

Fact is we COULD have had several commanders of talent and skill equal to the “greats” but they don’t stand out... their tech advantage was so big that their skill didn’t shine, or as proffesional soldiers in the service of their state they’d been reigned in and full potential not realised.
 
Jul 2009
9,560
#9
Great generals like Napoleon, Caesar and Alexander (Gustav Adolf; Frederick the Great) were not only generals but were kings and emperors. They were the commanders of their armies.

Modern generals, since the later 19th century, have been military technocrats. In almost every instance they have been under civilian control. In theory, the Second Reich was commanded by the Kaiser, but he wasn't a soldier and essentially had lost control of the army a decade before the beginning of WW I. The Great General Staff was virtually running the country and they were mostly military technocrats.

EDIT: The Franco-Prussian War can be viewed as the last major instance in Europe where monarchs controlled their armies. Napoleon III and King William were both soldiers of varying degrees, but that war was also the beginning of a process of turning armies over to technocrats, like von Moltke and von Roon, who AFAIK never held any important field commands. (I can not see Czar Nicholas II as any kind of military commander even if he was an autocrat. Stavka was the source of command in the Russian army).

After WW I, even Nazi Germany and the USSR were - like most - states whose military forces were under civilian control (not sure how to factor in China, and Japan WAS being run by the army - disastrously).

Subsequent to Napoleon, there has been little room at the top for warriors. Many senior generals and admirals in the US armed forced now hold PhDs. Most are 1/3 officer and 2/3 politician. They are competent, but in most cases are technocrats and not "men of action."
 
Last edited:
Mar 2019
512
Kansas
#10
I mean if you look at the US military, you see a lot of competent generals, but no one who is an unmistakable genius who is capable of changing the entire paradigm of warfare, I mean Schwarzkopf may be in that category, but he defeated Arabs rather than a near peer army, so it is really hard to say if he was at Alexander or Napoleon's level.
Because the process has changed so much. Modern commanders have to answer to their political masters. Back in the day, they were the political masters.
 

Similar History Discussions