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How desirable is decentralization in a military environment?

(- 5) Decentralization view: We see interesting examples of military decentralization even in authoritarian societies. For example, Hitler's Wehrmacht encouraged field commanders to disobey orders at lower levels if it was required to fulfill the overall mission in fluid battlefield situations. Famous high-level commanders such as Erwin Rommel often rode close to the front lines of their units to have a quicker reaction time and a more realistic assessment as situations unfolded. Combat is about realistic problem-solving on a local level no different than problem solving in other types of situations. A leader must always remain open to absorbing feedback and ideas from the lower ranks. Subordinates must have the freedom to show initiative to exploit situations as they unfold. Furthermore, you cannot guard against the commission of war crimes and keep incompetent senior commanders in check without a capacity for lower level complaints to be effective. Ideally, a military force will try to decentralize as much as possible without losing its ability to effectively function as an organization. Some of the most effective units in military history such as Boer Kommando and American pioneer-ranger units have succeeded due to individual initiative and decentralized command. Throughout history, military units are often over-regimented more to keep them under control despite corrupt or incompetent political leadership rather than to handle military necessity.
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(+5) Centralization view: Calling for decentralization in a military environment is both impractical and unwise. There is an old saying that councils of war do not attack To defeat an enemy, you need decisiveness and unity of command. You need to move and react faster than him. Democratic processes are just too slow. You need to operate in secrecy, and parliamentary debate is too open. You have a lot of very scared people who have to work effectively together, and for this you need a very clear chain of command and forceful, confident leadership. Without strong discipline, soldiers get lazy or start doing stupid things. Too many of them would get out of combat and go home to their sweethearts if you loosen discipline. The art of military leadership involves recognizing that most lower level enlisted personnel tend to act like children. In the real world, you often have to guide and baby sit them as such. However, if you make it obvious that this is what you really think about them, you will insult their manhood and they will hate your guts. Therefore, you must really be an autocrat without making it too obvious. Lastly, if every soldier felt that he could be his own lawyer and interpret rules on his own, you would have chaos. Making policy is what the top leadership gets paid to do. Only Congress and the President should decide what constitutes a just war or a war crime. We can never afford having soldiers second guess their political leaders. The soldiers who do the best are trained in the most severe disciplinary school, and must learn to obey orders without hesitation.

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Flag carried by the 3rd Maryland Regiment at the Battle of Cowpens, S. Carolina, 1781

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