Leadership & Ethics

On the Psychology of Military Incompetence

By The Cove May 16, 2019


Dr Norman Dixon, MBE is the author of ‘On the Psychology of Military Incompetence’ a well known book which analyses military incompetence through numerous case studies and historical examples. The author argues that there are special reasons for studying cases of military ineptitude, including:

  • Military organisations may have a propensity for attracting a minority of individuals who might prove a menace at high levels of command.
  • The nature of the military serves to accentuate those very traits which may ultimately prove disastrous.
  • The public has some say as to who should make its political decisions. This control does not apply to generals. We may have governments we deserve - but we sometimes had military minds which we did not.
  • The decision pay-off is significant. A bad decision by a company Board of Directors may cost a great deal of money and depress a sizable population of shareholders, but military errors may cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

The first half of the book is concerned with case studies and examples of military ineptitude over a period of more than 100 years. The second half of the book is devoted to discussion and explanation on the social psychology of military organisations, and the psychopathology of individual commanders. Note: This is a free version of the book available online but the site is a little clunky and difficult to read.  For an easier version of the book, it is recommended that users consider purchasing a copy via a range of different providers, or alternatively, Defence users can contact the Defence Library Service to obtain access to the book.  




The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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