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 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 07:16 pm
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Texas Defender
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   While some commanders might end up being considered great simply because of who their opponents were and what mistakes they made, I can assure you that pure luck always plays a part in war. It is something that even the greatest military minds can have no control over.

   One of many historical examples of blind luck I would present would be the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It was incredibly bad luck for the Japanese that none of the three precious American aircraft carriers was in port when the attack took place. The loss of even one of them would have had a tremendous impact on the early stages of the Pacific War. There are many other examples in World War II and in other wars.

   In my Army career, I had a very extensive military education. But the most profound lesson about war and luck took place in the 1960s when I was a cadet doing summer training at Ft. Riley, KS.

   At that time during wargames, my platoon had set up the perfect ambush against some guys from the 25th infantry Division. We were in perfect position. Our setup was perfect. As their point man appeared, I heard a loud buzzing sound. A massive Kansas grasshopper flew into the back of the helmet of the man to my right and there was a : "clang." The "enemy" slipped away, leaving some of us to bash the grasshopper on the ground with our rifle butts. In a real situation, their lives would have been saved, and perhaps ours lost, because of a grasshopper.

  At that instant, it became clear to me that no matter how good you are, and no matter how good your plan is, that it can all be swept into the dumpster in an instant by factors that you cannot control. In all the years that followed, none of my distinguished professors could ever teach me as much as a mindless insect in Kansas did.

   While you can make lists of traits characteristic of great generals, I don't think that you can overlook: "luck" . Simply surviving long enough in your career to be at the right place and the right time to perhaps do the right thing has a lot to do with luck. At an earlier point in time, there was probably another officer who would have been just as good if he had not been unlucky in some way.

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