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Military Officers should NOT lead from The Front

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/9/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,434 times Debate No: 69610
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
Votes (1)




I'd like to thank sengejuri for accepting this debate. Looking forward to another bloodbath as usual. Should you wish to adjust any of these rules, please message me.
Military officers (ranked O-1 to O-10) should NOT lead troops from the front. Con must prove at least one modern command & control concept or combat necessity that wisely argues for military officers to be present with units actively engaged on the front lines. Victory goes to the most convincing arguments.

Front - directly in the line of fire; the foremost line or part of an armed force; the furthest position that an army has reached and where the enemy is or may be engaged.

Synonyms: front line, firing line, vanguard, trenches.

Comment for acceptance.

3)Counter-Arguments & Conclusions


Always a pleasure to meet Jingle_Bombs on the field of debate battle. Good luck!
Debate Round No. 1


Command, staff, and decision making should be done far away from the battlefield in secured locations.

I think this point will be pretty self explanatory due to the advent of modern weapons. But there is no tactical or logistical advantage to be had for officers -in a leadership position- to ever be placing themselves, their staff, or headquarters directly in the line of fire; and the planning and administrative upkeep needed to run a military campaign or a sizable ground force (platoon size on up) should always be done back from behind the lines and at a safe distance. I realize the parameters of this debate will extend to all officers (many of whom are not in command positions) and different types of AOs, but I'd like to make my position on the role of the battlefield commander perfectly clear; the officer in charge cannot afford to risk directly exposing himself on the battlefield due to the high probability of being killed, captured, surrounded, or separated from the whole of his forces. Killing or removing the commander from the command & control equation will almost certainly result in a form of strategic paralysis -at any level- and cause a seismic setback to any ongoing operation.

The education, training, and background of officers is generally better suited for staff work than combat.

Leading people (regardless of organization) requires interpersonal skills, but in combat, it also requires a heroic temperament, physical fitness, and a hint of coup d'œil (split-second intuition). The administrative skills and training of military officers in this case, are generally not superior to that of the enlisted & NCO corps who will have specialized in teamwork and handling weapons; where the most outstanding differential in the early background & training between an officer and an enlisted member of the military upon swearing in -for combat and leadership necessities only- is a rather bland college degree. Both officers and enlistees receive their share of combat proficiency beginning with weapons familzation and fitness training at basic and OCS, but at the following and more advanced stages of individual/specialist level training, combat proficiency begins to decline for the officer as they slowly begin to assume more career related training and duties which (more often that not) does not involve the officer fighting or leading soldiers on the front lines at all. Some advanced career training for an officer may include: pilot, logistics, intelligence, quartermaster, civil affairs, Chaplin, nurse, and JAG. These specializations of course, do not demand frontline combat or people skills and eventually lead to an administrative type career. In contrast, an enlisted NCO who has made the rank of sergeant (and is of the same age of a newly commissioned officer) will most likely have undergone any number of weapons & leadership courses (ranger, airborne, special forces, etc) and will have spent the majority of his "time in college" in the field, on deployment, and most importantly, leading people.

Even with a specialization in Operations (infantry, artillery, armour) a junior officer has mostly been trained and charged to provide communications, organizational direction, and administrative support for up to 25 to 75 soldiers (platoon leader level). The actual maneuvering of fire teams and tactical placement of different units on the battlefield is mostly going to be handled through Team Leaders, Squad Leaders, and the Platoon's First Sergeant - each of whom are enlisted and are vastly more experienced in combat & arms and working with groups than a fresh out of college lieutenant. Upon promotion however, an Army captain may lead up to 500 people (company and small battalion size); which when given the large number of people begins to prove another point; a military officer is a systems leader (much like a CEO or a chief executive) who must operate through origination channels and written orders in order to reach that number of people - an officer is NOT the type of "interpersonal leader" who will build relationships and inspire others with his presence. Its mathematically impossible to do so, though the latter skills are much better suited for frontline combat.

Warrant Officers should handle weapon systems and be the military's sole weapon specialists.

Many military officers who don't lead or command but instead operate a type of weapons system (such as helicopter and fixed wing pilots) do find themselves fighting close to the frontlines. However I argue that this combat role could be better handled through warrant officers. Warrant officers are trained and enlisted combat tech specialists who will spend much of their whole career operating and perfecting their chosen weapon system. Requiring a college degree and officer training to fly a Blackhawk is inefficient and shown be done away with.

Command & Control is effective without having officers on the frontlines to micromanage.

Command & Control works by planning, preparing, and executing a mission where the directional flow of information between a commanding officer and subordinate units is usually handled -in broad terms- through the generals staff model. (1)(2) According to this model of organizational leadership, each area of importance to a mission (operations, logistics, intelligence, training etc) is assigned a corresponding staff member who will report directly to the officer in charge, but under each staff member is a growing sequence of mid level managers/officers who will oversee shrinking sizes of men and responsibilities - from corps all the way down to the company level. This chain of command works best when a commander at the top issues his intent and subordinates use their own initiative to accomplish mission objectives. Commanders and staff members are aided through this process of issuing orders and managing relevant information over a situation through digital interfaces and network systems. One of the most widely used systems in the US Army is the Army Battle Command System (ABCS) - which provides an automated view of all friendly force activity and the latest sitrep reports (3). Command & Control however does not work when officers and staff members attempt to micromanage activities on the frontlines, or neglect in their primary task of managing, relaying, and translating mostly digital information from the top down and vice versa. The fog of war does not allow the commander to leave his headquarters and systems hub. Military officers, given the size of their command and the technological aspects of command & control, are systems leaders and NOT people/combat leaders. They have an incredibly vital and specialized job to do which does not involve being present on the frontlines.



I admit that not all officers should lead from the front. High ranking generals and staff officers are certainly more effective when managing things from the rear. However, Pro said I only have to show one instance where front line leadership is preferred. I believe I can do that and then some.

There are numerous reasons why officers should lead from the front. These include the value of personally scoping enemy positions, surveying the battlefield, measuring troop morale, inspecting defensive positions, interacting with local civilian leaders (like village elders), etc...

However, the most important reason is inspiration. The presence and personal example of a leader in battle is immensely powerful. Soldiers are not robots who automatically execute every order immediately. They are human beings filled with emotions, fears, and passions. Military officers exist to channel these emotions in productive ways, and they can only do that through personal example. Consider the following scenario: You are a squad leader in charge of 8 other infantry soldiers. You're patrolling through the mud in freezing weather and come under fire from a machine gun bunker. Your squad takes cover and awaits orders from headquarters. Option 1: a lieutenant safely back at HQ in a heated tent orders you to charge the bunker over the radio. Option 2: A lieutenant who is with you in the mud, facing the same enemy fire, starts sprinting toward the bunker and yells "follow me!" Both officers order the same course of action - but who would you be more inclined to obey? Who would you rather follow into battle? Why?

The answer lies in the human need to feel cared for. Officers are drilled to "never ask of a Soldier anything you're unwilling to do yourself." The reason this is so important is because Soldiers perform better for someone who actually cares about them, and the best way to demonstrate that care is to be at the front with them. Being part of a small unit like a platoon or company is like being part of a team - and one of the best ways to build team cohesion is through shared suffering.

The power of this concept is as old as time, and the list of historical examples is almost endless. Caesar famously grabbed a shield and took his place in the front rank to prevent a route "having therefore snatched a shield from one of the soldiers in the rear . . . he advanced to the front of the line. . . On his arrival, as hope was brought to the soldiers and their courage restored, whilst every one for his own part, in the sight of his general, desired to exert his utmost energy." [1] George Washington stopped a fleeing regiment at Princeton by riding into the line of fire, "hat in hand," and became legendary for having horses shot from under him yet remaining unharmed. [2] The examples could go on and on...

A leader, by definition, is someone whom others follow, and a leader must be physically in front of a formation in order to say "follow me!"


Debate Round No. 2


There are numerous reasons why officers should lead from the front. These include the value of personally scoping enemy positions, surveying the battlefield,

A larger and more detailed view of the battlefield is better accomplished through ISR, SIGNIT intelligence, JSTARs, and RSTA combat units. Placing the commander on the frontline to personally survey a tiny section of the field removes him from his communications hub and the strategic view of the larger theatre wars taking place. Officers who are not commanders, would also find more productive use of their time organizing, translating, and submitting data and information coming in hot from the battlefield. The new maxim of modern conflict is no longer a lack of information (fog of war), but too much information from technology and information systems, many of which I've already mentioned in both rounds of this debate. An officer's time therefore, is better spent as an information expert and systems leader.

measuring troop morale,

Would not be useful information to the commander and many officers due to the bureaucratic problems of "professional distance," "group-think," and leading units as large as a 1,000 men. (No opportunity to get to know & understand the individual among the group). This task then is better left to NCOs and Platoon level sergeants.

inspecting defensive positions, interacting with local civilian leaders (like village elders), etc...

The first is better accomplished with more all-encompassing ISR, as the value of defensive positions on the frontlines must be weighed against a picture of the enemy's own position and capabilities.

You may have a point on interacting with village elders (counter-insurgency is the doctrine exception to everything). However, we can believe placing an officer among a village for COIN ops is an unnecessary risk due to the fact the enlisted corps already has many language and culture experts (such as green berets), and due to the fact that they have the instituional luxury to "live" among the people; whereas an officer must return to headquarters.

However, the most important reason is inspiration. -

In a firefight; (from my own interviews with veterans) "inspiration," morale, patriotism, and even "reasons to serve," go out the window extremely fast in favor of survival instincts and army training. I agree that morale is extremely important to deployment, but in a surreal frontline combat setting, the most important thing an officer can do is direct & control the ensuing chaos; which is accomplished through command & control, disceminating relevant information, and leading troops from behind.

The presence and personal example of a leader in battle is immensely powerful.

I believe this is a true statement, but this leadership role does belong to officers who cannot afford to risk their lives.

Soldiers are not robots who automatically execute every order immediately.

I believe they will when the bullets start flying.

Military officers exist to channel these emotions in productive ways, and they can only do that through personal example.

Military officers exist as subject-matter experts whose job is to bring order to battlefield chaos through command & control and information-reading expertise. I believe that is (or should be) there primary role.

You are a squad leader in charge of 8 other infantry soldiers.

Are squad leaders typically enlisted? If so, then we can argue that this leadership position is better left to them.

Both officers order the same course of action - but who would you be more inclined to obey? Who would you rather follow into battle? Why?

I would obey the one who could better guarantee victory and my own chances of survival. Comprehensive problem-solving and objective plan forming however, often involves the officer to act and think in a modest detached way. This is more appealing to me then appeals to bravado and harsh acts of heroism.

The answer lies in the human need to feel cared for.

My opinion is rooted in the rational need to win.

One of the best ways to build team cohesion is through shared suffering.

Which leads to the leadership problems of "group think," skewed decision making, and emotional reasoning. Command & control is best accomplished through clam, cool, and detached reasoning; diverse/unbias feedback, and clarity of thought.

Julius Caesar, George Washington...

If a 4-star general -and god-forbid the Commander in Chief- attempted to ride into battle on-top of a horse like Washington and Caesar, he would almost certainly be killed due to the advent of powerful long-range precision weaponry. Leading from the front is now the most idiotic command decision a commander can possibly do.

The power of this concept is as old as time,

No longer applies due to technology. Since gunpowder, the commander went from leading from in front of the line to behind it. Since artillery and rocketry, the commander went from leading from behind the line to an underground bunker, Since ballistic missiles and ICBMs, the commander went from hiding in an underground bunker to a secret and undisclosed location (possibly even airborne location). The modern army officer now, can no longer afford to take this risk of exposing himself on the field of battle, and the time worn adage of "leading by example" no longer applies to modern combat and is utterly obsolete.

I have proven that combat necessity no longer dictates that military officers lead people from the front. If you agree with me, please vote Pro.

Special thanks to Con for another good discussion.


Pro makes many interesting (although flawed) arguments. I could write a book in response to each one, but I'll do my best to stay concise.

Let's start with what an officer actually does. Pro seems to think officers are hyper-cerebral grand strategists who move units on maps like chess pieces. While this may be true at the 4-star general level, the vast majority of the officer corps consists of small unit leaders like lieutenants (LT's) and captains (CPT's). At this level, LEADERSHIP is the officer's role - not emotionless command, control, and reporting. US Army FM 6-22 defines leadership as "the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. [1]" It's messy, stressful, and hard, and to do it right you have to be on the ground.

I will proceed by addressing my opponent's major points:

1. Modern weapons render front line leadership too risky/obsolete - Modern weapons certainly have changed since the days of Caesar, but the nature of leadership has not. The base instincts that drive human behavior have evolved very little, and the need to inspire them through personal example is still as potent as ever. Losing leaders does not lead to strategic paralysis. LT's and CPT's are easily replaced. Most units actually practice "leader down drills" where a designated second or third in command takes charge to ensure the unit stays effective if the commander goes down. As far as warfare being more dangerous today - nothing's more dangerous than standing in the front rank of a hand-to-hand sword fight... at least in modern combat you wear camouflage and can hide behind walls and rocks and armored vehicles.

2. Officer training is better suited for staff than combat - Sure, there are Quartermaster and JAG officers for whom this statement rings true. But there are also Infantry, Armor, and Special Forces officers for whom it does not. These officers go through a tremendous amount of combat oriented training such as Infantry leaders' course, Airborne school, Ranger school, Special Forces Qualification school, etc... It's not mathematically impossible for a captain to inspire others with his presence. Sociologists have shown the threshold for this is about 150 people [2], and the average infantry company is about 120 people. And even then it's still possible - consider the following: "At a crucial juncture in the First Battle of Bull Run, the Confederate line was being beaten back from Matthews Hill by Union forces... Despite a painful shrapnel wound, General Jackson calmly placed his men in a defensive position on Henry Hill and assured them that all was well. As men of the broken regiments flowed past, one of their officers, BG Bee exclaimed to Jackson, "General, they are driving us!" Calmly looking toward the direction of the enemy, BG Jackson replied, "Sir, we will give them the bayonet." Impressed by BG Jackson"s confidence, stability, and self-control, BG Bee rode off towards what was left of the officers and men of his brigade. As he rode into the throng, he gestured with his sword toward Henry Hill and shouted, "Look, men! There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer! Follow me!" [3]

3. Officers have ISR/drones and don't need to personally survey things - ISR is great, but it does not necessarily contribute to battlefield understanding. GEN (R) Stanley McChrystal calls this the "seduction of surveillance." Aerial imagery from ISR or JSTARs actually gives you LESS of a view, because you can only see what the sensor is directly pointed at. It's like viewing the battlefield through a soda straw. Imagery and sensor data often misses things that only someone on the ground can detect.

I have plenty of examples from personal experience. I was a recon platoon leader in Afghanistan. On one mission, I was with my 16 man platoon overwatching our FOB when we heard the soft rumble of an Taliban rocket launch. A few seconds later we heard it fly over our heads, and a few seconds later we saw it explode outside the FOB wall. The FOB's high-tech camera blimp and counter-rocket radar sensors did not detect the impact. I radioed back to HQ that the FOB was receiving rocket fire only to be told that the base's sensors had not detected anything and that I was probably just hearing things. Meanwhile, I heard two more rockets fly over and watched two more explosions near the FOB. HQ had no idea. That's what happens when you rely too much on electronic sensors.

4. Officers don't need to meet with village elders because it's too risky and Green Berets can do it - Pro seems to forget that every Green Beret team is led by a Captain. Also, there are nowhere near enough special forces teams to cover every necessary village, so conventional units must also fill this role. Finally, having enlisted personnel meet with village elders would not be effective because in many cultures the elder expects to speak directly with the person in charge. It's considered insulting to send a lower ranking "representative" for the commander, because it conveys that the elder is not important.

5. Allow me to re-phrase Pro's point about inspiration. In a firefight (from my own combat experiences) "inspiration" becomes extremely important BECAUSE of survival instincts. The instinct when being shot at is to take cover, hide, and protect yourself - which leads to getting pinned down. One only needs to observe poorly led armies to see this. I have frequently seen Afghan army units throw down their weapons out of fear and hide when under fire. It's a commander's job to inspire his soldiers to overcome these survival instincts - like Washington did at Princeton - through personal example.

6. Soldiers will automatically execute every order immediately when the "bullets start flying." - Pro is quite mistaken here. The rampant fragging (intentional friendly fire murder) of officers during the Vietnam War should be ample proof of this.

7. In response to the combat scenario, Pro says they would rather follow the detached LT sitting in the heated tent. I find this extremely hard to believe. Underneath all the body armor and high-tech gear of the modern Soldier lies a human being. That human is still driven to action by instincts of hate, love, respect, fatigue, and fear. No one wants to obey a leader who doesn't care about them and doesn't share in common hardship. It's not foolish bravado to lead from the front - it's effective leadership.

8. I fail to see how building team/unit cohesion leads to skewed decision making. Who wouldn't want to fight with a cohesive unit? War is not some calm, cool, detached, and sterile hyper-rational activity. It's messy and confusing and overwhelmingly uncertain. You can still remain calm and think clearly if you're on the front line. Such characteristics have more to do with personality than physical location.

9. "If a 4-star general...attempted to ride into battle on top of a horse like Washington and Caesar, he would almost certainly be killed..." Again, Pro seems to think the term "officer" implies 4-star general. It doesn't. While I agree that generals probably shouldn't lead bayonet charges, there are thousands of LT and CPT platoon leaders who should. Low level officers absolutely should lead from the front.

10. "Leading by example' no longer applies to modern combat and is utterly obsolete." - I would be shocked if Pro actually believes this. Once again, technology has not changed the human need to be led and inspired into action. War is not chess. It is, as Clausewitz says, an act of violence intended to dominate one's enemy with superior will. That will comes from leadership, and leadership comes from personal example.

Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by wrichcirw 2 years ago
Hmmm...I will add that specialty positions, like pilots, doctors, lawyers, etc, would also enter at the O and W level. So pilots would start at W1, doctors and lawyers at O1, etc...
Posted by wrichcirw 2 years ago
I'll just say that this debate highlighted my own reservations about current military rank structure. I've seen far too many enlisted people that would have made great officers, and far too many officers that had their head up their @sses more than even the most brain-dead E1.

IMHO the military would benefit from a complete realignment of rank, where EVERYONE enters as E1 with the sole exception of academy graduates, which would have the choice of entering as O1 or W1 if they are tactically inclined. All E1s would become eligible, instead of E5, with the choice of going for O1 or W1 after 4 years in the service. At the O and W ranks (which would represent actual career paths), officers can (and IMHO should) switch between the two rank structures, with generalship favoring a proclivity towards the O structure and the W structure stopping as it does currently at W5. Such a system would ameliorate all the concerns PRO brought up while adhering to the tried and true battle concept of "lead by example" that is the staple of CON's position.

To have an E9 with a sterling record and 20+ years of tactical experience salute a butter-bar straight out of ramen-soup-kitchen college is profoundly absurd. Agree that many people are much more suited for hands-on positions than staff position, which IMHO the W rank structure was built to accommodate. We simply don't use that enough (and indeed the Air force doesn't use it at all).
Posted by Jingle_Bombs 2 years ago
"I believe this is a true statement, but this leadership role does **NOT** belong to officers..." Typo on my part.
Posted by Ragnar 2 years ago
I assume this debate setup implies both that troops should be lead, and those officers should be doing it?
Posted by Beagle_hugs 2 years ago
I'm your huckleberry.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by wrichcirw 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: I have a "no vote" policy on this website and I will adhere to it. Regardless, I am strongly CON after reading this debate. PRO is prior Air force and it shows in spades, the corporate structure he attributes to military function is something of which I'm also keenly aware. Regardless, I easily side with CON, leading by example is the only relevant reason to be CON this resolution, and it is an exceptionally powerful one. Measuring morale and having a direct impact to change it for the better are two very different things, and only by being there with your platoon (not squad, officers are in charge of a platoon minimum) can officers rally troops effectively. In the Air Force, the officers lead by example and ARE the front line troops. Not sure if PRO is aware how much that impacts Air Force culture. I will be more than willing to debate PRO on this as well as fellow Air force.