New Leadership Lessons from War

By | May 2, 2020

[May 2, 2020]  Guest blogger Edward M. Kennedy III is a product of WAR.  In today’s article Edward crushes those who think they understand war.  He delivers to us the fundamentals of war.  This gray-haired, lion-maned HUNTER OF MEN is always on the lookout to educate his betters in politics, business, and especially in the military.  He delivers a somber but real element needed for those hungry for leadership lessons from war.

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman once famously said that “war is hell” but he also said that war’s “glory is all moonshine.”  For my friends who know me, they know that I am a creation of war.  My family’s lineage harks from great battles of the past; back to the misty days of pre-modern England to at least the Hundred Years’ War 1337-1453.  And I, from the frustrating yet exciting battlefields of Vietnam, where an elusive enemy sprang up to give us an honest fight in a war our political elites squandered.  War is the natural state of man and as soon as we acknowledge that article of truth, the sooner we can learn from war.  Lessons from war are hard, yet our Western values will inevitably get in our way of learning them.

The first lesson.  Fear is a good advisor.  Fear keeps us focused; it is the demonstration that we are alive; it pushes us beyond our abilities; and it makes us feel our humanity.  Yet, there is no passion so contagious as that of fear.  In the dirt and the blood of the battlefield, an enemy determined to kill you cannot deprive you of your humanity unless you allow it within your own weaknesses.  The most difficult thing we do as men of war is to accept fear and let it motivate us to do right when others are losing their heads.

The second lesson.  The fog of war is lethal.  Is history doomed to repeat itself?  I don’t think so.  If there is one thing we can learn from war is that the outcome is unknown, how we will behave is unpredictable, and the more we know about war the less we know.  Such unpredictability combined with the most basic element of man’s nature, is a lethal combination.  Those who claim that there are rules governing warfare are bound to die in the fog of the unknown.  Yet their philosophies built upon such uniformed thinking certainly won’t liberate us or clarify our understanding of warfare.

The third lesson.  Be prepared.  Yes, I was a boy scout but in the most non-traditional sense, without the uniform or accouterments that go with the rank.  What scouting taught me was the most-primal lesson of all mankind; be prepared for anything and be willing to own your life.  If life throws a curveball and you’re not ready, you will be hit and deservedly so.   If you fail, it matters not what others have done or not done, you have failed.  The only solution is to be prepared.  I laugh at those who think failure is a step to learning, it is not.  Failure is failure and the sign of a man who in not manly.

The fourth lesson.  Learn to learn.  The unofficial motto of the U.S. Marines is “improvise, adapt, overcome.”  There is no substitute for using the six inches between our ears to make sense of the world and take action.  Keep moving.  Stay the course.  Don’t give up the ship.  All these words mean one simple thing.  If you learn, you will adapt and succeed; there is no substitute and no excuses allowed.  You can achieve this by winning; winning in everything you do.  I just returned from an exotic “trip” to northern Iraq to participate in an unofficial sweep of Shia insurgents in the provinces near Sulaymaniyah.  My job was to learn their methods and use those methods against them, teach the Iraqi National Guard how to fight on insurgent terms, and … what other way to say it … kick butt.

Whenever someone tells you that there are lessons from “war” and they can tell you want those lessons might be, stop and think.  War doesn’t drive decisions for those who are fearful, can see in the fog, are prepared, and learn quickly.  War is man’s natural state.  And, while peace is a byproduct of war, we have yet learned how to come to terms with the benefits of peace or learn that war produces what all men need.

Author: Edward Kennedy III

Edward M. Kennedy III joined the U.S. Marine Corps on May 22, 1966 after graduating from high school in San Diego, California. Deployed to South Vietnam as part of the 1st Marine Division in January 1967. Earned a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor in combat against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam during the Battle of Huế. After an honorable discharge married high school sweetheart Victoria Elizabeth and had five children and now have eight grandchildren. Graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Civil Engineering and started a small firm working construction projects throughout the west coast. Sold the business and now tinkers in his retirement as a part-time consultant for whoever can afford him.

31 thoughts on “New Leadership Lessons from War

  1. Dennis Mathes

    Great article, Mr. Kennedy III. I really liked the additional twist you put on the ‘fog of war’ and made it the ‘fog of war is lethal.’ Yes, it is indeed lethal. BTW, I’m a big fan. Keep up this work and please stop by anytime to comment so we can see what you’re working on and what you’re thinking.

    1. Dr. William Blake, Sr.

      In Learn to Earn, Lynch and Rothchild explain in a style accessible to anyone who is high-school age or older how to read a stock table in the daily newspaper, how to understand a company annual report, and why everyone should pay attention to the stock market. Just another way of thinking.

  2. José Luis Rodriguez

    Most of us really never did get taught evidence based learning techniques. This is a serious defect in our education.

  3. KenFBrown

    By learning specific learning strategies, metacognitive skills give the person the ability to monitor and manage their own learning

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Early approaches to metacognitive-learning date back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Jürgen Schmidhuber’s thesis and work by Yoshua and Samy Bengio. Recently meta-learning has become a hot topic, with a flurry of recent papers, most commonly using the technique for hyperparameter and neural network optimization, finding good network architectures, few-shot image recognition, and fast reinforcement learning.

  4. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    HI, big fan here. Another wonderful article. “Learn to learn” yes!!!! One of the best part of your entire article. I’ve read about the others but this is new and one that should be part of our upbringing. Learning to learn means, to me, that you develop a desire to learn AND a skill to learn. That means things like reading, thinking, speaking, etc. If you can do all of these, you are on your way to being a whole person.

    1. Crazy Dude

      Just like in leadership skills, we need to learn our strengths and weaknesses about ‘learning’. By doing so, and really doing something about it, we will never fail as a learner. LEARN to LEARN. Great.

  5. Tom Bushmaster

    Good analysis and some of this I’ve never seen before.

  6. Max Foster

    Thank you for your service in the Vietnam War and for your bravery there. Surely you were not appreciated when you returned home thanks to people like Jane Fonda (obviously a traitor) and Walter Cronkite (not so obviously a communist). Welcome home (a bit late but nonetheless needed saying). On your article, I see you have taken a clearly different path to extracting lessons from war. “Fear is a good advisor” is a good example of you straying from the main path of academics who study war but have no experience on the battlefield. Much appreciated. Keep up your great thinking and let us in on it more in the future.

    1. Randy Goodman

      Thanks Max for a great comment. I don’t just agree but actually love the comment as well. Mr. EKIII is one of the best bloggers here and my personal favorite.

    2. Newbie Yunger

      Yes, thank you Mr. Kennedy and just for an aside, I’m also a great fan of yours. I’ve written in this leadership forum before and have regularly said that we need new thinking on leadership in a modern world. You continue to provide that thinking.

      1. Valkerie

        Hi Newbie, welcome back to the forum. I too appreciate the works of Mr. K. but also the input of all my friends here.

  7. Nick Lighthouse

    Big fan here, Mr. Kennedy. Wonderful article today and I think I speak for the others that often write on this forum that we have missed your works and deeply appreciate today’s article. As usual, you haven’t disappointed us. We all look forward to your next installment and are appreciated for being one of the best thinkers of our generation.

    1. Ruth M. McMasters

      Tolstoy’s prejudices, to which his contemporaries were so sensitive, cannot be said to have warped the essential truth of War and Peace. I agree with Eric, read his writings on war and peace and you will be astounded by his insights.

    2. the ace

      Good point Eric. I too have read Tolstoy over the past decade and each time I go back to one of his books to recover some of what I ‘thought’ he said, I find even more critical analysis that I should be contemplating on. Eric, please continue with your comments, I like them and they are helpful.

  8. Lynn Pitts

    Wow, I’ve never seen these lessons from war. Well, maybe, ‘be prepared’ but other than that, nothing. Keep up your writing about your thinking on both war and peace. Well done, BTW, on your last article on lessons from peace.

  9. Joe Omerrod

    Wow, this is really a good piece Mr. EKIII (nice shorthand). I’m one of your fans from way back when you started with Gen Satterfield and writing for his leadership blog. I recommend those who are new to search out your writings and comment. I am especially happy to get your cogent analysis of war and peace. ?

    1. Kenny Foster

      Hi Joe. Here is a website you might be interested in reading. Also, for anyone else of course. Its called The Voices of War and Peace. The slant (or bias as you might call it) is to rejecting war. But I have found most of the articles to be well constructed and more in depth than you will normally find.

  10. Eva Easterbrook

    Crushes the snowflake generation just by lifting his finger.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      LOL, you are so quick Eva that I didn’t get a chance to say the same thing about the “worst” generation in the history of America. We need more folks like Mr. EKIII to ensure our survival. Good go see him writing again for this blog by Gen. Satterfield.

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Careful, Eva. I just nearly put my morning coffee thru my nose. Yes, great (actually fantastic) article by Mr. Kennedy. This is one of the main reasons that I keep coming back to this leadership blog. There are three wonderful guest bloggers (Mr. Kennedy, Sadako Red, and Army Vet). They are clearly the best, hard hitting, and hold nothing back. Oh, and not PC either. Their contributions are greatly respected and appreciated.

      1. JT Patterson

        Yusaf, correct and glad your coffee was downed properly and you are also enjoying your dog at your feet. I agree that these are the 3 best bloggers here.

  11. Army Captain

    Great to see you back in the United States and resting after your “trip” into South America. Welcome back and I hope your assignment there was as productive as I hear.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      What kind of ‘trip’ was he on?

      1. old warrior

        Don’t ask. We couldn’t tell you even if we knew. That’s the sort of thing that political bots are looking for to shutdown leadership websites like this one. Just read and enjoy. Remember that the Internet is not your friend if you are a free thinker.

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