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Who Were the Greatest Military Commanders (Of All Time) ?

Posted on 11/14/2004 5:23:06 PM PST by Cyropaedia

In light of the upcoming film Alexander (the Great), who in your opinion were actually the greatest military commanders our world has known...?

Mine are Genghis Khan, Alexander, and U.S. Grant.

TOPICS: Your Opinion/Questions
KEYWORDS: milhist; militarycommanders; militaryhistory
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To: All

I would say General Pershing for ordering the massive attack on the morning of Armistice Day, knowing the German enemy would be caught unprepared believing an attack offering no strategic value would occur on the last day of the war. I can only imagine the German reaction while sipping champagne and writing their last love letters only to see a massive American invasion force charging a mere hours before the end of the war. Brilliant!

681 posted on 12/22/2005 2:04:41 PM PST by chudogg (
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To: Cyropaedia
Number 1: Spartan king Leonidis

Number 2: Douglas MacArthur

Number 3: Julius Caesar

682 posted on 12/22/2005 2:05:43 PM PST by NoClones
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To: indcons

Fair enough.
If Ghengis Khan suffered no defeats and built that empire, I'd put him on the list. Commanding a horde of barbarians is damned difficult work (just ask Al Zarqawi).

683 posted on 12/22/2005 2:38:40 PM PST by Vicomte13 (Et alors?)
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To: chudogg

That doesn't seem brilliant to me.
It seems bloodthirsty.
If the war is scheduled to end, and everyone knows it, then launching a surprise attack on the very morning that the war is to end strikes me as showing at least two things:

(1) A callous disregard for human life. The war is OVER, why, then, go in and kill and kill and kill. The night before Appomattox, Lee (allegedly) did not let his army hang any more spies, his theory being that enough blood had been shed, and there was no point in shedding it purposelessly, out of mere spite or revenge. Lee was right. I was unaware of any such attack by Pershing, but it reflects badly on him. And how many American doughboys, on the very eve of going home, had their lives thrown away by an asshole commander for absolutely no purpose.

(2) A potentially catastrophic lack of judgment. An armistice is not an unconditional surrender. It is an agreement between two sides, neither one of them beaten, to end hostilities. For it to work requires trust. For everyone in an exhausting war to know that it is to formally end in a few hours, and then suddenly have the enemy launch a massive surprise attack, very Japanese-like: were I the German commanders, I would feel that I had been treated in very bad faith. Indeed, how would I know that this was all going to abruptly end at 11:11? How would I not know that the enemy had broken faith to try to get the advantage under the guise of a flag of negotiation and agreement of armistice? Would not my honor be offended such that I might be likely to view the horrendous bad faith as a BREACH of the armistice, and continue fighting?

Had it been a French or British attack, it would be more understandable. Those people had been in a terrible war for so very long they truly had cause to utterly HATE the enemy and his race. But the Americans? What was the American reason for breaking faith and decorum like that? The Americans could claim no such historical business.

Now, truth is, until your post, I never heard of Pershing's surprise attack. But if it happened, it doesn't seem like a very heroic act to me. It seems strategically stupid: it might have completely blown the Armistice. And it seems cruel, bloodthirsty and callous. Attacks, esp. in WW I, killed a lot of the attacking soldiers. If it's true, Pershing threw a lot of American lives away for absolutely nothing, and showed incredibly bad judgment. That's not greatness.

684 posted on 12/22/2005 2:48:15 PM PST by Vicomte13 (Et alors?)
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To: Strategerist; Senator Pardek

Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires.  But on what did we rest the creations of our genius?  Upon force.  Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.  ~Napoleon Bonaparte

685 posted on 12/22/2005 3:30:07 PM PST by Kevin OMalley (No, not Freeper#95235, Freeper #1165: Charter member, What Was My Login Club.)
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To: Sen Jack S. Fogbound

Halsey? I'd rank Spruance above Halsey.

686 posted on 12/22/2005 3:34:02 PM PST by JCEccles
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To: NoClones

I agree with you on the Spartan General Leonidas. MacArthur was made to look the hero for propaganda purposes. He was more, deserving of court martial than Kimmel or Short.

687 posted on 12/22/2005 3:50:18 PM PST by Mr. Lucky
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To: Vicomte13
I agree that "greatest" is too wide of a window, if you are a person accustomed to measurable variables.

The entire premise of the question is likely flawed, in that the demands of time and place change what is "great".

I don't think winning every time is tied to "greatness", maybe because of my Celt blood?

Leonidas, King of the Spartans, and his 300 Spartans, and 1100 Thespians, against hundreds of thousands of Persians, at Thermopaleae, in 480 BC?

Vercingetorix, who at Alesia (52 BC), did everything wrong, while Caesar did everything right.

Boadicea (Boudicca) queen of the Iceni against the Romans (60-61 BC)

Or the last queen of Carthage, whose name is unknown to me, who threw her children back into her burning city, and then jumped into the same fire after them, rather than joint her husband in disgrace and dishonor, who had just surrendered Carthage to the Romans who were putting the entire city to the sword except him and his family?

I know we are talking military commanders but, you just cannot ignore the traditions of self aware sacrifice, examples of leaders, if not truly Commanders.

It seems to me, that batting a thousand, is not a reasonable requirement for greatest military commander. In fact, it is how great commanders deal with defeat, that shows the depth of their greatness.

Jes my .02
688 posted on 12/22/2005 4:21:15 PM PST by porkchops 4 mahound ("Si vis pacem, para bellum", If you wish peace, prepare for war.)
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To: porkchops 4 mahound

I think that how commanders deal with their defeats shows their wisdom and their humanity and other traits. But if the criteria is military greatness, I think that victory is the coin of the realm. Much like football or chess games: how a side deals with defeat shows their mettle, teaches things, etc. But the unbeaten team at the end of the season is still the best team.

The Celts military history shows their passion for war but also the flaw in the civilization. Hot blooded, they spoiled for a fight. But they could not long endure any sort of discipline and command over them in any sort of supra-clannish way. The result: wild warfare, but the more organized states steadily plowed them under. Celts would fight Celts in the face of a foreign threat. And in the end lost their land to the foreigner - the classic case of hanging separately because of the adamant, persistent, cultural refusal to hang together.

689 posted on 12/22/2005 4:30:38 PM PST by Vicomte13 (Et alors?)
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To: Cyropaedia

US Grant & Geronimo.

690 posted on 12/22/2005 4:31:28 PM PST by PRND21
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To: Vicomte13
I assure you, I am sadly familiar with the martial histories of the various Celtic peoples of the world.

However in a way they show why I believe your requirement for "victory" is an incorrect vision of "Military Greatness". You seem to dismiss the fact that a defeat can be as useful to a nation, or a culture, as a victory is, maybe even more so.

Even if we stick to pure military actions and considerations some of the Greatest moments in military history were defeats.

Leoniads at Thermopaleae, to the Alamo, to the Battle of the bulge, initial defeat allows final victory.

Victory of WAR is all that counts, you can win all of the battles and still lose the WAR. Or you can win all your WARs and still lose.

(The term "Pyrrhic victory is based on the very real history of the very real King Pyrrhus of Epirus, after all.)
691 posted on 12/22/2005 5:42:33 PM PST by porkchops 4 mahound ("Si vis pacem, para bellum", If you wish peace, prepare for war.)
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To: Blood of Tyrants

Grant was a great commander because he was not afraid to take casualties in a war of attrition.

692 posted on 12/22/2005 5:48:01 PM PST by reg45
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To: igoramus987

Wesley Clark = The best general to almost stert World War III.

693 posted on 12/22/2005 5:52:37 PM PST by reg45
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To: Alouette

Blew all that money on cotton futures.

694 posted on 12/22/2005 6:00:26 PM PST by reg45
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To: fish hawk

You might say that Kerry was the commander of the North Vietnamese fifth column in the United States. As such he must be credited with the NVA victory in Vietnam.

695 posted on 12/22/2005 6:08:39 PM PST by reg45
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To: porkchops 4 mahound

"However in a way they show why I believe your requirement for 'victory' is an incorrect vision of 'Military Greatness'."

I apply a very objective standard, related to the profession of arms. Like athletics, or perhaps law. By my estimation, the greatest lawyer - which is not synonymous at all with the best or most moral human being in the practice of law! - is the one who wins all his cases.

I can't pick generals, but I certainly can pick lawyers to advocate my case. And I would say that the best lawyer, from the perspective of who to pick, is the one who always wins. Now, likewise, a King can pick his generals. If I were a King back in the age of Alexander, for example, I'd pick Alexander, because he never lost. If I were King in the age of the Sun King, I'd pick Marlboroug. King in the age of Napoleon, I'd put Nelson in command of my fleets over all others. If I'm assigning military duties, I am going to pick the man that never loses, because, in strictly military terms, he is the best because I know he will win.

Moving to the modern age, if it's World War II and we get to pick generals and admirals off the bench, like sizing up teams, my first pick is going to be Guderian. If nobody's gotten him first, my second pick is going to be Nimitz (because once I have the most effective general, it's more important to also have the greatest admiral before I pick up another general). My third pick will be Von Manstein. My fourth pick, Eisenhower. My fifth, Yamamoto. Then Kutusov.

If it's the US Civil War, my first choice was the first choice of BOTH sides: Robert E. Lee (he was Chief of the US Army before stepping down to go with his native Virginia.

It's a fun mental game.

696 posted on 12/22/2005 6:43:09 PM PST by Vicomte13 (Et alors?)
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To: Wallace T.

Speculation on your part, although there is no doubting the abilities of Stonewall Jackson. Whether he was the right man to lead the Confederate Army, though, is questionable.

Realistically, there was no way the South could win, given the North's advantages in industry, manpower, transportation and sea power. I'm reminded of Rossikovski's first dictum; "Amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics".

The scenario you depict would not have resulted in a peace treaty, in my opinion, but rather a longer, bloodier conflict with the same results.

697 posted on 12/22/2005 6:55:25 PM PST by Wombat101 (Islam: Turning everything it touches to Shi'ite since 632 AD...)
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To: Vicomte13

Heinz Guderian is probably the greatest tactical leader of the 20th Century. Rommel and Patton were probably the best at the corps and army level, but both failed to appreciate the logistics that would have carried them to true dominance on the battlefield. Omar Bradley did appreciate that part of war, but he lacked the genius of Patton.

Yes, he was an amazing general, but he never had the extra chutzpah that George Patton managed to display. Ike didn't, either. Only Doug MacArthur came close to him in that area. I'm not a big Mac fan, but he was an awesome general.

698 posted on 12/22/2005 6:57:19 PM PST by ABG(anybody but Gore) (If Liberals had as much passion for our troops as they do for Tookie, the war would be over...)
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To: No Truce With Kings
George Washington has to rank up there. He definately had the most lasting positive impact on history of all of the major commanders.

He was a great leader, a great president, and a great man. I don't know if I would rank him in the top few generals. He did not have great tactical skill, or much military training, and he lost more battles than he won. Many times, he and his revolution survived more due to his luck than his skill.

Don't get me wrong. As I said in another thread, had there been no George Washington, there would be no USA. He held the army and the country together by the sheer force of his will and his character. Military prowess, even though that was his first claim to fame, was the least of his abilities.

699 posted on 12/22/2005 7:11:45 PM PST by ReignOfError
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To: Vicomte13
I understand your approach and agree with it in the main.

I just see military "Greatness" as a thing not necessarily tied to Victory. Probably because I understand that men operate within systems and traditions which are inequal, which means that WAR is not generally a matter between "equals", one system, one tradition being empirically superior, ie. Iron against Bronze armed forces, or calvary who use stirrups against those who do not.

Greatness, it seems to me, does indeed inhabit the Polish Calvary charges against Nazi tanks, or in the massed infantry charges against emplaced automatic weapons during WW1.

"Greatness" is not in the logic or sense of the thing, it is in the terrible courage and endurance of the human animal which shines brightest when the times are darkest.

It is NOT, WAR, that is great, it is that "Greatness", (as can debased evil), can come to the fore during absolute, unconditional, struggles that are WAR.

No steel can be strong without first passing through the forge.

But we're jes talkin.

700 posted on 12/22/2005 7:37:04 PM PST by porkchops 4 mahound ("Si vis pacem, para bellum", If you wish peace, prepare for war.)
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