This week’s CCLKOW discussion looks at leadership. In this case, however, we remove the individual as the arbiter of its quality. Instead, our piece today argues for a perspective that takes account of external factors which define the limits of leadership. Using the contrasting narratives of two officers from the Chosin Campaign, the role of influences beyond the control of the individual emerges. Read, ponder the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.
In the cold — wickedly cold, really — days at the end of November 1950, the epic drama of the Chosin Campaign played out in North Korea near the Manchurian border with China. Within the larger story, two sub narratives of triumph and disaster, redemption and destruction, life and death were also unfolding. These are the individual travails of two Lieutenant Colonels awarded the Medal of Honor in the campaign, Raymond G. Davis and Donald C. Faith. Davis led his unit to the successful completion of an overland, nighttime march to relieve Fox Co. and secure key terrain in the evacuation route south to Hagaru-ri for 5th and 7th Marines. By contrast, Faith gained at best an operational Pyrrhic victory for X Corps: his Task Force slowed the PLA advance towards the 1st Marine Division as it was defeated in its attempt to withdraw from the reservoir to Hagaru-ri.
How can we reconcile the entirely disparate outcomes of the units led by Faith and Davis at Chosin? Leadership provides a unifying theme by which to explain events, although in this case we must understand leadership to go beyond the standard definitions and transcend the individual as either agent or arbiter of quality. The differences in leadership, and hence outcomes, can be attributed only to fortune or fatal ambition if the assessment is limited to the individuals, as these details provide too little information to make sense of the full scope of events. For their actions at Chosin, each man would be reckoned a hero of the highest order, although that heroism must be described as triumphant and tragic in turn. As field grade officers with previous combat and/or command experience, at campaign’s start they would have been considered equals in anticipated capabilities. In sum, these were two officers similarly qualified as leaders to meet the challenges of command on the battlefield. And yet, not only were the outcomes different for each – success for Davis and failure for Faith – but the narrative clearly points to different qualities of leadership as well. Thus, factors well beyond the individuals, beyond their heroism or competence, determined the quality of leadership each man brought to bear in his respective battle.
The Faith/Davis narratives suggest that leadership’s manifestation in combat is determined by the individual in situ by the influence of external factors. Absent obvious incompetence or particular genius, the environment within which an officer must act will define the quality or effectiveness of his leadership, and therefore, ability to command. Taking consideration of their environments fully explains the leadership outcome for each officer, success and failure, notwithstanding the heroism displayed by either. These conclusions can be made without undue attack upon Faith, for as this analysis suggests, others determined his failed leadership. The paradox of Faith’s simultaneous heroism and failure is reconciled because, while the bulk of the former is derived from within the individual, leadership in action is largely determined from without. This point is true as well in Davis’ case, for if it is to have more than mythical importance it, too, is best understood within its proper context.
While definitions of leadership abound, their focus traditionally has been limited to the individual. From one compilation of essays on the subject of leadership we find this characterization: “Effective leaders create an environment in which people motivate themselves.”  In another similar compilation, published in large part for the benefit of teaching leadership to future Army officers at West Point, we find this explanation: “Leadership is the art of inspiring the spirit and the act of following. The following must be voluntary. The individual and the group of individuals must want to be guided by that person for the latter to be called a leader…. Leadership is about trust….” If most discussions of leadership – and for this sake of this analysis I will stick with Kolenda’ Leadership: The Warrior’s Art, as a solid example of the literature – are limited to the narrow scope of what the individual as leader must do, then they operate from the assumption that the individual is the arbiter or agent of leadership. The problem is that such a formulation ignores the long, arduous, and mundane process required to get the leader to the point where he can lift his head and eyes to the horizon, to function as a leader and exercise effective command. He must, in effect, be able to do nothing but think sometimes. So, yes, a young officer, according to one essay in Kolenda, needs to know what to do with the opportunity and responsibility to lead.  He should also learn those factors external to his control that can shape the experience. He should know that no matter how well prepared, it is very hard to run a race if your legs are broken at the start. Even if Kolenda et al. are correct and leadership is the warrior’s art, the individual can only work with what he is given; he is defined by his context, good or bad. Thus, individuals may manifest leadership, and are certainly responsible for its quality, but a multitude of other individuals and circumstances determine that quality. In battle, the individual is not in control of his own leadership. He may do everything right, or may know, especially in retrospect, what he should have done right, he may be imbued with every talent, and still his attempts at leadership can be undone by factors beyond his control. As with all other matters military, the individual is bound up in the group, the organization, and the events.
Given this situation, I propose this revised set of standards that take account of the external factors that influence: chain of command leadership (superior and subordinate), followership, and circumstances. These criteria provide the most comprehensive and comprehensible explanation for the leadership outcomes in the Chosin campaign, and may offer a perspective that is useful to contemporary considerations of leadership. To understand their role in these events, here is a very brief sketch of the contrasting external circumstances faced by each man:
What was the quality of the superior leadership shown to Faith and Davis?
The view from the top offer the first significant distinction between the two. Davis enjoyed an operational situation that saw him ensconced within the warm embrace of two levels of leadership directly above him. His regimental and divisional commanders, Colonel Litzenberg and General Smith, were close at hand, available to provide guidance, strength, and a general sense of operational security. Alternatively, neither of his two commanders was the sort to meddle overmuch, thus allowing Davis to exercise his discretion in the planning and execution of his mission. By contrast, Faith came to command at Chosin when the 31st RCT commander, Colonel MacLean, was killed in early and confusing contact with PLA forces. This meant that on the ground at Chosin Faith enjoyed no superior leadership. At further remove, the divisional and corps leadership did not seem to grasp the enormity of what was facing the task force. Appleman’s point in East of Chosin that Generals Barr (7th ID CG) and Almond (X Corps CG) could have sent General Hodes, 7th ID ADC, to take command of the task force, is ironically sustained by the extension of that criticism in other literature to General Smith, who could have spared one of his senior colonels to the cause. Finally, by comparison Davis’ direct chain of command served him better than Faith’s because Smith’s proximity to the fight gave him a clearer picture of the threat posed by the PLA’s offensive, whereas it would take the Army commanders (7th ID, X Corps) critical hours to come to understand the changed circumstances. The relevance of this distinction bears out in the movements of X Corps towards the Yalu River, where Smith had taken a relatively conservative approach to the attack which maintained the integrity of the division as a whole, in contrast with the almost head-long rush 7th ID took to get to the reservoir. Whereas the Marine division would retain its ability to act as a coherent and supporting whole when the mass of the Chinese attack opened, 7th ID was dispersed to the point that the sum of the parts were weaker than the measure of the whole.
What was the quality of the subordinate leadership shown to Faith and Davis?
Moving to the supporting network below, the disparities remain. Davis enjoyed a strong subordinate command presence. Many of his NCOs had prior service in WWII, and his junior officers were capable if untested. Furthermore, throughout the campaign he did not suffer significant losses within these ranks, thus maintaining a sound subordinate chain of command. The strength of Davis’ leadership would be transmitted through this web to the Marines. At the start of the campaign, the units that would comprise Faith’s task force did have their fair share of good subordinate leaders. However, the task force suffered throughout the battle a steady hemorrhage of these leader. Their loss would weaken the leadership web supporting Faith degraded the unit’s combat cohesion at every level and critically handicapped his ability to maintain the integrity of the withdrawal.
What was the quality of “followership” shown to Faith and Davis?
How the troops responded to their leadership would vary significantly as well. There is no greater affirmation of the Marines’ followership than the constant refrain from the overland march that the strength of Davis’ example motivated and inspired the already strong extant “Marine spirit.”  Alternatively, the fragility of the task force’s followership is made manifest with the rapid disintegration of unit coherence with every challenge and setback to the withdrawal. Where once Faith was able to rally the troops via threats of severe punishment, the second attempt at the same tactic reaped insignificant results, primarily because the troops could no longer sustain their “faith” in his leadership to change the circumstance. Furthermore, there is some indication that Faith’s lack of combat experience worked to the detriment of establishing good followership from the start. Contrast this with the sense of security Davis’ experience must have given his troops.
What were the circumstances facing each?
Although they diverged in degree, both men faced essentially the same situation. The Chinese offensive made their current positions untenable and necessitated withdrawal. And, as aptly framed by General Smith, this would be no administrative march to the rear, they really would be “fighting in the other direction.”  The grand plan of the Marine division’s attack to the south planned for the constant defense of the column in its progress, by control of flanking terrain and key feature with all units in mutual and coordinated support.  Necessary to secure a key junction in the route, Davis’ mission to relieve Fox Co. and reinforce the position they held atop Turkey Hill was by no means going to be a walk in the park, was not guaranteed to succeed. It demanded of the Marines two efforts not a part of the campaign or standard practice: cross-country and by night. However, as part of a larger campaign, whose objective was entirely achievable by the division, Davis was given a manageable piece of a larger plan whose rationality he could appreciate. Other intangible effects of the mission context was the difference made in the Marine mentality of the aggressive, offensive nature of the mission – rather than waiting for the enemy to bring the battle to them in the withdrawal, they were moving pro-actively to gain the upper hand against the enemy. This they would achieve, successfully making their way south to Colonel Puller’s position further south to reform the division as a whole for its continued exfiltration to the port at Hungnam. Task Force Faith, on the other hand, was destroyed as a unit and nearly in detail attempting the very same. Lacking the support to generate a plan of any consequence, as well as the subordinate officers to execute it, Faith was left to collect his men, wounded, and vehicles and hope that they could fight their way south directly. Little would be done to secure the flanks or the way ahead, and these omissions would allow the Chinese soldiers to defeat the column. Harrying the vehicles and men from the high ground surrounding the road throughout, which slowly weakened Faith’s collected force, the Chinese were also able move ahead roadblock the progress of the march at regular intervals. Blooded throughout, there were only so many obstacles the task force could overcome and regroup from before it was simply too weakened by casualties to continue as a whole. In the final hours of December 1, only 5 miles from where the march had begun, both Faith and his task force died.
Considering the terms of this leadership framework, the discussion for this week is driven by a single request:
Obviously there is little that can be done when one faces the worst of circumstances across every factor. However, singly these deficits can be mitigated, if not overcome. Looking at each of Faith’s challenges, imagine yourself as his only and capable staff officer, what would you recommend to him? How would you improve the quality of the factors or counteract the negative effect of their weakness?
[I am happy to provide a bibliography of the campaign to those interested.]
1. Military Leadership, Taylor and Rosenbach, eds., p. 2.
2. Leadership: The Warrior’s Art, Kolenda, ed., p. xix.
3. Dardis and Brower, “Teaching Combat Leadership.”
4. I had the opportunity to meet many of those Marines, to include General Davis, at the 1/7 1999 reunion of the Chosin Marines. I will write more about them in November at the anniversary of the campaign. As well as the pathos of battle, there will be consideration of such subjects as frozen turkey bombs, life-saving Tootsie Rolls, a silver service, cooks with rifles, and a reminder of the provenance of the Rule of 4/6ths.
5. The misinterpretation of this quote is one of the greater sins of history. It was always a simple explanation of the martial terms of the withdrawal.
6. I will reissue my perennial call: Colonel Alpha Bowser’s quickly designed plan was a thing to behold, and more should be written on it.