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Do Norman Dixon's theories about incompetence apply to senior naval commanders?

Parry, C. (2017) Do Norman Dixon's theories about incompetence apply to senior naval commanders? PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Abstract/Summary

Within the context of Norman Dixon's 'On the Psychology of Military Incompetence', this thesis seeks to establish whether authoritarian tendencies necessarily lead to incompetent performance in war and whether the personalities of commanders in World War II contributed to incompetence or failure. By examination of senior German and American naval commanders, it challenges Dixon's definitive association of authoritarian personalities with military failure and autocratic behaviours with military success. It demonstrates that senior naval commanders cannot be categorised as purely authoritarian or autocratic and that Dixon's arguments rest substantially on attributing all negative personality traits associated with military incompetents as authoritarian. The original contribution to scholarship is the insight that authoritarianism is essential to the organization and projection of large-scale fighting power, as long as the conduct of operations is delegated to commanders suited by personality, experience and understanding to prevailing in the situations that they are likely to face. This combination is introduced as a technocratic approach, with the evidence and analysis comparing and contrasting the domination of German wartime naval operations by authoritarian personalities, organization and ways of operating with the progressive, technocratic methods adopted by the Americans. Also, through extensive research into hitherto under-utilized primary and contemporaneous sources, the thesis offers a fresh, more nuanced interpretation of the personalities of selected naval commanders and the major events at sea with which they were concerned. Finally, the thesis concludes that the essential personality requirements for successful command at sea are few, with other psychological characteristics largely irrelevant and naval commanders less prone to the various aberrant behaviours pilloried by Dixon. Also, navies, and armed forces, need to continue to attract, sustain and retain a range of personality types, both to support a technocratic approach and to deal with a wide variety of future operational situations.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Sloan, G. and Heuser, B.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Politics, Economics & International Relations
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations
ID Code:75262

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