Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why Old People Can Be Great Leaders

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip, has written a series of blog posts about the US Presidential election. In his current post he argues that whoever wins, Hillary or Donald, will be a bad president because they are too old for the job.

Being a bit older than Scott Adams, and older even than both Trump and Clinton, I have, perhaps, some qualification to comment on this theory, which in my view is mistaken. But before considering the question on the basis of any theoretical consideration or my personal experience of age, what of the historical evidence?

Consider Prince Mikhail Kutuzov, appointed Commander in Chief of the Russian Army as Napoleon embarked on the invasion of Russia in 1812. Aged 67, grossly overweight, within months of death from natural causes, Kutuzov ordered Russian forces to retreat in the face of the enemy, burning crops and grain stores as they went. Suffering from narcolepsy, Kutuzov had to be tied to his horse to prevent him falling off when he drowsed. Periodically, his staff officers would wake him and ask "what now," to which he would reply "continue the retreat."

Eventually, to satisfy the Tsar and his own staff, Kutuzov ordered the army to take a stand at Borodino. In the ensuing battle he lost a third of the Russian army, destroying a similar fraction of the French army in the furious one-day conflict. But before the following day dawned, Kutuzov had ordered a resumption of the retreat, his army falling back on Moscow, a city chiefly of wooden buildings which it burned, thus destroying all supplies of food and fuel. Kutuzov then ordered the army to retreat further to the East.

Carl, Gustaf, Emil Mannerheim, who in 1939, at the 
age 72, commanded Finnish forces  in the successful 
resistance to the Soviet invasion of Finland in which
the Soviets  lost a million men, to Finland's 25,000.
Napoleon (age 43) entered Moscow in triumph, only to face imminent defeat. Without food or fuel, it was impossible to remain in Moscow as the Russian winter had already set in. There was no choice for the French but to retrace their steps, their foraging parties relentlessly harassed by the Russian army as they made the long march West. Of Napoleon's Grand Armée of 500,000 men, fewer than 50,000 returned home.

Or consider Winston Churchill. If you think Britain did well to stand against Hitler, then Churchill, who became Prime Minister only 21 days short of his 67th birthday, was surely the man to lead the nation. No other British politician could have so rallied the nation, or could have worked more effectively to bring America into the War at Britain's side.

Why in these and countless other cases have old leaders proved successful?

At a youthful 44, the age at which John F. Kennedy became President of the United States and Tony Blair became Prime Minister of Britain, a thoughtful person interested in philosophy, politics and economics might have read a couple of thousand books relevant to a life in politics or the military. At 64, the same person would have read thousands of books more. In addition, they would have worked for, with, or in supervision of many more people, and successfully or otherwise, they would have made many more practical decisions.

What this means is that, in early middle age, a leader will usually be pretty much a novice: still figuring out both things and people. But past 65, it is time to be in earnest. Then one is confident of what one knows and has judged of most challenges that leadership is likely to present. It is a time to ignore the briefing books and to give to the bright and energetic young people at one's command the direction, while leaving it to them to burn the midnight oil working out the details and organizing the action. then one should spend the evenings, Reagan-style, socializing with friends, watching old movies or going early to bed.

Consistent with this view of age and leadership are Winston Churchill's repeated youthful blunders. During World War One, aged 40, as First Lord of the British Admiralty, Churchill was responsible for the disastrous invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli, a blunder that cost him his cabinet seat. Ten years later, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill blundered again, fixing the pound sterling at a depression-inducing rate against gold.

True, there have been exceptional leaders of great youth: the empire builder, Alexander the Great, king of Macedon at 20, dead at 27; Henry V, victorious against France at Agincourt and Crecy, King of England at 26, dead at 36; and William Pitt the Younger, British Prime Minister at 24, dead at 36. But these are exceptions that test the rule. All were the sons of powerful men and imbibed from their fathers the rules of leadership. Though attaining power in youth, they were able to apply the rules of experience rather than having to to figure it all out for themselves, the fate of so many blundering middle-aged politicians who have spent most of their adult lives, not in leadership roles or learning by close proximity to a great leader the rules of statecraft, but in the sordid business of climbing the greasy pole to achieve a position of leadership.

The above is not, of course, to endorse either Clinton or Trump. There are plenty of old people, but few great leaders, potential or otherwise.

5 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. "Bangalore Escorts"????

      I'd a missed this post if that doodle hadn't stuck out like a rat in a sushi bowl.

      One more to the list (NOT the escorts, the old leaders) :


      Field Marshall Baron Gustav Emil von Mannerheim was presisely 72 years old in 1939 when Stalin, trying to mimick Hitler, sent Russian troops to invade Finland.

      Mannerheim had spent 7 years "racing the whirlwind" as he called it, which would mean that from age 65 till 72, he (pretty much on his own) saw that tiny Finland cound at least hold the milllion-plus conscripts Stalin threw at him.

      That not even The Baron could hold with against those odds is obvious; but that Finland was able to fight to a truce, then accept minimal territorial loss is probably Mannerheim's legacy. (Things got dicey and complicated later, which even extended treatments get wrong.)

      But your dates are correct: Age 65, The Baron got the forts and defensive corridors up and running; age 72, he fought the world's largest land empire to a standstill in the brutal "Winter War" of 1939-40.

      Because of his extreme conservatism, Mannerheim naver got his due. Probably worse, he was indiffernt to religion so no Christian right-winger has ever leaped to claim him.

      Too bad, because he clinches your case, at least in my view of things.

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    2. Good point, and thanks for dealing with the spam.

      If Hitler had been half as good as Mannerheim, he'd have had Stalin dead or alive by Christmas, 1941. Russian losses in the Winter War against Finland were estimated at a million, versus 25,000 Finns.

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  2. Mannerheim's success may have been more a failure of the Russians than a success of his own. It takes two to wait until the enemy completes his defenses, to invade at a place where there are no roads (the Ardennes for example)and without applying a suitable 'preparation'. It didn't take long to put the Finns into the negotiation mode the following Spring. You will note that the Finns deserted the Fuhrer well before the Red Army reappeared and 'went over to the enemy'.

    That could well have been the Wisdom of Age in action, but I'd bet it was the work of 'young Finns'.

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    Replies
    1. Nope. Had it been up to the Young Finns, they'd all be speaking Russian today.

      I pinko journalist named Pritt, in England, made much the same point in 1940 and he was answered by British military men who knew the terrain and the conditions and said bullshit to all that right then and there.

      Mannerheim had been a Tsarist cavalry commander, an explorer, and had a talent for improvisation that in the end won even red Finns to his side. And he executed some of their mates during their Civil War!

      The stories of his 7 years race to prepare Finland used to be legion, and are a lesson in citizenship for any nation. He made a game, each summer, for young scouts to dig or build forts, ditches, walls, whatever, and only gradually and painstakingly got these structures to match and support each other. For a guy in his mid-to-late-sixties (then early 70s) to do this for nearly a decade is impressive enough. But he had a larger plan, and backups for those plans, and military professionals in 1940 were stunned at his foresight.

      Mannerheim was utterly hated by the Leftists of his era, who were no less dishonest then they are now. Thanks to their lying crap, Churchill declared war on him ("on Finland", technically, but on Mannerheim in reality) for giving an "equivacal" response when co-operating with Hitler during the continuation war in 1944.

      Imagine how insane The Baron's position was: Hitler's SS troops were already IN Finnish Lapland and he had nothing to spare from the Russian border, so cooperation and hoping the West would see his position was his only hope. With arseholes like Pritt in England, no dice.

      (One good thing about immmigration here, anyway: Roosevelt had so many American Finns in the logging biz by then his hands were tied, as were American pinkos. The US never followed suit and humiliated their nation by declaring war on the Finns. Tnank Zeus for small favors.)

      The vets in the US that demanded a postage stamp honoring Mannerheim knew the truth: Had it not been for The Baron, the European Arctic would probably been entirely Stalin's, at least for awhile.

      Every now and then the "great man" theory of history just happens to be true. Maybe only locally and once a century.

      He last won his nations presidency at age 77, just hoping to clean up the mess from the war and be certain Finland was never accused of starting it. His success assured his nation was the most respected country in Europe for at least a generation. Not small potatoes, not at all.

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