Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

The Leaderboard

Most Read: National

From the Blogosphere

Jena McGregor

Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Military Scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the professor of cultural science in the department of command, leadership and management at the U.S. Army War College.
» All Posts by Col. Charles D. Allen

Applying General Patton’s story to Japan’s prime minister

The Question: How likely is it the horrific tragedy in Japan will rewrite Prime Minister Kan’s story, from that of an unpopular politician facing scandal to a strong leader guiding a country through crisis?

“What have you done for me lately?” The answer in the case of Prime Minister Kan may be most important to the citizens of Japan in the wake of its current confluence of national-level crisis events.

 The famed General George S. Patton faced scrutiny for a number of events that threatened his ability to continue in command while leading soldiers during World War II.  Moviegoers who watched the Academy Award-winning Patton easily discerned the passion, power and intellect of this warrior-leader.  His successes in North Africa against Germany’s Field Marshall Rommel and in Sicily during Operation Husky with the capture of Messina are legendary.

 Patton’s famous rhetoric against enemy soldiers could not be separated from the actions of his soldiers in Sicily.  During the course of two days in July 1943, men under Patton’s Seventh Army killed two groups of more than 70 unarmed Italian and German captives outside of the town of Biscari.  Patton was dismissive of the accounts of the event and finally pressed to take action only at the insistence of his commander, General Omar Bradley, for what was called a massacre and slaughter conducted by American soldiers.

 The more renowned incident that threatened Patton’s career was actually two separate events that occurred within a week of each other in August 1943.  The slapping of Privates Charles Kuhl and Paul Bennet in their respective evacuation hospitals was deemed unconscionable.  When General Dwight Eisenhower became aware of the accounts, he wrote Patton a letter of censure and insisted that Patton apologize to the soldiers he had struck.  In December 1943, Patton was relieved of command of U.S. Seventh Army and seemed destined to end his career “in the backwater of the war.”

 It seemed destiny had other plans in store for Patton when President Roosevelt promised him an army command in the Normandy invasion of 1944.  His actions as the Third Army commander (such as the Battle of the Bulge and relief of Bastogne, and the drive across Germany to the Rhine) overshadowed his past foibles and he has been since heralded as one of greatest battlefield commanders of WWII.

 Such may be the case with Japanese Prime Minister Kan, if he is able to shepherd his nation through the tumult and uncertainty that lie ahead.  People are forgiving of past transgressions when leaders rise to the occasion and are effective in times of crises.

View all panel responses to this question

Col. Charles D. Allen  | Mar 15, 2011 2:18 PM

 
Read what others are saying