Sun Tzu was doing lists long before bloggers, so why not follow his lead? With Gen. McChrystal’s sudden fall from grace, this is a good topic to address.

1. Recklessness

A general who is brave but not judicious – that is, makes bad calls – gets his troops and his army in a lot of trouble. Recklessness means taking stupid chances out of a need to prove one’s courage to others.

2. Cowardice

Obviously, cowardice itself is also a vice. In organized conflict, it is the power of organization which makes the soldiers into an army, an entity greater than the sum of its parts. An army has much more fighting power than a collection of individuals of equal number. Cowardice wastes this energy and coherence.

3. A Hair-Trigger Temper

A general with a hasty temper is easily provoked by insults. This can lead him to making reckless mistakes. This is a product of a lack of self-discipline.

4.  A Thin Skin

Someone who is so thin skinned that any insult to his honor is a vile provocation that must be answered in kind is little different from 3), which leads to 1). Having honor (that is, pride) is hardly a defect, but insecurity leading to knee-jerk reactions is a dangerous fault indeed.

5. Losing Sight of the Big Picture

It’s great to care for the rank and file. It’s the sign of a decent human being. However, caring too much and valuing the men over the mission generally brings ruin to both. A general obsessed with his men will make small-scale decisions intended to help them, leading to large-scale ruin.


A general must recognize that war is bigger than any one man (including him); no one is irreplaceable. A general must tolerate small injuries to his pride and even to the lives of his men to make the decisions that lead to mission success and fewer net casualties. Obsession with any small issue leads to hasty and reckless decisions that sacrifice the mission and (usually) the troops as well. However well-intended thinking small might be, a general who isn’t thinking big is leading his army into deep trouble.