Lessons from the Life of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara


Last year I attended the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans at Purdue University, I met some incredible people. One of those I met was my friend Juan. An immigrant from Venezuela who came to the United States at 19 not knowing a word of English.

He learned flawless English, went to Law School at Ohio State and served in the US Army as a Staff Judge Advocate. Besides a harrowing tour in Iraq, he was responsible for setting up a program that instructed almost all the countries of Latin and South America about military law. He is an incredible guy.

Every day we would talk about issues, national security, running a small business and the beauty and tragedy of the American justice system. It was like hanging out with the Stephen Hawking of Liberal Arts. He has a brilliant mind.

He gave me an awesome movie that changed the way I looked at the one of my favorite subjects- The Vietnam War.

The Fog of War

‘The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara’ is a 2003 Errol Morris documentary. Using interviews with Robert McNamara and archival footage, it is a personal account and intimate dialog all it once.

Fog of War 11 Lessons

McNamara explains the process of examining the experiences of his long and controversial period as the United States Secretary of Defense. The film talks about periods of his personal and public life.


McNamara‘s family was Irish and he grew up in California. McNamara went to the University of California in Berkeley. He graduated in 1937 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics with minors in mathematics and philosophy. He then attended Harvard Business School and earned an MBA in 1939.

He taught analytical approaches used in business to officers of the United States Army Air Forces (USSAF). He joined the USAAF as a captain in early 1943, serving most of World War II with its Office of Statistical Control. One major responsibility was the analysis of U.S. bombers’ efficiency and effectiveness.

After the war, McNamara was one of the “Whiz Kids” who helped rebuild Ford Motor Company after World War II. He briefly served as Ford’s President before becoming Secretary of Defense under President Kennedy.

McNamara Kennedy
McNamara and President Kennedy

He was the longest serving Secretary of Defense at over seven years under both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

He was a key adviser to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1963.

Vietnam War

McNamara was a prime architect of the Vietnam War. He repeatedly overruled the Joint Chief of Staff on strategic matters.

During Kennedy’s administration, McNamara supported the President’s decision to increase American involvement in Vietnam.

Under President Johnson, he began to suspect that American aims in the growing war were futile. He urged the President and his advisors to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict. Under pressure to win the war before withdrawal, Johnson asked McNamara to step down in 1967.

McNamara later published his memoir entitled ‘In Retrospect,’ in which he reflects on American foreign policy mistakes in Vietnam. “We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why,” McNamara, writing in his 1995 memoir.

mcnamara Vietnam map
McNamara and a map of Vietnam


McNamara is an interesting case study of leadership. A man who tried to use business paradigms on an unpopular war.

He was an eyewitness to some of the seminal events in contemporary American history. He was the leader of the most powerful military force during one of America’s most violate periods.

He gave out ten lessons on what he learned from being up-close and personal with two Presidents as a Secretary of Defense. His experience and insider perspective can teach us a lot.

Robert S. McNamara’s Ten Lessons

Lesson 1- The Human Race will not eliminate war in this century, but we can reduce the brutality of war- the level of killing- by adhering to the principles of a “Just War,” in particular to the principle of “proportionality.”

Lesson 2- The indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.

Lesson 3- We are the most powerful nation in the world- economically, politically, and militarily- and we are likely to remain so in the decades ahead. But we are not omniscient.

If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and similar values of the merits of our proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend directly the continental US. Alaska and Hawaii.

Lesson 4- Moral principles are often ambiguous guides to foreign and defense policy, but surely we can agree that we should establish as a major goal of US foreign policy and, indeed, of foreign policies across the globe: the avoidance in this last century of carnage- 160 million dead- caused by conflict in the 20th century.

Lesson 5- We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our poor and to the disadvantaged in the world to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental of terms of nutrition, literacy, health and employment.

Lesson 6- Corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to stockholders, but they also have a responsibility to their employees, their customers and to society as a whole.

Lesson 7- President Kennedy believed “the primary responsibility” of a president- is to keep a nation out of war, if at all possible.

Lesson 8- War is a blunt instrument by which to settle disputes between or within nations, and economic sanctions are rarely effective. Therefore, we should build a system of jurisprudence based on the International Court- that the US has refused to support- which would hold individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.

Lesson 9- If we are to deal effectively with terrorists across the globe, we must develop a sense of empathy- I don’t mean “sympathy” but rather “understanding”- to counter attacks on the Western World.

Lesson 10- One of the greatest dangers we face today is the risk that terrorists will obtain access to weapons of mass destructions as a result of the breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Regime. We in the US are contributing to that breakdown.




Antoine-Henri, Baron Jomini (6 March 1779 – 24 March 1869), a Swiss officer who served as a general in the French and later in the Russian army. He was one of the most celebrated writers on the Napoleonic art of war.

His influence is just as large Clausewitz. All the senior generals of the American Civil War, who had attended West Point, knew about Jomini and his ideas.



Jomini was born into an “old Swiss family” of Italian descent. As a young man in 1796 he went to work in Paris.

In 1798, He returned to Switzerland to become a business man. In 1802, he began writing on military subjects. His first book on military theory: Traité des grandes operations militaires (Treatise on Major Military Operations) was a success.

Michel Ney, one of Napoleon’s top generals, read the book in 1803 and subsidized its publication. In 1804, he joined the French Army and fought at Austerlitz, and in the Prussian and Peninsula campaigns.

He took part in the 1812 invasion of Russia. He joined the Russian army in late 1813, and stayed until 1828.

He produced 27 volumes of work before his death in 1869.


The principle of war called “maneuver” comes directly from Jomini. He listed four rules for strategy and started each rule with the word “maneuver”:

  1. Maneuver to bring the major part of your forces to bear upon the enemy’s decisive area and communication without endangering your own forces.
  2. Maneuver to bring your major forces against only part of your enemy’s force.
  3. Maneuver to bring your major forces to bear upon the decisive area of the battlefield or the enemy’s lines.
  4. Maneuver to bring your mass to bear swiftly and decisively upon the enemy.

Chess and Checkers

Jomini viewed the battlefield like a chess game. If you can control three sides of the box (the battlefield) you will maneuver your enemy into submission.

A knock down shooting match in wars of attrition like the American Civil War or World War I was like a checkers game. The ideas is that you blast away until you eliminate the enemy, there is not much maneuver. In checkers you kill everyone off.

In chess a good player using maneuver can control the three sides of the box can win without killing off his own or opponents’ pieces. Clearly, chess is a smarter and better way to fight.

Units were seen as pieces to be moved with their actions planned in advanced and placed on the board so that each movement can be predicted well ahead of the next move.

The battlefield was a big chess board where the mission was to push the enemy to a fixed position and continue to apply pressure. This was done in hopes of winning the battle without having to fight. A war to end all wars, like Sherman’s march to the sea.

He recommended ignoring minor objectives in favor of applying massive force at one point to break the enemy. That point could be geographical – a river or a road- or it could be related to the specific maneuver of the enemy.

The decisive point can be political- a capital, such as Baghdad- or it could be a supply area, that if captured can critically damage the enemy’s ability to fight.

Jomini’s methods were aimed at quick, conclusive results.

Historical Example

The final victory of the American Revolutionary Army at Yorktown illustrates Jomini’s maneuver concept. George Washington did have to kill off the British Army General Cornwallis’ army in a frontal attack.

Cornwallis had to surrender. Like the checkmate in chess, Washington’s army and the French fleet controlled all sides of the box. With nowhere to go the British had to surrender.


Jomini’s military writings are frequently analyzed. He took a didactic, prescriptive approach, reflected in a detailed vocabulary of geometric terms such as bases, strategic lines, and key points.

He saw warfare almost as an intellectual systemic approach. His operational prescription was fundamentally simple: put superior combat power at the decisive point.


In Jomini’s day warfare was linear. National armies applied linear tactics to create the greatest volley of fire in a given area. Jomini was not concerned with guerilla warfare like Napoleon faced in the Peninsular War (1808-1814).

Similarities in military ideas to Clausewitz

Both Clausewitz and Jomini had many of the same themes. Their ideas stem from three sources. First to common historical interests in the campaigns of Frederick the Great. Second, their long, personal experiences in the Napoleonic Wars. Third, they read each other’s books.

Integration of Clausewitz and Jomini into American military thought took place after the War of 1812. The establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY in 1802 and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD in 1845 helped to institutionalize the professional training of military leaders, much like the Germans.

The adoption of Clausewitz and Jomini theory by the American Army led to the nine principles of war.

Jomini’s concepts are an early longhand version of the US Army’s principles of war. They appeared for decades in FM 100-5, Operations. (The formulation based on single words- mass, offensive, security – J. F. C. Fuller first used in the 1920s.) They appear today in ADRP 3-0, Unified Land Operations. The expectation is for US Army planners and operators to know them and use them.


Major Ryan- The Nebraskan

Ryan- The Nebraskan

Ryan is an extraordinary leader who lives the values of being an “Airborne Ranger.” An amazing athlete- He beat General Petraeus’ time on the Army 10 miler by more than 3 minutes.

The outside world sees a quiet, almost shy figure, who expresses his strongest feelings, especially on professional matters, in writing. Underneath his hushed tones he is one of the boldest spirits I have ever known.

From Ryan, I learned in situations of moral ambiguity, good intentions and heartfelt wishes are not enough. The great dividing line between words and results is courageous action.

He showed me great warriors, are also humanitarians, and that without courage, compassion falters, and that without compassion, courage has no direction. I have known many West Point Graduates but never one who exemplified “Duty, Honor, Country” as this quiet Nebraskan who loves his family and country above all else.

He would make me renounce every bad thing I ever said about West Pointers. Ryan taught me many lessons in being a good leader. Here are just a few.

July 2000, Camp Casey, Korea

My first job out of college was as an Infantry Platoon Leader in Korea. I was assigned to one of two mechanized infantry battalions at Camp Casey.

Camp Casey sits 12 miles from the North Korean border and 25 miles from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. No one ever said it, but we all knew we were a speed bump for the North Korean horde if they came south.

We had outdated equipment that constantly broke down. All our soldiers were on their tail of their enlistments and just wanted to go home. You could look forward to a freezing cold winter and stifling summer heat where all we did was train. It was a dream assignment to learn how to lead men.

We had a die-in-place mission should the “hostilities” ever resume. The order was simple. If alerted, just climb aboard your Bradley Fighting Vehicle and point it north. There were three rules: 1. March to the sounds of the guns. 2. Kill everyone that didn’t look like you. 3. Hold out as long as you can and hope you survive until help arrives (not very likely). It added a sense of realism to all our training.

I had been at Camp Casey for a month by July. In a place with 20% turn over every 30 days, in a month you were an “old guy.” One year tours and the urgency of the mission meant things happened fast. It was essential to find a “buddy” to show you the ropes.

Ryan moved into the small room next to mine. I volunteered to be his tour guide. It would be a friendship that would last a lifetime.

The Nebraskan

Ryan always reminded me of the actor Jim Caviezel. With his blue eyes, high cheekbones and quiet demeanor, he was every inch a Nebraskan. He was quiet without being a bore, ambitious without taking either himself or his job too seriously and unassuming without being dull.

Ryan had a quiet reserve. His hallmark was his Midwest values of honesty and sincerity. He was the type of leader that his subordinates would attempt any mission for. They would charge ahead regardless of the situation or fears. They would do it because he was there with them.

Ryan lacked the fake macho, loudness that marked many of our peers. He had the tough masculinity of a man who defined himself by his deeds. He was unlike anyone else coming straight out of Ranger School.

Beanpole thin, with a slow drawl and awkward mannerisms, you initially couldn’t imagine him as an infantry platoon leader. But his openness, emotional complexity, intelligence, and authenticity made him the perfect small unit leader.

He would coax out of his men some of the most unforgettable performances of military excellence I would ever see.

He inspired them by his personal and physical example to follow him.

His Example

Ryan R’s secret identity name follows the alliteration rule of Marvel Comics characters like Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Scott Summers, Reed Richards, Matt Murdock, etc. With a first name as his last name he couldn’t help but stand out.

Ryan was raised in Nebraska City, Nebraska. He grew up across the street from the John Brown’s Cave tourist attraction. A hollowed-out hole beneath an old cabin that represented a place where escaping slaves may or may not have hidden. “It was the biggest lure in four counties,” he once told me over some beers in Seoul.

It was here among the conservative, friendly folk in Otoe County, Nebraska Ryan learned to see the real value in life. He attended West Point and become an Infantry Officer. In the two years we served together, I had never met a man who embodied the motto of: “Duty, Honor, Country” more than Ryan.

Ryan had been in the battalion for a month when he quickly became the favorite of the enlisted men. He would spend extra time working out with soldiers that needed help. He stayed after hours helping his NCOs study for exams.

He stunned his grunts when he took up the M240B machine gun on an all-night patrol, a job usually given to the newest recruit. He would check his men for exhaustion and made sure they ate. He was the first one in the motor pool and the last one to leave.

He always a quick story about a friend or acquaintance to illustrate a point. All Ryan ever had to say, “I knew this fella once…” and everyone within earshot would smile. He told the story without being preachy.

Ryan is a Midwestern boy who steeped himself in military history so he knew his trade. He lived by a personal code of honor that required him to step forward and take the lead on almost every situation.

In Ryan’s example, there is a simple truth. That’s what real leaders do; they lead. Ryan showed us that real leaders get assailed with doubts, real fears, and insecurities.

His examples show us that military medals are usually earned the hard way. That professionals who are component and compassionate win battles, by doing whatever has to be done.

That in the end, when men die in battles, there is no splendor, no trumpets sounded for glory, just young men swallowing hard, and stepping up to the plate again to do the right thing. The way the Nebraskan Ryan Roberts would get the job in Iraq, in Korea and in several places around the globe.

Ryan is serving his third tour in Korea. He is going to hate that wrote all this stuff about him.

Duty at the Fulda Gap


During the Cold War there were two places that were the “hottest” places on earth. First was the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. The second was the Fulda Gap (the Gap) between West and East Germany.

Up to the fall of communism in 1991 both places where the front line in a Cold War that could go hot any minute. Tensions were constant due to the nearby presence of communist forces. An overwhelming number of the communist horde was just a few miles away just waiting to invade the west.

Soviet Invansion Routes
Soviet Invansion Routes through the Fulda Gap

The Cold War

Being in the American Army in from the late 1940s to the early 1990s the entire focus was on defeating communism. America and Russia fought a number of proxy wars- Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan- but never a “hot” war.

The stakes of nuclear Armageddon were too high. Better to fight a smaller war with only a few thousand men than another world war.

At the end of World War II with Germany and Japan defeated the world was a different place. The uneasy alliance with the Soviet Union came to an end. In a few short years, both countries had nuclear weapons. Conditions seemed grim.

With communism menacing the world the American Army prepared for another war- this time against godless communism. To the hardcore Cold Warriors the new mission was of monumental importance.

Besides the Soviet Union there was Mao in China and Kim Jong IL in North Korea. These veterans were “pure war fighters” who emphasized everything from readiness to equipment all in the name of the ability to deploy and fight.

From the vantage point of the leaders of the army it was not merely a constant between ideologies but a struggle of epic, even biblical proportions, pitting the forces of light against darkness. The fate of civilization itself seemed to hang in the balance.

The Fulda Gap

As tensions heated up between the two superpowers the army assumed a new, twofold mission. The first was defending the Fulda Gap against a possible Warsaw Pact attack.

The second was conducting day-to-day surveillance of the 385 kilometers of the Iron Curtain dividing East and West Germany.

The Fulda Gap was an area from Belfort to Wissemburg, several open passes running through the hills about 60 miles northeast of Frankfurt. NATO planners pinned this as a likely invasion route into Western Europe for Soviet Bloc forces.


The Soviet Battle Plan

The Soviets learned the hard way about attrition warfare in World War II. They believed lots and lots of soldiers in overwhelming numbers could solve any problem.

Flood the battle space with enough soldiers, and ultimately you will achieve victory.

Service in the Gap

On the American side, serving at “the Gap” was an assignment of special responsibility. Junior leaders destined for high rank were chosen. The standards of performance were high, almost uncompromising. It was the closest thing to war during peace time.

Most days were like the others: preparing for war. Live ammunition, patrolling soldiers were well-disciplined and ready to fight. They were under constant observation. Their gear had to be clean, boots highly polished, uniforms pressed, weapons spotless, and radios fully operational.

They had to show their potential adversaries, they were ready for combat. Operating under constant threat of all-out combat, reaction forces would respond virtually without notice to any contingency along the border.

Once leaving the camp gate their weapons were loaded with live ammo- fully mounted, vehicles were equipped with their wartime stock and the men were ready for war.

Duty at “the Gap” was a shared experience for generations of soldiers who served there. The service was intense, real and typically seen as a life-changing experience for many soldiers.

Back in the 1980’s, forty years after World War II, there were 250,000 US soldiers in West Germany, part of a NATO military force of nearly million personnel, mostly West Germans. Intelligence sources estimated that the Soviets had 1.2 million personnel in neighboring Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

Modern Day Cavalry Mission

Soldiers serving in this front-line area saw it as a modern day frontier where World War III would start. Holding the line was the US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division. The cavalry traditionally served on the frontier, just like the old (American) West.

3rd Armored Division

At a series of remote outposts surrounding the Fulda, the 11th Cavalry soldiers manned observation base keeping a watch into East Germany.

Some outposts were on the frontier dividing West and East Germany and Czechoslovakia. The Americans cautiously watched their Communist opponents about 400 yards away on the other side of a steel-mesh fence and barbed wire.

Soviet troops stayed in the background, with Soviet-made helicopters regularly patrolling the eastern side of the border. The crews would sometimes change out. Sometimes they were Soviets, and sometimes they were East Germans.

The Long-Term Strategy

The Fulda Gap outposts, with surrounding support bases, were among 800 US military installations large and small throughout West Germany. The American troops’ presence there was seen as vital to U.S. foreign policy and NATO during the Cold War.

Hard to believe now looking back when the Soviet threat was most clearly manifested. It charged the entire American Army and NATO in West Germany.

The presence of US soldiers and the high number of NATO troop strength ensured that the alliance could operate as a defensive force and as a preserver of peace in the “hot” Cold War.

Most analysts thought World War III would be fought with nuclear weapons and not maneuver units. A premise that US and other Western military commanders disputed sighting the facing of the Warsaw Pact’s greater numbers of troops and tanks.

Book Review: The Passion of Command: The Moral Imperative of Leadership by Colonel Bryan McCoy


The command of military forces in combat is the unlike any other field of endeavor. It has been said that war is the ultimate form of human competition.

A military commander operates in an environment of chaos, chance and uncertainty. It stretches the imagination, taxes the body and tests a commander’s faith.

The commander tries to defeat his enemy in every way possible, both by being fair and foul. The commander is responsible for every factor that deals with mission success or failure- logistics, personnel, training, planning and execution.

His is the ultimate responsibility. In victory they are lauded with praise and in defeat, they are shunned. In an organization that prizes conformity and teamwork war is the ultimate “game.” Failure at any level is rarely tolerated.

The truly great commander is one who attains victory in an unprecedented or unexpected way. He stands out among his peers through his skill on the battlefield through the level of his accomplishments.

In the Spring of 2006 I heard such a leader speak.

Boulder, Colorado- April 14, 2006

On April 14, 2006 I was a new Captain. I had been home from Iraq less than 4 months. I had taken a new job teaching Army ROTC at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I heard about Colonel McCoy while I was in Iraq.

McCoy and members of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (3/4) helped Iraqi citizens pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein. It would become the most iconic image of the Iraq War.

Saddam statue in Firdos Square- April 9, 2003

McCoy spoke at the 58th Annual Conference on World Affairs April14, 2006 at the University of Colorado Boulder in a symposium on leadership. He talked about his experiences leading a Marine Infantry Battalion in Iraq.

His speech and his book would change the way I would view leadership.

Marine Colonel Bryan McCoy

Colonel Bryan McCoy was the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (3/4) from May 2002 to July 2004. He led his battalion through two combat tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

3/4 was the first Marine unit to enter Baghdad on April 7, 2003. It was the unit that pulled down the Saddam statue in Firdos Square on April 9, 2003. During the second tour 3/4 was a part of Operation Vigilant Resolve in Fallujah in April to May 2004.

McCoy was the subject of a book by embedded reporter John Koopman, ‘McCoy’s Marines: Darkside to Baghdad.’ His most important contribution is a book he wrote called ‘The Passion of Command: The Moral Imperative of Leadership.’


The Book

The book is an essay on military leadership. McCoy talks about preparing his battalion for war. When he took command of his battalion it was only seven months after 9/11. He and his men knew they were going to war.

McCoy writes, “The will of the commander is the heart that pumps blood to the sinews of the unit. I deliberately sought to understand where my own internal culminating point was and to harden myself physically and mentally to pushing it back. I began running marathons, than fifty-mile ultra-marathons.”

He was attempting to not only build his endurance, but also to gauge his own shortcomings and build his will. It would sustain him on the march to Baghdad.

On the march up from Kuwait almost every day was a fight. It was the equivalent of completing a marathon every day. Such events tax the body’s parasympathetic response to extreme stress. With doses of adrenaline, fatigue and mental strain the body and mind crash after so many hours.

Learning your limits are important. Especially as the commander, because you need to make clear, rational choices. This is hard to do as stress and fatigue mount.

“When you begin to tally the day-to-day stress of combat, plus living in bulky chemical suits everything seems hard,” he said. Add in the heat, dust, equipment breakdown, mounting casualties and threat of an experienced enemy can all take a major toll, both physically and mentally.

“Just taking a piss is a mighty effort as you climb in and out of your chemical suit,” he said.

McCoy at map
Lt Col Bryan McCoy briefs his Marines on a map

The Book

After leading his battalion in two tours in Iraq in late 2004, McCoy was appointed to the National War College. He called it “The Armed Forces version of higher education.” While there he and 12 his classmates were in a Small Group and asked to write papers for extra credit.

He started writing about his wartime experience as a form of “combat download.” What started as a 30 page assignment turned into “stream of consciousness.” In a writing blitz he turned out a 90 page book to understand and master the human factor of combat.

McCoy incorporated philosophy, psychology and physiology to get the message across. His primary point in the book is about preparing a combat arms unit for war at the battalion level. All units practice the fundamentals of fire and maneuver.

McCoy and his Command Sergeant Major took it a step further. While training at the USMC Air Ground Combat Center at Twenty-Nine Palms, California, McCoy and his marines would talk about the war.

They developed scenarios where moral ambiguity was a constant.

Questions like: “To shoot or not to shoot the lady who may or may not be wearing an IED vest?” “How much care to provide to a wounded enemy soldier?” “When to question an order?”

They would use cognitive imaging techniques during field training to prepare themselves for the realities of war. During daily Physical Training (PT) exercises they would role-play battle injuries. One marine would be injured, another marine would be performing first-aid, and a third marine would be pulling security and on the radio.

Each training evolution in the field or at PT would have to incorporate four fundamentals of “shoot, move, communicate and heal.”

All PT was done in “battle rattle” so the men could get used to wearing 40 plus pounds of gear. McCoy says, “You never go into combat just wearing t-shirt and shorts.”

The idea was coming was close as to can simulate the emotional and physical side of combat. McCoy says, “Scientifically, you’re building the synapses- bridges that will help them get through this.” His goal was to not only have the win in battle, but to have his Marines return home, “… with their honor clean.”

Selfless Leadership

In ‘The Passion of Command’ McCoy encourages us to imagine a different way of leadership. He uses the word “passion” in the ancient Latin sense. It translates into “suffering for love.” His proposal is that military leaders should do what some Christian denominations see as “servant leadership.”

The end result was as an unconventional training model that produced extraordinary results. In a brutal firefight outside of Al Kut, Iraq his men won a battle, although they were outnumbered and outgunned. McCoy believes the outcome was in direct proportion of his unit’s readiness.

Lasting Impression

McCoy directed his Marines to become “experts in the application of violence” without sacrificing their humanity. ‘The Passion of Command’ he writes about the essence of war is violence and about the act of killing legitimate human targets without hesitation.

To train his Marines, he instituted meaningful training. He used refined principles seeing his Marines as human beings. Those principles guide him through the book. His story is about leadership and the administration of that moral code that rules the field of battle.

He does all this so his men, and he can live with the things they know they must do to survive both the tour and the remainder of their lives as they live with the aftermath of war.

‘The Passion of Command’ provides inside information into the warrior culture and allows the reader to grasp the complexities when hardening the mind, body and spirit for the rigors of combat. McCoy opens the door and lets the reader into this complex yet simple world. He shows warriors how to toughen their spirit and he gives leaders a practical example to follow.



McCoy, B. (2007). The Passion of Command: The Moral Imperative of Leadership. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Press.