Book Review: Failures of Command

Post by Shy Ted

In 2012 Private Robert Poate was one of 3 Australian soldiers killed by a supposed ally in the Afghan National Army. Other soldiers were injured in the attack. This book, beautifully written and researched by Robert’ father, Hugh, is an expose of subsequent events, the Coronial Inquest and ADF shenanigans in pursuit of defending the actions of increasingly higher-ranked Commissioned Officers, most of whom have no combat experience. It lays bare systemic failures, the inability to learn from previous similar attacks and the refusal to accept adverse findings and with no attempt to redress them.

I’m fortunate to have been born in the years that missed out on National Service or conscription and, reading this, I’m glad that’s so. This is not written with the soldier in mind, it’s a book for the average person, particularly those dismayed at the direction of the country and political correctness.

It seems the ADF is not a defence force, rather a giant bureaucracy with many a distant bureaucrat in an air-conditioned office determined to find a crime in something that happened in the heat of the battle many years previously. You will know the travails of the likes of Ben Roberts-Smith but there are many more “thrown under the bus”, smeared in the press, lives ruined.

“Robbie” was a natural soldier, honed to the finest of required characteristics for the front line and when platoons like his were becoming increasingly vulnerable to, and had suffered, insider attacks, they weren’t even told, let alone, warned. Those non-warriors who failed to pass on lifesaving information were promoted time and again. The salaries of the top brass you wouldn’t believe but they are several times higher than their international equivalents who command much larger forces.

Nobody doubts the ability of the front line forces but behind them is a battalion of desk warriors and that’s not what is needed. In a quoted example only 6 out of 96 graduating Commissioned Officers, in command of the fighting men, had actual combat experience and in the field were more interested in tidy bunks and uniform standards than managing risk. I can’t see how successive governments can be unaware of this, nor do I see any inclination from any of them to upset the status quo. A newspaper article or short, sensational TV piece doesn’t do the problem justice. A must read.

Failures of Command by Hugh Poate. The book is published by Newsouth.

Shy Ted considers himself a bit of (not a lot of) a veteran of 
rural and remote life, mostly, but not always, nursing. 
Most of what you might read about in the media, other than the 
superficial headline such as doctor shortages, is nonsense. 
It’s interesting, challenging and rewarding and not for the 
faint-hearted or ideologues. 

Where necessary, names have been changed to protect identity.

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4 Responses to Book Review: Failures of Command

  1. kaysee kaysee says:

    It seems the ADF is not a defence force, rather a giant bureaucracy with many a distant bureaucrat in an air-conditioned office determined to find a crime in something that happened in the heat of the battle many years previously.

    Sitting in our cosy comfort zones, all safe and secure as a result of peace that was fought for and lives that were lost, it is easy to be armchair generals. The ones quickest to judge and condemn would be the biggest cowards on the battlefield.

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  2. Rohan says:

    My late grandfather told me stories about his expeirience as an NCO during basic training and life in New Guinea during WWII. His disdain for junior commissioned officers, due their arrogance, flagrent disregard or abuse of regulations and lack of care and consideration for their subordinates, was palpable. He was repeatedly threatened with demotion by these commissioned officers, when he refused to carry out orders that were unlawful. In every case, the officer was abusing their rank and privilege. He knocked back 4 field promotions to become Leftenant.

    He was the most principled man I’ve ever known.

    It appears that very little has changed.

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  3. Should have said it at the start of the week: thanks, Ted.

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  4. johanna johanna says:

    There seems to be a pattern along the lines that at the start of every major military conflict, the field commanders and bureaucrats are hopeless, all having attained their jobs in peacetime. That was the case with the Allies in both World Wars.

    Only after a lot of unneccessary bloodshed do they get shoved aside and replaced with people who know what they are doing, at least some of the time.

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