6
$\begingroup$

Assuming an alternate reality on present day earth where modern world leaders were required by their people and political doctrine to lead all wars from "the front", would societies be more or less prone to go to war?

How would it change the course of history?

Would presidents be more or less likely to engage in war?

Would the people be more likely to elect military figures knowing that if war broke out during in next 4-8 years that the president would be more directly, tactically involved?

More specifically I'm wondering how democracy would change if presidents/prime ministers were expected to be front line generals.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ On present day earth we already have the least number of wars in history. Back when kings had to prove themselves by war, there were quite a bit more. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Feb 20 '15 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ And what if these world leaders, e.g. George Washington, could be "recycled?" worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/10367/… $\endgroup$ – Tom Au Feb 21 '15 at 0:36
13
$\begingroup$

You're going to end up with more Figureheads.

The thing is, if your President is off doing war-stuff, then that means he isn't at home doing his normal Presidenting stuff. But he serves an important function, and has a lot of power, and that creates a power vacuum that someone else will fill while your President is away at war. So you're going to end up with Power Grabs, where the President's normal authority is slowly eroded each time he has to go off and fight people instead of doing his normal job. Eventually you just have a figurehead position where he doesn't do much most of the time, and only has significant authority during wartime.

This applies to other World Leader-types as well, even though they will in practice have different responsibilities, you'll see the same sort of power restructure over time.

So to answer your specific questions:

How would it change the course of history?

On the one hand this would create more of a power re-distribution, rather than a fundamental change. So I don't think you'd see many direct changes caused by this. On the other hand, consider the butterfly effect - small changes in human political power structures could cause extremely large changes over time. So the world could be very different even with only minor historical changes at each step.

Would presidents be more or less likely to engage in war?

Even in our political systems, presidents don't have as much influence on war as you might think in most modern first world countries. They probably have the most individual influence, but that's dwarfed by institutional, party, or societal pressure when determining if a country goes to war or not.

Would the people be more likely to elect military figures knowing that if war broke out during in next 4-8 years that the president would be more directly, tactically involved?

Probably, but since your presidents will end up with less non-wartime powers, this won't be as big of a change as you might think.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1: power will always gravitate to where it can be best held. Otherwise it will dissipate. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Feb 20 '15 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ Very well put, this is probably the most realistic outcome. I guess I was thinking about the criticism of politicians who seem a little too ready to send other people to war while staying safely at home. What if those that made the decision to go to war really had to fight in said war? $\endgroup$ – apaul Feb 20 '15 at 17:00
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @apaul34208 You'd find them not becoming world leaders anymore, and you'd find instead people who love going to war becoming world leaders. $\endgroup$ – Zibbobz Feb 20 '15 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ Umm, who says we don't have that already? $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 24 '15 at 18:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @apaul34208: Putting aside the fact that most military service is done when young, and most politicians aren't elected to national office until later in life, the US Congress has about 3 times the percentage of veterans as the general population: pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/04/… $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 24 '15 at 18:16
5
$\begingroup$

You can't lead a war from the front line anymore

Leading a war from the front line was done in history, with leaders being part of the melee action, but it hasn't been possible since WW2 and possibly even earlier. Generals of front line units aren't personally on the front line in any meaningful sense.

Small units are being led by a leader in combat directly, but somewhere between the level of platoon and division this becomes practically impossible, as the unit must be managed by a staff of officers that is safely behind the actual combat action, otherwise it's too easy for the enemy to disrupt or destroy the HQ. The larger the unit, the larger (and less mobile) HQ is needed, and it gets further from the front lines.

If a political leader would doing the role of a "front line general", it would not change their personal safety and risks in any way whatsoever. Instead of spending their time in a well defended government HQ/bunker/aircraft/etc they would be in a well defended military HQ/bunker/aircraft/etc. At best, they would move from the capital to a regional HQ in a major city closer to the front. For a historical example see WW2 country leaders meddling in military leadership - done from the same bunkers, and occassionally disastrous military results.

If a political leader would actually be fighting on the front line, say, commanding a tank, then they would not be leading that war. The deployment of UK prince Harry in Afghanistan is a real life example. They would either be just another low-level front-line officer, or possibly a glorified flag-carrier or PR event, but the actual command of the large military units would have to be done by someone else in a proper HQ with the rather large staff and communications gear that needs to be kept safe behind the front.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

In early world history, running over your enemies with military might was the only way to gain more power and land in the world - so most leaders of the world were at the front of their wars. They were, essentially, warlords.

The most notable warlord in history was Genghis Khan, a powerful figure whose swath of destruction changed the shape of most of the Eastern world. He held a great deal of power, and restructured all of the places he conquered as his band of warriors paved a path through the world.

Until he died, and everyone had to return to their homeland to elect his son as the new leader of the Mongols (they of course had every right to choose someone else, and have their head cut off for it. Democracy!), which essentially ended the Mongolian reign over the Western World.

On the other side of the world, Centuries prior, we have Alexander the Great, who led a similar takeover of a great deal of the Eastern World...up until the untimely end of his campaign, which then greatly contracted his rule.

The theme here is that a warlord can indeed gain a great deal of power and influence...but rarely can they hold onto it if they aren't also a great political leader.

What you would therefore find is a world where large drives for power happen constantly, because the warlords of the world have a great deal of power to make those wars happen, and want to exercise that power to sustain their rule...but once they reach their outer limit, either by reaching old age or other factors limiting how far they can legitimately claim, their empire would suddenly contract, letting other warlords of the world run rampant.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, but Mongols were famous for NOT requiring their hordes to be lead from the front. They had flag signals for attach, feigned retreat and such, so their strategists like Subutai (one of the the best strategists ever) could direct battles at age of 70 from a wagon and not horseback. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Feb 27 '15 at 1:47
2
$\begingroup$

Well the first problem comes in, in that most world leaders are not generals. We had Grant and Eisenhower. Next leading from the front is a great show of courage, but it is not a good place to be to direct battles. If you mean just being in the battle zone in the command tent that is a little different. However, back to my first point Presidents are not Generals. So the president becomes a 5th wheel and underfoot for those who know what they are doing.

Delegation is actually very important in any large organization. No one can do it all nor even verify everyone is doing their job. So delegation is the way to go. Get trustworthy people, give them a job and let them get it done.

So what I am saying is it would be very impractical to have world leaders in the front. I agree it would certainly change their perspective of wars if they were required to endanger themselves that way but that would likely just get a lot of 'secret service' men and women killed.

Even if it became a 'thing' what would encourage leaders to do that? Most likely there would be 'generals' who are elected and then the real power brokers will be sitting in the shadows doing their thing, and be less likely to be called out for their meddling (kind of like the Koch brothers). If a president (or other head of state) becomes too troublesome, then you start a war with someone to get them out of your hair and maybe if your lucky they don't come back.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In fact, well over half of US Presidents have had military experience (most in actual combat), starting with George Washington. 12 held the rank of general: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Of course in most cases the military service was prior to becoming President. Washington and possibly Madison were the only ones to see military action while President. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 20 '15 at 19:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for kingmakers and non-obvious power structures. The hero in Lie to Me once had to negotiate a favour with this Middle East foreign minister. His Eureka moment: the minister actually defers to the deputy minister, so sublte its visible only to body language hyper-experts. $\endgroup$ – Jesvin Jose Feb 20 '15 at 19:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Back in the days of aristocracy, armies dealt with having officers without military training fairly well by pairing the commander with a military expert. Examples are the Prussian staff officer and the General, or the British Colonel and his top Sargeant who knew his stuff. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Feb 21 '15 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ Yes and yet they still could hose up a plan. So why not just leave the general to it? $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 21 '15 at 1:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.