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I have a commander who won several wars with relatively small casualties, against opponents who were similar in strength.

Is it possible his victories to be disregarded as flukes and opportunism, and his skills to be held as mediocre at best?

If possible some examples from the history would be highly appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ The people who lost to him would certainly try to make it seem like he only won due to luck, and try to downplay his victories. Or even other commanders who want to lead instead, or feel they deserve the glory. Do you him to be regarded as mediocre by everyone? It's not likely that someone successful won't be viewed as successful by at least somebody. $\endgroup$ – Giter Apr 14 '18 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ Several wars? If he won several wars it means that he was put in command over and over again. This means that somebody thought very well of him indeed. Doesn't this run against the premise that he was not appreciated? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 14 '18 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ Haig is generally regarded as blunderer of the highest calibre, despite being a relatively successful battlefield commander. $\endgroup$ – Richard Apr 14 '18 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP He may be put in command for all practical means and purposes, while still having a formal superior who would steal all the fame. The superior would put him in command again and again because he wants more achievements and fame to steal. $\endgroup$ – Headcrab Apr 16 '18 at 3:20
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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean "wars" or battles? Winning several battles might be a fluke. Given the intricacies of wars, after winning 2, you kinda become an expert. $\endgroup$ – Jammin4CO Apr 16 '18 at 17:58

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The easiest way to do this is to have him on the frontier far from the important part of the country.

A general who isn't of the right class/race/religion/thinking three thousand miles away is easy to dismiss. "Oh, he defeated some savages. I'm quite certain the rock throwing, unarmoured savages, wearing grass skirts were a real challenge."

As long as he's not facing an empire or country they consider their equal, anything he does doesn't really matter. This is especially true if there is a more dashing general is also making news somewhere else.

"Yes, I know General Street Scum defeated some savages. But General Heir to the Throne just gained us over 500 miles of territory in the south."

It doesn't matter that the second general was fighting a numerically and technologically inferior foe, with full support of the Country, it took him two years and 40% casualties, he gained territory so he's a genius. Whereas the unfavourable general held his ground while being starved of competent troops, limited supplies and facing a foe that has been racing to modernize. Because it's far away in an unimportant place, his wars barely matter.

This would also avoid the question of why a supposedly incompetent general is kept in command. He is 'just' good enough to be allowed a position that is almost exile, and it keeps his 'betters' from having to accept the position.

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    $\begingroup$ Rather than backward savages, you could use some border provinces and a technological superior foe or even the "common" enemy. The lack of "good" (read: with accepted sophistication and in favor) commanders or total lack of command could be the reason why people disregard the accomplishments. Add some social/racial prejudice and the commander in question can easily be disregarded. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Apr 14 '18 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan, that works as well. Depending on the size of the country the border provinces could be seen as unimportant so the battles there don't really matter. In my answer I didn't mean the enemies would be 'savages' just that they would be seen as such by the 'sophisticated' and 'civilized' people of the country. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Apr 14 '18 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ Add to that that the supposedly remote and exile post is actually critical and the incompetent general wouldn't be able to win his part without the actual wins of the competent one (e.g. capturing some rare resources or securing the incompetent generals supply lines). The poor one would do everything to keep the appearances on the cost of the good one. Other option (that is likely to be combined) is to have the competent commander actually loose some critical battle in the past (might be due to the totally infavourable conditions that were beyond him or even caused by the incompetent one). $\endgroup$ – Ister Apr 16 '18 at 8:26
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    $\begingroup$ And then Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and it wasn't "just Gauls" anymore. Very nice answer. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Apr 17 '18 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ Wellington prior to Portugal is a good example of this. Napolean dismissed him as a 'sepoy general'. $\endgroup$ – user207421 Apr 18 '18 at 5:19
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Yes, there are historical examples

Ulysses S. Grant

Grant won (or, at the very least, commanded the victorious army) at several famous battles as a field commander like Shiloh and the Siege of Vicksburg. He crushed the western half of the Confederacy until he was promoted to supreme commander, whereupon he won the rest of the war too. However, he was dogged by allegations of being a drunk, down to the present day. He ought to be considered the greatest general in American history, but the man he beat (Robert E. Lee) is still often more highly esteemed.

Lord Corwallis

He was a very successful field commander. In the American Revolution he lead from the field the British victories at Brandywine and Camden. In India, he won several victories against the formidable Tipu Sultan, and secured the Madras Presidency (much of which was formerly French) in the Third Anglo-Mysore War. His reputation was ruined in the eyes of history, however, since he surrendered at Yorktown, thus ending the Revolutionary War. This wasn't even entirely his own fault, given the general lack of support for the war back in England. But still, he is often remembered as a failure, certainly in America.

Heraclius

Heraclius has one of the most impressive records of combat against adversity. The Byzantine-Sasanian war was going terribly for the Romans. The Persians had swept into Egypt, had captured Jerusalem and the True Cross, and a Persian army had marched across Asia and camped outside the walls of Constantinople itself. No Persians had made it so far since Xerxes. The ineffective Emperor of Rome was Phocas. Heraclius, a governor in Africa (meaning modern Tunisia), gathered his men and sailed to the capital. Landing in 610, he overthrew the emperor, took the purple himself, and bribed the Persians with territory and gold for a ceasefire. Despite a devastated realm and no standing army, he quickly rebuilt his kingdom for war. He left the capital in 622 for a campaign six years long, where he recovered all lost territories and invaded and plundered Mesopotamia. Having recovered the True Cross, and defeated Khosrow II Aparvez (the Victorious, oops), his name was set to live in history as one of the great generals. Unfortunately, just a few months after he restored the True Cross the Jerusalem in a magnificent ceremony, he fought a small skirmish against some desert raiders lead by a fellow named Muhammed.

Well, we know where this is going. Heraclius's problem was that he lived too long; had he died in 630, he would have died a hero. But he lived another decade, long enough to see Arab raid be come a flood, and the Byzantine army routed at Yarmuk (Heraclius, now over 60 years old, wasn't there). All the Levant south of Damascus and all Egypt had fallen by the time he died, never to be recovered by Christendom. Heraclius was a great general and organizer, and though he left his kingdom worse off then he found it, perhaps his greatest achievement was that he left a kingdom at all, given what happened to his Persian rivals.

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    $\begingroup$ There is a theory in some historical circles that Lord Cornwallis deliberately threw the battle at Yorktown. Military historians note that his deployments at Yorktown were exactly right to throw the battle with minimum loss of life on either side, Washington's army was on the verge of collapse, and that he was immediately promoted on his return to England. (John Keegan, Warpaths) $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 14 '18 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ With Grant, his big problem was that a lot of the upper class and politicians didn't like him. He drank a lot, had made several embarrassing mistakes in the past, and his fighting style was largely hit something until it broke. It worked, it worked extremely well in the West, but in the East it had the soldiers and the politicians hating the tactics. By the ending of the war soldiers were writing home saying they were dead men walking, and the army was a shadow of itself. Again it worked, but it didn't win him many supporters. Continued below. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Apr 15 '18 at 3:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Semaphore, you won't hear much of an argument from me. General Lee was the better General, but Grant did know what his own advantages were, more manpower and resources as you said. So he forced Lee to fight on his terms, he deserves a bit more credit than he gets. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Apr 15 '18 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ @DanClarke Lee made a series of tactical errors that lost him the otherwise winnable battle at Gettysburg. Grant might have been dealt a strong hand, but he never lost with it. Really hard to say that Lee was the better general. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 15 '18 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ To some extent, Lee's reputation is due to an inversion of Dan Clarke's answer. Grant's predecessor, McClellan, was an officer, a gentleman, and a timid and ineffective commander. Lee's ability to outmaneuver him isn't surprising given McClellan's unwillingness to engage even when he had a clear advantage. But McClellan was a respected general with a superior force, and he was unable to defeat Lee, so Lee's reputation soared. $\endgroup$ – Ray Apr 16 '18 at 17:25
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It is possible but the conditions are exact enough I am not sure it has actually happened. And obviously every victory extends the time those conditions have to be maintained so there is probably a limit how far you can push it.

Basically it is in the eye of the beholder. If the general belongs to an ethnic or political group that is held in low esteem his achievements will be devalued and explained away. The same if there is a strong tradition of military dogmatism and general uses, if you'll excuse the language, "innovative" or "unorthodox" methods.

The latter is probably what you want as it also explains why he can win those victories. And yes, if you win by proving that everybody else has been wrong all the time, you will find your achievements dismissed as luck by the experts. Especially if you are not polite about it.

This probably has happened fairly regularly over the centuries. The problem is maintaining the situation over several wars. If the general keeps getting appointed to lead the armies, dismissing his achievements looks a lot like implying the one doing the appointments is incompetent. This is usually unhealthy and either people will start being properly appreciative or the general will be replaced.

So you'll probably need a very specific political explanation why the powers that be want their general to be underrated and won't stop unfair criticism of their chosen general. Or alternately you can provide a very strong reason he needs to be the general that is commonly resented but can't be worked around.

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  • $\begingroup$ Happy Gilmore. "He doesn't play golf. He destroys it." $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 14 '18 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ "The deal was single combat! He brought an entire army to the tourney!" Meanwhile at the King's court "Your Magesty, general Jiguna's actions bring taint and dishonour on all of our nation", "But he won the war, didn't he?" $\endgroup$ – Nick Dzink Apr 14 '18 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @NickDzink Probably should have mentioned that on some rare occasions "taint and dishonour" is what you want. For example it can be used to trigger a pending aristocratic rebellion at a time you have a superior general and a loyal army of veterans. Or to withdraw from a claim to a contested area you do not actually need by using the general as a scapegoat. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Apr 14 '18 at 22:28
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In addition to the other answers, here is another suggestion: The general in question has had numerous successes, but the overall context of those battles was unsuccessful.

For example, the US won many battles in the Vietnam war, but since the overall campaign was unsuccessful, the generals are not held in the same regard as, say, their world war II equivalents. Also their foes in Vietnam generally had inferior resources, which belittles the difficulty of the war. Added to that is the cloud of accusations of human rights abuses.

Another example would be Germany's generals in the two world wars. Many of them were quite successful militarily, but ultimately they were on the losing side. I think you will be able to find many examples of good generals who ultimately lost the war throughout history.

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    $\begingroup$ As a counterpoint to "German generals", Erwin Rommel was and remains very well-regarded on both sides of the conflict. But perhaps this is influenced by the fact that he didn't survive the war, having been "encouraged" to commit suicide in 1944 following his involvement in a Hitler assassination attempt. $\endgroup$ – Chromatix Apr 15 '18 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Chromatix Attempting to kill Hitler is about the only way for a Nazi-era German leader/official to get a positive historical reputation. $\endgroup$ – Thomas supports Monica Apr 15 '18 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ It's certainly the most reliable way - but Rommel was known, even among Allied forces, for being exceptionally chivalrous well before then. $\endgroup$ – Chromatix Apr 15 '18 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ Rommel is the most known to the general public, but there are many german generals which are well regarded among military historians and aficionados. Von Manstein is regarded by many as the most brilliant general of the war (either side). But I concur wiht @Thomas. Blas de Lezo is probably the most succesful admiral in the history of Spain (Roger of Lauria aside), but he's not that much known, even in Spain, because he was reducing spanish loses on lost wars instead of conquering territories like the conquistadores did. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Apr 16 '18 at 7:25
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I would like to add another General to kingledion's list: George Gordon Meade.

Meade is an under appreciated figure in American history. He was the first American General to defeat Robert E Lee (during the Battle of Gettysburg), but before that he had demonstrated successful leadership at the Battle of South Mountain, Antietam and leading his division to one of the most successful Union assaults during the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Appointed Commander of the Army of the Potomac just three days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade successfully pulled together the six Corps, directed them towards the place of his own choosing (Pipe Creek, in Maryland), yet was able to react quickly to the changing circumstances, move the army to Gettysburg, and essentially control the battle and take the initiative away from Robert E Lee. Unlike previous Union commanders, he located himself in central locations at all times, directed his Corps commanders rather than let them fight independent battles and paid particular attention to matters like logistics, as well as recognizing the need to change tactics due to the increasing power of infantry weapons and artillery (generally trying to avoid large scale frontal assaults).

However, Meade, despite being a great organizer, tactician, and commander, was not politically adept. He suffered attacks on his reputation by other commanders (notably Dan Sickles) and his disregard and indeed contempt for newspapers meant that reporting on his activities was generally unfavourable regardless of what he did or the context of his actions, an early example of "Fake News". The fact he was co-located through the remainder of the war with General Grant tended to take focus from his accomplishments (While Grant was his superior commander, it should be remembered Grant was the General of the Armies, and was also directing actions in the Western theatre and across the United States).

His early death after the Civil War meant that he was not able to effectively rehabilitate his reputation, and few of his subordinates were willing to step up and set the record straight (generally they were spending their time burnishing their own reputations).

So George Gordon Meade is an example of how a successful General who is operating against a peer enemy, and in plain view of his countrymen, can still become sidelined by history. Recently, military writer Ralph Peters has been writing Civil War novels which attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of George Gordon Meade. I would recommend them to fans of Civil War novels or war fiction in general because they are well researched and well written (outside of the idea of rehabilitating a long dead General's reputation), and certainly an enjoyable way to spend time when not writing your own novels....

Cain at Gettysburg

Hell or Richmond

Valley of the Shadow

The Damned of Petersburg

Judgment at Appomattox

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps just linking to Ralph Peters' Wikipedia page would suffice, instead of some imitation wiki. $\endgroup$ – TylerH Apr 17 '18 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ There are reasons to avoid Wikipedia, and Infogalactic is changing the way information is being presented. The process is slow, however (currently they are working on the back end to make lookups much faster), but if you want to volunteer to rewrite and correct pages, feel free. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Apr 17 '18 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ General of the armies? I thought only Washington had that honor (posthumously). Isn’t it a six-star rank? $\endgroup$ – JSCoder says Reinstate Monica May 30 '18 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ The full title is "Commanding General of the United States Army", but I wasn't keen on writing that out. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides May 30 '18 at 3:46
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There can be people who win a lot of battles and still be disregarded in the military sense.

"For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." (Sun Tzu)

For example: Guo Ziyi was able to subdue the Tibetian invasion without shedding a single drop of either his troops' or the enemies' troops' blood. In Chinese military doctrine, this would have been considered superior to routing the enemies' army with a much smaller army, and definetly much superior to defeating the enemies' army with an army of comparable size. In an era with, say five Guo Ziyi type people who were held back because the emperor "was troubled by the growing power of the jiedushi so he placed his eunuchs in charge of the campaign," someone like Li Xiaogong may be in power but not popular.

TL;DR: Have him live in an era of overpowered generals that are held back by the government.

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In the shadow of...

The Young Dashing Prince, accompanied by his attendants among which a certain commander, won several wars.

Look how smart and good looking the future King is! His polished and gleaming armor! His magnificent white stallion! His fluttering red cape! The tall colorful feather on his helmet!

Certainly, no courtier would ever mention to his father the King, or to the Prince and Heir apparent himself, that he just tagging along and a certain commander did all the hard work.

That would be political suicide, and maybe just suicide.


For bonus points, it may be that the Young Dashing Prince is a good fighter; while the commander is secluded away in the command tent, poring over drab maps and discussing womanly stuff (uniforms, shoes, food, etc...).

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    $\begingroup$ Might even work in reverse, as in the young dashing prince is a great tactician, but everyone keeps assuming the commander accompanying him in the background is the one responsible for the winning plans $\endgroup$ – Megha Jun 2 '18 at 5:34
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The Duke of Wellington started his general-ing career in India. He command very significant, large and hard-fought battles, such as Assaye, in campaigns that would have a huge affect of on the trajectory of India and the British Empire.

He is of course very famous now and became very famous in his time. But this was largely for fighting in Spain and Belgium. When he came back from India he was not particularly famous (according to his Wikipedia page).

This is different from being "badly regarded". But I believe that if his career had ended there he would have been extremely "under-regarded". This is because fighting Indians half way across the world is just much lower status than fighting Europeans was, regardless of the actual difference in challenge. Partly out of casual racism, partly because Europeans were a closer and more existential threat to Britain at the time.

Your might want a general who's entire career was spent fighting exotic but capable "savages". All their successes can be explained by the backwardness or inferiority of the locals, regardless of the actual challanges the general faced.

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    $\begingroup$ Similar to what Dan Clarke suggests, underestimate the enemy rather than him. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Cooper Apr 17 '18 at 11:14
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It's easily possible if the successful commander is of a "wrong" ethnic minority within the empire that he is fighting for.

"He's not doing badly for a (fictional racially derogative term)"

Another possibility would be if the war has bought a major power together with a minor power as allies, and our successful commander is from the minor power.

"He's not doing badly, for a Ruritanian".

Actually, he's a military genius (and probably also a political genius). If he wasn't, he'd never have made it to general in the first place. Merely being the best would not have been sufficient to overcome prejudices.

This might be a very interesting plot device, if he's our hero. All the time he's winning, he also has to watch his back ... the more he wins, the more the Emperor wishes he'd get himself killed.

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A different example: admiral Yi Sun-sin. He was basically demoted multiple time to a simple rank and file despite good or great achievement. Mostly through politics. In the end history remember him as a genius and righly so. Yet, for much of his career, he was dismissed and only some influential friend kept him from being executed.

You don't need to go very far actually to make such a scenario believeable. Real life tend to surpass fiction in those sorts of things.

Extra history has a nice serie about him if you want to learn more.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Extra History video series about Admiral Yi begins here. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Apr 17 '18 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ Basically, general (admiral) talks back to ruler with inflated head, almost gets executed. Then enemy invades and ruler realizes it is better to reinstate general than lose own head. Rinse and repeat. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Apr 17 '18 at 19:47
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General George S. Patton was very much a controversial figure during WWII. There is some debate about whether or not he was respected by General Bradley, but it's almost universally recognized that the British Flag officers loathed the man (Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery being an exception, as he admired the loyalty of Patton's men, but was considered a rival and had some choice words about his strategies). He was notably kept after a series of incidents were he had slapped enlisted soldiers who had been suffering battle fatigue and ordered them back to the front lines. Following this, he was not given a command in the invasion of Normandy, both to appease an outraged US public and because Eisenhower felt that Patton lacked self-discipline because of this incident.

However, Eisenhower was well aware that Patton had the respect of both Hitler and Stalin as a military commander and decided to use that to his advantage. Naming Patton to command of Operation Fortitude (the deception operation to help protect D-Day by giving Germany the illusion that D-Day was a practice and the real invasion was at the much closer by Sea Pas-De-Calis and Normandy.). With Patton at the helm, Hitler's military were all but certain it was the real deal. Even with the public outrage, the figured Eisenhower would never invade without Patton.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not mentioning, that when Germans and Russians were executing their soldiers for cowardice in huge numbers, idea of suspending a talented general for some slapping sounded as poorly thought excuse... $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 Apr 19 '18 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Shadow1024: It's more that Eisenhower wanted to both punish Patton, and distract the Germans from the real threat (Normandy). Patton was given a command that frankly didn't exist (he had some duties to train actually real new recruits, but his tanks were balloons, his ships weren't sea worthy, and his bases were fields with lights). $\endgroup$ – hszmv Apr 19 '18 at 13:47
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Having read through a decent amount of answers to this question I see the following answers repeated:

1) Untimely military defeats 2) Fighting weaker/less well regarded forces aka (savages, barbarians)

In my mind, neither of these answer your question as the first is not the scenario you describe with a commander who has won a few wars and the second is not a "comparable" force in the minds of those who do not rate your commander.

My top suggestion would make him either have a savant-like approach to something close to the military but not actual commanding of armies that others would view as weird and unnecessary, although to the reader it will make sense. For instance, if this commander is fighting in a world that mirrors ancient times, have him demand that medics clean the wounds of his soldiers before they sew them up. This leads to fewer deaths, and more veteran fighters, which is how they could defeat a comparable force while making the commander rightly not lauded for his tactical brilliance. I have no examples off the top of my head for this, but that I think is a good indicator that this happens often.

A second suggestion would be to make the commander fight outside the acceptable honor code. A great fictional example is Bronn fighting Ser Vardis Egen in Game of Thrones. Bronn successfully defeats Egen by backing away and not fighting until Egen's heavy armor tires the "more honorable" fighter out and he is slain. The contest is technically a Bronn victory, but he is not perceived to have beaten Egen in an honorable or fair fight (despite doing everything by the rules).

My final suggestion (that mirrors many others here) would be to make the commander unlikable to those in the setting of your world. Humans have a natural proclivity towards disregarding or undervaluing the successes of people they don't like. They could be hated for many different reasons; hate is pretty indiscriminate. Religion, skin color, nationality, eye color, hair color, drinking or other vices, and so on and so forth. Make the commander brutish or effeminate, and make the world dislike them for either characteristic. Joan of Arc was killed for being female. Cardinal Richelieu was not a military man but he helped France through a difficult time period, but is now only remembered as the antagonist of Three Musketeers.

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Yes it is possible. Look at France for example. Here and there, France is regarded as a country of cowards throwing their guns as soon as they hear german boots. Nothing can be less true. France resisted centuries to many invasions and has one of the highest victory records. The battle of France lost in june 1940 is only an event in a longer and a wider war.

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    $\begingroup$ Skilled French generals generally have a good individual reputation. The reputation of France, being state-sponsored, politically motivated racism (created after the Suez Crisis and France's subsequent withdrawal from NATO's integrated command, and resurrected for the Iraq War), doesn't target individuals - ans as often with this kind of diffuse racism, notable individuals are more easily exempted because "he's different". Or ignoring their existence altogether. $\endgroup$ – Eth Apr 17 '18 at 17:55
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One way for a military leader to end up in that situation would be to be in a society with a long and august tradition of honor and fair play and chivalry who wins with tactics like the Trojan horse and trickery that win battles in dishonorable ways according to the old school of thinking.

To capture the sense of it, imagine how many people might despise a Presidential candidate who wins primary after primary by the dozen en route to a nomination for his party, but does so by resorting to demagoguery, low blows, incivility, appeals to people's basest instincts, mockery of honorable men, and outright blatant lies. Even if someone like that won the "war" by being elected President, lots of people might despise him and think poorly of him.

There are fairly direct military analogies to that kind of political journey that could lead to the same kind of perception.

For example, suppose that the military leader in question won a key battle by raising a white flag of surrender and then attacking the soldiers who had come to accept their surrender with hidden weapons and soldiers who ambushed their leaders. It would be a win, but a dirty one.

Perhaps another battle is won by capturing an opposing leader's family and publicly torturing them until the opposing leader gives in, and then slaughtering the tortured family members once he had the opposing leader's surrender in hand.

Maybe another battle is won by poisoning the lake that is the sole water supply for the region, killing huge numbers of civilians and rendering the entire area uninhabitable for another decade or more.

Maybe his troops are relatively unskilled and undisciplined, prone to raping and pillaging without authorization to do so, prone to infighting among themselves often resorting in pointless, deadly duels between members of his own force, and he himself is fat, lazy, rude, capricious with his treatment of his underlings, not very competent in one on one combat, and prone to make serious gaffs that show a lack of knowledge of the places that he is conquering.

It is easy to see how such a man could have several big military successes and yet still be viewed as mediocre.

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(I don't know any real life examples).

Propaganda

You didn't specify whether or not the commander was on our side or an enemy. If our country is afraid of this commander but don't want the people to worry then simply start spreading the word that rumors of his victories have been greatly exaggerated. A campaign of lies should be able to convince at least some people that this commander is unskilled, lucky, and loses half the time.

Hidden Information

Our country is a peaceful one, we haven't been to war in over 100 years. Or at least that's what the people think. We are actually in war right now but are keeping it hidden from them. Any document about the war is not allowed to enter this country and no one is allowed to talk about the unusually high death rate on our western border. Additionally the commander remains anonymous so that the other countries only know him by the code name Zero. What? You want to know about Lelouch? What about him? He's great at war games but has never actually been in a war.

Bad Reputation

Sure he's an excellent commander but he's a terrible person. He's rude, angry, and there's nothing good that can be said about him as a person. Even without attacking his military ability if everyone hates the guy people will start ignoring him and treating him as second class. If the media decides not to talk about him then his accomplishments are soon forgotten and with a little social spin he will get classified as mediocre on account of ignorance and hate.

Unethical

The commander thinks the ends justify the means but the people disagree. The command does indeed win but only because he'll do anything to win. He'll use nukes to flatten the land, release biological weapons despite death of the innocent, and betray anyone so long as he wins. This is not acceptable behavior. He is using dirty tricks instead of skill to win. He is opportunistic and is not fit to be a commander. We can't have him officially represent our nation any longer... Unless we run out of options.

Appears Unfair

"Well of course the Spanish were able to beat the South Americans, they had guns. It wasn't a fair fight". Even though the fights were fair if the public thinks that it was one sided he will be seen as a bully rather than skilled. If he only wins fights that people expect him to win then no one will recognize his skill.

Unearned

The commander paid for some advisers, purchased the biggest weapon on the market, pressed the on button, and sat back watching his victory take place. How lame is that? Sure the enemy had the exact same weapon but where's the skill? A worthy commander has strategy, foresight, and boldness. But he only had a stack of cash. Bah I say! Give me that money and I could have done a better job.

Uncertain

This document says that he was victorious but that was a long time ago. The document is hard to read and unclear about what happened. The only good condition documents I have are ones written by the commander himself which is a highly bias source. I assume he was victorious since I have no counter evidence. However in my professional opinion I think it is a bit of a leap to call him a hero. We just don't know enough.

Note that all of the possible explanations I gave are for fooling the public. To fool his direct superiors would be more difficult.

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Is it possible his victories to be disregarded as flukes and opportunism, and his skills to be held as mediocre at best? If possible some examples from the history would be highly appreciated.

When it comes to ones enemies the main cause of generals loosing battles and countries loosing wars is a bad assessment that your enemies skills and advantages are perhaps not as they are. It happens every time a battle is lost. It is not only possible that someone disregards victories as flukes, are just good luck, and thinks someone's skills are mediocre comparatively speaking, It is a fact of every conflict that someone got this wrong.

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I don't have a real-world example because I'm not sure such a situation ever arose, but if the generalship is a permanent position, then he could be nearly universally disliked by those passed over for the promotion.

I imagine a situation similar to the Romans, where, in a time of war, a leader is chosen with total power. This position is then held for life. Obviously they would be expected to choose a very good leader, so you could plausibly expect them to win many battles, but his rivals would pick apart every action he makes, trying to show the world what a terrible commander he is! In reality, he would make few mistakes, but those few he does make would be poured over in an attempt to discredit him.

They would probably need a motive to do this, so maybe they are attempting a constitutional change to dethrone him?

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I’m not sure whether this is acceptable, given your use of , but:

He (secretly) has (and uses) paranormal / supernatural powers.

In one battle, many of the enemy are injured or killed by an avalanche.  In another, many of the enemy are sickened by a mysterious disease, or attacked in their camp at night by wild animals.  Similarly with unexpected / unforeseeable floods, sinkholes, extreme weather (e.g., tornadoes), and other “natural” phenomena.  Everybody (friend and foe alike) says, “Gosh, he’s been lucky.”  They don’t realize that he has been inexplicably causing these events.

Rather than paranormal powers, he could have access to highly advanced technology, possibly from aliens or time-travelers — compare to

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that someone who had victories of those kinds would be thought poorly of by his peers or considered mediocre. They might consider him a bit of a lucky lightweight, but soldiers are very superstitious people lots of the time and value consistent luck almost as much as more conventional competence. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Apr 19 '18 at 8:05
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Battle of arginusae

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Arginusae

In this battle, the Athenians won a great victory over a Spartan fleet. However, by the time the winning Generals had returned home, public opinion had turned against them so much that 6 out of 8 of them were executed.

The reason was that a storm had prevented the generals from launching rescue missions to save the survivors of sunken ships. Many of them drowned and this upset the inhabitants of Athens.

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Who is doing the regarding?

I'm thinking of the Honor Harrington novels. Most of the series follows her career from starting out to command of Home Fleet. The nation she is part of, the Star Kingdom of Manticore, recognizes that she's very, very good at her job. Their opponent in a very long war, Haven, also recognized her ability.

However, in the last books of the series Manticore comes into conflict with the Solarian League. The Solarian League used to be the 1000 pound gorilla. They recognize the locals think she's some pretty hot stuff but all she was doing was beating up on neobarbs (short for new barbarians), that's not enough to make her a problem for Battle Fleet. (Never mind that that war pushed their tech to well above what the Solarian League can field, and that in the Solarian system connections mean far more than ability when it comes to getting command.)

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From history there is always a lot of luck on both sides of a battle. With confirmation bias I think you could view any general as good or bad.

Sometimes winning is not objective. The Roman general Fabian was winning the war against Hannibal but the Senate said that it made Rome look weak by not fighting head on and it was not really winning. Or the battle of Jutland in World War 2 where both sides claimed a victory. The British Navy kept the German navy from breaking the blockade but the Germans inflicted more casualties. Quite famously King Pyrrhus of Epirus won a battle but losing so many men that he said he would lose the war with another victory like that.

Alternatively the general could be thought to rely on cheap tricks that will only work once and has never had to fight a real battle.

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