Commanders' Perception of Risk: Enabling Boldness
MARINE CORPS COMMAND AND STAFF COLL QUANTICO VA
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Prevalent safety and force protection perceptions, policies, and emphasis have a negative effect on the commanders ability to make decisions concerning risk involved in mission accomplishment. Men have an innate psychological resistance to killing other men. LTC David Grossman, USA ret, provided groundbreaking analysis of this resistance and how to overcome it through conditioning for military purposes. This paper seeks to extrapolate his model of enabling killing to the decision making process a commander uses to evaluate acceptable risk when placing his unit in harms way. It shows how the elements of enabling -- demands of authority, group absolution, predisposition via culture and conditioning, and emotional distance from the victim -- have all decreased from previous conflicts for a variety of reasons. This results in commanders who must make life or death decisions without the support that allows boldness of action. Commanders who naturally possess this boldness and act anyway may pay a price in later mental health from guilt and stress from their isolated decisions. The paper goes on to show how prevalent safety and force protection practices serve as negative inputs, effectively conditioning commanders to avoid risk, while institutional counterweights that support bold decisions are present but diminishing. Disconnects in policy-level risk attitudes with doctrine, equipment, and rolesmissions should be resolved. Commanders must effectively communicate their expectations in terms of acceptable safety and risk to their subordinate leaders and reinforce the message wherever possible. They must further seek to accommodate valid safety and force protection concerns in ways that do not negatively influence their subordinate leaders.
- Administration and Management
- Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics