Custer, from Peter Grieve

June 10, 2007 |

 Libbie and George Armstrong CusterI've been thinking about guerrilla war as a result of a trip to the Custer battlefield. Everyone knows that guerillas usually shun contact with conventional forces, "evaporate like the mist". I thought this was only good for self preservation.

But now I see the obvious fact that it has an offensive component. If the men of the conventional forces become hungry for contact and their officers come under career-changing pressure actually to fight a battle, they may become less fastidious about the kind of contact they're after. And then they get the kind they want least.

Stefan Jovanovich adds:

The pressure that Custer felt was of his own making. He and his wife believed that a victory against the Sioux would reward him with enough notoriety to make him president. In retrospect that seems like a mad fantasy. But by 1876 the Republican Party had had only three candidates for President - Fremont, Lincoln, and Grant, and two of them had been U.S. Army officers.

Largely because of Mrs. Custer's relentless promotion of her husband's folly into heroism, Custer's subordinate commanders, especially Major Reno, became the fall guys. The truth is that Lt. Colonel Custer (he had been a General of Volunteers during the Civil War) would have been court-martialed if he had survived. The plan for the campaign against the Lakota had been for three columns to attack jointly.

As commander of one of the columns, Custer disobeyed his orders by not waiting for the other 2 columns and then spliting his own command in thirds. He ended up attacking with a force 11% of the planned assault force. Yet, had he shared Teddy Roosevelt's incredible good fortune at Kettle Hill and become a hero of the Indian Wars, Custer might have become President.

From Russell Sears: 

This leads to the countable hypothesis that CEOs who marry/partner with someone within the company, soon cause the company to under perform. 

Dean Parisian writes: 

My father retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Crow Agency, MT in 1985 and as a kid I spent a fair amount of time at the Battlefield there as Crow Agency adjoins the Custer Battlefield monument.

The lesson here is that when you chase returns in markets you aren’t familiar with or chase Indians in country you don’t know very well there is a good chance one can get hurt. Quick and seriously. Stick with what you know and when it looks like you are out-manned, cut your losses and run. Living to fight another day is paramount. 


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