Book Review: “Trust and Leadership,” reviewed by Mungo Melvin

This book review of Trust and Leadership comes from Mungo Melvin, a retired major general with the British Army and a noted military historian.

As the officer entrusted with the codification of mission command for the British Army in the mid-1990s, I much looked forward to reading and reviewing this title. I was not disappointed. Trust and Leadership contains a set of twelve fascinating perspectives of the Australian Army’s varied experience of mission command from World War I to more contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The authors range from distinguished academic military historians to combat-veteran Australian Army officers, both retired and serving.

An Australian soldier is mid-run on the cover of Trust and Leadership (out Nov 2020 from the UNG Press)
Cover design by Corey Parson

What makes Trust and Leadership all the more valuable is the editor’s splendidly concise and authoritative overview of the subject, noting that the term mission command is a relatively recent introduction to the military lexicon of Commonwealth and U.S. armies. Russell W. Glenn’s introductory essay (Chapter 1) alone should ensure that the book becomes a “must read” for any professional officer.

By way of introduction, Lieutenant General L. D. Holder, U.S. Army (retired), makes the essential point in an illuminating Foreword that mission command is not control-free. Delegation of authority confers a responsibility on empowered subordinates to follow their superior’s intent.

Dr. Peter Pederson (Chapter 2) gives a balanced appraisal of the development of mission command within the Australian Imperial Force of World War I within a framework of British-led operations, rightly resisting the temptation to portray the widely-praised Lieutenant General Sir John Monash as an exemplar of this approach to command. As Pederson observes, Monash “probably immersed himself too much in the detail as a Corps commander.” Dr. Peter Dean (Chapter 3) offers an absorbing account of how Australian land forces in the Southwest Pacific during World War II operated, despite being contained within a command structure over-dominated by General Douglas MacArthur, who allowed little latitude to his subordinates. Dr. Meghan Fitzpatrick’s (Chapter 4) fine study of mission command within the Korean War also highlights the challenges of operating within a U.S.-led coalition, whose senior leadership tended to be over-prescriptive. A similar theme is picked up in Dr. Bob Hall’s (Chapter 5) lucid description of the 1st Australian Task Force in Vietnam. A veteran of this conflict, he observes interestingly that although Australian doctrine of the time made a “grudging admission” of mission command, at battalion level and lower it was widely practised. He also notes the value of quick decision exercises, which in the opinion of this reviewer, are vital to the inculcation of mission command.

The remaining eight essays offer many useful examples of mission command across a variety of scenarios, including Somalia, East Timor, the Solomon Islands, and, not least, Iraq and Afghanistan. Mission command would appear to have struck root within the Australian Army during this period of relatively low intensity—but nonetheless, highly complex—operations.

In sum, this work is a most valuable contribution to the study of mission command in an army that has now embodied this decentralized philosophy of command in both doctrine and practice. As well as members of the Australian Army, those serving in the British, U.S., and other armies would learn much of profit from it.

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About Jillian Murphy

Jillian Murphy is the Assistant Managing Editor of the UNG Press. She is a UNG alumna, class of 2016.

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