Commanding Men and Machines: Admiralship, Technology, and Ideology in the 20th Century U.S. Navy
Hagerott, Mark Regan
Sumida, Jon T
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This dissertation engages the important historical and sociological question: how do organizations develop leaders? As technological complexity increased, the military struggled to produce leaders who could understand technology and yet integrate the operations of disparate parts of large organizations. In the late 20th century, the senior leader model in the U.S. military shifted from a 'generalist' to what can be described as a 'technical specialist' model. The commanding elite that resulted have been criticized as overly technical in orientation, and the system of leader development has been subject to several reform efforts. Missing from the reform debates is an historical understanding of how and why the officer system changed. This study contributes to the history by exploring the shift in U.S. Navy leader models from 'generalist' to 'technical specialist'. It is widely believed in military circles that the shift in leadership models from 'generalist' to 'specialist' was natural, an inevitable consequence of technological change. Among scholars, the shift in the U.S. Navy from 'generalist' to 'specialist' is typically associated with aviation, circa 1935-47. This dissertation challenges these notions. The shift in leader models was not fated by technology, but was the result of highly contingent bureaucratic battles fought between general line officers (generalists) and nuclear reactor specialists for control of the development of young officers. Chance events-- in particular, the sinking of USS THRESHER-- also shaped officer policy. This study argues that for six decades--from 1899 to 1963-- navy leadership affirmed the 'generalist' as the preferred model for commander. But in the 1960s the Navy abandoned the 'generalist' model. Admiral H.G. Rickover was largely responsible for the change. In the space of a decade, Rickover restructured assignment and education processes to produce technically expert officers for his nuclear machines. Naval Academy admissions criteria and curricula were changed such that specialized technical majors replaced general degrees and universal language education. The restructured processes encouraged officers to value specialized technical expertise over general knowledge, that is, integrated operational, strategic, and cultural knowledge. Aviators and surface officers followed Rickover's cue and by the 1970s adopted more specialized models of development for their respective officers.