If You Give an Etonian a Commission: Education and Adaptability in the British Army




St. Dennis, Eden

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From the 1730s to 1900, scarcely a year passed in which Great Britain was not at war. Generations of British boys idolized military service, and many were groomed specifically for command in Britain’s great public schools. Unfortunately, British boarding school educations sabotaged the adaptability and creative thinking skills of students, leading to a dearth in tactical and strategic ability among high-ranking British commanders. This lack of ability became especially dangerous during campaigns against non-Europeans, when commanders were forced to either adapt to new modes of fighting or die. Meanwhile, commanders who either received little formal education or who studied at specialized military academies were able to adjust to new opportunities and found great success on unconventional campaigns. Public school graduates, trained in the hoary traditions of European warfare, failed tragically in similar circumstances. Analysis of commanders of varying educational backgrounds shows the power of education as a tool for molding minds and reveals the deadly weaknesses of the British command structure.