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Determining the Greatest Generals: Using Math?
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Author:  Blake [ Fri May 20, 2022 9:29 am ]
Post subject:  Determining the Greatest Generals: Using Math?

Okay, this entire article is a stretch, but I appreciate the effort this guy put forward.

Basically, he took a baseball analytics approach to determine Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for the average general in world history. His formula is confusing to say the least but, for that matter, so is Baseball's method to determine WAR in the first place.

His statement on Lee was not very pretty:
There were also generals that had surprisingly low total WAR despite a reputation as master tacticians. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States Army, finished with a negative WAR (-1.89), suggesting an average general would have had more success than Lee leading the Confederacy’s armies. Lee was saddled with considerable disadvantages, including a large deficit in the size of his military and available resources. Still, his reputation as an adept tactician is likely undeserved, and his WAR supports the historians who have criticized his overall strategy and handling of key battles, such as ordering the disastrous ‘Pickett’s Charge’ on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. In the words of University of South Carolina professor Thomas Connely, “One ponders whether the South may not have fared better had it possessed no Robert E. Lee.”

I could spend a long time arguing against that entire paragraph :mrgreen:

Overall, the article and method are pure bunk. Nonetheless, kudos to the author for wading through this amount of data and at least creating a novel way to look at generals in a comparative form.

Author:  William Treuting [ Fri May 20, 2022 10:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Determining the Greatest Generals: Using Math?

I saw this article a few months back. It does glean some interesting insight; however, it lacks a lot of nuance. First, it uses Wikipedia as a source for listing if a battle was a tactical or strategic victory--many of which could be debated. In examining the particular section on Lee, one notices that the statistics used do not include every battle, with multiple missing. Furthermore, it lacks nuance on the other aspects of generalship--cohesion, logistics, politics, etc. This study is akin to the McNamara's "Whiz Kid" approach to war--while helpful for some context, war is an art not a science.

Author:  Quaama [ Fri May 20, 2022 2:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Determining the Greatest Generals: Using Math?

I read through the article and agree wholeheartedly with Brigadier-General Treuting with his overall assessment, especially regarding the source of the data and Will's comment that the assessment "lacks nuance".

The data must be flawed as it says about three-quarters of the way through the article that "Napoleon’s total WAR was nearly 23 standard deviations above the mean WAR accumulated by generals in the dataset". I agree that Napoleon was a truly great general but "23 standard deviations above the mean", really? That's a gigantic number. Although I can't convert the exact odds of 23 standard to odds I can say, using the very Wikipedia ( that he used in the analysis that the chances of something being a 'mere' 7σ above the mean is practically 1: 400 billion! Given his sample size to have one (i.e. Napoleon) that lies so far from the mean should have told him that either the data is corrupted in some manner or that the methodology was flawed. That there are others (e.g. Julius Caesar) that lie far outside the mean leads me to think that both the data and the methodology are flawed.
I was pleased to see that the author of the data says "In no way do I claim my analysis provides the full picture, or anything close to it." However, that's a massive amount of work to show, well, nothing.

Author:  Scott Ludwig [ Sat May 21, 2022 8:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Determining the Greatest Generals: Using Math?

I agree, it definitely has it's share of problems. I mean I like Napoleon, but just look at the listings and then his data set didn't take me long to see that La Rothière was left out.

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