The Leper Colony




The movie Twelve O’Clock High (1949) is an interesting study of command techniques in war, and the film has been used in the military to examine what works and what doesn’t work.  I have been intrigued by the the Leper Colony strategy of putting all your bad eggs in one basket:


General Savage I take it you don’t really care about the part you had in breaking one of the best men you’ll ever know. Add to it that as Air Exec you were automatically in command the moment Colonel Davenport left – and you met that responsibility exactly as you met his need: you ran out on it. You left the station to get drunk. Gately, as far as I’m concerned, you’re yellow. A traitor to yourself, to this group, to the uniform you wear. It would be the easiest course for me to transfer you out, to saddle some unsuspecting guy with a deadbeat. Maybe you think that’s what you’re gonna get out of this, a free ride in some combat unit. But I’m not gonna pass the buck. I’m gonna keep you right here. I hate a man like you so much that I’m gonna get your head down in the mud and tramp on it. I’m gonna make you wish you’d never been born.

Lt. Col. Ben Gately If that’s all, sir…

General Savage I’m just getting started. You’re gonna stay right here and get a bellyful of flying. You’re gonna make every mission. You’re not air exec anymore. You’re just an airplane commander. And I want you to paint this name on the nose of your ship: Leper Colony. Because in it you’re gonna get every deadbeat in the outfit. Every man with a penchant for head colds. If there’s a bombardier who can’t hit his plate with his fork, you get him. If there’s a navigator who can’t find the men’s room, you get him. Because you rate him.

In a bombing group I think it made a lot of sense.  A shock treatment leading to redemption, or all the bad eggs go down in flames together.  Rough, but no rougher than the risks everyone else was taking.


In the film, predictably, redemption resulted:



Leadership is a tough skill to master.  It is even tougher in a war where effective leadership sees good men going to their deaths.  However, you can almost be certain that if the leadership is poor the death toll will be higher.

Published in: on January 25, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Leper Colony  
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