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Modern Major General

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"For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventurey
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century
But still in matters vegetable, animal and mineral
I am the very model of a modern major-general"
Major General Stanley, The Pirates of Penzance

The opposite of a Genius Ditz, this character proves competent at almost everything... except his actual job. A sort of adult Book Dumb, the main question on everybody's minds, in- or out-of-universe, is "How on earth did this guy get hired, especially given there are other jobs he would be far more competent at!?" (Though sometimes his Blue Blood may give you a reason to suspect nepotism.)


Different from Fake Ultimate Hero in that the latter at least puts on a ruse of being competent that could actually fool someone. When this character's actual job seems to be nonexistent, they are one of The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.

Like the Pointy-Haired Boss, may be a result of The Peter Principle, where he has been promoted from a position which he mastered to one which he has not, or The Dilbert Principle, where someone's been Kicked Upstairs to get them away from the workflow.

Compare Genius Ditz, which is a character who is ditzy and unskilled except for being brilliant in their actual job, and Bunny-Ears Lawyer, whose quirks belie their true competence. Contrast I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder. Civilians also count. A Modern Major General who actually is a military leader may overlap with General Failure.


If you were looking for the song and works which parody it, see Major General Song.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Squid Girl. Ika Musume can accomplish incredible feats ranging from Super Strength to advanced mathematics to fine art... but due to her childish nature she's utterly incompetent at her stated job of "invading the surface". At one point she even lampshades this.
  • The Team Rocket Terrible Trio of the Pokémon anime are in fact often implied to be very talented individuals and have actually beat Ash and his comrades a few times in competitions just by playing fair. Unfortunately the three think of themselves as fearsome criminal masterminds, and devote nearly all their time to stealing Pokémon or playing dirty, despite it always backfiring miserably due to Laser-Guided Karma or their own incompetence at being villains.
  • Gate. Pina Co Lada, good diplomat, bad war commander, despite the fact that she is the leader of the knightly order.

    Comic Books 
  • The extremely minor Daredevil villain the Jester is a would-be actor who, in a bid to advance his career, enrolled (and earned high marks) in every course of study that he thought might make him more employable. Well... every course except acting lessons.
  • Hindsight Lad (later simply "Hindsight") of the New Warriors wanted to be a superhero and coerced the team into letting him join. Having no powers or fighting skills he turned out to be terrible at it, but when the team realized he was an excellent strategist and analyst, he became a useful asset anyway, just not in the field. (Well, until he turned on them later, but that's another story.)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Max Fischer from Rushmore is enthusiastically involved in almost every extracurricular activity there is, but he's flunking his actual classes.
  • Max Smart in the 2008 movie Get Smart is cast in a role something like this; many characters remark that he's probably the finest intelligence analyst in CONTROL. However, he desperately wants to be a field agent — and when he's finally promoted, he's not entirely incompetent, but he is notably over-eager, naive, bumbling and prone to making a fool of himself.

  • In the Brother Cadfael books, Brother Oswin is hopelessly clumsy, refuses to admit that putting cold things into hot places or vice versa shatters them, and is Cadfael's assistant for several books. Cadfael generally has him do all the easy stuff that doesn't put him near fragile things or herbal remedies — especially the ones that could be used as poison. He does get better over time and in the end is quite competent — it just took him a lot longer to learn than Cadfael's other assistants.
  • Captain Trips from the Wild Cards books. He's a genius biochemist — was one of the best in the world, before his drug-and-superhero problems. He manages to be a competent detective when working with Tachyon on the Swarm case. In regular life, he tries to be a businessman, but couldn't sell tuna to dolphins.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld series:
    • Lt. Blouse in Monstrous Regiment has an element of this, since his genius with military tactics and technology doesn't make him the Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass you might expect. War in "the real world" isn't a neat game of strategy, making him relatively incompetent as a leader aside for a few exceptions. That said, he was originally a highly competent clerk and intelligence officer, and only given a battlefield assignment when the army literally ran out of other officers. When given a chance to flex that skillset, he is an absolute beast. He is also smart and above all self-aware enough to let his ultra-competent Sergeant Rock run the things he isn't good at. Usually.
    • In Interesting Times, the Agatean Empire's bureaucracy is full of these. Like Imperial China, people are promoted in the bureaucracy through exams. At one point, Rincewind interrupts the exam for the position of assistant nightsoil remover, which involves writing a poem about a flower.note  To be precise, the goal of writing poetry was also to test candidates' linguistic proficiency, an extremely important skill for anyone whose job more or less boils down to interpreting and writing various texts. Unfortunately, the job in question was about shoveling animal manure, not handling paperwork. Similarly, Lord Hong came to the conclusion that the examination for weapons maker should have more to do with proving the applicant knows how to work with iron rather than write poems about it.
  • The Austrian general Weyrother is portrayed this way in War and Peace. A good two or so pages is dedicated to how all the other generals at the war council prior to the Battle of Austerlitz despise him. He has a knack for drawing up troop dispositions and knowing terrain, just nothing to do with strategy or winning battles.
  • Officers of this type are common in the Union army of The First Law series, many of whom seem to be more interested in how good they look in their uniforms than in the actual work of soldiering. There are many variations - for instance, General Jalenhorm is noted in The Heroes as having the makings of a truly excellent junior officer, so it's a real shame that the king insisted on promoting him to general, a position he is absolutely terrible in.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Wesley of Buffy and Angel started out as one of these before character development turned him into a Badass Normal. Though the guy had all the historical, demonic and magical knowledge one could ever want, he began his tenure in the shows as a spineless coward with no personal skills—hardly someone the average person would consider qualified to be a mentor figure in the battle between good and evil. Only after he was fired from the Watcher job did he develop the skills that would have made him good at it.
  • Jack from 30 Rock was put into this situation by higher-ups who moved him from the appliance division to TV production. Liz, too, is a comedy writer by background, ability and official job title, but she spends most of her time doing HR work these days.
  • Michael Scott of The Office (US) is a TERRIBLE manager, his actual job, but an almost savant-like salesman, which used to be his job and his success with which got him the manager gig in the first place.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • Captain Janeway is suspected of being one of these by some viewers as she's portrayed as being rather good at science and engineering matters but inconsistent character portrayal left her rather lacking when it came to being an actual Captain. As an extension of this logic, she got Kicked Upstairs by the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, shown as a Vice Admiral on Earth. As the Mildly Military organization of Starfleet (unlike most real-world militaries) considers it a perfectly acceptable career move to decline a promotion, and Starfleet captains tend to prefer staying at that level rather than becoming a "desk jockey" admiral, one has to wonder whether even Janeway herself recognized that she'd do a better job away from the captain's chair.
    • From the same show, Neelix. He actually is a skilled scrounger and great at gathering info and otherwise dealing with the underworld of whatever region the ship is in that week. Unfortunately he decides to make himself useful as a "survival expert", cook, and self-appointed morale officer, all of which he is absolutely terrible at. After a while Janeway makes him the ship's official ambassador, which he does rather better at.
  • The Governor of The Slammer may be an excellent entertainer, but he is really rather inept at running a prison. Lampshaded in one episode where a journalist points out that there have been several escapes in the time she has been talking to him.
  • M*A*S*H
    • Col. Henry Blake is a top-notch surgeon, but is clearly out of his depth as commanding officer of a M*A*S*H unit. Fortunately the actual clerical and day-to-day affairs are managed by Radar.
    • Lieutenant Colonel Harold Becket in Season 5's "Ping Pong" is an administrative officer who had friends pull some strings to get him a command so he could get a Combat Infantry Badge and retire a full Colonel. Unfortunately for those under him, he was a total incompetent who didn't know how to react to an order to retreat. Col. Potter had him removed from command, despite their being longtime friends, to prevent further bloodshed.
    • Colonel Woody Cooke in Season 11's "Friends and Enemies" is an identical example. Col. Potter again has him removed despite a longtime friendship, but is initially resistant. Cooke didn't take it nearly as well as Becket.
  • Kamen Rider Decade: Kadoya Tsukasa is good at pretty much everything he tries (except, for a while, being nice), but despite being a photographer, his pictures inevitably end up terrible.
  • Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation is supremely competent when it comes to making things with his hands, woodsmanship, and just being a general all-around manly man, but he lacks the personal, political and organizational skills and most of all the motivation to be an effective department head, which is why he palms all of his actual responsibilities off on his Hypercompetent Sidekick Leslie Knope. He is pretty good at managing her (and only her) since that boils down to "know when to let her loose and do when she does best, and know when to rein her in and prod her into directing her limitless energy elsewhere".
    • Note that he's fully aware that he's not an effective department head, but stays in his job specifically because he wants to hamper the work of government.
    • In the last season he proves that he can successfully manage when he cares about it, successfully building his own construction company. It helps that his employees are a lot closer to his attitude, and many or all of them are his relatives.
  • Jennifer Marlowe of WKRP in Cincinnati almost fits this trope. She's the smartest person at the station (and the highest paid), and it's pretty clear that the station would fall apart without her. She's the receptionist, but spends most of her time making Mr. Carlson's decisions for him and playing mother to everyone else. Now, she's not incompetent as a receptionist at all, but she has shown an unwillingness to do things like take dictation or get coffee, or many other things that receptionists are supposed to do. In the pilot she acts as though getting three calls in one day is being "swamped" and starts talking about more money.
  • John Doe featured a variation, with the protagonist waking up on a beach with his head crammed full of knowledge and trivia on seemingly every topic, from the history of Jack the Ripper, to the plot of every TV show ever made, to the entire binary code of Microsoft Windows. Seemingly the only thing he knows nothing about is himself.

  • The Trope Namer is Major General Stanley from The Pirates of Penzance, who introduces himself with a long-winded song listing all of the things he knows, eventually summing up with a long verse about his complete and utter lack of military knowledge (he can barely tell the difference between a rifle and a javelin). He eventually concludes that:
    For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventurey,
    Has only been brought down the beginning of the century.
    But still in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
    I am the very model of a modern Major General.
    • It should, however be mentioned that most of the things the Major General brags about are either impossible or trivial. See Genius Bonus or The Pirates of Penzance for a more comprehensive rundown.
  • Though Major General Stanley's the Trope Namer, the concept appears in an earlier Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore, in the person of First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Joseph Porter, KCB.
    Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
    If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
    If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool,
    Be careful to be guided by this golden rule?
    Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
    And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!
    • Note that Major General Stanley even mentions that operetta in his song:
    Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
    And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense
  • In HONK!, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling", the goose Greylag, modeled after a WWII fighter pilot, fits this trope ideally, causing his wife Dot to lament that "his cabin lights are rather dim".

    Video Games 
  • In Choice of Robots, this trope is examined with regard to Professor Ziegler. The Professor is absolutely incompetent as a scientist, engineer, and teacher; he can't even make a good knockoff of your robots, let alone something original. However, he's very skilled in academic politics, buzzwords, pandering to the military and bringing home grant money, and his actual job at the university is to secure funding, not the research and teaching that are in his job description. He leaves that to his graduate students (most notably the PC). When he tries to sell his scientific expertise, he's able to fool the Pentagon, but Juliet sees through him pretty much instantly.
  • Father Elijah from Fallout: New Vegas was a brilliant Scribe with a natural understanding of how technology worked and how it could be used. As an Elder and leader of the Mojave Chapter, he was terrible - not just for his lack of leadership experience and skill, but because he had literally no idea of how humans worked, preferring to treat them as resources and tools to be used and discarded. During the battle at Helios One, he threw away dozens of Brotherhood lives just to try to hold the place a little longer, despite the fact that the Brotherhood had only a handful of members while the enemy - the NCR - had thousands in reserve. It was only because the remaining survivors pulled a coup and retreated that any of them survived. When you later encounter him in the Dead Money expansion, he's clearly learned nothing from the experience.
  • Felicia from Fire Emblem Fates is a highly skilled warrior, but an absolutely terrible maid due to her clumsiness and borderline-weaponized cooking skills - which is unfortunate, because that's her primary occupation and she hates fighting. In her ending, she gives up on the maid business and eventually goes on to be a celebrated general.

    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney:
    • The Judge is senile and easily swayed. He once accepted a thug with a cardboard badge as a genuine lawyer. The characters frequently comment on it, but no-one says anything to his face. This one has much to do with the Japanese history of court corruption. Put simply, judges are viewed in Japan the same way lawyers are viewed in the West. On the other hand, the Judge is also famed for almost always handing down the right verdict, though this may have more to do with Phoenix's skill as a defense lawyer than anything about the Judge himself.
    • Luke Atmey from the third game also qualifies, as his extensive vocabulary and incomprehensible metaphors make him look... somewhat competent as a detective, but he's actually not very good at it. At all. Subverted when it turns out that the reason he doesn't appear to be very good at detective work is because he is actually the criminal.
  • Ymira from Mount & Blade is a gentle and intelligent girl who seeks to join you to get away from an Arranged Marriage. She proudly boasts on her recruitment that she is a skilled poet, musician and manager of household servants. All well and good, but those are hardly vital skills for a mercenary. Eventually Subverted as her high Intelligence and low level allows her to quickly pick up stats and skills as you desire, allowing her to easily Take Several Levels in Badass.

    Web Comics 
  • From Dubious Company's bio page:
    Walter is surprisingly creative and learned in arcane theory and capable of building a variety of Magitek devices on the fly... Okay, so Walter isn't really a pirate, but he tries very hard to be a pirate...
  • One side in Erfworld is ruled by Stanley the Tool, a Jerk Jock who is completely incompetent at leadership. Before he was promoted into his current position though, though, he was a very effective soldier — and the few times you do see him fighting, he's devastatingly effective. (Unfortunately for everyone involved, leaders are too valuable to risk in combat; defeating one can end the side completely.)

    Web Original 
  • Director Tagg of Worm appears to be this in part because he is a General Ripper in a job that requires more diplomatic skills.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama: Zoidberg is a highly skilled doctor, but only when operating on aliens. Unfortunately, almost all of his patients are humans.

    Real Life 
  • The Dilbert Principle proposes that the only reason why executive management positions exist is to provide slots where incompetents can be removed from day-to-day contact with the company's product and/or customers.
  • This trope is a recurring and notable feature of the armed forces of Great Britain, as noted by Gilbert and Sullivan; British historian Max Hastings once remarked that the empire "seemed to have a bottomless supply of unwarlike warrior chieftains." While by no means the norm, these characters feature prominently in some of Britain's greatest military disasters. Some lowlights:
    • General Thomas Gage, commander to the British Forces in North America at the beginning of the American Revolution. His career is a repetition of the same events: Get Assigned - Screw Up Royally - Get Promoted - Get New Assignment. Forget King George; 90% of the American Declaration of Independence consists of complaints about Gage's actions and policies. It has been argued that if it weren't for Gage, the U.S. wouldn't have even wanted to become independent. He was in command of the vanguard ("walking point") during Braddock's Defeat (just about the worst ambush in Colonial British military history).
    • Related to the above is George Sackville, 1st Viscount Sackville. He was court martialed and driven out of the British army after he prevented a decisive victory at the Battle of Minden out of pure pique. He was ruled "...unfit to serve his Majesty in any military capacity whatsoever" in 1760. On November 10, 1775, Sackville (now with the title Lord Germain) was appointed Secretary of State for the Americas, making him the guy in charge of suppressing the American Revolution. Many of the problems with British strategy can be attributed to him.
    • Another British incompetent was William Elphinstone, as depicted by George MacDonald Fraser in Flashman: "Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganised enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with a touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again."
      • Namely, Elphinstone decided to deal with an Afghan Uprising by first handing over most of his army's gunpowder and guns to the rebels; and then, when the enemy attacked with the those same guns, he abandoned his stronghold at Kabul and then retreated with his entire army through the treacherous Hindu Kush back to Jalalabad. Out of his entire 16 000-strong army, only one man made it to safety.
    • The Charge of the Light Brigade is probably the Ur-Example of this, as the incident was subsequently used to discredit and end the practice of purchasing commissions; however, the facts themselves are rather more complicated. It was led by Lord Cardigan, described by one historian as "an overbearing, hot-tempered fool of the most dangerous kind in that he believed that he possessed real ability." His immediate superior was Lord Lucan, also none too bright and much too hot-tempered. However, tied up in the performance was Captain Louis Edward Nolan, a "merit" officer, who may have intentionally miscommunicated the order to advance (the supposedly "garbled" order would have been quite comprehensible to a man standing where it was drafted). Lucan ordered Cardigan charge his men through a gauntlet of fire to capture a battery of guns at the far end of the valley. After capturing the guns the light brigade was driven off due to the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, retreating through the same gauntlet of fire a second time. The result was over two hundred British cavalryman killed or captured in a charge that accomplished nothing of real military value. At the time Cardigan was lionised as a hero, while Lucan and Raglan the supreme commander variously blamed each other and Nolan.
      • A letter discovered in 2016 shed new light on the circumstances, in that Raglan allegedly gave Nolan written orders, but Nolan passed the message along orally instead.
    • Louis Mountbatten failed spectacularly in the Dieppe raid and had several other crazy plans but thanks to his close connection to the royal family he just kept getting promoted. However, he proved a capable diplomat, not least overseeing the independence of India from Britain, and at the same time helping to manage the extremely volatile India-Pakistan separation without touching off a war.
    • George Colley, commander of British forces in the First Boer War, was known as a brilliant man who (among other things) contributed regularly to the Encyclopedia Brittanica. This didn't stop him from getting his forces routed, and himself killed at Majuba Hill.
    • Subverted by Sir Garnett Wolseley, on which the character of General Stanley was deliberately modeled, both by W.S. Gilbert and the first actor to play the role, George Grossmith. At the time The Pirates of Penzance was written, Wolseley was one of Great Britain's most well-known military figures, with a reputation as an organizational "efficiency expert" that belied the fact that he was also an experienced and effective field commander, who also held combat commands after the operetta was produced. Wolseley was a leading advocate for army reform and wrote a number of seminal works on military history. According to The Other Wiki, he even took the roast in good humor and was known to sing the Major General Song to amuse his friends.
    • Winston Churchill himself often dipped into Modern Major Generaldom, given his persistent meddling in military affairs during both World Wars. His record is mixed; about a third of his ideas were actually good (sink the Bismarck, don't invade France until you're ready), another third were iffy (Gallipoli might have worked with a little luck. Might.), and the final third tended to be utterly disastrous (his Royal Marines adventure, the Goeben, Greece, etc.).
    • Lieutenant-General John Whitlocke was in command of the British army that attacked Buenos Aires during The Napoleonic Wars. After initially gaining the upper hand in the city's outskirts, Whitlocke let the Spanish retreat and demanded the city's surrender, giving the Spanish three days to prepare the city's defenses. When he finally attacked, he marched his troops in without the protection of his artillery. Finally, he was confounded by urban warfare, particularly when the locals dumped everything from boiling water to scalding cooking oil on his troops. He was forced to flee back to England after signing an armistice with the Spanish commander, where he was promptly cashiered for his incompetence, particularly in letting his regular forces be defeated by an impromptu militia.
  • Across the Channel, the French could be plagued with this too. By the War of the Spanish Succession, Louis XIV had begun mistaking personal loyalty for military talent and appointed dullards like Villeroi and Tallard as generals and marshals, whereupon they proceeded to get their asses kicked by real commanders like Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy (the latter of whom had been personally rejected for French military service by Louis XIV). Subverted with Villars, who was a genuinely skilled general and was instrumental in salvaging the situation for France.
  • Before the modern period, the way to become an officer in most Armed Forces was to pay for the privilege, or (for some of the top leadership positions) to be appointed there by politicians, who often selected their friends (c.f. William "Pinafore" Smith, discussed above under theatre). Hence, you got a lot of people commanding the armed forces... whose only real qualification was that they could pay.
    • The United States never allowed officers to purchase commissions, but since the US Senate has to confirm all field grade officer promotions, several officers got promoted based more on their political acumen rather than any military expertise. Examples of the result of this trope in the American armed forces include:
      • George McClellan had a good reputation for training and organizing his troops and he got along with them well, but he would eventually be dismissed by Abraham Lincoln both for their poor relationship and for McClellan's lack of aggressiveness as a battlefield commander, partially influenced by overestimating Confederate numbers. This is still contested from a historical standpoint. Lee, when asked who his toughest opponent was, actually named McClellan. It doesn't help that McClellan was replaced as general right before his massive planned invasion of the south, subsequently ruined by a failed General Ripper.
      • McClellan's subordinate (and, later, successor) Ambrose Burnside considered himself one. Like McClellan, he was a skilled at training soldiers but mediocre at best at leading them. He was also a skilled gunsmith, designing the Burnside carbine which was one of the first breech-loading firearms adopted by the US military. Burnside was very reluctant to be promoted to general, but accepted the position because otherwise it would have gone to Joseph Hooker, whom he considered even less suitable (and personally despised to boot). (Burnside was proved right: After his removal, Hooker replaced him—and promptly led the Army of the Potomac into the grand debacle that was the Battle of Chancellorsville. Hooker was replaced by the far more competent—if still flawed—George Meade shortly thereafter, and Meade won his signature victory at Gettysburg within a week of his appointment.)
      • Another American example would be Benjamin Butler, a influential lawyer-turned-Civil War general. While a brilliant lawyer and debater (for one, he coined the term "contraband" for slaves escaping to Union lines, providing a legal excuse for freeing them when slavery hadn't actually been abolished), he was an incompetent commander; however, his political influence protected him from a sacking until Lincoln's second term. In an improbable run of bad luck, the Union would continually transfer Butler to quiet sectors, only for that area to become suddenly important; whenever Butler was the highest ranking officer on the scene (which he usually was), disaster soon followed.
      • William Hull distinguished himself in The American Revolution, earning recognition from Congress and even George Washington himself. By the War of 1812, he was 60 years old and long past his prime. He initially refused a general position when offered one, and only took it after repeated pleas from President James Madison. He repeatedly argued with his militia commanders, who considered removing him from command, let several of his dispatches be captured by a First Nations force led by the warrior Tecumseh that promptly turned them over to the British General Isaac Brock, and was played for a sucker by Brock and Tecumseh when they tricked him into thinking that their force was much larger than it really was. That, combined with Hull's (unfounded) fear of The Savage Indians, tricked him into surrendering Fort Detroit despite his superior numbers. The fiasco led to an uproar in the United States, where Hull was court-martialed for cowardice and neglect of duty. He was sentenced to be shot, but President Madison commuted his sentence to dismissal from the army in recognition of his Revolutionary service.
    • One of the roles of the U.S. President is "commander in chief" of the Armed Forces, i.e., the highest-ranking position in the military. However, most Presidents in recent history, while they may be skilled in other aspects of law and politics, have never seen a single day of actual military service.
      • James Madison actually tried to take command in the field as British troops approached Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812. At nearly the last minute, Madison realized that fighting a battle is slightly different from writing a Constitution, and so he left it in the hands of his Secretary of War, James Monroe, a combat veteran. The British routed the hastily-assembled American defenders anyway, but Monroe's efforts bore fruit and the British raiders were halted at Baltimore soon after. Madison learned his lesson, and re-established a professional standing army. Monroe was elected president in 1816, succeeding Madison.
    • Note that many have begun to criticize the US military in modern times for this same flaw. As Paul Yingling put it, "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war." Part of the problem is that, in the modern military, officers reach positions of high command through bureaucratic politicking, not generally through military success. Another part of the problem is that modern Presidents often lack the confidence to fire their generals. Partly that's because modern Presidents do not themselves have military experience, although that hardly accounts for Lyndon Johnson's reluctance to remove Westmoreland. More likely, it is the result of the centralization of the US Armed Services since WW2. Up through WW2, the President could always get different perspectives and different advice on military matters from the different branches, but since then, the military has spoken with one voice, so the President has difficulty getting competing perspectives.
  • Of course, there's other ways to get to be highly incompetent in your field:
    • Santos Degollado is a Mexican example; he was adept at gathering and motivating men to fight for the Liberal cause, but failed to ever lead them to victory. He was nicknamed "prince of defeats" and in some versions "Apostle of defeats". Incredibly likeable because of his sincere enthusiasm and dedication to the cause, but he should have delegated the actual military tactics to someone else.
    • Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin are textbook examples of this trope. Hitler was a brilliant demagogue, motivating his people to go to war against the rest of Europe... but turned out to be a rather inept military commander. Stalin was a maestro at keeping his subordinates in line and building up a nearly impenetrable network of power within the Bolsheviks, but his blunders led to the USSR getting its ass kicked by Finland when it invaded that country, and very nearly getting destroyed by Nazi Germany before he smartened up and let his generals direct the war (though he did have the foresight to create a buffer zone in eastern Poland and quietly transfer war industries into Siberia, away from the coming fighting).
    • Benito Mussolini, while a capable politician, proved just as militarily incompetent as Hitler and Stalin. If anything, he was more of a hindrance than a help to the Axis, as Germany had to come to Italy's rescue whenever Mussolini fouled things up (which was often).
  • Idi Amin was a total douchebag and complete moron, as he was shown in the media. With all those badges, he probably fooled himself into thinking he was a real military commander. But he lost completely in his war with Tanzania, as his armies did very little fighting at all. Which didn't prevent him from living comfortably for a good, long time, nearly 25 years after being ousted from power, with multiple wives at his side (simultaneously) and so much time on his hands that he actually bothered to finally learn to read and study politics. However, an interview very late in his life shows him to be anything but the apparent buffoon of old. Theories abound that the man was never anything of the sort, instead showing the great powers of the world a facade of backwards idiocy to avoid ever-popular Cold War meddling in his affairs.
  • Pretty much every officer in the Canadian Militia in the late 19th century who was actually from Canada was one of these as the militia commander positions were patronage appointments by the federal government. This led to most of Canada's successes in World War I happening under the command of British officers up until the appointment of Sir Arthur Currie as commander of the Canadian Corps mid-1917.
    • Sam Hughes was the federal Minister of Militia for the first three years of the war. His erratic personality and volcanic temper meant that Prime Minister Robert Borden wanted to fire him even before Canada went to war, but was concerned about a political backlash. Hughes' wartime performance was catastrophic, including rampant nepotism in dispensing both contracts and commands (leading to Canadian troops going into battle with crappy equipment and Hughes' Upper-Class Twit son Garnet being viewed by Currie as a danger to the men he commanded), pigheadedly insisting on retaining the Ross Rifle as the primary Canadian weapon (despite constantly jamming in the mud of the trenches) with suggestions that it be replaced being a personal Berserk Button, inflaming already-high language and religious tensions in Canada with his bigotry against Francophones and Catholics, and virulently insulting his critics. This included a violent tirade against Borden himself, which led to Borden finally firing him. By that point, everyone from King George V to the common soldiers were loudly criticizing him.
  • Muammar Gaddafi started wars with Egypt, Tanzania and Chad during his time as Libya's dictator. He lost every single one. Of special note is the war with Chad, known as the "Toyota War". It got this name because Chadian soldiers used Toyota pickup trucks as troop transports and platforms for machine guns and antitank weapons... and they still managed to trash Gaddadi's forces.
    • This also led to the knowledge that a machine gun bolted to a 4X4 truck makes for a great support vehicle.
  • Robert McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defense under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, was partly responsible for deepening American involvement in The Vietnam War. He was a technocratic midcentury corporate executive freshly recruited from the private sector by the administration. He did have some military experience; he served in the Army Air Force during WWII, as part of a group overseeing planning, logistics, and analysis for the bombing campaign against Japan. However, his concentration on numbers, statistics, and formulae rather than 'soft data' like reports from troops in the field made him less than effective at directing the war effort: He knew that the Americans were dropping thousands of tons of bombs on the VC, and couldn't really understand how they were still fighting.
  • James Buchanan distinguished himself as a US senator, an ambassador and Secretary of State, all jobs that require a high level of tact, caution, negotiating skills and consensus-building ability. This proved to be lousy preparation for being president of a nation on the brink of civil war over a question of morality.
  • Tommy Wiseau was amazingly poor as a writer, director, and actor in The Room but appears to have managed to raise an impressive amount of money to fund the film, which would make him an excellent producer.
    • Same goes for Uwe Boll, who, regardless of everything and Alone in the Dark (2005), managed to fund his films and employ well-known actors (granted this is more due to German tax loopholes than anything else).
  • Italy's own Luigi Cadorna. As a manager was superb, as shown by him successfully triplicating Italy's army and the amount of firepower per man in the middle of a war while having to deal with an absurdly high number of Obstructive Bureaucrats and Corrupt Politicians (it helped the politicians gave him supreme command because he was a rival of the previous, politically fastidious commander in chief, and because they believed he was too old to be a problem. He wasn't that old), and, differently from many other generals of World War I, understood immediately the importance of machine guns and artillery. As a battlefield commander, however, he was a General Ripper second to none in Italy's history, something that ultimately led to the Italian Second Army being annihilated at Caporetto, forcing the rest to retreat of hundreds of kilometers.
  • Christian Frederick, later king Christian VIII of Denmark, while trying to keep Norway outside of Swedish control in 1814. Although a brilliant orator, a charming and learned young man with a winning personality, he had no military experience whatsoever, and started out in early 1814 with the fatal decision to remove cannons from the strategic fortress of Fredrikstad, when the local command complained about the poor state of the fortress. Later on, he ordered the Norwegian fleet out of the way when the Swedish advanced, thus securing his own downfall and defeat in the following war. His last military blunder was to gather an army of 5000 Norwegians for a final blow to the Swedes, only to break it up and capitulate when he learned that Fredrikstad had fallen to the Swedes. His own generals, who were a lot more experienced than he was, rightfully scolded him for this. The fact that his main opponent was an experienced French general who had managed to win the battle of Leipzig, didn`t exactly make things better for him.
    • His later career actually followed the Dilbert principle to a T: He was "promoted" to king, only to mess it up for himself yet again, when he managed to pit all the Danish liberals against him. At this point the Danes wished for a constitution similar to the Norwegian one, which king Christian denied them. He had to relent in the end, after a lot of pressure from the Danish politicians. This part of his life made him more of a Pointy-Haired Boss.
  • In China, PLA generals are seen to be this, especially those who earn their appointments through the influence of party cadres or relatives. Contributing to this is the fact that the PLA has not been in a shooting war for generations and much of their doctrines are thus untested.
  • During the Wars of Independence in Spanish America, the sudden need for military commanders resulted in many civilians from the upper echelons of society to suddenly become military officers. One of the most notable examples is Manuel Belgrano, a respected lawyer, public servant, economist and newspaper editor from Buenos Aires who suddenly became General of the patriotic army, read a few books on military tactics and cartography, and off to the front he went. To the surprise of nobody, after a few military victories he suffered a catastrophic defeat and had to retreat back home. Of course, since everyone understood that those were desperate times, and he was just a civilian doing his best when there was no-one else to call for, his military blunders are excused, while his political achievements are praised.
    • Some of his achievements in failure:
      • Following the traditional code of honour, after the Battle of Salta he let the prisoners from the royal army go free after making them swear to never take arms against the patriotic forces ever again. He met them again in the next battle fighting for the king once more.
      • To be fair, he released them in exchange for some patriot prisoners the royalist forces had.
      • After suffering two defeats at the hands of the Paraguayan royalist armies at Paraguarí and Tacuarí, he met with the royalist general, and showing off his talent as a charismatic politician, started writing letters to the royalist general inciting him to depose the Paraguayan government and proclaim independence from the crown.
  • How about an ancient major general? The Roman emperor Gallienus, according to Gibbon: "was a master of several curious but useless sciences, a ready orator and an elegant poet, a skillful gardener, an excellent cook, and most contemptible prince. When the great emergencies of the State required his presence and attention, he was engaged in conversation with the philosopher Plotinus, wasting his time in trifling or licentious pleasures, preparing his initiation to the Grecian mysteries, or soliciting a place in the Areopagus of Athens" (Ch. X)
  • Imperial Russia suffered from this in World War I:
    • Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaeivich was the initial commander in chief, but he had zero experience commanding armies in the field. He was completely out of his depth and oversaw several catastrophic defeats, which led to Tsar Nicholas II firing him in 1915. Unfortunately...
    • ...the Tsar then decided to take command himself, believing it was his natural role as emperor. Unfortunately, he was no better than the Grand Duke, and things went From Bad to Worse for Russia. Nicholas was personally blamed for the massive defeats and death tolls, which along with the chaos his wife Alexandra and Rasputin were causing in the civil government pretty much stained his legacy.