What Makes Gavin Run? Britain’s Defense Secretary and the Psychology of Military Incompetence

Martin Sieff – Strategic Review March 9, 2019

Gavin Williamson. Click to enlarge

United Kingdom or British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson is popping up everywhere these days. He has gratuitously insulted Spain and more or less taunted it to take Gibraltar back from the UK after more than 300 years of occupation – An operation incidentally that the Spanish police could carry out in a couple of hours if they were so minded.

Williamson has needlessly insulted the leaders of France at European conferences, and his bearbaiting and insults towards Russia and ridiculous posturing of the UK’s miniscule military capabilities in Eastern Europe have provoked open derision in Moscow.

Now, as if all that was not enough Williamson is boasting about putting China in its place by sending Britain’s new aircraft carriers, the already obsolete behemoths Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales to East Asia to supposedly deter China in its own home waters of the South China Sea.

Who is this mighty, fearless titan who bestrides the world like a colossus – at least in his own imagination? Is he a seasoned formidable veteran of Britain’s fabled Special forces? Is he an experienced diplomat with decades of efforts to solve the thorny problems of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa? Perhaps he is a brilliant scholar whose dazzling articles on strategy and deterrence have dazzled experts from the Munich Security Conference to the annual Shangri-La gathering in Singapore?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Williamson comes from a humble working class background in England and took an average run-of-the-mill degree in Social Sciences at the University of Bradford. His true passion was feverishly getting on in the world and the ladder he climbed to rise in the world was the numbing minutiae of provincial politics in the British Conservative Party.

Williamson finally hit the big time – so to speak – in 2015 when he supported dark horse candidate Theresa May against favorite Boris Johnson in the race to succeed David Cameron as Conservative Party leader and UK prime minister. In reward, she made him her Chief Whip in charge of the party’s parliamentary majority in Parliament.

Adept at flattery to a colorless, inept mediocrity of a prime minister who was widely regarded with strained tolerance, he rose rapidly in her esteem and shared in her catastrophic decision to call a general election which she almost lost. As a reward for such awful judgment he was further promoted to be defense secretary and has since won the universal derision of his service chiefs, serving officers and troop and professional administrators.

At a time when, as my Strategic Culture Foundation contributor Brian Cloughley has pointed out, the entire British Army, with a paltry 77,000 troops has less man (and woman) power than its artillery forces alone did 60 years ago, Williamson has eagerly sought cheap headlines by insulting longtime UK allies and formidable major global powers alike.

He enthusiastically supported the Saudi Arabian-led military intervention Yemen that has cost tens of thousands of innocent civilian lives and now threatens hardship and famine for millions. He has told Russia to “go away and shut up.” He has accused China of acting “in a malign way” – again without any real evidence to back up his nasty allegations.

On February 11, he proposed sending the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth to the Indo-Pacific region, a boast that led the government of China to immediately cancel trade talks that an ominously isolated UK desperately needed to offset its looming chaotic Brexit departure from the European Union.

In less than a year and a half in office, Williamson has already established himself as the most farcical and inept defense chief in British history.

His incredibly fast rise reveals a hollow little two-faced charmer and conman straight out of that classic 1976 study “On the Psychology of Military Incompetence” by Norman F. Dixon and Budd Schulberg’s famous novel about sociopathic little hollow influence-peddler and social climber Sammy Glick in “What Makes Sammy Run?”

Both Dixon and Schulberg recognized the phenomenon of what the great poet T S Eliot called “The Hollow Men” – Individuals without self-worth or any inner moral compass. As Dixon and Schulberg both understood, such empty creatures like Williamson seek to over-compensate for their inner emptiness by trying to rise up the social leader by any means – flattering, lying, betraying and backstabbing along the way. Such people join every mob and are in the forefront of an every witch hunt.

Such people, in Dixon’s unforgettable study always fawn to superiors and are usually harsh or uncaring to inferiors – exactly Williamson’s reported conduct to his “Great Lady” Mrs. May and to the staff unfortunate enough to serve him.

Such people, Dixon says, ignore people and facts which do not conform to their world view, learn little from experience and cling to external rules, applying them even when the situation demands other approaches.

Hence Williamson’s blind faith that the big bully he truly reveres and wants to serve – the United States of America – will always back him up and send the appropriate overwhelming military force enabling him to make good on all his childish boasts and his threats.

But when war or crisis comes, Dixon methodically documents how all such little blowhard phonies end the same way. They sit still like terrified and paralyzed zombies until disaster overwhelms them – and those foolish enough to trust in them.

It should be no surprise when this fate comes – soon – to Williamson: It is already written in his (lack of) character.



2 responses to “What Makes Gavin Run? Britain’s Defense Secretary and the Psychology of Military Incompetence”

  1. Despite being the jerk, that you brilliantly portray, it is certain that he is under orders. Every word and every action is scripted. He is probably stupid enough to be clueless about who his masters are. Plenty of dopes like him waiting in the wings.

  2. I managed to find a no bullshit link to download that book:


    ps There are So many sites that try to get you to sign up for some bullshit to access public domain documents – they flood the search engines and make it hard to find real, unencumbered texts. They even disguise their web address to lead you astray.
    It annoys me.