The Sum of All Fears

Winston Churchill once said, “Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together - what do you get? The sum of their fears.” But what does this actually mean?

My best guess is that any group of soldiers is only as strong as their ability to overcome their fear, but that seems to stretch the phrase a bit. Any ideas? And has anyone heard this outside the context of the Tom Clancy book/movie?

Note- I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, do they reference the phrase and perhaps offer an explanation?

It was his criticism of a “Chiefs of Staff” system, where the decision maker is advised by the heads of the various services, like we have in the US, for instance. He was arguing that the system led to indecision and hesitation, because the chiefs of staff will keep arguing and criticizing various possibilities…each of them will keep finding reasons to advise against something.

Churchill’s attitude was that the prime minister/national leader needed to be the decision maker, because he wouldn’t be afraid to make the decisions that needed to be made, while the chiefs would be overly afraid of taking casualties.

In other words, the “sum of all fears” means that if any one member of the group is afraid of a given course of action, the whole group will be.

That makes much more sense than my guess did. Thanks guys!

The answers I’ve heard totally make sense. I heard someone say something on a more personal level.
Each of these men at the table are know for their courage and heroism in drastically different realms. It might surprise each of them to discover that one of the others has a fear of something that doesn’t remotely frighten them. The soldier might be afraid of the water, the sailor might be afraid of heights and the airman might be afraid of confrontation in close proximity to other people on the land. Their pride might cause them to fear sharing the fact that they have any fears at all. Or their camaraderie might make them feel safe to admit what they fear. I hope this didn’t sound confusing or like me just pontificating.

The answer is of course spiders.

Now that movie makes sense…

It is well known here that if you want to stop an organisation from functioning, or prevents something from happening, then appoint a committee to run it or study it.

You’re almost there but I think the crux of it (to build on your answer) is this:

…and you might think that what you would get would be the sum of their strengths, with each strength overcoming their individual fears. But instead their individual fears add with each bringing a different fear to the table. What you get is the sum of all their fears.

I took it to mean that each had to overcome their fear, and they had different fears. To simplify. The Sailor had the fear of having his ship shot at or bombed. The soldier the fear of getting shot. The Airman the fear of his plane being shot out of the sky. They each went into battle with these kind of fears, but they still went and they functioned.

In the Tom Clancy book, (it’s been a while since I read it.) I took the phrase to indicate that the people sitting around the cabinet/war room table in response to a terror attack, each have their own personal fears and emotionally want to attack the enemy they are afraid of or want to blame, rather than waiting and making a rational response based on facts.

I wonder how many of these specialized soldiers fear zombies? Probably all of them.

That [del]can be[/del] has been arranged.

Didja ever stop to think why it’s called the World Wide Web & what you just typed?

Otherwise well prepared people, not really being well prepared at all; and knowing it when facing their ultimate test.