From our nation’s earliest days, the request to answer the colors for “a few good men” has been assured. But all too infrequently the response has brought forth a cadre of officer material that did not perform to the level desired.
Fortunately, we had George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, John J. Pershing and George C. Marshall who saved our way of life. That’s not too many generals among a host of others over a period of 144 years, 1780-1945. I purposely left out the Korean War and Vietnam War because “generalship” suffered among a host of problems, primarily political, i.e. Douglas MacArthur and William Westmoreland. This brings us to our present dilemma.
“The Generals” is an interesting new book by Thomas E. Ricks, who reported on military activities for The Washington Post from 2000-2008 and was a member of two winning teams for a Pulitzer Prize. He has put faces on leaders who led our forces in Afghanistan the past 10 years, the nation’s longest war. Ricks reports, “Since 2003, the overseers of the Afghan War have been generals: Tommy Franks, Paul Mikolasek, Dan McNeil, John Vines, David Barno, Krl Eikenberry, McNeil for a 2nd tour, David McKiernan, Stanley McCrystal, David Petraeus, John Allen and Joseph F. Dunford Jr.” If a person in the business world held such a responsible job for only one year, they would probably be fired. Ricks says that a general cannot do their job successfully within such a short time frame.
The past three to four years have seen bizarre situations regarding our generals. While on active duty, Stanley McCrystal offered some caustic and candid comments to Rolling Stone magazine. He in turn was replaced by David Petraeus, who after a relatively short tour of duty was appointed to be CIA director in 2012. From that point on it became ugly when Paula Broadwell, his biographer/mistress, had her book on Petraeus hacked by FBI agents who discovered incriminating information from anonymous emails, according to Joe Nocera’s OPED column in The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2012. At that point, he resigned from the CIA to enter civilian life.
His successor for 19 months in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, got himself involved in the Broadwell-Petraeus affair when he was found to have sent emails to Kelley. Last October, the Pentagon cleared him of misconduct after an investigation into his exchange of emails. President Obama nominated Allen several months ago to be supreme commander of NATO. Then, in a surprise announcement Feb. 20, Allen said he was retiring immediately from the Marine Corps to focus on “health issues within his family.” Isn’t it amazing how many, when they tumble from grace, discover they have a family? Hollywood couldn’t do it any better!
In retrospect, I may have surprised many by citing George C. Marshall as one of our greatest generals. Marshall rose to become our first 5-star general and secretary of state. He is credited with being the Founding Father of the American Armed Forces. At the outset of WWII, as a lieutenant general, he was advanced in rank over many others by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As his first act, Marshall fired dozens of lesser generals because he believed they were old and lacking in energy to lead soldiers into combat. He raised the the U.S. armed forces from 200,000 to 8 million and became the chief military strategist for the Allied Powers. Marshall wanted men who could analyze problems and solve them. Eisenhower was one of the few to pass muster to become Marshall’s choice to lead Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe. Marshall went on to be secretary of state under President Harry S. Truman and was largely responsible for instituting the Marshall Plan that effectively helped Europe recover from the ravages of war.
Marshall, a man of the utmost integrity, was a man for the ages. It is indeed unfortunate that more leaders like him have not come forward. But, look at the political side of the ledger! Where are the political leaders of yesteryear? It is unfortunate that we have many who want to drink at the well of success only to come up dry when their private lives interfered with their call to duty.
Robert D. Campbell, an essayist who lives in Newburyport, believes that a sense of humor is essential.