NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

January 30, 2014

Generally speaking

Americans, encumbered with a love of all things military and the notion that those in uniform can do no wrong, quickly forget the sins of the most higher-ups, the generals: the Petraeuses and McChrystals and their ilk.

Pride went before their fall, but it’s all a ho-hum, let’s-move-on matter. But generals do matter: They are the point-people for the one at the top, the ones tasked to carry out orders from the commander in chief. When they fail to do so, their boss gets the blame.

One who could have said no was Colin Powell, when George W surprised him, in a high-level meeting, of his intentions to invade Iraq: “Are ya with me, Colin?” What a time to find out; but like a good soldier, Powell, a career, top-ranking military man, knew better than anyone who was Boss, and had little choice but to say yes — then was obliged to pitch Bush’s Cheney-inspired, bogus “weapons of mass destruction” charges at the U.N. Colin’s big mistake: Had he resigned, he could have become president.

Others in our history let down their prez by not following orders, like the flamboyant MacArthur who disobeyed, got canned, then considered a run against his boss, Truman. Sadly, out of uniform and sans corncob pipe, he was just another balding old man whose reach exceeded his grasp.

Think of McClellan, who could have ended the Civil War but wouldn’t let his superior forces do it — and upon replacement, pre-figured MacArthur by challenging Lincoln politically. Lincoln by that time desperately needed a victory, and Joe Hooker boasted he’d take down the Rebs at Chancellorsville, saying God would have to have mercy on Gen. Lee, because he, Hooker, would not. Imagine his surprise when, outnumbered two to one, Lee kicked Joe’s sorry ass, and Lincoln trudged on in his search for someone who could fight. Too bad that when Meade won at Gettysburg, he let Lee’s shattered forces escape to fight again.

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