Tom Diaz

Generals in the Political Mine Field

In bad manners, Cronatos Hybamper, Ethics in Washington, Political Satire, politics, Turf Wars on January 7, 2017 at 5:56 pm

truman-macarthur

The general nodded absently, as if dismissing his driver. He was thoroughly enjoying himself. This was just getting better by the moment. It was precisely the kind of “serendipitous yet decisive axis of intersecting strategic forces” for which he had long prepared and on the foundation of which he had fashioned his ascent and tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a tenure that was going quite well among his old conservative friends on the Hill. There had been some idle talk of his running for very high office, talk that he had, of course, squelched, and yet at the same time not squelched. No military man could engage in politics, or at least give the appearance of engaging in politics. Many star-studded forebears of his had stepped on career-fatal landmines walking that walk too early and too visibly.

“In two words,” he replied to such hints, exactly as he had also often explained his high national security concept to the Pentagon’s bewitched civilian overseers in Congress. “Be prepared. Simply, be prepared.”

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

It’s not that generals don’t, or perhaps even shouldn’t, get involved in politics. But timing and the right touch are everything.

My fictional General Raymond (Ray) Sanders, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose thoughts are illuminated in the above quote from the novel, understands that. Too soon, too obvious, too disrespectful of civilian authority and a general’s political future gets blown up. A bit of patience, a bit of reluctance, and his political star rises.

General Douglas MacArthur tried to have his cake and eat it too in 1948. Rather than resign from the Army, where he was riding high as a hero, and campaign for the Presidency, he played an “if nominated, I will shall run” strategy. He got only crumbs. Thomas E. Dewey got the nomination.

A few years later, MacArthur again blew it while he was in command of the Korean War. He ignored an order from President Harry S. Truman to stop undermining Truman’s strategy by communicating his private wisdom to the Congress. When some of that wisdom was read on the floor of the House, Truman sacked MacArthur, later explaining:

I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.

Lock them up?

MacArthur’s peer and professional rival General Dwight David Eisenhower played the game better–calmly, coolly, and with poise. “Ike” sailed into the White House.

Here in an excerpt from the thoughts of a prominent military scholar on the subject of generals in politics:

The 20th century also witnessed its share of generals vying for the political spotlight. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, hero of the Southwest Pacific campaign in World War II and Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan, made no secret of his desire to secure the Republican nomination for president in 1948. He made no headway in the primaries, however, garnering only 11 delegates. The nomination went to Governor Thomas Dewey of New York.

Another war hero, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, was still in uniform when he was drafted to run for president as a Republican in 1952, but he retired before accepting the nomination. Ike went on to become a popular two-term president.

Several other general and flag officers have run for president or vice-president since then, but they have all done so as retirees: General Curtis Lemay (vice presidential candidate with Governor George Wallace of Alabama) in 1968, General Alexander Haig (candidate for the Republican nomination) in 1988, Vice Admiral James Stockdale (vice presidential candidate with Ross Perot) in 1992, and General Wesley Clark (candidate for the Democratic nomination) in 2004.

With this long list of senior military leaders competing in the political arena, does the military actually have a tradition of being “apolitical?” If it does, it can be traced back to several prominent military figures, among them General George Washington, General of the Army General William T. Sherman, hero of the Civil War and originator of the “Shermanesque” statement categorically declining consideration for public office, and General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during World War II. Marshall refused to even vote for fear of compromising his “professional independence and judgment.”

“Generals And Politics,”by Peter R. Mansoor, August 8, 2016

Read about the rest of General Sanders’ political career in Cronatos Hybamper, which you can sample and order here:

 

 

 

 

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