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“Blood and Guts,” “Whiskey Bob,” “Hanging Sam,” “Iron Mike” and “Vinegar Joe” were just a few of the nicknames our troops affectionately hung on their generals way back when the guys who wore stars were profane, two-fisted, outspoken warriors who won battles. Skippers who led from the front and didn’t have a political bone in their mean-as-a-snake bodies. Hell-raisers who said what they thought – the politically incorrect, unvarnished truth – and frequently found themselves in a compost pit like the one Gen. George Patton stepped deeply into when he publicly stated in 1945 that we should arm the Germans, march to Moscow and take out the Soviets before they tried to take over the world.
But since the end of World War II – the last war we won unconditionally – warrior-leaders like the Pattons, O’Daniels and Stillwells have become an endangered species. Ulysses S. Grant wouldn’t even make captain in today’s military.
The new breed are smooth, well-educated Perfumed Princes like William Westmoreland, who gave us Vietnam; Colin Powell, who didn’t finish the job in Iraq; and Wesley Clark, who ran the Serbian war so badly he received his walking papers from the very Clintonistas who created this sweet-smelling pretender in the first place.
Most of these Perfumed Princes might know how to maneuver inside the corridors of power, but in spite of their advanced degrees from fine schools, few have a clue about the nitty-gritty of the profession of arms. It’s not a subject that’s taught at top universities – or war colleges, for that matter, where computer-science classes have pretty much edged out lectures on Kill-Or-Be-Killed.
Once the Cold War settled in, the Pentagon swapped abrasive war-fighter types for social smoothies because of the bottom line. Arming America to stop the Soviets became big business, and with trillions of dollars at stake, the services went to the mat to maximize their slices of the defense-dollar pie. When I worked at the Pentagon in the ’60s, the Navy considered the Air Force a more serious enemy than the Soviets, while my Army bosses held a similar view of the Marines.
As soon as good salesmanship became key to bringing home the pork, it was goodbye war-fighters and hello slickies. Today’s generals and admirals are more diplomats than warriors, selected for charisma and good looks rather than their ability to kick butt and take names.
Obviously, these new-style corporate generals need to know Beltway politics inside out, and the way to learn the game is by spending as much time as possible in Washington – far from the often bloody outposts where soldiers and sailors hone their fighting skills.
So since 1945, three generations of increasingly shallow but suave guys and gals have been selectively bred to charm the Gucci loafers off our congressional folks and convince them their own service’s latest ship, airplane or tank is more urgently needed to defend America than the competition’s. Few of our lawmakers have ever worn muddy boots, so they fall for a pitch, and we end up with platinum-plated junk that doesn’t do the job. Stuff like the $2 billion B-2 bombers that sat out the Afghanistan show because of serious operational limitations.
The Army brass hat who originally ran the ground war in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. F.L. Hagenbeck, pretty much represents today’s standard-issue Perfumed Prince. Despite his 31 years of service, he’s only had six years leading combat troops. His two master’s degrees – physical science and finance – didn’t stop him from making a hell of a mess of the initial ground fights of that war, where, on his first major operation, we lost a lot of troops, and the enemy got away because he didn’t know his war-fighting trade.
After Gen. Lloyd Fredendall blew our first major battle with the Nazis in Africa, Ike immediately replaced him with George Patton. Unlike our present CINC for Afghanistan, Gen. Tommy Franks, there’s no question Ike would also have relieved Hagenbeck in a heartbeat.
We’ll keep losing fights until Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld revamps the sick personnel system that’s been putting the wrong guys at the top since the ’50s. But with Rummy’s record for wielding the hatchet, hopefully he’ll start swinging not too far down the bloody track.