August 28, 2017

Fear Not the Generals in the White House

by Hal Gershowitz

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Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWe’re lucky to have them.

In fact, with few exceptions throughout our history, we’ve always been lucky to have them. There has been considerable commentary regarding the wisdom of so many former generals and other military leaders holding high office in this Administration. With few exceptions, however, former generals and other high-ranking military careerists have served in the White House with distinction. America has been well served by former military leaders who have ascended to the Presidency. No less than twelve former Generals have occupied the oval office. Well, actually it wasn’t oval until 1909, but you know what we mean.

Generals Washington and Eisenhower were the highest-ranking generals to become Commanders-in-Chief and neither proved to be militaristic presidents. Indeed, President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned of the danger of an overly influential military-industrial complex. Washington counseled that a strong defense was the best way to avoid war as long as our enemies knew we were prepared to use it. Colonel James Monroe, our fifth President, crossed the Delaware with General Washington. In fact, that’s Colonel Monroe holding the American flag next to General Washington in the iconic painting of Washington crossing the Delaware.

General Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, was best known for his famous victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans effectively ending the war of 1812. Actually, the war had officially ended six weeks earlier with the treaty signed in Ghent Belgium, but news traveled slowly in those days—too slowly to head off the rout of the British at New Orleans. Jackson, by the way, volunteered as a militia messenger at age thirteen during the revolutionary war and was captured by the British, making him the only former prisoner of war to become President. While he ignominiously signed the infamous Indian Removal Act into law (genocide by any other name) he was the founder of the modern Democratic Party and is considered by many to be among our most effective presidents.

William Henry Harrison (Tippecanoe) and Zachary Taylor were both war heroes too.  Harrison stopped a coalition of native American armies at the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers in what was the Indiana Territory and later defeated the famous native American fighter Tecumseh at the Battle of Thames. It was the standoff at Tippecanoe that propelled Harrison to the presidency and which gave birth to what was probably the first presidential campaign song, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Americans voted for Tippecanoe, but, sure enough, they got Tyler too. Harrison died of pneumonia a month after his inauguration.

Our point is that many who distinguished themselves in military service ascended to the oval office, yet none were militaristic leaders. What they had in common was a love of country, loyalty to the nation, discipline, a sense of order and, invariably, an uncommon gift of leadership. They knew how to lead and how to get things done.  All qualities desperately needed in this particular White House. Given that so many former career military officers have served with distinction as presidents we see little reason to be concerned that several former generals are now serving as advisors to a president—especially these advisors, and especially this president.

Frankly, having former U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly serving as Trump’s Chief of Staff is cause for cautious optimism that order has replaced the disarray that has characterized this White House. Secretary of Defense James (Mad Dog) Mattis has a well-earned reputation for speaking truth to power, and he may prove to be the best-placed leader at the Pentagon in recent memory. “He’s a humble man with very little to be humble about,” was the way William Cohen, who served as President Clinton’s Pentagon secretary, described Mattis.  Finally, we can’t think of a less militaristic National Security Advisor than former General H.R. McMaster.  Everyone seems to have enormous respect for him. He was once described as a blunt-spoken bulldog of a man. No right-wing ideologue, he even worked for a left-wing think tank funded by none other than George Soros.

We don’t know where our ship of state is headed. We’re in pretty rough seas and we’ll be tested far beyond this president’s ability to steer without superb help. We’ve been sailing through rough waters for quite a while. The seas have been rough and getting rougher for years. While there is plenty of reason to be concerned about Commander Trump, we think he, at last, has superb men on the bridge with him.  Time will tell if he’s wise enough to start listening.





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One response to “Fear Not the Generals in the White House”

  1. susan duman says:

    When Kelly acquiesced to coming on board, I read that he decided to do so after rereading a book he’d read years before.
    The General by C.S. Forester. Out of print, unavailable, except through a website Bibliophile. I purchased it for $114. 00.
    I’m compelled to know “the why” .
    If interested, Hal, I will loan you the book.
    Yes, the generals will get us through.

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