When generals play politics, wars get lost

Ideas

When generals play politics, wars get lost

Mark Milley’s testimony shows how military leaders are getting squeezed in the military-civilian divide

Max Hastings

Everybody loves even the weakest members of a winning team, and that goes for soldiers as well as sportsmen. In World War 2, such US generals as Omar Bradley and Courtney Hodges, like their British counterparts Harold Alexander and Henry Wilson, came home popular heroes even though some of their uniformed peers did not think much of them.  

Contrarily, generals who lose wars become forgotten men or high-profile scapegoats. It seems unjust that Gen William Westmoreland has passed into American folk memory as the architect of US defeat in Vietnam, not because he was a great commander, which he was not, but because all the seriously bad decisions were made in the White House.

Today, generals are out of fashion on both sides of the Atlantic. Mark Milley, chair of the US joint chiefs, may or may not have been right to call his Chinese counterpart in the closing weeks of president Donald Trump’s administration, and seek to reassure him — in effect, if not in explicit verbiage — that grown-ups remained in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal. ..

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