Upon hearing about Rolling Stone’s article involving General Stanley McChrystal and the unprofessional remarks he had made concerning President Obama and members of his security team, I could not help but think back to another, more infamous general in American history that had openly badmouthed the Commander-in-Chief and threatened to usurp his power in the midst of an all-out war.
Yes, I, like many other people, was thinking about General Douglas MacArthur, hero of the Pacific Theater during World War II and commander of U.N Forces during the Korean War. How could you not?! The top general in Afghanistan, the “real central front” in the war against Islamic extremism, was being summoned to the White House to explain himself before the President, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen. I watched the events unfold, glued to my television set and online news media as I read snippets of the Rolling Stone article, “The Runaway General,” and found out that McChrystal had insulted practically every member of the National Security team, and that his blatant disregard for shooting his mouth off went back to his days at West Point. To me, and to many other readers, viewers and news commentators, McChrystal appeared as just another hotheaded general in a long list of American commanders going back to the Civil War; each one compelled to express their “true colors” to their commander-in-chief, knowing full well that this could easily result in their dismissal. But generals have been relieved of command for much worse, and kept on for more than making a few brash comments in a counterculture magazine like Rolling Stone.
In a CNN interactive article, a brief list of commanders who sparred with presidents managed to shed some light on the subject of who is in charge in times of conflict. It was, however, interesting to note that the instance of George S. Patton slapping two battle-fatigued soldiers during the Italian Campaign of WWII was left off. Patton was given a reprimand, denied involvement in the Normandy Invasion and given command of the Third Army following D-Day. He would, however, ultimately lose that command following the surrender of Germany due to bombastic remarks comparing American political parties to the Nazis.
Still, what General MacArthur had done in 1951 is clearly in a class of its own. MacArthur was openly condemning U.S. policy during the Korean War, as well as threatening China, who had just entered the conflict against the U.N. He had warned the Communist nation to abandon its support for North Korea or risk attack from American forces. Truman later acknowledged that the General’s open insubordination was a direct defiance of the orders of the President. Yet Truman kept MacArthur on for political reasons; the General actually had higher approval ratings than the President!
MacArthur’s famous “No Substitute For Victory” phrase, quoted from a letter the General had sent to a Massachusetts Congressman, finally resulted in his being relieved of command on April 22, 1951. It was clear to Truman’s entire National Security Team that MacArthur had become a liability; he openly talked about the destruction of North Korea, as well as the possibility of an attack on the Chinese homeland, possibly with the use of nuclear weapons. And all this while the Cold War was at its hottest point!
Yet what General McChrystal uttered in that Rolling Stone article obviously does not even come close to what happened sixty years ago. This was, plain and simple, a case of insubordination, a minor one at that, and General McChrystal knew that he had to tender his resignation to President Obama. His comments were, in short, idiotic; not dangerous like Douglas MacArthur’s, not inflammatory like George Patton’s and nothing like the head-butting that JFK had to contend with during the Cuban Missile Crisis that could have erupted in war! Bottom line: if you got problems with the Boss or how they run things, better to tell ‘em in private!
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