The Generals American Military Command from World War II to Today

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 10/30/2012
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The

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From the #1 bestselling author ofFiasco andThe Gamble , an epic history of the decline of American military leadership from World War II to Iraq History has been kinder to the American generals of World War II-Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley-than to the generals of the wars that followed. Is this merely nostalgia? In The Generals, Thomas E. Ricks answers the question definitively: No, it is not, in no small part because of a widening gulf between performance and accountability. During the Second World War, scores of American generals were relieved of command simply for not being good enough. Today, as one American colonel said bitterly during the Iraq War, "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war." In The Generalswe meet great leaders and suspect ones, generals who rose to the occasion and those who failed themselves and their soldiers. Marshall and Eisenhower cast long shadows over this story, but it has no more inspiring single figure than Marine General O. P. Smith, whose fighting retreat from the Chinese onslaught into Korea in the winter of 1950 snatched a kind of victory from the jaws of annihilation. But Smith's courage and genius in the face of one of the grimmest scenarios the marines have faced in their history only cast the shortcomings of the people who put him there in sharper relief. If Korea showed the first signs of culture that neither punished mediocrity nor particularly rewarded daring, the Vietnam War saw American military leadership bottom out. The My Lai massacre, Ricks shows us, is the emblematic event of this dark chapter of our history. In the wake of Vietnam a battle for the soul of the U.S. Army was waged with impressive success. It became a transformed institution, reinvigorated from the bottom up. But if the body was highly toned, its head still suffered from familiar problems, resulting in tactically savvy but strategically obtuse leadership that would win battles but end wars badly from the first Iraq War of 1990 through to the present. Thomas E. Ricks has made a close study of America's military leaders for three decades, and in his hands this story resounds with larger meaning: about the transmission of values, about strategic thinking, about the difference between an organization that learns and one that fails. Military history of the highest quality, The Generalsis also essential reading for anyone with an interest in the difference between good leaders and bad ones.

Author Biography

Thomas E. Ricks is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, in which he writes the blog The Best Defense. Ricks covered the U.S. military for The Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. Until the end of 1999 he had the same beat at The Wall Street Journal, where he was a reporter for seventeen years. A member of two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams, he has covered U.S. military activities in Somalia, Haiti, Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Kuwait, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He is the author of several books, including The Gamble and the #1 New York Times bestseller Fiasco, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Table of Contents


PROLOGUE: Captain William DePuy and the 90th Division in Normandy, summer 1944


1. General George C. Marshall: The leader

2. Dwight Eisenhower: How the Marshall system worked

3. George Patton: The specialist

4. Mark Clark: The man in the middle

5. “Terrible Terry” Allen: Conflict between Marshall and his protégés

6. Eisenhower manages Montgomery

7. Douglas MacArthur: The general as presidential aspirant

8. William Simpson: The Marshall system and the new model American general


9. William Dean and Douglas MacArthur: Two generals self- destruct

10. Army generals fail at Chosin

11. O. P. Smith succeeds at Chosin

12. Ridgway turns the war around

13. MacArthur’s last stand

14. The organization man’s Army


15. Maxwell Taylor: Architect of defeat

16. William Westmoreland: The organization man in command

17. William DePuy: World War II– style generalship in Vietnam

18. The collapse of generalship in the 1960s

  • a. At the top
  • b. In the field
  • c. In personnel policy

19. Tet ’68: The end of Westmoreland and the turning point of the war

20. My Lai: General Koster’s cover-up and General Peers’s investigation

21. The end of a war, the end of an Army


22. DePuy’s great rebuilding

23. “How to teach judgment”



24. Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, and the empty triumph of the 1991 war

25. The ground war: Schwarzkopf vs. Frederick Franks

26. The post– Gulf War military

27. Tommy R. Franks: Two- time loser

28. Ricardo Sanchez: Over his head

29. George Casey: Trying but treading water

30. David Petraeus: An outlier moves in, then leaves

EPILOGUE: Restoring American military leadership




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