Tag Archives: Douglas MacArthur

It’s ‘Secretary,’ not ‘General’ Mattis, Mr. President

I’ve made this point already, but I feel the need to restate it.

Donald J. Trump once again referred to the secretary of defense as “Gen. Mattis.” Yes, James “Mad Dog” Mattis — one of my favorite Trump Cabinet appointees — is a retired Marine Corps general. He’s got four stars on his epaulets.

But that was then. Today, the here and now, Mad Dog Mattis is a civilian, just like the president is a civilian.

Trump’s reference to “Gen. Mattis” came as he was announcing his decision to sh**can the planned June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The president, naturally, followed that reference with a statement that the U.S. military is the strongest in the world and that it is ready to act if the need arises.

Oh, brother, man!

Mr. President, we assign these Cabinet posts to civilians. It’s a time-honored tradition that civilians control the military. President Truman had to remind Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur of that fact when he relieved him of his Korean War command in the early 1950s.

I know it’s a semantics issue. It just bothers the daylights out of me that the commander in chief cannot honor the long-standing tradition of the office with a simple reference to the defense boss as “Secretary” James Mattis.

Get with the program, Mr. President.

This old soldier just ‘faded away’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — General of the Army Douglas MacArthur once declared famously in a speech to Congress that “Old soldiers never die. They just … fade away.”

Another five-star Army general, Dwight Eisenhower, had his military rank restored after he left the presidency in 1961 and he preferred to be called “Gen. Eisenhower” in the years since he left the White House.

Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, is buried next to his wife, Rachel, in her beloved garden at The Hermitage, the former president’s home.

I was struck when I heard a docent at the site say that the Old Hickory much preferred his military rank over the commander in chief rank he held for eight years, from 1829 until 1837. Jackson was apparently prouder of his general’s rank than he was of president of the United States of America.

He was, after all, the “hero” of the Battle of New Orleans. His rag-tag forces were greatly outnumbered and outgunned by the British, but managed to score a victory over the Brits.

Jackson was thrust into the news in recent weeks, when one of his successors as president — Donald J. Trump — sought to suggest that Trump could have prevented the Civil War. Interesting, in that Jackson died 16 years before the nation’s bloodiest conflict even started.

Indeed, though, Jackson’s history as president is a good bit more checkered than his military history. He promoted the Manifest Destiny policy that called for the settlement — or the conquering — of the Old West. The “Trail of Tears” occurred on his watch as president. He was known as a “unionist,” and believed that federal policy should oversee states’ policy allowing slave ownership┬á — which is a curious contradiction, in that he owned slaves.

Whatever …

He is buried at The Hermitage under a tombstone that calls him “General Andrew Jackson.”

Old Hickory certainly did share the military ethos of two quite prominent successors. They were immensely proud of their service to their nation at war.


Thank you, Greatest Generation


I feel moved at this moment to offer a word of thanks to roughly 16 million Americans who answered the call in the fight against tyranny.

It was 71 years ago today that General of the U.S. Army Douglas MacArthur accepted the terms of surrender signed by the Empire of Japan. World War II came to an end.

Those 16 million Americans were those who wore the nation’s military uniforms after Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

My father was one of them. He went to the federal building in downtown Portland, Ore., in February 1942 to enlist in the Marine Corps. The door was locked, so he walked across the hall and enlisted in the Navy.

Dad shipped out shortly thereafter for San Diego, where he received three weeks — just three weeks! — of what passed for boot camp before shipping out for Europe. He learned his seamanship skills aboard the troop transport ship headed for England.

The great broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw chronicled what he called “The Greatest Generation” in a book that carried that title. I have re-read it at least three times.

Those men and women are dying rapidly now. They’re in the late 80s and well into their 90s these days. I love meeting them today and talking to them about their service and, of course, thanking them personally for it. Most of them just shrug and pass it off as ancient history.

Most of those I see with the “World War II vet” gimme caps are too humble to want to spend much time talking about what they did. Back then, they simply acted out of love of country and perhaps just a touch of fear for what might happen if they didn’t get into the fight.

The prophet Isaiah tells us in Scripture how he answered God by saying, “Here am I! Send me.” These great Americans answered that call in a time of international crisis.

That great struggle came to a formal end on the deck of the great warship USS Missouri. If only it would have signaled the end to all conflict … forever.

It didn’t.

However, the men and women who defeated the tyrants deserve our undying thanks and gratitude now and for all eternity.

Degree not a requirement for White House

The mini-hubbub over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s academic credentials is rather funny.

Some Democrats are snickering at Gov. Walker’s lack of a college degree, suggesting that he’s somehow not qualified to be elected president of the United States — an office he’s considering seeking next year.

The GOP governor’s background was criticized, for instance, by former Vermont Gov. (and physician) Howard Dean, who sought to make light of Walker’s lack of a degree.

Walker attended the University of Wisconsin, but dropped out short of obtaining his degree.

I won’t belabor the point, but I should point out that degree-less men have served already as president. Indeed, a college degree isn’t a requirement for holding the Most Powerful Office in the World.

Let’s see, who can I cite as an example of what we’re discussing here?

Oh, yes. Harry Truman comes to mind.

You know, Give ‘Em Hell Harry acquitted himself well as president, getting thrust into the office upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in April 1945; he then had to decide quickly whether to use┬áatomic bombs to end World War II; he had to act to save Greece and Turkey from communist rebellion after the war; he then had to send U.S. troops into battle to stave off another communist invasion, in Korea — and then┬árelieved General of the Army Douglas MacArthur of his command in Korea for challenging civilian authority over the military.

President Truman did all right during his eight years in office, even without his college degree.

Do I intend to vote for Gov. Walker next year? Probably not. There’s a lot of things I dislike about his public service record. His lack of a college degree isn’t one of them.


Auschwitz liberation turns 70

This still-new year has just welcomed the first of many 70-year anniversaries, most of which are related to the Second World War.

It was 70 years ago this week that the Red Army, which was storming across eastern Europe on its way to Berlin, liberated the Auschwitz death camp, where the Nazi monsters exterminated thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, while pursuing what Adolf Hitler called “the final solution.”


Other death camps would be liberated by the Soviets — and by American, British and Allied forces rolling toward Berlin from the west. They would uncover horrors never imagined.

The world will spend a good bit of time this year looking back on the final chapter of the world’s most destructive conflict.

Seventy years ago this year:

* Hitler died, taking his own life to avoid being captured by the Soviet army. Good riddance to that hideous monster.

* Franklin D. Roosevelt died. For many Americans alive at the time, he was the only president they knew. He helped rescue the nation from the depths of depression and then led it into battle against tyranny.

* The Manhattan Project brought us the atomic bomb, which FDR’s successor, President Truman, ordered dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We’ll have much more to say about that at a later time.

* The Allies declared Victory in Europe, and the world celebrated VE Day, as Nazi Germany surrendered.

* The Japanese surrendered later and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur accepted their surrender aboard the USS Missouri.

* The United Nations was founded in San Francisco.

Nineteen forty-five was a monumental year, yes?

World War II ended and the world began picking up the pieces of its shattered existence.

BHO 'ignores' military advice at some risk

Lawrence Korb is far more qualified than I am to discuss the ins and outs of military advice given to presidents of the United States.

He did so during the Reagan administration and he’s now suggesting something quite interesting to the current commander in chief, Barack Obama.

It’s that it’s all right to “ignore” the advice of military leaders at times of international crisis.


Korb understands a fundamental truth about U.S. government. Civilians run the military. It’s written into the Constitution and that’s the way it should be.

It’s interesting to me, though, that Korb cites several examples of presidents ignoring the advice of top military leaders:

* Harry Truman dismissed Gen. Douglas MacArthur after the U.S. military commander popped off and said U.N. forces should take the fight to China.

* Dwight Eisenhower ignored the advice of commanders who wanted the United States to get involved in Vietnam while the French were fighting for their lives at Dien Bien Phu.

* John F. Kennedy said “no” to calls to strike at Cuba during the missile crisis.

What do these presidents have in common? They all were combat veterans.

Barack Obama doesn’t have that kind of background on which to rely. I’m not saying it’s a requirement for the office, but it serves as a cautionary tale for a president who chooses to ignore the advice of individuals who’ve worn their country’s uniform, let alone been to battle.

Sometimes presidents ignore advice at their own risk. Korb writes: “Certainly, there have been instances where presidents had overruled the advice of military leaders, with dire consequences. The most recent examples occurred under President George W. Bush. He not only ignored Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric ShinsekiÔÇÖs advice that several hundred thousand ground troops would be needed to remove Saddam Hussein and restore order in Iraq after his removal. Not only was Gen. Shinseki ignored, he was publicly derided and undermined by the president and the secretary of defense when they appointed his successor early, even though Shineski still had a year left in his term. Ironically some of the same people now calling on Obama to listen to his generals and keep the door open to having combat ground troops in Iraq did not speak up for Shinseki. Bush also ignored the advice of his military commanders by diverting attention and resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, before the mission of restoring stability in Afghanistan and capturing Osama bin Laden and destroying al-Qaeda was completed.”

The Constitution grants the president the final say in all military matters. That’s as it should be.

Still, the commander in chief should listen carefully to what the brass has to say. They’ve been there. They understand the consequences of war better than most.