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As much as Revolver admires President Trump’s work on behalf of this country, he was not perfect, and his greatest mistake was probably the enormous deference he gave generals as a matter of course.
It was an understandable mistake, though. When Donald Trump was a boy, America had never lost a single war. The country’s World War 2 commanders were living legends who in less than four years built the U.S. military into the mightiest fighting force to ever exist and crushed powerful foes on the far side of two vast oceans.
Sadly, the generals of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are for the most part not as venerable as their forebears. America has a great military history filled with incredibly gifted men, and the shadow they cast today only exposes the humiliating depths the U.S. military command has fallen to today. To emphasize this important contrast, Revolver would like to present four of America’s most impressive generals, and four of its worst modern ones.
No list of this nature is complete without the father of the country himself. Critical race theorists prefer to target Washington the slaveholder, while armchair history enthusiasts like to bash Washington as a commander who lost most of his battles and needed French help to win the American Revolution.
All of this does a hideous disservice to America’s first commander-in-chief.
Washington is the polar opposite of America’s current military leaders. Today’s leaders have virtually unlimited money, an Air Force and Navy more than twice the size of any rival, and so many tanks that some of them are simply dumped in the desert while generals beg Congress to stop making so many. And with all that, today’s commanders flail about in Afghanistan and other conflicts, unable to either win them or extricate the U.S. from a quagmire. They have inherited the strongest military force to ever exist and are gradually turning it into a sick joke.
With inferior weaponry, inferior numbers, inferior training, and no money except the hyper-inflated and nearly worthless Continental currency, Washington kept his army alive. With his daring winter attack across the Delaware River at Trenton, he kept his force’s morale up so that it didn’t disintegrate. Washington was a skilled spymaster, whose personally-commanded Culper Ring detected several British plots, including Benedict Arnold’s attempt to betray West Point. As the leader of a flimsy army from a colonial backwater, Washington lasted long enough to upset a vast, wealthy, and determined imperial enemy. Today, America is the vast and wealthy empire, losing to forces even more ragtag than Washington’s.
Washington wasn’t just a great general in war, but also in peace. With America’s independence won, Washington was strong enough, and popular enough, that he could have dissolved Congress and made himself a dictator or even a king. Instead, Washington presented himself to the Continental Congress and, the war being over, resigned his commission to return home to Mt. Vernon. Historian Gordon Wood called it the greatest act of Washington’s illustrious life. Another historian, Thomas Fleming, called it the single most important act in American history. Washington set the norm that, no matter how much glory a general wins on the battlefield, in America it is the civilian government, the government of laws and elections, that rules, not the naked power wielded by men with guns.
Let’s start off our modern list with the man of the hour himself. While Washington became the greatest man of his generation by foregoing political power, Milley embodies the modern military man with his craven pursuit of it.
By now, most Revolver readers have seen Milley’s embarrassing paean to books about “white rage.” Milley boasts that he reads books advocating radical leftism, as well as books the radical left writes about its enemies, and thus he is a splendidly well-rounded warrior and philosopher. MSNBC talking heads line up to worship him.
Let this sink in. Tucker Carlson on live Fox TV called Gen Mark Milley the Chairman of the JCS “Stupid” and a “Pig”. Why hasn’t he been terminated? Who talks like this about a public official? Mark Milley …Princeton and Colombia. Years in combat.
— Barry R McCaffrey (@mccaffreyr3) June 25, 2021
Of course, to anybody who isn’t hopelessly brainwashed, it’s obvious what is really going on. Milley is a political leader, not a military one, and he sees that buying into the left’s most sickening racial blood libels is a way to bolster his position and keep the military machine juiced to the maximum.
Over the past several years, Milley has repeatedly disgraced himself with grossly political behavior.
On January 6, Milley took park in a de facto coup against President Trump’s authority, bypassing the president’s commander-in-chief role to instead speak with Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Vice President Pence about how to deploy the National Guard around the Capitol. It was a move so obvious even Bill Kristol could see what was happening.
Amazing statement by the Secretary of Defense.
Note whom Secretary Miller and Chairman Milley did NOT speak to: President Trump.
We have had something close to the de facto invoking of the 25th amendment. pic.twitter.com/KtrhD7WQUY
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) January 6, 2021
Milley was also the first signatory on an “unprecedented” letter by leading U.S. generals denouncing the events of January 6, which described the tumult as “a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process.”
Milley was eager to deploy tens of thousands of troops to “protect” the Capitol after a bogus “insurrection” where the only shot fired was by a Capitol police officer into the neck of Ashli Babbitt. He thinks it’s critical to read books about “white rage” as part of his strategic training. But in keeping with the modern military’s threat perception capabilities, while Milley favors maximum force to stop the phantom threat of a MAGA insurrection, during the far bloodier and more destructive riots during the Summer of Floyd, Milley’s chief concern was making sure the riots were left unchecked by military force:
During one Oval Office debate, senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller chimed in, equating the scenes unfolding on his television to those in a third-world country and claiming major American cities had been turned into war zones.
“These cities are burning,” Miller warned, according to the excerpts. The comment infuriated Milley, who viewed Miller as not only wrong but out of his lane, Bender writes, noting the Army general who had commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan spun around in his seat and pointed a finger directly at Miller.
“Shut the f–k up, Stephen,” Milley snapped, according to the excerpts. [CNN]
Oh no! A senior adviser for the president got out of his lane by objecting to the mass destruction of American cities. To Milley, only leaders experienced in losing to the Taliban and wasting soldiers’ lives in Iraq could make a call like that.
The first controlled nuclear reaction in human history occurred on December 2, 1942. Not even 12 years later, in 1954, the U.S. Navy commissioned the USS Nautilus, the first ever nuclear-powered war vessel. The Nautilus was a greatest single advance in the history of nautical warfare, a ship that could stay at sea (and indeed, submerged, silently) for months on end. It was a revolution exceeding even the steam engine and iron plating, and it was a revolution substantially enabled by one visionary commander: Hyman Rickover.
While Rickover’s background was in electrical engineering rather than physics, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki Rickover was an immediate convert to the potential that nuclear energy presented to the Navy. He volunteered for the project to explore nuclear propulsion for destroyers. But Rickover quickly realized that nuclear energy would be far more revolutionary on a submarine. World War 2-era submarines were limited by their fuel supplies. They could only submerge briefly and made lots of noise that could be detected on sonar. Nuclear power, Rickover realized, would change all that. A nuclear submarine could stay at sea, and even stay submerged, for months on end. Faced with opposition from his superiors, Rickover evaded them by going straight to the Chief of Naval Operations, Chester Nimitz, and winning his endorsement for the project.
In less than five years, Rickover’s team delivered the Nautilus, powered by a nuclear reactor less than 30 feet long. In 1958, the Nautilus showed its power by passing beneath the Arctic ice cap, completely submerged, for four straight days and more than 1,800 miles. New York honored Rickover with a ticker tape parade.
For the next thirty years, Rickover dominated the nuclear navy. He personally interviewed and approved every prospective officer on one of this vessels, eventually tallying well north of 10,000 such interviews. While today’s generals sometimes seem to just be passing through on their way to an elite defense contractor job, Rickover distrusted the defense industrial complex. When he became convinced that General Dynamics, the Navy’s only nuclear submarine builder, had grown too powerful in Washington and too chummy with Pentagon brass, he worked behind the scenes to cultivate another nuclear sub contractor, just to curb their power through competition.
Rickover’s exacting perfectionism established America’s nuclear navy as one of the most technically-proficient military forces in human history. After more than 70 years of service, America’s nuclear vessels have never had a single nuclear accident. The Soviet Union’s nuclear force, meanwhile, suffered more than a dozen.
Famously opinionated, when he wasn’t launching a revolution in naval technology, Rickover was campaigning to overhaul America’s schools. While today, the trend in both schools and the military is to gut standards for the sake of diversity, Rickover pushed the other way. Standards in math and science, he persistently argued, were far too low, and over time would doom the United States through a lack of technically proficient personnel.
America would have done well to listen.
Against Rickover’s staggering technical mastery, contrast the career of one James Mattis, President Trump’s first Secretary of Defense.
In the early days of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mattis was a successful and popular commander, though with an occasional penchant for saying stupid things (Mattis once claimed that Iraq was the perfect training for war with China, because both countries use the Internet). But as he rose further up the ranks, his flaws became impossible to ignore. As commander of U.S. Central Command during President Obama’s first time, Mattis oversaw the Afghan war at the peak of its intensity (and wastefulness). Even as that war continued as an obvious quagmire, Mattis agitated for more conflict with Iran after the country shot down a U.S. drone. Mattis’s hawkishness was so intense that Obama pushing him into retirement ahead of schedule.
Not that Mattis was complaining too much, as leaving the Pentagon early allowed him to glide into one of America’s biggest business frauds ever.
Mattis was one of the key marks in Elizabeth Holmes’ legendary Theranos scam. As a general, Mattis was bamboozled by Holmes’ bogus blood tests, and sought to buy them for use by the military. Later, in 2013, Mattis was recruited to the company’s board of directors, a gig which earned him a six figure annual sum.
Mattis’s presence was critical to the Theranos fraud. Holmes’s strategy was to recruit aging “big names” who had made their name in other fields (other board members included former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz), but Mattis’ involvement was particularly important. Theranos publicly claimed that its blood tests had been deployed in the field by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a bogus claim that Mattis’s presence abetted. Even when he was still an active-duty general, Mattis worked aggressively on the company’s behalf:
Mattis’s eagerness to deploy the technology was known and noticed at lower ranks. Near the end of the month, Shoemaker wrote another email to an undisclosed recipient: “The Theranos issue has taken on quite the life of its own within the Army. General Mattis who is the 4-star general in charge of Central Command … wants to see the Theranos device put into Afghanistan.”
[Holmes] reached out to Mattis in August 2012 to complain about Shoemaker.
“I would very much appreciate your help in getting this information corrected with the regulatory agencies,” Holmes wrote in an email to Mattis, also obtained by the Post.
The general then forwarded the email chain on and asked, “how do we overcome this new obstacle?” [Take and Purpose]
Theranos was exposed publicly as a fraud in October 2015 by the Wall Street Journal, but Mattis continued to sit on the company’s board and continued to shill for its technology. In December 2015 he told The Washington Post “had quickly seen tremendous potential in the technologies Theranos develops, and I have the greatest respect for the company’s mission and integrity.”
In reality, Theranos had developed no technology at all, and the company was devoid of integrity. But Mattis sat on the company’s board all the way to January 2017, when he left to join the Trump Administration. Theranos finally folded in 2018.
As for Mattis’s tenure in the Trump Administration, not much has to be said. Mattis remained the fanatic for Middle East forever wars that he had been under Obama, and resigned rather than suffer the indignity of ordering U.S. troops home from Syria after the defeat of ISIS. In his resignation letter, he stoked conflict with both Russia and China. Much like his old colleague General Milley, though, while Mattis is an enthusiast for foreign conflict, he was aghast at the idea of using the military to protect Americans. When President Trump contemplated using troops to stop the country’s worst rioting in decades, Mattis released a letter with the thinly-veiled suggestion that the President was a Nazi.
“The Nazi slogan for destroying us… was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.'” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.
Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. [The Atlantic]
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson
Stonewall Jackson was indisputably one of the greatest soldiers the United States ever produced.
Every young American boy with a flare for military history knows the origin of Jackson’s famous nickname, when his unit stood like a “stone wall” against a Union attack at the First Battle of Bull Run. But Jackson’s heroism in the war’s first major battle was just the beginning of a career racked with accomplishments.
In Jackson’s legendary Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1862, the general faced attack from three separate directions by Union forces that collectively outnumbered him three to one. Through a series of brilliant rapid marches and daring attacks, Jackson took an seemingly doomed situation and turned it into a stunning victory. All three armies were expelled from the Valley, Jackson captured huge amounts of supplies, and he was able to leave the Valley to help break the Army of the Potomac’s siege of Richmond.
At the Second Battle of Bull Run, Jackson tricked a Union army into attacking his well-fortified position until a flanking Confederate force arrived to inflict a crushing defeat. Then, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, it was Jackson who made the daring flanking maneuver, making a rapid 12-mile march through disordered back roads to catch a Union army by surprise. Jackson’s death in a friendly fire accident after that battle likely did more than any other death in the Civil War to stifle the South’s chances of victory.
Jackson was physically unimpressive, a poor horseman, and deeply eccentric (he sometimes fell asleep while chewing food and had a habit of raising one arm over his head to “balance” his blood). But he made up for all of that with tactical brilliance and superb discipline. Jackson’s men could march 30 miles or more in a day, speeds usually reserved for cavalry, allowing them to surprise and outfight vastly more well-equipped armies. Jackson demanded the best of his men, and they delivered the best in return.
Jackson was one of the first professors at the venerable Virginia Military Institute, and parts of his curriculum are maintained at the school to this day (though the school disgracefully took down a statue of its legendary professor during 2020’s “racial reckoning”)
Like Stonewall Jackson, President Biden’s new Secretary of Defense has some eccentricities (he keeps his personal life unusually private and is known for speaking of himself in the third person). But while Old Blue Light transformed a backwater rebel army into one of the most feared forces in military history, Lloyd Austin is transforming America’s long-feared military into a perverse parody of itself.
One of Austin’s first actions as SecDef was to lend his vocal support to President Biden’s campaign to admit transgender troops into the service. According to Austin, it is not just “the right thing,” but also “the smart thing” to welcome mentally troubled troops into the military who will request (and receive) powerful hormones and sex change operation that will, in many cases, actively rob them of the ability to effectively fight.
While Austin is happy to fill the ranks with men and women who deliberately mutilate themselves, he has declared war on the phantom problem of “extremism.” In early February, Austin issued a “stand-down” order compelling every unit of the military to take
And to help him with this “extremist” purge, Austin has anti-Trump extremist Bishop Garrison reporting to him directly as his senior advisor for diversity, inclusion, and equity. Already, Garrison and others are crafting medium and long-term proposals for expunging “extremism” from the armed forces.
While Gen. Milley’s defense of “white rage” readings has garnered the most attention, Austin has made his own pathetic statements before Congress.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion is important to this military now and it will be important in the future,” Austin told Sen. Tom Cotton at a June hearing. “We are going to make sure that our military looks like America and that our leadership looks like what’s in the ranks of the military.”
Austin claims his passion for diversity and inclusion is perfectly compatible with purely merit-based promotions, but if that’s the case it will be a first in the history of the affirmative action-obsessed federal government. Meanwhile, while Austin claims to oppose “critical race theory,” according to accounts collected by Sen. Cotton, special forces operatives are being told the spec ops community is racist, and airmen are being sent on “privilege walks.”
In case you’re wondering, there are plenty of other reasons to be unimpressed with Austin. The general succeeded Mattis as head of U.S. Central Command, and was just as successful in managing the war in Afghanistan (i.e., not at all). After his retirement, Austin lateraled straight to the board of Raytheon, the mammoth defense contractor, which he left only to head back to the Pentagon.
Goerge Thomas was one of the greatest Union heroes of the Civil War, and unlike Stonewall Jackson, he remains relatively obscure to this day. But he was a hero nevertheless. General Thomas set an example that today’s generals can only desperately dream of matching. The Confederacy may have had its Stone Wall, but the Union had its Rock.
Like Jackson and Robert E. Lee, George Thomas was a native Virginian. However, he chose to remain loyal to the United States. His family disowned him, and J.E.B. Stuart spoke of hanging him as a traitor to Virginia, but Thomas held firm.
Holding firm was, in fact, his greatest talent as a general, as he repeatedly distinguished himself in defensive actions under fierce enemy attack. Outnumbered at Mill Springs, he thwarted a Confederate attack and won the first noteworthy Union victory of the war. At Stones River, as second-in-command under General William Rosecrans, Thomas carried the day over other generals who wanted to retreat after a disastrous first day of battle.
“This army does not retreat,” Thomas declared, winning over Rosecrans with his confidence. The army held its position, and two more days of costly failed Confederate attacks turned an apparent Union defeat into a major victory.
General Thomas entered the eternal annals of U.S. military lore at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. A calamitous miscommunication allowed a Confederate attack to rip straight through the Union lines, and sent half the Union Army, including its overall commander, fleeing from the field in a rout. The entire Army of the Cumberland, 60,000 wrong, was in danger of being captured, an outcome so catastrophic it might have brought Southern victory in the war.
But one man stood in the way. With the rest of the army collapsing around him, Thomas held his position on the extreme Union left; refusing an order to retreat, fending off Confederate attacks and sheltering shattered Union troops until making an orderly withdrawal at nightfall. Thomas became the “Rock of Chickamauga,” the commander whose cool resolve saved an entire army.
A dutiful soldier to the end, Thomas never sought glory for himself. After the Civil War, many generals wrote memoirs to settle scores, refight old battles, and burnish their reputations. Thomas on the other hand wrote no memoir and even ordered his wife to burn his private correspondence. To avoid becoming a postwar political pawn, Thomas turned down a promotion to lieutenant general which could have led to an appointment as general-in-chief of all U.S. forces. Thomas knew such an appointment would be political in nature. And to the end, he was a supremely talented soldier, not an ass-kissing empire-building politician.
Bush and Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates described General McChrystal as “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I ever met,” which goes to show that America’s civilian military leaders are just as pathetic as its career soldiers.
Perhaps even more damning than his Biden endorsement, McChrystal has profiteered from and been an early adopter of the political weaponization of the national security apparatus toward a new domestic “war on terror” aimed at Trump supporters. Just months ago, Revolver reported that General McChrystal was involved in a venture that aimed to redeploy information warfare tools — originally designed to combat ISIS — against Trump supporters:
So here we have a former General involved in an effort to censor the President of the United States and his supporters, using information warfare technology originally intended to fight ISIS terrorists. This is neither the first, nor will it be the last such example of a former national security officer using tools designed to fight America’s adversaries against Trump-supporting American citizens. [Revolver News]
But just like with General Mattis, having McChrystal as an enemy was a plus for Trump, not a minus.
McCrystal exists as a borderline parody of the modern empty-suit leader, devoid of real insights. Perhaps the fairest assessment of McChrystal is “walking corporate PowerPoint presentation,” yet he is often treated as a profound military genius. He isn’t.
Stanley McChrystal is the man who made Afghanistan into the Forever War, the longest and by far the most aimless conflict in American history. McChrystal took command of U.S. forces there in 2009, and was asked to deliver his recommendations for the war there. Even in 2009, it was more than possible to deduce the reality of the Afghan war: It did nothing to improve America’s security, did nothing to prevent Islamic terrorism, burned through hideous amounts of money, and wasn’t even capable of defeating the Taliban because many of its leaders had simply left for Pakistan, where the U.S. was unwilling to go.
But nevertheless, McChrystal decided the best way forward in Afghanistan, after 8 years of war, was to double down. Shortly after taking command, McChrystal produced a confidential report that requested 45,000 additional troops and warned that the U.S. might be defeated within a year if he didn’t get them. The report leaked almost immediately. McChrystal very likely played a role in those leaks, which created political pressure on President Obama to meet McChrystal’s request. He got his wish. Later, in 2009, Obama announced a 30,000-troop surge.
Casualties soared: From 2010 through 2012 more than 1,200 American troops were killed. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent. And in the end, all of it was a waste, a sacrifice to the god of perpetual war that McChrystal and so many other generals worship.