10 September 2010

Harsh Words for Military Pundits

From the blogs of Tom Englehardt over at CBS comes some scathing criticism of the increasing punditry of senior military leadership.

Today, you no longer need to be a retired military officer to offer play-by-play commentary on and analysis of our wars. Now, at certain moments, the main narrators of those wars turn out to be none other than the generals running, or overseeing, them. They regularly get major airtime to explain to the American public how those wars are going, as well as to expound on their views on more general issues.

This is something new. Among the American commanders of World War II and the Korean War, only Douglas MacArthur did anything faintly like this, which made him an outlier (or perhaps an omen) and in a sense that's why President Harry Truman fired him. Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Ridgeway, et al., did not think to go on media tours touting their own political lines while in uniform.

Admittedly, Vietnam War commander General William Westmoreland was an early pioneer of the form. He had, however, been pushed onto the stage to put a public face on the American war effort by President Lyndon Johnson, who was desperate to buck up public opinion. Westmoreland returned from Vietnam in 1968 just before the disastrous Tet Offensive for a “whirlwind tour” of the country and uplifting testimony before Congress. In a speech at the National Press Club, he spoke of reaching “an important point where the end begins to come into view,” and later in a televised press conference, even more infamously used the phrase “the light at the end of tunnel.” Events would soon discredit his optimism.

By: Brant

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