Marty Peretz: The Douglas MacArthur Analogy Fits Neither Petraeus Nor McChrystal.





[Marty Peretz is the editor-in-chief of The New Republic.]

Our culture lives virtually without its history, which makes it a very weird culture, indeed. In France, on sabbatical a few years back, I listened to a dinner conversation about Marshal Foch. Who? Marshal Foch. How did we come around to him? Someone at the table said she'd been born in Tarbes, a small town known primarily for its proximity to Lourdes. Another guest noted that Foch had been born there. And then followed a long, discursive conversation about Foch. Everyone (except me) contributed, some a few gossipy morsels (imagine gossip 70 years after the man's death), others much deeper thoughts, including a young journalist's views on Foch's views on Napoleon. As I recall, withering. The evening ended with an argument about whose remains were next to Foch's at Les Invalides. So who was John J. Pershing? Well, there's a Pershing Square in New York … very shabby.

But, suddenly, there's a lot of talk and print about General Douglas MacArthur. In Cambridge this past Saturday, a middle aged scientist said that MacArthur had been insolent to President Truman over how to end the Korean War. "And it was a good thing he was canned."

I remember when he was canned. I was a child when the general was dumped, and--yes--it was a very good thing that he was dumped. He had delusions of victory when the price of victory would have been nuclear weapons. In any case, the Korean War was a very unpopular war, more unpopular certainly than the Iraq War. People were impatient for it to end. And one of the reasons they were impatient was because it was going nowhere.

Still, when MacArthur, who wanted the war to go on, came home, he was greeted, well, as Pershing was--that is, as a victorious commander. Which, of course, he wasn't. Immediately upon his return, he addressed a joint session of Congress, and it was in that speech that he uttered his legendary farewell: "Old soldiers never die. They just fade away." But, before he faded away, he was feted with ticker tape and millions of cheering onlookers in several cities, the last of which was New York. I was there. My mother, a lefty liberal Zionist, was there, too, also cheering. Cognitive dissonance, one might say...

... At any rate, MacArthur wanted to be president. But, by the time the Republican convention came around in the summer of 1952, the lights had begun to shine on Dwight Eisenhower, who won the election, scholars think, because he pledged that he would "go to Korea." Actually to get out. At the convention, MacArthur garnered only 10 delegates and, in the election, won all of 17,000 votes on an independent ticket.

Neither David Petraeus nor Stanley McChrystal is equal to MacArthur's wizardry, if wizardry is something to which one aspires, which they do not. Petraeus has the makings of a legend. But it is conscience and not ambition that animates him. His soldiers would die for him, and so he does not want them to die for anyone, let alone him. But soldiering is often a prelude to dying. It is on his soul that the account must be put to the anvil. The president is allowed political calculations, for good or for ill...


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