“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.”
This timeless wisdom from General Douglas MacArthur is both sage and sorely needed counsel for modern American general officers. Twice, MacArthur and officers of his caliber saved the country and the world from tyranny in wars that engulfed the entire world. Though charismatic, he had relevance in US military operations from WW1 to the Korean war not just because of his technical ability to command armies but also because of his moral fiber as a leader. On April 11, 1951, President Truman fired General MacArthur for his public statements regarding how the revered general thought the Korean War should be fought. Taking a stand cost MacArthur his command and his career, but highlighted what was special about one of America’s most famous generals. He was willing to risk his career for what he believed in. That altruistic belief was not about personal promotion or cushy post-military employment (goals that corrupt too many general officers of today). His concern was about the nation. It was about the troops in his command and winning a war.
Fast forward to 2022. The new breed of generals and admirals advance through the ranks but very few if any will be remembered in the history books decades from now. None have been ‘mavericks’ arguing for any new methods of warfare. They presided over a disaster in Afghanistan where no senior leaders were fired or held accountable. A political ideology has consumed the branches of service with little to no pushback from senior military leaders. Nearly 15,000 military servicemembers have been booted from the ranks for a controversial vaccine mandate. From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to Service Chiefs to senior commanders to academy Superintendents, generals and admirals have obediently and faithfully executed the bidding of political masters to the detriment of the force. Recruiting and retention levels are at crisis levels. US military strategic deterrent is a disaster. Admiral Charles Richard recently stated, “We used to know how to move fast, and we have lost the art of that,” the admiral added. The military talks “about how we are going to mitigate our assumed eventual failure” to field new ballistic submarines, bombers or long-range weapons, instead of flipping the question to ask: “What’s it going to take? Is it money? Is it people? Do you need authorities?” That’s “how we got to the Moon by 1969.”
In September 2022, the Commander in Chief declared the COVID-19 pandemic over. Since then, the Coast Guard academy shamefully threw out more cadets over the mandate. ‘"They were escorted to the gate like they were criminals or something," the lawyer, Michael Rose, told the newspaper. “No one helped them with travel arrangements or gave them any money," said Rose, based in Summerville, S.C.. "One had to get to California, one to Alaska. One's estranged from home and living out of his truck, according to an email I received describing his situation." Rose said two of the seven cadets had no homes to return to.’
No senior flag officers have had the courage or initiative to take a stand for the force. There is a chance that such a move could cost the leader their career. Knowing this, none have stepped up to become a true leader of character. West Point Superintendent Steven Gilland began the process to separate 6 cadets at West Point who are unvaccinated and were denied religious exemptions. There is a high likelihood that he will follow through and spend the rest of his 4 ½ years as Superintendent doing what Superintendents do – waving at football games and parades and doing the usual admin and ceremonial duties of the position. If he does, decades from now he will be lumped in with the rest of the quiet, do-nothing generals and admirals who feverishly achieved mediocracy and never took a stand on anything of import in their career.
Or, he could be that general that looked at the moment in history and opined on what should really be done. The pandemic is over. 0 cadets have died. Morale is low across the military and recruiting is a disaster. He could be that guy that granted exemptions and began the movement to end the DoD mandate so the military could focus on real issues, not manufactured social crises from its partisan political leadership. It could cost him his job. He already has a comfortable retirement pension guaranteed. But taking that stand now to buck the lazy groupthink that has infected the general officer corps would most certainly make him a hero in the eyes of many. He could be that guy that took a stand to begin to turn the page and resurrect the military from the ‘funk’ it is in at the moment. The eyes of many of the cadets and Long Gray Line members are on him. Does he have the character to think independently and be a real leader and begin the end of the destructive COVID-19 vaccine purge?
As Spike Lee instructed in his 1989 film, “Do the Right Thing.”
John Hughes, MD
West Point Class of 1996 (#1 grad)
Veteran of Iraq/Afghanistan
Member of www.starrs.us