THE GENERALS -the book-

George C Marshall
George C Marshall

By Major Van Harl USAF Ret

AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

Wisconsin –-(  I was speaking with an old Air Force friend while we were stationed in Colorado Springs.

In the conversation I was advised by my friend that Colonel “John Doe” was now a retired LT. General and living in the Springs.

The suggestion was I should look him up for old time sake. I told my friend I could sum up Colonel-now-3 star General “Doe” in one word—dishonorable.

There was a long pause on the end of the phone line. My friend had worked even closer (in his office as support staff) with then Col “Doe” and knew his daily habits better than me. After a moment the response was “yes I do understand.

We exchanged a few tales of our old commander and were both surprised and perhaps not so surprised by his less than alleged integrity and that lack of honor thing. I worked for a three star General one time on a base that was having some very serious and expensive vandalism being committed to government property. We had strong reason to suspect his teenage son. One night we caught the son and a friend (allegedly) in the act of damaging the base golf course building. I was ordered to have the son delivered to the general’s home and not to do a report.

Of course it was all swept under the rug. The general was overheard stating his son was going to try to get into the Air Force Academy and the general did not what any kind of “permanent record” out there casting a shadow on a future quality Air Force officer.

Twenty years later when I see the dad / general on Fox News as a contributing “talking head” it disturbs me.


Thomas E. Ricks has written a new book titled The Generals ( ) and I read the 466 pages very quickly—it was that interesting. It is about Army Generals. The book starts with General George C. Marshall and how he came to power just prior to WWII.

Marshall could see the handwriting on the wall that the US was going to be involved in another world war. He quickly weeded out the old generals and colonels who he felt were not going to make it as combat leaders in what would become WWII. Many were directed to retire and those that had some ability left were given state-side training assignments. Marshal felt the being an old “last war” general was not always bad, he just wanted to keep those geriatric generals out of combat commands.

The most important issue you need to understand is WWII was the last war the US has been in where the military leaders were given a direct mission (by the politicians) of attacking and destroying the enemy and nobody comes home until it’s over, over there.

Major General Carl von Clausewitz (Prussian Army officer) stated “War is merely the continuation of policy by other means.” Policy usually meaning the politics of the nation a military officer is serving. Totally destroying one’s enemy is not always the objective of the current policy of civilians making life and death decisions from the safety of the rear area.

In WWII generals got fired when they failed on the battlefield. They also got promoted and given even better combat commands when they won on the battlefield. Since we don’t win wars in the old ways of WWI and WWII it is hard to fire a losing general and equally hard to promote a winning general.

We are always fighting this year’s war with last year’s tactics, equipment and junior leadership that has been promoted to senior leadership in peace time. This is a recipe for getting the first troops into battle in a new war killed in large numbers. According to Mr. Ricks, our senior leaders spend more time working on getting promoted to the general level than in learning how to effectively lead large American military units in combat.

But then why should they? If the system does not promote you for combat success because as a nation we have not had a doctrine of winning wars since the police action of Korea, why try to be a good combat general when being a better political general is what gets you the next star?

We need good generals but we also need much better civilian leadership and straight forward direction from the most senior of that leadership. We also should never go to war without an outstanding exit plan and we need a little more work in the area of honor.

 Major Van Harl USAF Ret.
[email protected]

About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School.  A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI.  His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training.  He believes “evil hates organization.”  [email protected]