When USMC General John Allen’s retirement was announced today, I called on military historian Victor Davis Hanson to answer the question whether such a drain of military talent –the retirements of Generas McChrystal, Petraeus, Mattis and Allen, in that order– had occurred in our country’s history over so short a period of time (30 months) because of retirement. That they occurred during wartime makes the loss of expertise even more shocking.
A caller had suggested that the loss to the Confederacy of Albert Sidney Johnston and Stonewall Jackson over the space of 13 months had deeply injured the Confederacy’s ability to wage effective war, but I had not asked the question about losses of great war leaders due to death, but rather due to retirement.
VDH said there was no parallel, that in fact it was a sort of reverse of General George Marshall’s fabled “little black book of talent,” wherein the great American was said to have kept track of the best talents in the military.
We know for sure that President Obama did not ask two of the four to remain in uniform though they were known to want to stay in the service, and we don’t know if he asked the other two and, if so, if they declined.
But it does seem very clear that there is no wartime parallel to such a military brain-and-experience drain in our history due to resignations. Of course many extraordinary leaders remain in the senior ranks of the military, but can a country be serious about the conflicts it finds itself in when such a group as this quartet leaves in less than three years?
VDH did point out that Harry Truman had purged a number of admirals who were critical of his post-war planning –the “Revolt of the Admirals”— but that was in peacetime. This is an unprecedented series of retirements, and combined with the already deep cuts in military spending, the nomination of Senator Hagel and the looming Obama Sequester, underscore the fecklessness with which the Obama Administration approaches the war.