When General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his command this week, many of us thought of Douglas MacArthur. The distinction was immediately drawn that, whereas MacArthur was dismissed for differing with President Truman about the limits of his Korean War mission, there were no such policy differences between McChrystal and President Obama.
While both generals could be crusty and blunt with their superiors in private, McChrystal's very public indecorousness is in contrast to MacArthur's careful cultivation of his image, with his battered campaign hat and oversized corncob pipe.
Whereas McChrystal is a workaholic who lives on just one meal and four hours of sleep and runs seven miles a day, MacArthur went to war in comfort, bringing along his family and little dog, and dining in style. There was a good deal of the ham in MacArthur, and his sententious farewell address to Congress ("old soldiers never die, they just fade away...Goodbye") is a bit embarrassing by today's standards. McChrystal is a much more prosaic speaker.
MacArthur was lionized by the right when he retired, but he linked himself to Robert Taft who lost the GOP presidential nomination to Eisenhower. McChrystal will probably be similarly feted by critics of Obama today. However, MacArthur was over seventy when he retired; McChrystal is not yet fifty five. I hope he does not try to settle any political scores, but remains in uniform. I don't think he's in danger of fading away.
Chinese Communist propaganda poster from 1950 of MacArthur murdering Korean women and children while American bombers destroy factories. Click on the picture for a closer look.