Your occasional word choice may indeed have been accidental. But it also proved useful. It got out of me my response which was, it seems, good. And, after all, as Nietzsche would say, fortuitous looseness is better than idiomatic precision. The accidental associations of the thoughtful are more fruitful than the disciplined repetitions of drones.
Meanwhile we both know the importance of precision words. Like on exams! And you’re as aware as I am, I’m sure, of just how sloppy word use can be in America today. Like amongst your fellow “students” in the dorms!
Of course, it’s a rather harmless folly when a student analyzes the ethical problems of the “Mid Evil Period” on an exam.
But what happens when most citizens in a republic incessantly refer to their national government as a democracy? You know from my book how much America’s founders loathed democracy — even more than monarchy! And yet most Americans go about worrying that America isn’t as democratic as it should be. Right. It shouldn’t be democratic at all! Of course, there’s a few small exceptions as usual. Like juries.
In college I can correct the errors of students. And most students will sheepishly admit their uninformed silliness.
But who will correct the great American democracy mistake? Every time someone refers to America as a “democratic” country, the Democratic Party gets a free ad. Think of the immigrants who are novices to America. What party should they affiliate themselves with? “Well, America is democratic, so I guess we should go with the Democratic Party? The Republicans? They’re the opposite party. That must mean they’re the dictator people-hater party like in the old country!” Imagine what a boon it would be to the Republicans if the America was always correctly referred to as republican?
But we won’t wait for the Democrats to admit to that useful little “error” and correct it, will we?
As for MacArthur, I agree with your assessment. Imagine if MacArthur had had his 1951 popularity back in 1944 when he was trying out for the presidency. He could have won then. And he would have won without the 22nd Amendment. MacArthur was made of such stuff as a president for life — and then some! He reminds me of the dangerous power clowns that have recurrently appeared in the French republics of the past several centuries.
But now onto your interesting last question. “Why does America aggrandize generals?” And notice: it’s never admirals. Now, in the interest of words, let’s clarify two points. First, these generals aren’t peace time generals. And they aren’t the losers of wars. They’re the winners. Second, by America I think you primarily mean the electorate— the citizenry — who popularly vote for winning generals for president.
The answer is really quite easy now.
Americans like winners. Generals who win wars are winners. And political party managers like the winning popularity of winning generals. And they love the universal recognition such generals enjoy. If a glorious general proves presentable on the stump — no belching or brothel jokes — they run him. Then they win him. And then they run him. At least that’s apparently what happened to Grant.
Let’s quickly ask what these winning generals have won for America to make them so popular with the populace.
- The Mexican-American War won America the South West.
- The various Indian Wars won America the central swath of a continent — ocean to ocean — rich in natural resources and diverse in temperate climates. Except for Death Valley!
- The War of 1812 won America the confidence that it could hold its own against the world’s greatest power: England. And then as a consolation prize — the War of 1812 was a tie without trophies — America soon asserted its preeminence over the Western Hemisphere.
- The Revolutionary War won America a country: America.
- The Civil War won America moral title to an indissoluble union.
- The Spanish-American War won America a “jolly” almost-European empire and a “bully” almost-general president.
- World War I won America a trial run of real-time global mobilization and the mass management of men and matériel, and the elimination of most of Europe’s market-restricting empires.
- Various banana wars won America an exotic tropical breakfast fruit to accompany Americans’ native European cereals.
- World War II won America England’s global ocean hegemony — “Hello, Britannia! America rules your waves!” — and the termination of the British Empire along with the extermination of various fascist vermin and retro-imperialist pests.
- The Cold War won America the elimination of a global anti-capitalist industrial religion backed by an updated and industrialized Russian Empire since liquidated, Putin dissenting, and it strengthened the accessibility of global free markets via national self-determination.
- Smaller wars since then — the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, other maintenance wars — have won America its continuing status in an already accomplished status quo.
- And now the present war against al-Qaeda, ISIS, radical Islam — or any such target by any other name — is winning America a civil victory against a theocracy empire so out of date as to make Soviet communism seem progressive.
And now recollect how all of these wars were challenged when they started — and even before they started! And how they’re still being challenged today long after they’ve ended. For example, Thoreau loathed Polk. Thoreau also categorically loathed anyone over 30. At least when he was young. And many Democrats today who were young in the 1960s — and loathed Johnson as a ferocious warlord — now wonder if California shouldn’t be a part of Mexico as they move in a great internal migration to Colorado, retreating to the fastness of the mountains.
And now consider our sports-crazed victory-giddy public, a public emotionally sustained and politically distracted not with bread and circuses, but ESPN and pizza. What percentage of Americans could publicly speak with facts and a critique, or pleasantly converse over snacks and a glass about any one of these wars let alone all of them? And yet such citizens perennially vote for the winner. Winner of what? For what? By what? I suspect America’s public is no better informed of America’s affairs than were the British public concerning the Empire. They weren’t.
And now, in closing, you might wonder, “But aren’t some major American wars missing from your list?” Yes, in fact, two are absent. They’re missing not only because those wars were lost, but because those wars were lost in a special way.
No general in American history has ever lost two wars.
MacArthur lost the Korean War by rushing up to the Chosin Reservoir and provoking the Chinese to invade Korea. The results of this characteristic hubris of one of America’s greatest actors were, one, America’s longest and worst retreat; two, the loss of any victory MacArthur had just won; and three, a war which to this day has never yet ended, with American troops still at a loss staring across a DMZ now nuclearized on both sides.
And then, after having bungled the Korean War and being fired by his commander-in-chief, MacArthur lost the Viet Nam War. “But MacArthur died in 1964!” True. But consider what the onslaught of China did to America. Consider what China’s inexhaustible hordes of depersonalized troops did to America’s individualist sensibilities. Consider what fear China’s droves of communist clones instilled in the leadership of American consciousness. To prevent a second Chinese invasion of America’s world — this time in Viet Nam if America attacked the North — Johnson and McNamara hobbled the Pentagon, thereby making a quick military victory improbable, and a long political defeat possible.
MacArthur was the kind of genius who like Beethoven, or much more, Mahler, does some things incredibly superbly and other abhorrently poorly. But art and war are not the same thing. We can ignore the botched works of great composers. But we can’t ignore botched wars. Beethoven’s bad works are on the shelf. Viet Nam is in our hearts. I therefore think it’s much better to have a reliable mediocrity like Bradley or Montgomery — a military management man — in charge of a front rather than a meteoric genius. Better two plodding victories than a dazzling victory and a dashing defeat! And then there’s something even more dangerous than a genius general. Genius artist warlord statesman. Churchill!
I should mention that MacArthur reminds me of another Napoleonic type: General McClelland. McClelland was America’s trial run for MacArthur, the general who runs for president during his war. After unjustifiable patience, Lincoln fired him. FDR should have fired MacArthur on December 8 for what he did in the Philippines: nothing. But for political purposes, Roosevelt had him rescued by PT boat for the encouragement of the others. And for the boat driver — a Medal of Honor! Good show, what! Thus the monumental firing of MacArthur was dramatically postponed. But like the melodramatic climax of a never-ending sentimental tragedy, it was only postponed. The long-awaited iron retirement of MacArthur from history was permanently accomplished by a military command decision of Harry Truman, citizen ex-haberdasher.
And what was the public’s reaction to MacArthur’s expiration? The people exalted MacArthur and burned Truman in effigy. It reminds me of why we Americans don’t have a democracy. The people would have burned Truman in person. And then proclaimed MacArthur leader!
And then, when the people decided to change their mind, it would have been too late.