Today is the 144th Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, or as the winners call it, the Battle of the Greasy Grass. Not so familiar are the names of the commanders on the other side who overwhelmed and massacred Custer and his portion of the Seventh Cavalry. (I was in 1/12 Cav of the 1st Cav Division and a battalion of the 7th Cav was just down the road — strangely, Gary Owen is still proudly played in the Division which seems to ignore not only Little Big Horn but the Washita massacre previously — of course, Custer ignored that too).
Custer is a fellow Alumni of Hudson High, otherwise known as West Point, formally known as The United States Military Academy. Most people don’t know it, but after the Civil War, there was a strong move to abolish the Academy. After all, of the 60 major battles of the Civil War, in 55 of them, West Pointers commanded both sides. That’s a nifty piece of Plebe ‘Poop’ every incoming cadet has to memorize. As if the Academy is somehow proud of it. I always considered it rather odd and, in fact, so intrigued me, I wrote a series that is currently at three books, examining the Academy at the time from the Mexican War into the Civil War: Duty, Honor, Country (PS first book, Duty, free on all eBook platforms).
It’s in vogue these days to speak of the “generals”. Whether it’s Mattis, Kelly, McMaster, Petraeus, etcetera as if they have some particular expertise, even though they’ve never won a war. To be fair, the United States hasn’t fought an actual, correctly declared war, since World War II. However, our generals, during and since, the Vietnam War, have constantly misled about the possibility of “winning”, whatever that was supposed to mean. The Pentagon Papers proved that for Vietnam. The recently released Afghanistan Papers were met with a yawn by the public, yet it showed that these more modern generals knew they couldn’t win, but fought on anyway. Yes, it’s their duty, but isn’t it also their duty to speak truth to action? Perhaps the “can do” attitude of the higher ranks of the military also means doing their true duty and speaking truth? Why do we idolize these generals who have, in essence, failed? Particularly Petraeus who is making his comeback after committing a security offense that would have placed a person of lesser rank in prison?
More importantly, doesn’t it mean the military needs to do a complete review of what it actually means to fight war in the modern age, since we’re not actually fighting wars anymore? Especially in light of “War on Terror” which encompasses far more than military conflict. Yet the focus continues to be on conventional warfare (which, sadly, I must now lump Special Operations in, because it hasn’t adjusted much either) and, of course, getting bigger and more expensive weapon systems. Oddly, the Department of Defense, did not defend us from COVID-19. In fact, it seemed to have a very hard time defending itself from the virus; one wonders what the biological warfare contingencies are in place.
The United States Military Academy used to have this poster. As you can see it featured Robert E. Lee prominently, even in front of Grant and with Eisenhower and MacArthur.
Lee not only lost his war, he was a traitor. Yet there’s even a barracks at West Point named in his honor. Honor? I think not.
Here’s to Ulysses S. Grant, who finally got his acknowledgement at West Point, many years too late. A winner and a patriot.
MacArthur bugged out and was given a Medal of Honor, but was quite a brilliant strategist with island-hopping and saving lives. He also did a neat flanking move in Korea. But then he got too big for his stars and had to get slapped.
Ike did good, defeating the Fascists.
It’s time to reconsider a lot of things.