David Balme, the Royal Navy Officer who seized a top-secret Enigma machine and codebook while storming a captured German U-Boat has died at the age of 95.
Lieutenant Commander David Balme, who died on Sunday, was credited with helping to shorten the Second World War by two years after he led the boarding party that raided U-110, east of Cape Farewell, Greenland in 1941.
David Edward Balme was born in Kensington, west London, on October 1, 1920. He joined Dartmouth Naval College in 1934 and served as a midshipman in the Mediterranean in the Spanish Civil War before being reassigned to the destroyer Ivanhoe in 1939. Balme was appointed to the destroyer HMS Bulldog, which he described as a ‘happy little ship’, as her navigator in the early 1940s. It was while he was serving on this ship that he came across the German submarine.
On May 9, 1941, U-110, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Fritz Julius Lemp, had been attacking a convoy in the Atlantic south of Iceland together with U-201, when Lemp left his periscope up too long. Escort corvette HMS Aubretia sighted it and rushed to the scene and began depth charging. HMS Bulldog and HMS Broadway followed and U-110 was forced to surface. HMS Bulldog immediately set course to ram the U-Boat at which Kplt. Lemp gave the order “abandon ship”. However unlike the U-Boat commander would suspect, the U-Boat did not sink and according to the former crew, he tried to swim back to U-110 in order to destroy the top-secret machine and code-books which were still left but he wasn’t seen again.
Lieutenant Dabid Balme was then ordered to ‘get whatever’ he could from the U-110. After rowing across to it, he made his way to the conning tower and had to holster his pistol in order to climb down three ladders to the control room. Recalling the incident many years later, he said: ‘Both my hands were occupied and I was a sitting target for anyone down below.’
He was said to have had no idea what the ‘funny’ instrument was when he initially picked it up – but his mission enabled British intelligence experts to secretly intercept and decipher signals sent from Germany to its submarines for the remainder of the War.
Sir Winston Churchill later credited the code-breaking operation, which sometimes cracked 6,000 messages a day, with saving lives across Europe and giving Britain the crucial edge in battle.
But the top-secret nature of their work meant Lt Cmdr Balme’s role in the operation’s success stayed on the classified list for decades.
The ‘typewriter’, which was actually an ‘unbreakable’ code machine designed by the Germans to protect military communications, proved invaluable to Alan Turing and his team of code-breakers at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.
After the war, Lt Cmdr Balme married his wife Susan in 1947 and they had three children. He was said to enjoy hunting and was also a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. His significance in the Allie’s victory was not revealed until the Seventies, when the secrecy shrouding Bletchley Park and the code-breakers’ work finally began to lift.
He was presented with a Bletchley badge and a certificate signed by Prime Minister David Cameron and local MP Julian Lewis. Last night Dr Lewis paid tribute to the former sailor, who kept the U-boat commander’s cap and binoculars as souvenirs.
He said: ‘Having learned of the vital capture of the Enigma coding equipment from the U-110 when studying wartime history I was delighted to discover that the brave young officer responsible was one of my constituents.
A total of four clergymen-turned-soldiers rose to the rank of general during the American Civil War. Three of these four holy men would fight for the Confederacy. The “gallant preacher soldier” of the Confederate Army of Tennessee proved to be the ablest military commander of the bunch, and arguably lived the most remarkable life.
Mark Perrin Lowrey was born in 1828 and grew up in Tennessee, one of 11 children. His father passed away at an early age, leaving the Lowrey family “with little means.” The widowed Mrs. Lowrey relocated the family to Mississippi in 1845. Mark embarked on an endless hunt to pull his family out of poverty beginning in his adolescent years, dirtying his hands to make a dime at the expense of his education.
At the age of 19, Mark Lowrey joined the Second Mississippi Volunteer Regiment as a private with thoughts of finding laurels on the battlefield in Mexico. His service in the Mexican-American War was far from glorious and rewarding. He contracted a nasty case of measles and was bedridden for weeks. His regiment never had a chance to see active service before the war ended. At a minimum, he at least gained a “taste of military discipline and tactics” that would serve him well a decade or so later.
After the war, Lowrey found work as a brick mason. He provided room and board to a local teacher in his home, who in exchange helped to advance his meager education. He impressed and later married the daughter of a wealthy farmer in 1849 at the age of 21. Most likely under the influence of his new bride, Lowrey “yielded to the call of my church,” abandoning his dogged pursuit of wealth. He took his religious vocation a step further when he entered the Baptist ministry in 1853 and “never indulged a moment’s thought of turning from the old calling to make money.”
Pastor Lowrey was “quietly pursuing” his theological studies when the Civil War erupted in 1861. He attempted to remain neutral in the war that tore friends and families apart and fueled many to rash behavior stating, “In political questions I took no part, as I did not think it became a minister of the gospel to engage in the heated discussions that then prevailed throughout the country, and naturally led to the indulgence of immoderate feelings and passions.” The influential pastor found it nearly impossible to avoid the topic of secession since “there was no neutral ground to occupy” in his home state of Mississippi. Many parishioners of his community petitioned him to make speeches related to fighting for the independence of their state, while at the same time serving in his customary role as a spiritual guide and instructor.
Despite his neutral position on secession and his vow to non-violence, Pastor Lowrey was urged to accept a field command in the Confederate Army, owing to his Mexican War experience and social position within his community. “All felt that every man who could bear arms should rise up and stand between his home and the enemy, and he who would not do so was deemed unworthy to be called a Mississippian. Churches felt they had no use for pastors then – fighting men were in demand,” Lowrey afterward evoked. He was elected captain then colonel by a vote from a sixty-day regiment in 1861. He reluctantly hung up his clergyman’s jacket and donned the uniform of a Confederate officer. The thought of his home state being overrun by an invading army was the final shove that led him to modify his stance of neutrality explaining that, “The thought of sitting still until the enemy would overrun my home and family was more than I could bear.”
His regiment was discharged after sixty days without seeing any fighting, and Lowrey anticipated a peaceful return to his congregation. The clamor for his service was initiated for a second time when the call for a new regiment surfaced following the Battle of Fort Donelson, and those he commanded from disbanded sixty-day regiment “begged me to go with them.” He was elected colonel of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment and led the regiment at the Battle of Perryville on October of 1862. He was wounded in the left arm but refused to leave the field. He fully recuperated eight weeks later and rejoined his regiment, fighting at the Battle of Murfreesboro. He received a promotion to brigadier general in October of 1863 after hard fighting in the Battle of Chickamauga, winning the commendation of his division commander, the fabled Patrick Cleburne.
The “Christian warrior” still practiced his religious profession while in camp and encouraged the soldiers under his command to embrace Jesus as their savior. He led passionate sermons and was rumored in one instance to have baptized 50 men in two weeks in a nearby creek. He was a superb orator and natural leader of men, and also proved to be an efficient soldier who transformed into a “stern, determined, and unfaltering” commander on the battlefield. He was one of the four brigade commanders Major General Pat Cleburne praised in his division declaring that “four better officers are not in the service of the Confederacy,” and had the notoriety of being the only general of the division who was not killed or severely wounded during the war. St. Michael was certainly looking over him.
The high-water mark of Lowrey’s military career came at Ringgold Gap in 1863. There his 1,330-man brigade and the remainder of Cleburne’s division fought a rearguard action against a Union corps in a bid to save Braxton Bragg’s fleeing army in the aftermath of the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Missionary Ridge. His brigade stabilized the Confederate right wing inspired by his bold exploits. General Cleburne noted in one dispatch after the battle that “My thanks are due to General Lowrey for the coolness and skill which he exhibited in forming his line…without a doubt saved the right of this army.” His brigade afterward received official thanks from the Confederate Congress.
Lowrey afterward fought in the Atlanta Campaign and at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. He barely avoided death in Nashville from the bullet of a Union sharpshooter. The bullet killed an unassuming soldier instead of the preacher general. Disenchanted with the war, he resigned in March of 1865 and returned to his religious vocation, declaring that he would rather be remembered “as a Christian and a minister of the gospel than as a soldier.” He established the Blue Mountain Female College in 1873 and died in February of 1885 from a heart attack.
Lowrey was a rare case of a clergyman taking up a rifle to defend his flock, when necessary, against the wolves.
To oust a dictator as terrible as Liberia’s Charles Taylor, some warlords committed even more heinous crimes. Taylor is now serving a 50-year sentence in the UK after being convicted of 11 war crimes in the Hague in 2013.
Joshua Milton Blahyi went by a different name when he controlled the streets of Liberia’s capital of Monrovia during its 14-year civil war. Going into urban combat wearing nothing but sneakers and a crazed look, he earned the title “General Butt Naked.”
Warlords in the streets of Liberia from 1989-2003 were given names based in popular culture. It spawned such nicknames as “General Bin Laden” and “General Rambo.”
While “General Butt Naked” may sound laughable as a nom de guerre, the warlord’s methods were anything but funny. Of the 250,000-some Liberians killed in the conflict, Blahyi estimates he is responsible for at least 20,000.
The crimes he freely admits to don’t stop there. He recruited children to act as his street enforcers, teaching them that killings and mutilations were all part of a game. And so they would also fight naked in the streets of Monrovia. Blahyi himself was a teenager when the conflict broke out.
Anecdotal evidence of the atrocities committed by “General Butt Naked” is numerous and graphic.
When Taylor was finally ousted in 2003, the man once known as “General Butt Naked” began a new life as a pastor. These days, when he isn’t preaching, he visits the families of his victims and begs for forgiveness — complete forgiveness. He doesn’t want lip service; he wants the biblical forgiveness that comes from the victim’s heart.
Those victims don’t want any part of it. Only 19 of the 76 families he has visited heard him out. The remainder goes about as well as one might expect.
At least one former soldier will attest to the work of Blahyi’s NGO, “Journeys Against Violence.” Luke Barren told Reuters that he earned his job as a mason because of Blahyi’s effort. Other say Blahyi’s whole enterprise is a farce combined with a cash grab.
The former warlord walks free where Taylor is imprisoned because of jurisdictional rules in The Hague. The court can only prosecute war crimes committed after its founding in 2002. There was never a special tribunal for prosecuting war crimes in Liberia, as there was from Rwanda, Cambodia, and the former Yugoslavia.
Since the earliest days, humans have employed bioweapons both invisible and nefarious: killers on two legs, four, six, eight – and plenty with no legs at all. All of these agents of biological warfare, fresh with the fury of nature, have taken their turns inspiring terror in enemy forces, and turning the tide of unwinnable battles.
In the modern day, just as many bio-weapons have been employed by terrorists and monsters, “humans” who barely qualify for the title. Yes, history is filled with deadly organisms – viruses, bacteria, harmless looking flowers, and even playful sea mammals. All have seen their fair share of battle, and some were admittedly pretty awesome. But if this otherwise terrifying bioweapons list anything to teach, it may be that nature’s most brutal creations are those dogs of war called “man.”
The Pentagon’s research arm is now demonstrating an entirely new level of aircraft autonomy which blends the problem-solving ability of the human mind with computerized robotic functions.
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, program is called Aircrew Labor in Cockpit Automation System, or ALIAS.
A key concept behind ALIAS involves a recognition that while human cognition is uniquely suited to problem solving and things like rapid reactions to fast-changing circumstances, there are many procedural tasks which can be better performed by computers, DARPA developers told Scout Warrior.
ALIAS uses a software backbone designed with open interfaces along with a pilot-operated touchpad and speech recognition software. Pilots can use a touch screen or voice command to direct the aircraft to perform functions autonomously.
For instance, various check-list procedures and safety protocols such as engine status, altitude gauges, lights, switches and levers, can be more rapidly, safely and efficiently performed autonomously by computers.
“This involves the routine tasks that humans need to do but at times find mundane and boring. The ALIAS system is designed to be able to take out those dull mission requirements such as
check lists and monitoring while providing a system status to the pilot. The pilot can concentrate on the broader mission at hand,” Mark Cherry, an executive with Aurora Flight Sciences, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The aircraft is able to perform a wide range of functions, such as activating emergency procedures, pitching, rolling, monitoring engine check lights, flying autonomously to pre-determined locations or “waypoints,” maneuvering and possibly employing sensors – without every move needing human intervention.
Developers explain that ALIAS, which has already been demonstrated by DARPA industry partners Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Sciences, can be integrated into a wide range of aircraft such as B-52s or large civilian planes.
Initial configurations of ALIAS include small aircraft such as a Cessna 208 Caravan, Diamond DA42 and Bell UH-1 helicopters, Cherry explained. The ALIAS system is able learn and operate on both single engine and dual-engine aircraft.
Both Lockheed and Aurora Flight Sciences have demonstrated ALIAS; DARPA now plans to conduct a Phase III down-select where one of the vendors will be chosen to continue development of the project.
As algorithms progress to expand into greater “artificial intelligence” functions, computers with increasingly networked and rapid processors are able to organize, gather, distill and present information by themselves. This allows for greater human-machine interface, reducing what is referred to as the “cognitive burden” upon pilots.
There are some existing sensors, navigational systems and so-called “fly-by-wire” technologies which enable an aircraft to perform certain functions by itself. ALIAS, however, takes autonomy and human-machine interface to an entirely new level by substantially advancing levels of independent computer activity.
In fact, human-machine interface is a key element of the Army-led Future Vertical Lift next-generation helicopter program planning to field a much more capable, advanced aircraft sometime in the 2030s.
It is certainly conceivable that a technology such as ALIAS could prove quite pertinent to these efforts; a Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration Army ST program is already underway as a developmental step toward engineering this future helicopter. The intention of the FVL requirement, much like ALIAS, is to lessen the cognitive burden upon pilots, allowing them to focus upon and prioritize high-priority missions.
The human brain therefore functions in the role of command and control, directing the automated system to then perform tasks on its own, Cherry said.
“Help reduce pilot workload and increase safety in future platforms,” Cherry said.
Aircraft throttle, actuation systems and yokes are all among airplane functions able to be automated by ALIAS.
“It uses beyond line of sight communication which is highly autonomous but still flies like a predator or a reaper,” John Langford, CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, told Defense Systems in an interview.
Due to its technological promise and success thus far, ALIAS was given an innovation award recently at the GCN Dig IT awards.
Just a few years ago, Americans were stunned at the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico by the British Petroleum-leased oil rig Deepwater Horizon. On April 20, 2010, a blowout during the drilling of an exploratory well caused an explosion visible from 40 miles away that killed 11 of its crew.
Over nearly three months, the spill from the Deepwater Horizondumped 210 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Now a film about the disaster, “Deepwater Horizon,” is set to hit theaters Sept. 30.
Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, an electrician and Deepwater Horizon survivor, in a film that takes an in-depth look at the people who were working on the rig that night. Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, and Kate Hudson round out the ensemble cast.
We Are The Mighty met up with the cast – and the real Mike Williams – at the film’s premiere in New Orleans and talked with them about the film and the motivations behind it.
So check out our list of how Topper Harley taught us to be better Americans.
1. He answers America’s call to serve once again
After being booted from the Navy, Topper finds himself living a peaceful life among Native Americans. But soon his country calls for his help on a crucial mission called “Sleepy Weasel.”
After smoking a peace pipe full of helium, Topper decides it’s his duty to answer America’s call by accepting the mission and to find closure for his “daddy issues.”
2. He stands up for his fellow man.
Soon after reporting for duty, Topper tells a senior officer to “lighten up” after witnessing him yelling at a fellow pilot with shitty vision. Then, Topper receives an ear full — which he has no problem taking.
Topper is all about leading his men from the front like a true American.
3. He attends therapy.
Most tough guys wouldn’t be caught dead discussing their feelings in any setting. But Topper does it, and so should the many Americans who look to him for leadership.
4. He taught us how to cook an American breakfast using a hot girl’s stomach.
Sounds impossible? Well, Topper did it, and he added an egg, hash browns, and bacon. There’s nothing more American than that.
5. Harley reminds us that giving money isn’t the best way to say “I’m sorry.”
Americans often look for a simple way to apologize by giving a gift. When Topper hands over his apology gift, he’s told the cold hard cash will likely be blown on a new collection of hats.
Americans also misuse their money, but that’s an entirely different subject.
6. Topper doesn’t f’ing quit and neither should America … ever.
Topper’s father was known as sort of a wild pilot. He died during a mission and Topper has had issues ever since. This issue temporarily grounded the Navy pilot who is known to freeze up when people mention his father’s death.
Once Topper learns the heroic truth about his father, he snaps out of his funk and takes down the all bad guys — then celebrates.
For the whole film, Topper has been duking it out with a fellow pilot for respect with his team and for the affections of a girl. But after dueling it out with the bad guys, the men put their differences aside and become best buds.
This is just a reminder of how in the end, we’re all Americans.
That’s all the explanation you really need when you watch this clip of a former British SAS soldier going up against a US Recon Marine in a sensationalized “boxing” match.
In 1998, an obscure company called Universal Warriors hosted the “Commando Knockout Challenge,” where contestants, all of them elite servicemembers hailing from several different countries, went head-to-head in spectacular fashion.
This gloriously America-themed event centered around a pentagon-shaped ring and even had its score card labeled “USA vs The World”.
Wearing camouflaged pants, Carl Richardson — the 5’9″ and 171 pound former SAS instructor, faced against Matthew Ortiz — the US Recon Marine at 5’11” and 168 pounds.
“I’m gonna bring America back to Britain and show [them] who’s boss,” said Richardson prior to the fight.
In response, Ortiz struck back with, “We kicked the British out once — and we’ll do it again.”
On this particular night, however, history failed to repeat itself as Richardson (wearing the red gloves) dealt Ortiz a knockout blow.
The files were stored in cardboard boxes stacked on steel shelves lining the sixth and top floor of a large, rectangular federal building in a small, northwest suburb of St. Louis. They were packed so tightly within the thousands of boxes that, when the fire erupted, it burned so intense, so quickly, so out of control, it took the responding 43 fire departments more than two days to smother. When the smoke settled and the interior temperature cooled, the building’s staff found that up to 18 million of “the most fragile records in our nation” had been reduced to smoldering piles and puddles of ash.*
There was no motive, no suspect, and few clues. The person(s) responsible for destroying 80 percent of Army personnel records for soldiers discharged between 1 Nov 1912 to 1 Jan 1960 and 75 percent of the Air Force records of Airmen discharged between 25 Sep 1947 to 1 Jan 1964 (with surnames beginning with Hubbard and running through the end of the alphabet) has never been found.
The NPRC records fire is 42-year old news, yet even today it continues to impact the lives of our most sacred Veterans and their dependents and survivors.
How does an Army Air Forces bombardier from our Greatest Generation apply for VA healthcare and benefits without records of his service? What can be done for the fiduciary of an Army Nurse Corps Veteran looking for records to piece together his grandmother’s legacy? How does NPRC staff deal with the thousands of records requests from this time period it fields each year?
But, what about those whose records were not recovered?
You can help VA help NPRC reconstruct the damaged record. There is a specific request you must fill out that gives VA the authority to ask NPRC to reconstruct that file. This request provides information that allows the NPRC to search for other types of documents, such as individual state records, Multiple Name Pay Vouchers from the Adjutant General’s Office, Selective Service System registration records, pay records from the Government Accounting Office, as well as medical records from military hospitals (current Army list; current Air Force list), unit records and morning reports, and entrance and separation x-rays and organizational records, that would assist you with your VA healthcare access or compensation claim, or for valuable research on your family member’s service history.
VA will accept, as alternate sources for records, statements from service medical personnel, certified “buddy” statements or affidavits, accident and police reports, Employment-related examination reports, letters written during service, photographs taken during service, pharmacy prescription records, insurance-related examination reports, medical evidence from civilian/private hospitals, clinics, and physicians that treated you during service or shortly after separation, and photocopies of any service treatment records that you may have in your possession.
It is important to note that, although these details can significantly help, VA does not rely only on service treatment records when deciding claims for cases that are related to the 1973 fire.
The ramifications of this tragedy have been longstanding and well documented, and it couldn’t have happened to a more heroic group of Veterans at a worse time—when those files were needed most. Archaeologists two centuries from now are not going to magically dig up microfiche duplicates that were never created. Those records are lost to time. With NPRC’s assistance, VA is committed to ensuring that no eligible but affected Veteran goes without the benefits and services (or information) to which he and she have earned.
Some information within this post has been sourced from outside, non-VA media. Each instance has been hyper linked to the original material.
Jason Davis served five years in the 101st ABN, including two combat tours to Iraq. He’s currently an M.A. candidate in Writing at Johns Hopkins University and serves as social media administrator for the Veterans Benefits Administration.
While the gunner easily dispatched those first soldiers in the open, hundreds of fighters, many in civilian clothes or firing from bunkers, remained. And they put up a fierce resistance with small arms, mortars, and RPGs.
An early RPG hit disabled a Bradley, and the next major RPG hit disabled the Abrams. For almost 20 minutes, the Americans attempted to put out the flames and save the machine. But more fighters kept coming and Schwartz made the decision to sacrifice the tank wreckage to save the armored column.
The crew was moved to another vehicle and the crucial sensitive items were removed from the tank. Then the tankers filled the vehicle with thermite grenades and took off through the city. The Air Force later dropped bombs on what remained.
In the video below, Schwartz and other tankers involved in the battle discuss the unprecedented decision to abandon an Abrams tank.
The Iraqi government loyal to Saddam Hussein later claimed that the tank was killed, which would have given them credit for the first combat kill of an Abrams tank. The U.S. argued that it was merely disabled, and that it was the U.S. Army’s thermite grenades and later U.S. Air Force bombs that actually destroyed it.
When America decides to strike back at a threat, it has a lot of response options. Here are 6 of the weapons that allow the U.S. to hit an enemy from across the planet:
1. Nuclear submarines
The Navy uses three kinds of stealthy nuclear submarines to carry out missions around the world. Attack submarines hunt enemy vessels but can also launch cruise missiles at land targets, guided missile subs carry up to 154 cruise missiles to strike land targets, and fleet ballistic missile submarines carry nuclear missiles that can wipe out entire cities.
Always a favorite, aircraft carriers are floating bases that launch strike aircraft and provide a command center for naval forces. As the Navy likes to brag, they are “So big they carry their own zip code.” The Navy currently has 10 Nimitz-class carriers in active service and is bringing the first of the larger, more capable Ford-class carriers online this year.
4. Minuteman III missiles
The Air Force’s Minuteman III missiles are focused on one mission: nuclear strikes. They have a range of 6,000 miles and each can carry up to three 335-kiloton warheads. Under the START II treaty, the 400 active missiles are currently equipped with one warhead each. There are another 50 unarmed missiles held in reserve.
5. Special operators
While special operators aren’t a weapon per se, their skills give America a useful option when it comes to striking enemy targets. Operators are capable of swimming, jumping, or rucking to target areas and conducting high stakes missions on short notice. Green berets rode horses into Afghanistan when the U.S. began the war there and SEALs flew into Pakistan in helicopters to get Osama Bin Laden.
6. B-1 “BONE” Lancer
The B-1 Lancer began its career as a nuclear bomber but switched to a conventional role during the 1990s. Ground troops know it as the “BONE” and love it for its huge bomb bays, long loiter times, and ability to quickly drop bombs on target when requested.
Political analysts are buzzing this week over rumors that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seriously considering a high-ranking former Army general as his running mate. And while many on the right — and even some on the left — are applauding the move, history shows former military leaders don’t necessarily make good political ones.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former top spy for the military, has been a vocal Trump supporter since he left the Army as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, and has recently taken on a role as a foreign policy advisor for the campaign. But lately, his name has been floated by Trump associates as a potential vice president for the Republican real estate mogul.
“I like the generals. I like the concept of the generals. We’re thinking about — actually, there are two of them that are under consideration,” Trump told Fox News in reference to his VP vetting process.
A pick like Flynn might appeal to a broad political spectrum. He’s a registered Democrat, has leaned pro-choice on abortion, and has criticized the war in Iraq and the toppling of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. But he’s also been a critic of Hillary Clinton and her handling of classified information and was forced to retire after publically denouncing the Obama administration’s foreign policy.
And while a no-nonsense, general officer style might work in a service environment and appeal to voters looking for something new, history shows plenty of landmines for military men who turn their focus from the battlefield to the ballot box.
While two of America’s most senior officers in history, General of the Armies George Washington and General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, enjoyed successful careers as presidents after military service, their compatriot General of the Army Ulysses S. Grant led an administration marked by graft and corruption.
On the list of generals-turned-president, Andrew Jackson and Rutherford B. Hayes were respected in their times, but Jackson’s wife died due to illness aggravated by political attacks during his campaign.
So, why do successful general officers, tested in the fires of combat and experienced at handling large organizations, often struggle in political leadership positions?
The two jobs exist in very different atmospheres. While military organizations are filled with people trained to work together and put the unit ahead of the individual, political organizations are often filled with people all striving to advance their own career.
And while backroom deals are often seen as a failure of character in the military, they’re an accepted part of doing business in politics. One senator will scratch another’s back while they both look to protect donors and placate their constituencies.
Plus, not all military leaders enter politics with a clear view of what they want to accomplish. They have concrete ideas about how to empower the military and improve national security, but they can struggle with a lack of experience in domestic policy or diplomacy after 20 or 30 years looking out towards America’s enemies.
These factors combined to bring down President Ulysses S. Grant whose administration became known as the “Era of Good Stealings” because of all the money that his political appointees were able to steal from taxpayers and businesses. It wasn’t that Grant was dishonest, it was that he failed to predict the lack of integrity in others and corrupt men took advantage of him.
Of course, at the end of the day it’s more about the man than the resume, and Flynn and McChrystal both have traits to recommend them. McChrystal was seen as largely successful as the top commander in Afghanistan where he had to work long hours and keep track of the tangled politics of Afghanistan.