July 12, 1991


Of Queens and Knights and Generals

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,

Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;

He wept that he was ever born,

And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old

When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;

The vision of a warrior bold

Would set him dancing.

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

When the Queen of England gave General Schwarzkopf a Knighthood, I thought that here is a symbolic queen, giving a symbolic knighthood to a symbolic soldier. Those people all belong in a time that ceased to exist over 100 years ago.

When, after the Persian Gulf war was over, Stormin' Norman boasted that his strategy would be in the military manuals of the future, I chuckled. Considering the way that the military deck was stacked, any general could have won that war. It wasn't the victory of an outnumbered and under-equipped army over a superior foe. He didn't out-general the Iraquis; they were outclassed by the equipment. It was a modern army against a third world army. Schwarzkopf was hardly a Napoleon defeating a superior enemy by the brilliance of his strategy. Maybe it will end up in the military manuals, but it will be as an illustration of how irrelevant strategy is when you outclass an enemy technologically.

Hardware, from gunpowder to smart missiles, has always made a great difference in wars. The repeating rifle made the difference in the Indian wars. However, once both sides are evenly equipped, neither has any military advantage and they had better sit down and talk instead of fight.

I guess that the last war where the general stood on the highest hill and directed his troops by semaphores or smoke signals was during the previous century. Certainly what made the difference in this century was the technology. During WWII, man for man, the German and Japanese fighting man was equal to, or superior to, the allied soldiers. As an arrogant German oberleutenant, who we took prisoner, said: "If we had your equipment, we would have beaten you long ago." He was probably right. The war was won in the factories of the U.S., which were relatively safe from bombardment.

We have been fed stories of personal heroism in war. Do you really want to know what difference courage and heroism made in the winning of all of the wars in this century? The answer is zero, zip, nothing! There was as much courage and heroism on the side of the loser. The losing generals were as bright, or stupid, as the winners.

What is the role of the soldier in a modern war? He is a skilled technician. His/her role is much the same as the role of the pilot of a modern airliner. What is required is competence and, occasionally, competence under pressure. Size, strength, stamina and agility are largely irrelevant. It does help to be young and vigorous and be able to do without sleep for periods of time. I would "tell it to the marines," but they wouldn't believe me.

We do not yet have the predicted push button war, but it's close. Hopefully, the people who have the brains to create the technology will also have the sense not to use it.

And what about the general? His roll is partly the same as the chief executive officer of a factory, and partially that of an actor in front of a camera --a Lee Iacocca in uniform. There is no doubt that Schwarzkopf is more colorful in front of the camera than Gen. Powell, just as Generals Patton or MacArthur were more glamorous than Gen. Marshall. Marshall was the more competent military man, but he just didn't have that je ne sais quois that makes for a hero in the public eye.

And what happened to our Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn:

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,

Scratched his head and kept on thinking;

Miniver coughed, and called it fate,

And kept on drinking.

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