The news is busy today with the firing of General Stanley McChrystal, the administration’s leading General in the war in Afghanistan and replacing him with General David Petraeus, the former lead General for the Bush administration during the war in Iraq. I have already seen reports criticizing Obama for his response, yet, even if he kept McChrystal on as the General, there would have been commentary from the media. This got me to thinking, “What other Generals have been fired through American History?” The founding fathers were deeply concerned about the presence of a standing army, having witnessed how European armies had been used against civilians to collect taxes and to brutally keep the population under control. Having the President as Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces helps prevent a coup from happening. Here are five other times the President had to act like Donald Trump and say, “You’re Fired!”
Abraham Lincoln (The American Civil War)
Lincoln made a habit out of axing Generals. During the Civil War, the Generals of the North didn’t have the panache that the Southern Generals had. They had a tendency to be on the losing side of most battles and the North would have lost the war, altogether, had it not been for Lincoln getting over the fear of firing people for not doing their jobs. In all, Lincoln kicked six generals to the curb. These were: Generals Irvin McDowell, George McClellan, John Pope, Ambrose Burnside (where we get the name for sideburns), Joseph Hooker (where we get the name for prostitutes who follow armies), and George Meade. Finally, he got the hiring done right and chose Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union Armies to victory. Grant would later become President of the United States and couldn’t fire anybody – which led him into a lot of trouble!
William McKinley (Spanish-American War)
William McKinley was born in my hometown of Niles, Ohio. He was a hawkish President who believed that the only way America would succeed would be for the country to expand and charging high tariffs on goods brought into the U.S. During his time in office, we acquired Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and set up a protectorate over Cuba. It was during the Spanish-American War (which lasted only 90 days) that McKinley fired Gen. Nelson A. Miles, a popular Indian Wars hero. Why did Miles have to go? He and McKinley had some disagreements over how to wage the war. McKinley won. He was later assassinated in 1901 in Buffalo, New York.
Harry S. Truman (Korean Conflict)
Probably the most famous firing of a General came when Truman gave General MacArthur the boot during the Korean Conflict. MacArthur was a popular five-star general and winner of the Medal of Honor. He is often portrayed with his hat, sunglasses, and corn-cob pipe. The U.S. had had some victories in Korea, but then the Chinese crossed the Yalu River from China to Korea and pushed our forces back to the 38th Parallel. The White House stated that a compromise might be made to ensure peace, but MacArthur made comments that were contrary to the official position of Washington, and specifically Truman. The arrogant MacArthur had derailed the U.S. initiative by daring China to continue the war. The Pentagon received his message, which infuriated many high ranking officials. Truman couldn’t let MacArthur go unpunished and the General was stripped of his rank and his armies and sent home.
Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam War)
LBJ wasn’t the most popular president when it came to the Vietnam War. However, he wasn’t the war-monger that General Curtis LeMay happened to be. LeMay had suggested to John F. Kennedy that a nuclear war was inevitable and that we should nuke Russia with everything we had in our arsenal – and as soon as possible! The plan was presented by General Lyman Lemnitzer to the Kennedy White House to which, JFK left the board meeting shaking his head saying, “…and we call ourselves the human race.“ Luckily, this nutjob didn’t get his way. However, he was back at the forefront again with Johnson trying to wage more violence during Vietnam. He was in favor of the carpet bombing of North Vietnamese cities (which included killing civilian women and children), firebombing cities (causing explosions with intense heat which were used during World War Two), and dropping nuclear bombs on North Vietnam. His ideas cost him his job.
Jimmy Carter (South Korea)
In 1977, Jimmy Carter had the idea of removing our troops from South Korea. They had been sitting there guarding the place since 1950 and he thought it was about time to put them somewhere else. General John K. Singlaub thought this was a terrible idea and, like General Stanley McChrystal, he told it to the press. On March 21, 1977, Carter relieved him of duty for overstepping his bounds and failing to respect the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief.