The Best Defense

The most underappreciated general in U.S. history: A landslide for Greene

The most underappreciated general in U.S. history, according to readers who responded by e-mail or in the comments section, is Nathanael Greene, a hero of the Revolutionary War, who got more than twice as many votes as any other candidate.

I like "RPM'"s reasoning in explaining in the comments why he went with Greene: "If you combine the 'unknown/under rated' label with 'most critical to victory in a really important war' then the easy answer is Nathanael Greene. The British had conquered the South and were aggressively moving north. Without Greene's victories in NC the Revolution might have been a bust."

Here are the top 10 most underappreciated generals in American history, according to you all:

1. Nathanael Greene
2. O.P. Smith
3. George Thomas
4. John Buford
5. Winfield Scott
6. Lucian Truscott
7. George Crook
8. George Kenney
9. George Marshall
10. John Reynolds

That's a good spread, with a lot of interesting choices. Clearly Greene had a good strategy here -- as the only candidate from the Revolutionary War, he was able to be the standard bearer for that party, while the more popular wars dissipated their votes, with the Civil War and World War II each posting three finishers. (I hereby dub this "the Ken Burns effect.") Given the competition, I was impressed that Truscott finished so high. I thought Crook and Pete Quesada would have done better, but the Indian Wars are obscure and have a taint to them. And I suspect that in Quesada's case, the readers of this blog tend to be ground-centric, as I am. Also, it apparently helped to be a general named "George," who account for 40 percent of the list.  

Thanks to all who voted and discussed. I was impressed by the e-mailers who wrote in to say that they had nominated one general, but on reflection had decided to vote for another. I think we've demonstrated that there are a whole lot of underappreciated generals out there. It makes me think I need to read a good book on the American wars against the Indians/First Peoples. Any recommendations? 

Among the most interesting write-ins were Raymond Odierno, Sir John Dill, and Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt (Rolling Thunder) AKA Chief Joseph, who got two votes despite some questions about his citizenship. And, of course, good old Galusha Pennypacker.

The Best Defense

Reader comment of the day: A Navy pilot on why he got out of submarining

I was struck by this comment posted over the weekend on "Sub trouble" by "Hungry Joe," who identifies himself as a naval officer who used to be in submarines but transferred over to aviation. His seems to me to be a reasonable critique:

I served as a JO aboard a San Diego based Los Angeles class submarine from 2000-2003, so I was a near peer of Chris Brownfield. I joined the force because it was regarded as elite, where brains and hard work mattered most, and missions deemed essential to national security. I wanted to see if I could make the cut.

I have not read this book, but I disagree with the notion that there is widespread cheating in the submarine force. It was possible to get certain qualification exams ahead of time if you looked for them, and you could get certain proctors to look the other way in order to take closed book exams as open ones, but it was not endemic or necessary. Furthermore, the Operational Reactor Safeguard Exam (ORSE) is externally proctored and includes both written exams and oral interviews. The Engineer Qualification that every officer is subjected to similarly has externally proctored close book portions and oral exams taking place in Washington, D.C. There may be boats out there with cheating problems on their internal quarterly exams, but when it comes to the big tests cheating would be nearly impossible.

I was disillusioned however with our relevance as a force. Especially when weighed against not just the great monetary expense to keep the boat running but in the workload and personal cost to the crew. I witnessed better men than I break under the strain. Our machinery division Chief was one of my primary mentors and I respected him more than almost anyone on board. He was assertive, experienced, and cared greatly in the personal and professional lives of the junior enlisted and officers. In the middle of one workday he was found sitting on the floor of crews berthing in his underwear (extremely unusual as he lived in the "goat locker" aka chief's berthing). He was extremely bewildered and couldn't tell you where he was or how he got there. He had suffered a nervous breakdown and was escorted off the boat. I ran into him months later and his personality had drastically changed from a confident manner to mousy and submissive. This wasn't an isolated case either.

Compared to the cost both fiscal to the taxpayers and personal to the crew and families, the intelligence gleaned from the expense was laughable. One of our missions was scheduled over a holiday period, so we spent a month observing fishing traffic. I later learned we spent that time onstation to up the yearly average of "presence" that is reported up the chain. Intelligence we collected on other missions was redundant to other much less costly means and hardly "vital" to national security.

Going on my shore tour, I wanted to live outside the country and see a greater part of the Navy. I worked as the liaison to the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force commanding P-3 and EP-3 missions for the Middle East and Asia. Contrary to what I saw in the submarine force, I saw a force that emphasized a healthy work/life balance and military assets that were making major impacts on the Global War on Terrorism (as it was known at the time). As a result I too chose to leave the submarine force. But I transferred over and am still happily serving my country as a Naval Flight Officer flying the P-3 Orion.

Here's a similar sort of missive on the Bubbleheads blog. "Extremely common story," shrugs one respondent. More here.

Bottom line: Despite some towel snapping in the BD comments section, it does seem to that this part of the Navy is experiencing a nearly silent crisis about its role and missions.