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Posted on Sep 4, 2009 in Armchair Reading

November 2009 Mailbag

By Armchair General

Dear ACG:

As a relatively new subscriber (having received 3 issues) to ACG, first let me say that I enjoy and appreciate the fresh approach you take to enliven military history. I’ve been a long-time subscriber to many military history mags and yours is definitely unique in its efforts, and success, in bringing history to life.

However, I feel strongly that you should label Ralph Peters’ column as “Opinion” or “Editorial” rather than “Crisis Watch,” a title which implies that it presents some factual description of a current circumstance likely to lead to a military crisis, or at least a set of intellectual arguments pertaining to some military topic. Intead, this column appears to be composed solely of intellectual substance-free war mongering by an angry, emotional man who believes that war is its own Good, and end to be achieved, rather than a means of last resort to resolve political or human conflict.

One can be interested in military history, and certainly believe that at times war is a necessary evil, without being an angry Hater like Mr. Peters. That you choose to publish (or agree) with his positions is your own decision, and I welcome viewpoints of all sorts. But failing to present his writings as opinion, implying that this is instead a presentation of historical or present day factual description of analysis, is, I believe, an editorial mistake that reflects poorly on ACG.

You might infer from my strong reaction that I staunchly disagree with Mr. Peters. That’s not exactly correct: I believe in a strong military and also that those who risk their lives in the service of their country deserve not only our gratitude but our unflinching emotional and financial support.

However, Mr. Peters appears to believe that war should be our, and perhaps every historical nation’s, first option. His position that modern wars do not or should not be considered as having political components is the worst sort of drum-beating, chest-thumping hogwash. For every war, there are dozens and perhaps hundreds of examples of political solutions that prevented, ended, or at least reduced wars (and yes, in some cases, caused greater wars), and resolved issues without, or with very reduced, loss of precious life.

Mr. Peters refers to “leftist intellectuals” as though they have some insidious purpose to undermine the good that war brings. He characterizes all of our losses in Iraq and Afghanistan as just “one bad week in Normandy.” I’m sure that is much comfort to the parents, widows and parentless children who have lost their loved ones in these conflicts. Yes, wars create casualties and when as a last resort war is required to bring about a just result, people have to sacrifice for this cause. But to dismiss the loss of precious life in such a cavalier fashion is disgusting. All I can say is that I am very glad he does not represent the prevailing opinion of our military, political, or intellectual leaders.

I do, however, agree with Mr. Peters that the study of history is vital in avoiding a repeat of past mistakes and to assure we always retain a perspective on current crises. However, I suggest first that Mr. Peters acquaint himself with that history rather than implying that war is man’s greatest and most desirable tool to resolve political or human issues.


Jim Interlandi
Chicago, Illinois

Thanks very much for your email to Armchair General magazine and for your comments on Ralph Peters’ Crisis Watch department column (“The No Victory Lie”, July 2009 issue). We appreciate the time you have taken to write down and send us your frank assessment of the article with your critique of what Ralph wrote in it. Based upon reader feedback, Ralph’s column is one of the most-read and consistently popular of all of our regular departments, presumably because of his ‘no-holds-barred’ style and the fact that he selects current topics of immediate interest, many of which are controversial, on which to base his opinion column each issue.

Thanks for reading Armchair General magazine and especially for sending us your comments.

February 13, 1917. President Wilson before Congress, announcing the break in the official relations with Germany. (National Archives)WILSON ON WILSON
Your “Hard Choices” article on President Woodrow Wilson [May 2009] was outstanding. It was refreshing to read an accurate account of Wilson’s controversial World War I decisions in 1917-1920. Your closing sentences were a direct hit on the misguided foreign policy approach taken by far too many politicians. You are dead right in criticizing this excessively “idealistic” worldview as a “triumph of hope over experience.” If only more American politicians read Armchair General! Your “Ike’s Warriors” article on generals Simpson, Middleton, Wood and Clarke was also a great read. I had heard of these leaders but had not delved into their stories. Your article was thus highly educative.

Alexander Wilson,
Batesville, Indiana

As the article notes, former U. S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger wrote the “triumph of hope over experience” criticism in his outstanding American foreign relations history, DIPLOMACY. We hope our magazine and website articles provide useful “value added” to all our readers – including politicians!

Col. David Hackworth (left) briefs Maj. Gen. Julian Ewell (right) near the Mekong Delta in 1969. (National Archives)Death of Lieutenant General (Retired) Julian J. Ewell
This message from General Officer Management Office in the Pentagon just popped into my in-box:
Julian J. Ewell passed away on 27 July 2009. LTG(R) Ewell retired in 1973 after 34 years of service. He was 93 years old and is survived by his wife, Patricia Ewell. LTG(R) Ewell was a graduate from the United States Military Academy class of 1939. He jumped into Normandy on 6 June 1944 with the 101st Airborne Division. LTG(R) Ewell also received a Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism during the defense of Bastogne and two Silver Stars for gallantry during the Normandy Campaign. During the latter part of his career, he served as Commanding General, II Field Force Vietnam. Services will be held Tuesday, 27 October 2009, 1100, at The Old Post Chapel, Fort Myer, Virginia followed by burial with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.”

General Ewell is one of the last of the World War II giants, as well as having been a key player in Vietnam. He commanded a battalion of the 501st PIR when they jumped into Normandy, and again during the Market-Garden jump in September 1944. When the regimental commander, Johnson, was killed in that jump, Ewell assumed command of the regiment and later got a DSC at Bastogne. He also commanded another regiment in Korea. Before he took over II Field Forces in Vietnam he commanded the 9th ID. In Vietnam, he introduced a sniper training program which made the 9th the only Army unit in Vietnam to use snipers extensively. Ewell was my division commander when I left Vietnam in March 1968. His signature is on my 9th ID Certificate of Combat Service.

Major General, ret. Dave Zabecki

ACG thanks Gen. Zabecki for passing along this sad news about one of our true Army heroes.

I have a question regarding ACG Issue May 2009 in reference to the You Command Combat Decision Game #32. Course of Action (COA) Two was selected as the correct answer. I submitted my answer as COA 2, yet I notice in the September 2009 issue of ACG I did not get a mention. Did my email submission fail to reach the correct department, or was I beyond the cutoff date?

Gavin Bowman
Ontario, Canada

First of all, congratulations on the success you’ve already achieved in our past You Command articles. You consistently send in well-reasoned solutions and have been selected as Winner or Honorable Mention several times, if my memory is correct. Second, a correct course of action pick is no guarantee that a solution will also be selected as a winner or honorable mention. For example, we might get 50 reader solutions picking the correct course of action, but our judges, after reading and evaluating all reader solutions, will select what they consider to be the best 3 as winners and the next best 25 or 30 for honorable mention. It’s a judgment call on our judges’ part, based partly on picking the correct course of action (that’s the first cut), but also on how well the reader explanations demonstrated their understanding of the various tactical principles involved. They rank them, then select what they consider the best 25 or 30 as honorable mention to publish in the YC Solution article in the magazine.

I hope you will continue to send your solutions to our You Command articles. More often than not, yours are in with the finalists.