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General George Marshall and the Politicization of the US Military

General George Marshall was the most senior Army general during World War II, the man who selected and commanded the other senior generals during the war, including General Eisenhower. At the end of the war, President Truman called him the greatest living American. Because of his loyalty to the country of the United States, he did not vote in Presidential elections, so that he could serve whoever was elected with equal loyalty. He would no doubt have been either party’s choice to run for President rather than Eisenhower, but he would not run. He did serve as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense after he left the active military service.

As I see former senior military officers running for office, like Wesley Clark, or being used as tools and backdrops in this Presidential campaign, like Tommy Franks, I see the wisdom of General Marshall’s position. Both parties make overt appeals to serving military personnel, as they do to firemen and policemen.

Last Friday on PBS’ Washington Week, Gwen Ifill made the point that with the bitter polarization of politics, politicians have ceased to see themselves a public servants. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, I think she is right. That means as the military becomes politicized, it will become less a profession of public service, creating the possibility that the military will become a domestic tool of the serving President, as in many dictatorships.

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