Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War
Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War

Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War

Michelle Powell-Smith - November 27, 2016

Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War

Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur fought and successfully led troops in World War I, served in peacetime, and led U.S. forces in the Pacific in World War II. He later led, and was then relieved of duty, U.S. military efforts in Korea.

While MacArthur had had a successful military career, he began to question his superiors during World War II. As commander of the Pacific, MacArthur disagreed with the strategic decision to focus most of the resources of the U.S. military in Europe, rather than the Pacific.

In the Pacific, MacArthur embraced the island-hopping strategy. This was an old naval strategy, but had not been used on this scale previously. The island-hopping strategy focused on a single island at a time, progressively gaining more and more land. In the final battle to retake the Philippines, the United States lost less than 6500 men, while the Japanese lost more than 20,000. While MacArthur was highly critical of the decision to focus energy in Europe, his strategy was winning by the time Truman opted to drop the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. United Nations forces, led by MacArthur, responded. While MacArthur had been an abrasive, but successful leader during World War II, he now became more vocal about his opposition to U.S. President Truman’s policies. MacArthur pushed back the initial offensive, but was soon forced to retreat. His past strategies were proving themselves ineffective in Korea.

In particular, Truman prioritized avoiding a war with China at nearly any cost. MacArthur strongly disagreed. He was relieved of his command by Truman in 1951. MacArthur devised a plan to contain communism and presented it to President Eisenhower in 1952. The plan showed the same extremity MacArthur had relied upon throughout his career, including, in this case, the use of atomic weapons. Eisenhower refused the plan.

Douglas MacArthur was impetuous and daring, willing to fight, and willing to take risks. His strategy was effective in the Pacific, but certainly not without costs. It was not, however, an effective choice in Korea, nor one to move forward with during the Cold War years.

Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War

Dwight D. Eisenhower

In 1941, Dwight D. Eisenhower was approaching the end of a relatively undistinguished military career, marked by nothing of great significance. While he completed his training at WestPoint in 1915, he did not leave the United States in World War I, and the following years of peacetime offered few opportunities. By 1930, he had taken on a post as the assistant to Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur.

After 25 years of service, he achieved the rank of colonel in 1940. He had served dutifully, and was, while working in peacetime, strongly interested in developing the best possible citizen-soldier force, ready to mobilize if needed.

Within a period of only three years, he went from an unknown and relatively undistinguished officer to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. The dramatic change in Eisenhower’s life began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Only days after the attack, Eisenhower reported to Washington D.C., at the request of General George C. Marshall and presented his plan to respond to the attack at Pearl Harbor. Eisenhower was assigned to the War Plans Department, and was, at the time, recognized for his problem-solving ability.

In February 1942, Eisenhower, now chief of the War Plans Department, devised a plan to win the war. Critical to his plan was a careful design, directing forces and efforts only where essential to win the war and defeat the Axis Powers. In June 1942, as the U.S. established a European front to their entrance into the war, Eisenhower was named Commander General of the European Theater.

In Europe, Eisenhower effectively both cemented alliances and commanded the U.S. forces. By 1943, he was named Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the European Theater. Eisenhower planned the D-Day landing in Normandy and other key offensives. Eisenhower’s ability to make accurate predictions and smart judgements was essential to the Allied Victory in Europe.

After the war, he returned to serve as Chief of Staff of the Army, and later, President of the United States. As a leader, his willingness to make hard decisions continued, then, as he had during the war, in the pursuit of peace.

Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War

Matthew B. Ridgway

Matthew Ridgway is best known for his effective use of strategy in the Korean War, and his ability to reclaim a relative success in Korea. Ridgway was called upon to correct MacArthur’s faults, and developed a strategy that remained in use until the Iraq War of 2003.

Ridgway graduated from WestPoint in 1917, but did not serve overseas during World War I. He did spend time in both China and the Philippines during the years between World War I and World War II, and played an important role in World War II. In World War II, he commanded first the 82nd Airborne, and later the 18th Airborne Corps. His efforts were essential in the Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Offensive.

After General Douglas MacArthur’s efforts allowed North Korea to make significant gains, including the city of Seoul, Ridgway was called to Korea to lead United Nations’ forces. Ridgway was able to stop the North Korean counter-offensive and gradually push North Korean troops back to the border between North and South Korea.

Ridgway adopted a strategy of containment; he did not push further into North Korea, nor did he try to take additional lands. He sought to simply keep North Korean forces within their own boundaries. For some time, North Korea continued to try to push into South Korea, and Ridgway continued to fight them back behind their own borders.

The containment strategy remained in active use for a great many years. No attempt was made to eliminate communism, or to push into communist countries; however, they were actively discouraged from expanding into additional lands. In many ways, this was a defensive strategy rather than an offensive strategy.

This was the key military and diplomatic strategy throughout the Cold War and in the years directly after, with one notable exception. That exception, Vietnam, was not a success.

Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War
FILE – In this Sept. 14, 1990 file photo, U.S. Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, answers questions during an interview in Riyadh. Schwarzkopf died Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. He was 78. (AP Photo/David Longstreath, File)

Norman B. Schwarzkopf

General Norman B. Shwarzkopf finished his military education in 1956, and served two tours with great honor in Vietnam; however, he personally questioned the strategies employed in the war. He believed that the conflict in Vietnam lacked a clear objective or well-designed strategy. Following Vietnam, Schwarzkopf continued to climb in the military administration, gaining rank and skill.

He was, in his capacity as the head of the U.S. Central Command, responsible for organizing both Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. This was the largest mechanized deployment of U.S. forces and equipment since World War II.

Between August 1990 and January 1991, Schwarzkopf assembled some 765,000 troops-541,000 American-from a total of 28 countries, hundreds of ships, and thousands of tanks and aircraft. The first step in the response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was a six-week long aerial bombardment. Schwarzkopf hoped that this would rapidly lead to a peace settlement; however, it did not.

Schwarzkopf’s strategy was a relatively classic one. When the aerial assault failed, Schwarzkopf feigned an amphibious assault, beginning the ground war on February 24. In reality, his troops were quickly wrapping around Iraq’s elite Republican Guard to cut off supply lines and communication. Allied losses were very few, with fewer than 300 dead. Within only 100 hours, the United Nations’ coalition troops had regained control of all of Kuwait. While Schwarzkopf believed that the forces should move on to Baghdad, the United Nations had only approved the reclamation of Kuwait, rather than an assault on Iraq’s capitol.

His strategies were classic, but they were effective; he accomplished the goals set forth by the United Nations at a minimal human cost to allied troops, and with great speed. Schwarzkopf retired in 1992. He continued to question the decision not to press on to Baghdad during Desert Storm.