- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on September 27, 2010.
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.
John Arquilla earned his degrees in international relations from Rosary College (BA 1975) and Stanford University (MA 1989, PhD 1991). He has been teaching in the special operations program at the United States Naval Postgraduate School since 1993. He also serves as chairman of the Defense Analysis department.
Dr. Arquilla’s teaching interests revolve around the history of irregular warfare, terrorism, and the implications of the information age for society and security.
His books include: Dubious Battles: Aggression, Defeat and the International System (1992); From Troy to Entebbe: Special Operations in Ancient & Modern Times (1996), which was a featured alternate of the Military Book Club; In Athena’s Camp (1997); Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy (2001), named a notable book of the year by the American Library Association; The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror (2006); Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military (2008), which is about defense reform; Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World (2011); and Afghan Endgames: Strategy and Policy Choices for America’s Longest War (2012).
Dr. Arquilla is also the author of more than one hundred articles dealing with a wide range of topics in military and security affairs. His work has appeared in the leading academic journals and in general publications like The New York Times, Forbes, Foreign Policy Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Wired and The New Republic. He is best known for his concept of “netwar” (i.e., the distinct manner in which those organized into networks fight). His vision of “swarm tactics” was selected by The New York Times as one of the “big ideas” of 2001; and in recent years Foreign Policy Magazine has listed him among the world’s “top 100 thinkers.”
In terms of policy experience, Dr. Arquilla worked as a consultant to General Norman Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Storm, as part of a group of RAND analysts assigned to him. During the Kosovo War, he assisted deputy secretary of defense John Hamre on a range of issues in international information strategy. Since the onset of the war on terror, Dr. Arquilla has focused on assisting special operations forces and other units on practical “field problems.” Most recently, he worked for the White House as a member of a small, nonpartisan team of outsiders asked to articulate new directions for American defense policy.| Rational Security |