Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Book report: I finished reading Anton Myrer's "Once An Eagle" last night. It's a heavy tome, nearly 1,300 pages, but it never drags. I began reading the book -- which my father had given me an extra copy of a couple years back, but had sat near the back of my extensive queue since then -- after reading an article or opinion piece (don't know where it is, so there's no link) which likened Democrat presidential candidate Wesley Clark to the novel's antagonist Courtney Massengale.
The book's main character is Sam Damon, a soldier who enlists in the Army before the outbreak of WWI and who makes the service his career. Damon distinguishes himself in the Great War, earning a battlefield commission and rising to the rank of Major before the conflict is over.
When America is drawn into WWII, Damon again serves with distinction, leading by example with the well-being of his troops and the mission the focus of his efforts. Make no mistake, Damon is not a timid commander, but neither is he a foolish one.
Damon's antagonist, Massengale, is also a career man. During WWI, while Damon is leading troops on the ground, Massengale is serving on a general's staff, drawing up plans and behaving properly sycophantic.
Throughout their careers, the pattern is much the same. Damon serves in the field, training enlisted men, fighting for them, championing their cause. Massengale plays politics, staying in the bureaucracy, far from the troops -- never commanding soldiers in the field.
It's in WWII's Pacific Theater when the two finally come into conflict. Massengale is given his first command -- of an Army Corps -- in which Damon is a Major General and Division commander (Massengale is a Lieutenant General -- three stars to Damon's two). This where Massengale exhibits his true nature -- and disregard for the lives of his men.
Massengale creates a battle plan only tenuously based on the circumstances on the ground, instead focusing his planning on a tactically "beautiful" military operation -- without regard to difficulty and cost in lives.
Massengale is a cold, unfeeling, monster of a man. He marries his wife for position (she is from a well-to-do Boston family) and not for love -- and the truth is that he is incapable of love. His only concern is for his career, not his wife, not his daughter and certainly not for the men under his command.
What does this say about Wesley Clark, that he has been likened to this man? Only those who have worked closely with the man can say, but Gen. Hugh Shelton's remarks should give people some pause.