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August 17, 2010

Another Caesar or Napoleon? Part 1

Roy Meachum

Monday’s New York Times: Gen. David H. Petraeus began his campaign to convince the public that the coalition can succeed, saying he had not come to Afghanistan to preside over a “graceful exit.”



Captivated by their romantic image of Imperial Rome, people can forget the Italian peninsula before Christ came into the world was home to a brilliant, doomed republic. Julius Caesar put an end to that.


The French Revolution spouting “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” ceased to exist when Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself as emperor. Both generals were more than conquerors celebrated for their strategic and tactical deeds, they were also politicians, who maintained a steady feed of propaganda while they were still in the field.


We can be sure that Caesar dawdled north of the Rubicon River until he received a strong signal – maybe several – that his opposition had been dampened. By the Republic’s laws, the commander of any military force headed toward Rome, lost his authority totally by reaching the Rubicon’s southern banks. Soldiers who defied his orders were not insubordinate traitors but heroes to be hailed and rewarded. The code made it nearly impossible for anyone so ambitious to take over from Roman politicians and civilians.


Caesar did. His name became the title for the series of his successors. (The surgical birth procedure was named for his uncle, with the same name.)


When matters became politically odious for the Corsican adventurer and superb artillerist, Napoleon slipped out of France and headed for Egypt; ostensibly the scores of scientists and scholars he brought along would enrich Europe with ancient knowledge. That turned out phony when the British navy made the savants turn over everything they discovered. The Rosetta Stone that made antique hieroglyphics clear has rested for nearly 200 years in a London museum.


When Signore Bonaparte, not French at all, received communication that slipped through Admiral Lord Nelson’s Mediterranean blockade that the politicians left behind had wetted their pants and the enthusiasm of their partisans, he went back. Not knowing in advance of his departure, his abandoned soldiers cut a deal with the Turkish Ottoman force on the verge of slaughtering them, so they could come back to Marseille.


As you know, Julius Caesar was assassinated by friends and Romans. Napoleon Bonaparte withered away on St. Helena’s, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, allegedly sent on his way by daily doses of arsenic. Neither’s story had the ending each man imagined before launching his literally fantastic career.


Both names from history occur when I read stories about generals hiring public relations experts to furbish their victories and to administer soothing balms to the American people. The current policy came to screeching attention when Gen. Stanley McCrystal proved victim to P.R. ploy gone seriously awry.


His successor and former superior Gen. David H. Petraeus said of his colleagues, the military’s top honchos: “They must be ‘pentathelete’ leaders.”


He was talking to The New York Times, which explained: “Generals and other top officers are now expected to be city managers, cultural ambassadors, public relations whizzes and politicians as they deal with multiple missions and constituencies in the war zone, in allied capitals – and home.”


Celebrating the 65th anniversary of World War II’s ending this year, Douglas MacArthur, in Asia, and Dwight David (Ike) Eisenhower (in Europe) are very much on the minds of those alive and aware of the times. General MacArthur ruled the Pacific in imperial style, we are told; he even exhibited his profile to strengthen his followers’ claim he was another Caesar. General Eisenhower gee-whizzed around and grinned in public; he did his major coalition-building off stage.


As you know, Ike reached the White House with international cheers ringing in his ears; he retired to Gettysburg to live out his life honored and venerated. Mr. MacArthur was booted out of his job for publicly challenging President Harry S Truman and the Constitution’s stern passage that declares plainly the armed forces must be controlled by elected officials. As he predicted, he faded away in the public eye – ridiculed and ridiculous as a failure, no longer a hero.


(To be continues tomorrow…)


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