Generals Make Lackluster Presidents


Consider this unique fact, 12 of our United States Presidents have held the rank of General in the United States Army. None held the same rank in the Marine Corps or Air Force and there has never been an Admiral attain the Presidency. Does this mean that Americans have viewed Army Generals as better suited for the Presidency, or just that they are more in the spotlight during wartime? Certainly none of the Army Generals who have attained the Presidency had stellar Presidencies. In fact, more times than not the former General turned President has been a controversial figure in his own time as well as in ours. The Presidents who have served this nation as Generals fall into two categories: Forgotten and Controversial. Only one of our General turned Presidents has been remembered in a positive light: George Washington. Yet, even his Presidency was forgettable if it weren’t for the fact he was the first President.

Of those Presidents who were Generals and have been forgotten by History, there were: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Tyler, Franklin Pierce, US Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. William Henry Harrison is largely forgotten for one simple fact: his Presidency lasted exactly one month. In fact, aside from Grant, Garfield, and Eisenhower most of these Presidents are totally forgotten by history. Grant and Eisenhower are by far the most well-known of these three Presidents, having served as the General of the Armies during the Civil War and WWII respectfully. In both cases the men were remembered more for their on field conquests and less for their Oval Office successes.  James Garfield was the second President to be slain by an assasian, having died 6 months and 15 days into his Presidency.  All of these men deserve the respect of a grateful nation for serving our nation in both the Military and Presidency. They respresent one key fact, however, and is just because you were a General doesn’t mean you should be President.

Two men in our Nation’s history have gained attention not because they were great Generals, although one was, but because they served very controversial Presidencies. Andrew Jackson, called by his contempories “King Andrew I” was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. As a President he was known to ignore his political enemies, basically everyone, and to veto any legislation he didn’t agree with, almost everything. Jackson was the first President to receive a Censure from Congress and was the first President after the epic fall of the Era of Good Feelings (which ended when he first tried to attain the Presidency and lost to John Q. Adams in 1824.) Jackson’s record is most tarneshed for his Indian Policy, which resulted in the Indian Removal Act that saw Tribes relocated from the East to the Great Plains.

Like Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson was less remembered by history for his military service during the Civil War and more for his failed Presidency. To give some credit to Johnson, he was expected to follow in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assasination. Johnson was a southerner by birth, Tennessee,  and a Democrat but remained loyal to the Union when the South seceded. He struggled with his Congress over the question of Reconstruction and was eventually impeached twice (more than any other President) but escaping conviction both times. Little is actually remembered about Andrew Johnson’s Presidency that would be classified as “good”.

So while we celebrate President’s Day today, the third Monday of the Month of February, we should remember that just because one was a General doesn’t mean that one should be President of the United States. None of our General-Presidents have turned out all that great for the United States.

Emergence of the American Military Power


Have you ever wondered where the military power of the United States came from? We haven’t always been a super power capable of destroying our enemies, our friends, and ourselves.  For most of the early years of the American republic we had to rely on allies to assists us in our military campaigns. The French aided us in the American Revolution, although we did have minor successes prior to their entry into the war. We fought to a stalemate with the English during the War of 1812, yet our Nation’s Capital was burned down.

We were able to defeat the Mexicans during the Mexican-American War, but we still weren’t a super power. We had to rely on the British to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the Western Hemisphere is closed to European Colonization. Yet, one event in American History stands alone as ushering in the advent of American military supremacy.

During the Civil War advancements in technology were made that made obsolete all other militaries in the world. The mini ball made for more accurate gun fire, destroying a military fighting style that had spanned centuries. The CSS Hunley was only the second major attempt by Americans to create submarine power (the USS Turtle was used during the American Revolution, which was a one man submarine that operated on a similar concept as the Hunley.) And ultimately, the clash of the Iron Clads (CSS Merrimack & USS Monitor) made all other navies in the world obsolete. By the end of the Civil War there were over 1 Million soldiers in America’s Army. Within a couple years that number would drop significantly to 125,000 military personal.

In the wake of the Civil War and the assassination, and attempted assassination, of President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State Seward two nations attempted to capitalize on a war torn nation. Emperor Louis Napoleon III had fashioned himself as a French Andrew Jackson, but like his famous ancestor became an Emperor. With the coup that destroyed the French Second Republic, Napoleon sought to take advantage of a perceived weak America.

Napoleon conspired with the Arch-Duke Maximilian of Austria to take over Mexico and create an Empire that would threaten the existence of the United States. Secretary Seward recovered from a carriage accident and being stabbed in a failed assassination attempt the night Lincoln was shot by Booth to challenge Napoleon’s plan. General Grant sent 50,000 soldiers and General Sheridan to the Texas-Mexican border to secure America from an attack. In the mean time Seward sent General Schofield to deter Napoleon from his plan. Publicly Seward published a letter to the Emperor that was more diplomatic than what Schofield was sent to deliver. Napoleon backed down and the Mexicans murdered the Arch-Duke.

In the mean time, the British were attempting to secure Canada from the United States. War was England was eminent during the Civil War, it was only Ambassador Charles Francis Adams  (Son of John Q. Adams and grandson of John Adams) that helped prevent war from breaking out. The British, Sir John A.  MacDonald created a plan to create the Kingdom of Canada, a confederacy of the Canada territories. When northerners along the border cried for war, the English monarch Queen Victoria signed into law a bill creating the Dominion of Canada; regardless, the damage was done and a permanent reminder of the English monarchy was created. And in a major coup for the United States, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russians. This purchased, declared “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Ice Box” was actually a tactical victory for the United States. With Alaska, the United States surrounded Canada from the South and the West. The arctic circle to the north meant that Canada only had it’s Eastern boarder free from America. In the event of a war with England, the United States could secure Canada and blockade it’s Eastern shore ports.

The United States came out of the Civil War a military power house. Over the next thirty years the US would continue to grow stronger as the industrial revolution took hold. By the time the United States went to war with Spain she had one of the strongest navies in the world, and was able to defeat the once mighty Spanish. Following the destruction of Europe in World War I, the United States stood as the most complete and most powerful military in the world. It wouldn’t be until the end of the Second World War that the U.S. was officially a super power, with enough fire power to destroy the world.

Alienation in Post World War America


World War II ended with the surrender of the Japanese Empire in August 1945 leaving a wake of destruction on almost every continent. America was elated, not only had they defeated the Nazis but the Japanese were defeated as well. Yet, America’s place in the world changed as a result of the war in a way very few people would have thought possible. Only an up and coming nation in the last World War, the United States emerged from World War II as the preeminent world power. Amidst the jubilation of victory in both theaters of war, Americans had to come to grips not only with America’s new place in the world, but with what had happened in the war to America. The story of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye demonstrates the alienation some particular Americans felt in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The beginning of The Catcher in the Rye takes the reader to a boarding school and a character named Holden Caulfield. Holden is arguably one of the most controversial characters in literature, but his story is an important one as it is the story of America after World War II. Holden’s alienation from the rest of the world is central in his story. Throughout most of the story Holden is unable to find the good in the world and insists that everyone he knows or meets is a phony. Holden is a confused young man who is attempting to reconcile the world of his childhood with the world of his young adulthood. At sixteen when the story takes place, Holden was born two years after the stock market crashed and was still too young when the United States entered the Second World War in December, 1941. America, in a lot of ways, has grown up rapidly in the span of Holden’s short life.

The main antagonists in Holden’s life are his roommate Stradlater, his neighbor Ackley, a friend from home Sally, and a pimp and a prostitute he meets while staying in New York. In each case, the antagonists choose to ignore the realities of life by distracting themselves with sex, money or theater. Holden faults each character for being a phony, and considers his dead brother Allie, and his younger sister Phoebe as two of the only real people he has ever met. Holden has been affected by the war and its aftermath and maintains a child-like opinion of the world. In fact, he states, “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”[1] Holden is alienated from those who are his age, or close because of his own inability to grow up. The various encounters Holden ha leave him more alienated than before. In the case of Sally, Holden contacts her and makes a date only to alienate himself from her by saying:  “You give me a royal pain in the ass…”[2] Holden is completely unable to maintain friendships and continues to draw further and further away from the world.

As Holden is unable to maintain friendships with anyone he meets, he is also a contradiction. At the beginning of the book he states, “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies.”[3] And yet he goes to see a movie at Radio City after his date with Sally. He goes into the bar at his hotel and has a low opinion of everything about it from where they seat him, to the band, to the patrons.[4] Holden constantly belittles people, places and things only to turn around and immerse himself in them. This further alienates him from the world and people around him as they view him as an immature person.[5] His sense of superiority, which results in his alienation, prevents Holden from having any meaningful relationships with anyone aside from his sister and dead brother Allie.

Holden is so disillusioned with the world around him that the only thing he can think to do is protect those who he views as innocent. Holden’s depression is lifted whenever he is around kids. The first instance the reader sees this is in the streets of New York. On his way to find a record store open on Sundays, Holden follows a family of three. The parents are on the sidewalk and immediately gain the disapproval of Holden when he says, “They looked sort of poor, which implies that Holden views the family, at least the parents, as beneath him. The child, however, entertains Holden as he is walking behind the family. The child is in the street singing, “‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’” The child and song make Holden, “feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.”[6] Holden is not alienated from children the way he is from those closer in age to him because he is able to find a truth in children that doesn’t exist for him in his contemporaries.

Holden’s alienation goes even further, to a desire to remove himself completely from society. At first, Holden pleads with Sally to, “drive up to Massachusetts or Vermont….We’ll stay in these cabin camps and stuff like that till the dough runs out…I could get a job somewhere and we could live somewhere with a brook and all….I could chop wood in the wintertime and all.”[7] His feeling of superiority has alienated him not only from any meaningful relationships but also a desire to quit society almost all together. Later on he says, “Everybody’d think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they’d leave me alone. They’d let me put gas and oil in their stupid cars, and they’d pay me a salary and all for it, and I’d build me a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there the rest of my life.”[8] Both times, Holden suggests leaving society to live away from a world he doesn’t fully believe he belongs to.

Holden’s alienation also drives him to attempt to save those he believes he cares most about. In his first desire to leave society, he invites Sally to go with him only to alienate himself from her when she refuses to go with him. Holden also feels a need to assist a roommate at a previous school before he ultimately rejects him. His roommate Dick Slagle is poorer than Holden and doesn’t have as fancy of luggage as he has. As Holden describes the situation: “The thing is, it’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs…”[9] But he goes on to clarify, “You think if they’re intelligent and all, the other person, and have a good sense of humor, that they don’t give a damn whose suitcases are better, but they do.”[10] Holden both creates his own alienation, as in the case of Sally, and is a victim of society’s mandated alienation as was the case with the former roommate. Yet in both cases, Holden attempts to save that person from the phony world as Holden perceives it.

Finally, Holden’s struggle not to care about what others think or do and his desire to save people from their phoniness comes to a head. His sister Phoebe questions whether or not Holden actually likes anything, or if he simply hates everything.[11] As he avoids Phoebe’s questions, she finally prompts him, “All right, name something else. Name something you’d like to be.”[12] And it is here that Holden admits to his desire to protect children and to allow them to maintain their innocence when he tells Phoebe, “I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”[13] Holden’s alienation from friends closer in age; his hatred of cars and movies all stem from his own desire to return and protect the innocence of childhood.

Yet, it takes Holden until he has nearly broken down psychologically that he realizes he can’t protect everyone from everything. While on the way to  deliver a note to Phoebe at her school, Holden notices writing on the walls outside the school. He desires to protect the innocence of the children from the writing  and dreams of killing the person responsible for writing obscenities on the school’s walls. The second time he finds the obscenities, however, he realizes that it has been craved into the wall.[14] It is at this point that Holden comes to the realization, “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.”[15] He finally realizes that things won’t return to how they were when he was a child and life was simpler. Holden recognizes that the world is full of things he hates and wants to protect others from but it is a fool’s mission to try to protect the world from all the bad.

The story of Holden Caulfield could be analogous to the story of the United States after World War II. Like Holden, the United States was alienated from the rest of the world, including our allies. As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States had a responsibility not shared by her allies. Both the Soviet Union and the allies of the United States differed from the U.S.and did not seem to share many beliefs held by America. The United States, as well as Holden, had to come to grips with the reality of the world. Holden was never going to achieve living in a world where people were to be exactly as he wanted to be more ready to believe exactly what he believed. Holden is defined by his alienation from the world and weather he is finally able to reconcile himself with both the world and people around him.


[1] Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye(Boston: Little Brown and Company 1951) page 122.

[2] Ibid. 133

[3] Ibid. 2

[4] “they gave me a lousy table anyways…”, “The band was putrid”, “show-offy-looking guys with their dates.” Ibid. 69

[5] “Same old Caulfield. When are you going to grow up?” Ibid, 144

[6] Ibid. 115

[7] Ibid. 132

[8] Ibid. 199

[9] Ibid. 109

[10] Ibid.

[11] “You don’t like anything that’s happening.” Ibid. 169

[12] Ibid. 172

[13] Ibid. 173

[14] “I saw something that drove me crazy…”, “I went down by a different staircase….” Ibid. 201, 202

[15] Ibid.

 

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