I was waiting for my little girl to finish her everlasting evening potty business last night when I picked up one of the books in the commode-side reading basket. It happened to be Jeff Chandler's "Napoleon's Marshals", although, given the catholicism of bathroom reading in our house it could well have been any one of the others tossed in there: a Star Wars comic, "The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove", several Title 9 catalogs, and that paperback where the heroine's genitalia are referred to as her "burning center" (I suspect that Grandma left that one; not our style but very much in hers).
Anyway, as it happens, three things coincided; I was thinking about a piece I'd read earlier about our captain-general in the Hindu Kush, Stan McChrystal, I was also thinking about Seydlitz's earlier ruminations on military genius, and the page fell open to the chapter on Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte: soldier, officer, Marshal of France and King of Sweden.
What it got me to thinking about is the perils of confining our thinking of military genius to the purely kinetic elements of the art of war. First, let's look at Marshall Bernadotte's resume:
Enlisted 1780 (PVT)
Commissioned 1792 (LT), COL by 1794
Demi-Bde Cdr 1794-1798 (BG) (Theinigen, Passage of Tagliamento)
Ambassador, Austria 1798
Minister of War 1798-1799
Army Cdr 1800-1801 (Vendee COIN) 1801-1804 (Army of the West)
Corps Cdr 1804-1808 (Marshal) (Ulm, Austerlitz, Prussian campaign)
Governor, Hanseatic Towns 1808-1809 (Danish Islands)
Corps Cdr 1809-1810 (Wagram, Defense of Walcheren)
Crown Prince, Sweden 1810-1818 (Grossbeeren, Dennewitz, Leipzig, Bornhoved)
King, Sweden 1818-1844
And, by way of contrast, GEN McChrystal's:
Stanley A. McChrystal
1/504Inf (Abn) 1976-1978 (2LT)
SF Officers Course 1978-1979
7th SFGA 1979-1980 (1LT?)
Off. Adv. Course 1980-1981
UNCSG-JSA S2/3 1981-1982
FSGA (1/19 Inf) 1982-1984 (CPT)
3/75Inf (Rgr) 1985-1989 (MAJ)
Naval War Coll 1989-1990
JSOC J-3 1990-1993 (MAJ-LTC) (Second Gulf War)
2/504 Cdr 1993-1994
2/75 Cdr 1994-1996
75Inf Cdr 1997-1999 (COL)
CFR 1999-2000 (BG)
82nd Div (Abn) ADC 2000-2001
18th Corps (CoS) 2001-2002 (MG)
Joint Staff J-3 2002-2003
JSOC Cdr 2003-2008 (LTG)(Third Gulf War)
ISAF/USFOR-A 2008-present (GEN) (Occupation of Iraq, XVIIth Afghan War)
The differences jump right out at you, don't they?
First, the Marshal starting as a private, the General as a cadet. Then, of course, the meteoric rise of Bernadotte's career in the chaos of Republican France, no surprise there. The heavy combat experience available in the late 1700's compared to the relative peace of the 1980's and 1990's.
But - look at their "mid-career" trajectory!
Bernadotte is all over the place: Corps commander, army commander, minister of war, governor, corps commander again, then, the weirdest twist of all - prince and king.
McChrystal, the Man Who Would Be King of Afghanistan, on the other hand, makes the typical US Army trot of command, staff and schools. Yes, there's the one year stint as military staffer for the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR). But there's no other exercise of political or geopolitical power. No civilian positions or outside-the-Pentagon political jobs. Minister of war (i.e. SecDef)? Governor? Ambassador?
And, of course, the relative lack of wartime command. Not McChrystal's fault - he didn't have the wars Bernadotte did. But, still...
And keep in mind that Bernadotte was far from being considered even among the upper third of Napoleon's commanders. He had a couple of good outings against the Austrians and Prussians in 1797-1804 and then against his old comrades Davout and Ney in 1813. But he screwed the pooch at Jena and Auerstadt, and his contibutions to Wagram were thought to be meager.
The thing is - all the Napoleonic Marshals' vitae look like this: they were not just troopers. And their enemies were pretty cosmopolitan as well: Scharnhorst and Gneisenau fight in the field, do much of the heavy lifting that reconstructs the entire Prussian Army after 1806, and then conspire to throw off the French occupation after 1812.
Wellington, you know.
These guys were doing grand tactics, operational art, strategy, grand strategy, even geopolitics. They had to negotiate treaties, bribe allies, threaten enemies, spy, suborn, cajole and encourage. These guys were all-rounders.
What is McChrystal? A highly-trained technician? An overpromoted trigger-puller?
So. I'm not trying to add Charles John (Bernadotte's king name) to the pantheon of military geniuses. But I am trying to get us to ask; we're putting people like McChrystal where we used to put people like Bernadotte. Are we preparing ours today as well as the armies and the rulers of Napoleon's time did theirs?