When General Dwight D. Eisenhower sat down with General Alfred Jodl in Reims, France in May 1945 to sign Germany’s unconditional surrender ending World War II, the two generals had two drastically different post-war fates awaiting them.
Generals and politics rarely mix well. The recent exploits of Army General Michael Flynn, and his continuing saga as an alleged political Russian go-between in the last election to allegations of foreign money payouts, has him jinking and jamming like a locked-on fighter pilot in a dogfight as he tries to avoid the political missiles being fired at him by those who believe he may have been in Putin’s vest pocket.
Flynn is not the first general in history, nor is he likely to be the last, to find himself being the duck in a political shooting gallery Not too long ago, Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal both built exemplary combat reputations only to be brought down by the friendly fire of politics.
Of course most people are familiar with Shakespearean saga of Julius Caesar–the conqueror of Gaul; the Roman general who faced down Barbarian attacks–but was brought down by a mob of knife-wielding conspiratorial Roman Senators. The transparency there was obvious.
And then there was Napoleon, the twice exiled General/Emperor of France. He conquered large portions of Europe, set his brother up as king of Spain, and for nearly 20 years kept Europe at war. When he was finally defeated at Waterloo, he was sent into exile for a second time to a small island in the Atlantic off the African coast where he died of stomach cancer on May 5, 1821.
Even Eisenhower’s boss General George Marshall, who helped guide the US war effort against the Axis powers during World War II came under post-war attack. After the war, he served as Secretary of State and Defense but could not avoid the righteous wrath of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Red” baiting. One senator went so far as to boldly claim that, “General George C. Marshall is a living lie” saying “he is eager to play the role of a front man for traitors.” But then this was the era of “un-American activities.”
In some ways surviving the dangers of the battlefield for generals may be a lot easier than trying to maneuver around the political playing field during and after the war.
Jodl, the Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, (the German army) not only had the dubious honor of dealing with a fanatical and more than slightly deranged dictator on a day-to-day basis; but he also was given the task of unconditionally surrendering the Third Reich over to the Allies.
Many prominent, high ranking Nazis avoided Allied retributions by committing suicide. Jodl faced the post-war Nazi fallout at Nuremberg. Jodl may not have been deeply immersed in Hitler’s “Final Solution” and the Holocaust. He did, however, sign two military orders that did not sit well with the post-war victors. One order was specifically aimed at the Soviets. The order allowed German troops to summarily execute captured Russian commissars or Communist political officers. The other order allowed for the summarily execution of all commandos whether they were captured in uniform or not.
At the Nuremberg War Trials he was found guilty and hung. As the model of the proper Prussian soldier he demanded to be executed at the post by a firing squad. Instead, his demise came dangling at the end of a rope like a common criminal. He was cremated along with Hermann Goering and nine other convicted war criminals. To avoid any future of shrines or deification to the deceased, their ashes were scattered in the River Isar to become river-bottom sediment to any future Nazi grave site pilgrimages.
Eisenhower, or the other hand maneuvered his way through the political post-war era to became the 34th President of the United States. He was able to avoid the trip wires of the political landscape and enjoy the undulating fairways and greens of the golf course. While in office he played almost 800 rounds of golf. In 1961 he retired to Gettysburg, Pa. to an enjoyable political exile.
Wikimedia commons Caesar’s Death, Vincenzio Camuccini La mort di Caesar
Wikimedia commons Napoleon on Board the Bellerophan Sir William Quiller Orchardson
Wikimedia commons Marshall, Jodl
Defense Intelligence Agency Flynn