S&T military historian discusses tensions between Obama, McChrystal

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On June 23, 2010

The current tension between President Obama and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is nothing new in the presidency, says military historian Dr. John C. McManus.

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Missouri S&T military historian John C. McManus.

McManus, the author of nine military histories, says the conflict between military commanders and their commanders in chief extends back to President Abraham Lincoln’s firing of Gen. George B. McClellan, who commanded the Union Army during the early days of the Civil War and was fired by Lincoln for insubordination. Recent media coverage of McChrystal’s comments in an upcoming Rolling Stone article suggest that he, too, is being insubordinate to Obama.

“Throughout US history there’s been a natural tension between military commanders in the field and the elected leaders who make policy in Washington,” says McManus. “Often, the everyday realities of war forces generals to make strategic decisions, rather than presidents. The military folks rarely feel they’re getting enough support from their civilian bosses.

“McClellan, for instance, was convinced he was always outnumbered and he constantly agitated Lincoln for more troops and supplies. In Korea, (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur believed that he understood the nature of the war better than did President Truman and he wasn’t shy about voicing that opinion. In Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland was perpetually frustrated by his inability to convince President Johnson to widen the war into the rest of Southeast Asia. All of these disagreements eventually became public.”

McManus is an associate professor of U.S. military history at Missouri University of Science and Technology. A member of the Missouri S&T faculty since 2000, McManus is considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the history of Americans in combat. A member of the editorial advisory board at World War II magazine and Global War Studies, McManus was named to History News Network‘s list of Top Young Historians in 2007. In 2008, he received the Missouri Conference on History Book Award for Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible.

McManus’ latest book, Grunts, about the importance of ground forces in recent U.S. military history, will be published in August.

McManus is available to discuss the history of conflicts between U.S. presidents and their chief military officers. To arrange for an interview, contact the Missouri S&T Communications Department at 573-341-4328 or email news@mst.edu.

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