Defense Secretary Robert Gates was professional and effective in office but has abruptly reversed course with his new volume of memoirs, “Duty, Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” which bluntly criticizes former colleagues, including President Barack Obama. His extensive, often harshly negative discussion of personalities is unfortunate, for him and for our nation’s foreign policy.
This development brings to mind General George C. Marshall, who as U.S. army chief of staff was vital to World War II victory. He then led the state and defense departments, where he became a target of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy and associates in the anticommunist hysteria of the time.
When Marshall died, I was working after school as an office clerk for a Pacific war veteran who ran a small business. Mr. Henricks survived the horrific combat of Bougainville, but with physical and emotional wounds apparent to a young boy.
He usually tried fiercely to focus on the business but took a break to discuss the general with reverence, uncharacteristic sentimentality from this restless, tormented man. I wondered why the top military commander had such a hold on this line soldier.
Marshall never produced memoirs and turned down enormous offers from publishers. From a vastly different America, he viewed public service as a special privilege. He was concerned about embarrassing others and inadvertently compromising national security.
President Roosevelt was annoyed that the chief of staff refused to be called by his first name or get together socially, but he also emphasized during the war he could not sleep at night if Marshall was outside the country. Marshall captured FDR, too.
Gates has received deserved great respect, with an unprecedented tenure as defense secretary continuously during both the Bush and the Obama administrations. His undeniable policy successes include changing defense strategic planning overall while cutting specific weapons systems.