Ready for Battle

Five generals who turned the tide.

by Victorino Matus

The Weekly Standard

The military historian Victor Davis Hanson was in Washington, D.C., to promote his latest book, The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost—From Ancient Greece to Iraq. Considering what is transpiring overseas, the timing couldn’t be better. (It also makes for great summer reading.) At a lunch sponsored by the Hoover Institution, where Hanson is a senior fellow (he’s also a raisin farmer), the author discussed at length the five men who rose to the occasion.

Despite formidable odds, the Greek commander Themistocles led his beleagured army to victory at Salamis against the Persians. General Flavius Belasarius prevented Byzantium from falling in the 6th century and secured borders and fortifications that held up for the next nine centuries—until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Hanson moves on to William Tecumseh Sherman, who captured Atlanta in 1864, and General Matthew Ridgeway, aka “Old Iron Tits,” who reversed the largest retreat in American history—when the Chinese Red Army came down the Korean Peninsula and pushed U.S. forces back 400 miles. His last profile, interestingly enough, focuses on David Petraeus and the surge that saved Iraq.

Of course we all know what became of General Petraeus (who now works for the global investment firm KKR). But as Hanson pointed out, all of these generals had this in common: They were military geniuses who had less than glorious endings to their careers. Themistocles committed suicide while commanding Persian forces. Belasarius spent his last years as a beggar on the street. Sherman did not become Grant and Ridgeway couldn’t escape from MacArthur’s shadow. Hanson notes these were men who were not responsible for launching wars, but they came in to do a job and did it well—and their superiors got to take the credit.

In The Savior Generals, credit is given where it’s due.

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