Andrew Roberts: Generals Never Had To Be Faithful

Roundup: Historians' Take

Historian Andrew Roberts's latest book, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War, was published in the U.S. in May. His previous books include Masters and Commanders and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Dr. Roberts is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
How fortunate that Americans didn’t adopt the same inquisitive and puritanical approach to their generals’ sex lives in the past that they so obviously love indulging in today. For if they had, the history of the Republic would have been far less happy and far more blood-stained. Great generals, indeed great spy chiefs, have been expected to exhibit many magnificent qualities historically, but sexual fidelity rightly hasn’t been prominent among them, at least in wartime. The media witch hunt against Gens. David Petraeus and John Allen is yet another indication that America still doesn’t see the Global War on Terror as a proper war, analogous to the great conflicts of the past.
The Civil War saw the sexual philandering of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman during his long and frequent absences from his wife on campaign. His latest biography, The White Tecumseh by Stanley Hirshson, quotes Sherman’s youngest son saying that his parents got along well enough when they were together, although Sherman always signed his letters to his wife with the hardly affectionate: “W.T. Sherman.” On the Confederate side, Gen. Earl Van Dorn was shot and killed by a man who thought Van Dorn was having an affair with his wife. Thomas Lowry’s book The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War instances several other such high-rank escapades, yet nowhere is it alleged that adulterers make worse generals.
In the First World War, Gen. Jack Pershing, the commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force, had a girlfriend in Paris despite being putatively engaged to George Patton’s sister at the time, an affair that Patton dutifully covered up for his commanding officer. If every American general who strayed into Parisian pleasure palaces during that conflict had been held up to the level of obloquy presently directed at Petraeus and Allen, it’s hard to see how the war could have been conducted to its successful conclusion...

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