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  • High Maintenance Generals
  • John M. Carland. (bio)

Professors who require a great deal of the time, attention, and resources of support staff at universities are characterized as "high maintenance" by those staff members who service them. This useful concept, applied to the military, to general officers in particular, brings to mind a passage from an Anthony Powell novel. In The Military Philosophers, set during the Second World War, Powell's narrator, a serving British officer, ruminates on the nature of such men (for generals were men then and, for the most part, are men today). Out of this rumination Powell's narrator produces a penetrating insight, namely that

There could be no doubt, so I was finally forced to decide, that the longer one dealt with them, the more one developed the habit of treating generals like members of the opposite sex; specifically, like ladies no longer young, who therefore deserve extra courtesy and attention; indeed, whose every whim must be given thought. This was particularly applicable if one were out in the open with a general. "Come on, sir, you have the last sandwich," one would say, or "Sit on my mackintosh, sir, the grass is quite wet." Perhaps the cumulative [End Page 1201] effect of such treatment helped to account for the highly strung temperament so many generals developed. They needed constant looking after.1

One cannot say this is true of all generals, for many are low maintenance, easy going, and effective. Yet, enough of the high maintenance ones exist to make Powell's point all too plausible. Of these individuals, of these generals, one also cannot say "you know who you are" because, not much given to introspection, they rarely know, in the sense spelled out above, who they are. However, for good or ill, many of us do indeed know who they are, for we have seen them in action, worked with/for them, and lived to tell the tale.

John M. Carland.

John M. Carland trained as a British imperial historian at the University of Toronto. When the sun set on the British Empire as an academic subject he reinvented himself as an American military historian, working at the U.S. Army Center of Military History from 1985 to 2002. In 2002 he moved to the History Office, Department of State, where he has completed two documentary histories covering the United States’s disengagement from the Vietnam War during 1972 and 1973. He is also author of The Colonial Office and Nigeria, 1898–1914, and Combat Operations: Stemming the Tide, May 1965–October 1966, the Army’s official history of its first eighteen months of combat in Vietnam.


1. Anthony Powell, The Military Philosophers (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Co., 1968), 143.



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pp. 1201-1202
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Archived 2010
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