[July 26, 2020] Yesterday afternoon, after taking my wife around to three estate sales, my newest book order finally arrived. For days, I’d looked forward to reading it, and while I have yet to read it all, I wanted to get something out to my readers. The book is What Are Generals Made Of? (1987) First Edition by Maj. Gen. Aubrey “Red” Newman, U.S. Army (Retired). This article is not a book review or recommendation; so much as it’s a look inside the thinking of a General.
It is hard to believe, but I never heard of this book. A civilian friend mentioned it to me last year. That says something about the book itself, and maybe senior leaders didn’t like the content (because it was too accurate for them) or because they didn’t think it said anything of value (which it does). Or both. The book got good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, so I’m a little surprised those who mentored so many of us somehow overlooked the book.
Who gets the stars of a General, why and how? One answer comes from respected military analyst and Pulitzer Prize winner, Hanson W. Baldwin. He said, “The shaping of a general … is a process that defies definition or consistent pattern … it can be examined but never analyzed.” Baldwin believes – and so it appears, so does Newman – that leaders, like great writers, poets, or artists, are born, not made.’
This thought is controversial but quickly explained. In the 1970s and before, there had not been many studies on the idea of personality. Recently, psychologists looked at the Big Five personality types and how they influence our choices in jobs, spouses, friends, and how we perceive the world. People are born with these, and that is what Gen. Newman is discussing.
To answer the question of what generals are made of, Newman takes us on a journey to generalship. It is like having your grandmother talk to you about sex; it’s something that you want to know about but not from her. And he tells us of the stereotypes about generals. Like so many oversimplifications, they are based in the truth, but he sifts out the falsehoods.
There are no established specifications for general officers. However, Newman gives us something more substantial in Chapter 54 “What are Generals Made Of?” Looking at the West Point cadets from his time there, he looks back upon those that eventually made the rank of General:
- Knowing which cadets would later become generals is not easy, but there were distinctions. They were well-liked cadets, respected, and got along with others. They all seemed to have an intangible aloofness about them, quiet self-control in manner and bearing.
- Another quality, a vital requirement, was that these cadets stood on their own feet and were not easily pushed around, mentally, or physically.
Stress situations where an officer is tested gives us a look inside the makeup of the best officers. Through years of service, an officer’s judgment, human understanding, courage, wisdom, and moderation are developed. This is what we would call character. An officer measures up and grows, or fades, depending on what he is as a person, not on his IQ, athletic ability, what school he went to, where he came from, or other such suggestions we often hear.