Author: Gordon Sumner, Jr.Posted: June 25, 2014
In his book “Marching On: A General’s Tales of War and Diplomacy” (Red Anvil Press, […] Lieutenant General Gordon Sumner, Jr. (US Army, retired) writes an illuminating memoir of his experiences on the battlefield and as a special envoy for President Ronald Reagan. It provides personal insights of a rising officer on the evolution of the US Army from World War II through the Cold War–including his roles in the Korean, Vietnam, and Yom Kippur wars, as well as in the armed conflicts in Central America.
General Sumner’s book also sheds light on the political minefields military officers sometimes encounter upon entering the culture of diplomacy.
Gen. Sumner writes that when he was a three-star general heading for perhaps four or even five stars, he asked to be retired from active duty (which was granted) during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, in great part because of Gen. Sumner’s disagreement in principle with President Carter over the way the Panama Canal treaties were written.
According to Gen. Sumner, on page 89 of “Marching On,” the US military’s then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. George Brown informed him in the presence of another high-ranking officer that “if I would testify [before Congress] in favor of the treaties, I would be promoted to four-star rank and posted to NATO….I informed General Brown that I was opposed to the treaties as written and would so testify. He could take the promotion and `shove it,’ in more elegant language.”
This stand was a reason that led Gen. Sumner out the door during the Carter administration, but it evidently helped open the door for him to be named ambassador-at-large for Latin America by President Reagan. While some of Gen. Sumner’s bureaucratic rivals may have shaken their heads at Gen. Sumner’s rise, other people could find refreshing what they may see as Gen. Sumner’s outspoken, unafraid willingness to rock the boat when apparently necessary.
Whether refusing to testify in favor of something he doesn’t believe in–even though such politically-related testimony before Congress could get him promoted–or escaping from Chinese soldiers who briefly captured him as a young man wounded in savage combat during the Korean War, Gen. Sumner shows in his book “Marching On” that he is not going to take any guff.
While General Sumner rose to three stars during a long career of very distinguished service in the US Army, he can be awarded five stars for speaking his mind.–Steve Salisbury
Paperback: 140 pages
Publisher: Red Anvil Press (August 2004)