Updated November 16, 2012, 6:18 p.m. ET
David Petraeus and Dwight Eisenhower
The I's Have It
By PEGGY NOONAN
An epidemic of egomania strikes America's civilian and military leadership.
We are becoming a conceited nitwit society, pushy and self-aggrandizing. No one is ashamed to brag now. And show off. They think it heightens them. They think it's good for business.
It used to be that if you were big, you'd never tell people how big you were because that would be kind of classless, and small. In fact it would be a proof of smallness.
So don't be showy. The big are modest.
There is the issuesmall but indicative of something largerof how members of the U.S. military present themselves, and the awe they consciously encourage in the public and among the political class. The other day on his Daily Beast blog, Andrew Sullivan posted a letter from a reader noting the way officers are now given and relentlessly wear on their dress uniforms ribbons, markers and awards for pretty much everything they dowhat used to be called fruit salad. Mr. Sullivan posted two pictures we echo here, one of Gen. David Petraeus and one of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. This is the Eisenhower of D-Day, of the long slog through Europe in World War II. He didn't seem to see the need to dress himself up and tell you what he'd done. Maybe he thought you knew. He didn't wear all the honors to which he was entitled, though he could have used them to dazzle the masses if that had been what he was interested in.
Top brass sure is brassier than it used to be. And you have to wonder what that's about. Where did the old culture of modesty go? Ulysses S. Grant wore four stars on his shoulder and nothing else on his uniform. And that was a fellow who'd earned a few medals...
Great photo comparison. Their demeanors are as different as their uniforms, too.
I would point out one difference. Thru WWII, the American people automatically respected our military, it was largely THEM. Then, along came Vietnam, and anyone seen wearing a uniform in public was in jeopardy.
Over the following decades, with an all volunteer military, respect was reestablished (from afar, since few families any longer had anyone in the military). Perhaps the increase of ‘salad’ over those years was part of the program to regain their stature in the public’s eye.
Grant described what he wore at Appomattox as “the uniform of a private with the straps of a lieutenant general”.
Robert E. Lee was much better turned out. But he lost.
When I saw the photo that was the first thing running through my mind. Not to take anything away from David Petreus, but it seems he need to have an extended uniform coat to put all the glitter on. You don’t either see stars on Dwight!!!
Eisenhower’s reputation preceded him. Thus he wore minimal medals while Petreaus wore full fruit salad plus boy scout merit badges