With President Bush's public sacking of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mike Dugan, Mike joins the historic and venerable Gen. Douglas McArthur, who in his time also sounded too bellicose for Commander-in-Chief Harry Truman. A third, less well publicized, modern general sacking was President Jimmy Carter's removal of Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, who voiced opposition to President Carter's proposed timed pull-out of American forces from South Korea.

Abraham Lincoln undoubtedly holds the record for firing generals, but he did so for the very good reason that his crew of Union generals (until U. S. Grant) wouldn't fight. It's an interesting counterpoint that the three most notably sacked generals of modern times were fired for being or sounding too aggressive.

Some of Gen. Dugan's statements were obviously not well taken politically and a couple might better have been left unsaid. However, the bottom line of Gen. Dugan's position was correct: Air power can, should and inevitably will be a deciding factor if we have to take military action against Iraq. Using air power in ways that minimize the need for allied ground forces to slug it out with numerically superior ground forces and suffer undue casualties does make sense. And applying air power with a "spirit of gradualism" as we did in Vietnam is a defunct and inevitably debilitating strategy.

Obviously no one can challenge the president's right to fire his senior military leaders. However, I can't help wishing that the president had thought it over a bit and concluded that a mere "reining in and chewing out" was a more appropriate action.

For, you see, Mike Dugan is a fighter, and if this country is to win wars instead of making political statements as we have done since World War II, we will need fighting generals, not politically astute generals. God knows we have plenty of those -- so did Abraham Lincoln.


The writer is a retired Air Force lieutenant general.