An Unsung Soldier by Robert S. Jordan | Books in Review

“It is a point of principle and a point of honor with me—I have never turned down an assignment, and I have never asked to be relieved of any task.” That 1974 statement by Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster could well be the theme of Robert S. Jordan’s An Unsung Soldier: The Life of Andrew J. Goodpaster (Naval Institute Press, 240 pp., $40.95).

Retired USAF Lieut. General Brent Scowcroft opens this biography of Gen. Goodpaster (1915-2005) with a forward that provides a brief, admiring summary of the general’s life. A list of agencies and their abbreviations is provided for ease of reference while reading the text.  A suggestion: Paperclip this page for referencing as the book is filled with pages of well-organized and well-documented information.

An Unsung Soldier is not a book to be read quickly with a light touch; the wisdom within merits time for reflection. Throughout his narrative, Jordan—a former professor at the U.S. Naval War College who also has lectured at the Army and Air War Colleges and the British Imperial Defence College—includes many worthy Goodpaster quotes. They provide deeper insight into the mind and character of his subject, who was widely viewed as one of the brightest men in America.

Perhaps it was his childhood responsibilities growing up on a farm that developed his life-long sense of responsibility. Goodpaster was the first West Point senior to attend a Council on World Affairs Conference where his brilliance and self-confidence began to be noticed.

Germany invaded Poland shortly after Lt. Goodpaster graduated from West Point. After going on active duty, he advanced quickly through the ranks. In 1943, Lt. Col. Goodpaster fought in the Italian campaign with the 1108th Engineer Combat Group and was wounded by a shell fragment .

Following WWII, Gen. Goodpaster was instrumental in developing the nation’s first national defense program. He became a working partner with Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall in dealing with the Soviet Union in the fifties. Goodpaster also had a vital role in developing NATO.

When Pres. Eisenhower suffered a stroke in 1957, he began to rely more and more on Goodpaster. Jordan suggests that one of the reasons these two men worked so well together was because they had similar thought and work processes.

Gen. Goodpaster was directly involved in the Vietnam War for barely a year, but during that time he became familiar with the confusion and indecisiveness at the highest levels of American policy making. When Gen. Fred Weyand asked Gen. Creighton Abrams, “What’s the mission?” Abrams replied, “Who the hell knows?”

Gen. Goodpaster accompanied  Assistant Secretary of State Averill Harriman to the Paris Peace Talks in 1968. Contrary to President Johnson’s directive to negotiate but not compromise, Harriman decided to try to end the war with the best deal possible. Gen. Goodpaster made it clear that that wasn’t his understanding of his commander-in-chief’s orders. In the ensuing argument Goodpaster had the last word.

On 1 July, 1969, Goodpaster became NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander. He brought a unique quality to the group as he had been one of its original founders. One of his greatest challenges was to keep the United States committed to the organization. U.S. forces in Europe had been reduced by 25 percent between from 1963-69. The war in Vietnam and social unrest at home also contributed to the lack of support to NATO.

Working closely with Presidents Nixon and Ford, Goodpaster encouraged the Europeans to do more in NATO while America was doing less. Jordan writes that much of Goodpaster’s success at NATO was due to his temperament, his understanding of politics, and his conviction that NATO was going to succeed.

Goodpaster was contemplating retirement when in 1974 he learned that his assignment would be terminated, and Gen. Alexander Haig would take over at NATO. The White House put out the word that Gen. Goodpaster had requested retirement, which definitely was not the case. He did not attend the change-of-command ceremony.

The final thoughts about the general in the concluding pages are worth the price of the book.

—Joseph Reitz

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