The American Eagle: Mark W. Clark

By Robert M. Citino
4/2/2010 • Dwight Eisenhower, Fire for Effect

Let’s continue a thread we’ve been following here since this blog began last summer.  One of the first things I posted was a pair of ruminations on the fitness of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey (Halsey in the Dock, September 20th, 2009 and Taking Action with Admiral Halsey, September 27th, 2009).  He’s had his supporters and his detractors over the years, certainly, and as is usually the case with such things, they both have their points.  Your comments in response made that clear.  More recently, we discussed the historical reputation of General Lloyd Fredendall, US II Corps commander during the Tunisian campaign who lost his job as a result of Kasserine Pass (Fredendall’s Art of War, March 4th, 2010).  Here the record is more difficult to defend, although some of your comments managed to do just that. 

Here’s another tough call:  the commander of US 5th Army during the long slog up the Italian peninsula, General Mark W. Clark (with the “W” standing for “Wayne,” his preferred name).  You’re not going to find many historians saying good things about him.  A blatant careerist and glory-hog whose ambition exceeded all bounds. A man who cared more about PR and cultivating a heroic public image than he did about actual warfighting, who only let photographers shoot his “good side” (his left, for the record).  Cocky to the point of arrogance.  Peremptory with his subordinates.  Inexperienced.  Not ready for prime time.  Jumped up over more experienced and deserving officers.  A hard-core Anglophobe in a campaign where inter-allied cooperation was essential.  It goes on and on.

To all of which, I might exclaim, “Really?”  More of a glory-hound than Patton?  More interested in cultivating his own image than Rommel?  No one loved war photographers more than the Desert Fox.  Promoted too rapidly? Can anyone here spell “Eisenhower”?  In February 1941, Eisenhower had still been a lieutenant colonel, for heaven’s sake.  Two short years later, he was a four-star general.  Clark was a lieutenant colonel in July 1941 and a three star by November 1942.  In an army expanding as rapidly as this one was, just about everyone got promoted “early.” 

At any rate, I don’t even care if all these personal accusations against Clark are true.  In any organization as large as the U.S. Army, some folks are bound to be more popular than others.  Likewise, anyone promoted as rapidly as Clark was is surely going to have his detractors.  It happens in civilian as well as military life. 

There is another accusation against Clark, however, and from my perspective it is a more serious one.  There are many historians who argue that the man whom the wartime press dubbed “the American Eagle” was actually incompetent.

That one needs more careful analysis.  For the next post, let’s go back in time to September 1943.  Let’s land at a place called Salerno and see what we can find.

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