Someone’s Missing …

I’m sure many of you have seen the following commercial, celebrating the leadership of the United States Army:

Note who’s not there.

If memory is as much about forgetting as it is about remembering, it is also as much about excluding as it is about including.  So where’s Ulysses S. Grant?  Where’s William T. Sherman?  Where’s Joshua L. Chamberlain?

Okay, when it comes to Chamberlain, I jest … although one could argue that as a citizen soldier, he stands there with Theodore Roosevelt.

Look, I can accept that perhaps a picture of Winfield Scott would not cut it given the message, and viewers would not even know who Zachary Taylor or John J. Pershing might be.  But it was under Ulysses S. Grant that the United States Army first raised Regular Army units that recruited black soldiers on a deliberate basis, and I would place Grant above MacArthur when it comes to embodying how we believe the military should function in American society.

Oh, I’m pretty sure I know why the US Army is tiptoeing around its Civil War heritage.  However, let’s remember this: Ulysses S. Grant was general in chief of the armies of the United States, and the nation’s first four-star general (at a time when people have retroactively awarded additional rank, it would seem that Grant might be awarded another star).  Why doesn’t the US Army want to cite him as a leader of whom it could be proud?

31 thoughts on “Someone’s Missing …

  1. Dick Stanley April 28, 2011 / 12:36 pm

    Freeing the slaves doesn’t seem to count for much, does it? Pity. Too many Southerners in the military these days to risk offending, I suppose.

    The Army has never been much good at making commercials, but that one’s pretty fair. At least they haven’t dumped the good Army Strong music.

  2. Chuck Brown April 28, 2011 / 2:19 pm

    I think you’re right about why Grant isn’t featured. Also, as Dick wrote, the army doesn’t want to upset its white southern soldiers.

    Grant was a much better general than Dugout Doug.

  3. Matt McKeon April 29, 2011 / 5:34 pm

    Dude, its an ad. They put in people who can be easily recognized.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 29, 2011 / 6:52 pm

      Last time I looked, Grant was on the $50 bill. Are you telling me Americans wouldn’t recognize him?

  4. Craig Swain April 30, 2011 / 2:44 pm

    Audience and message here are important. I think the intended audience, the primary ad spots in which this will air, and the “pitch” are not factors that lend to a lot of Civil War photos. Indeed aside from Washington and TR, everything in the ad is from the 20th or 21st centuries. (and TR is rather close enough to quibble over.) Certainly not enough evidence that the Army is for some reason sidestepping its ACW heritage here. The real question would be is the ACW relevant to potential recruits? (Yea, that ACW mod for “America’s Army” was pretty much abandonware from the start, but that’s another story.)

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 30, 2011 / 2:54 pm

      If we recall the the US Army’s mission during the Civil War was to protect the nation and then to help secure freedom for others, well,some would say those are missions we honor today. Certainly someone’s going to have to explain to me why Grant’s not there. Why Washington and Roosevelt and not Grant?

      I’ve not seen a convincing comment excusing Grant’s omission.

      • Craig Swain April 30, 2011 / 3:27 pm

        I think you are reading something into my comment that I didn’t say. I agree that lessons from the ACW are certainly relevant to Army leaders today. What I said was that the imagery from the ACW is not relevant in RECRUITING today. Grant’s not there for the same reason Pershing is not (and the same reasons the Navy doesn’t recruit with images of Decatur, Farragut, Dewey, or Nimitz). Washington is only there because of the dramatic painting. Look, the commercial is not a history lesson, it is a pitch. Take it in that context.

        • Brooks D. Simpson April 30, 2011 / 3:30 pm

          The commercial has several contexts, and several audiences. It is about the history of the Army, after all, as a recruiting device, among other things. You can have your take on it, and so can I. When the Army uses its history as a recruiting device, it opens the door to my observation.

          As for the statement “I think you are reading something into my comment that I didn’t say,” well, now you know how I feel about your comments about my Gettysburg casino post not too long ago.

  5. Matt McKeon April 30, 2011 / 3:21 pm

    As a teacher of high schoolers, I can answer with absolute confidence, no, they would NOT recognize Grant on the fifty as General Grant, admirable military leader. He’s just another guy in a beard, hatand baggy uniform.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 30, 2011 / 3:34 pm

      Well, when commercials use Grant’s image on the $50 bill to promote tax preparation software, I assume many Americans do recognize him. My students certainly recognize him, and we’ve seen enough YouTube videos to suggest that other high school kids have some some idea about him, too.

      The commercial uses history as a way to tell a story. It omits Grant, an important part of that story. Now I’m told the commercial is just for recruiting kids, and you seem to be conceding that the target audience isn’t all that well informed. They why waste a history lesson on them? Why not have Snoop peddle the military?

  6. Craig Warren April 30, 2011 / 7:53 pm

    Perhaps Grant is excluded because he waged war against other Americans. That’s probably not an image the Army wants to promote in its advertisements.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 30, 2011 / 10:25 pm

      But didn’t Washington wage war against loyalists? And what would we call Dougie Mac’s actions against the Bonus Army? In both cases the targets included Americans.

      • Craig Warren May 1, 2011 / 6:36 am

        Well sure, but in popular memory both Washington and MacArthur fought foreign enemies. The commercial does not strive to reach beyond popular images and memory.

        • Brooks D. Simpson May 1, 2011 / 9:48 am

          Exactly. And that is why the omission of Grant interests me, although I must admit that the responses her have made me even more interested in the omission, because I don’t find the defensive explanations/justifications very compelling.

  7. Dick Stanley April 30, 2011 / 9:57 pm

    The commercial is not about recruiting kids, per se, but for “kids” (I hate seeing that applied to young men and women who are hardly children) who want to be officers in the military, to go into the Army via West Point, ROTC, and OCS.

    Grant’s ommission is curious, until you think about which Civil War leader gets the art, the fiction, the usual representation of the war these days. That’s Lee, of course, and despite being a superintendent of West Point, it would hardly do to include him in the commercial because of slavery.

    But if you stick Grant in there, it immediately begs the question (at least in the modern mind) of, hey, what about Lee? Easier to lose Grant altogether than stir up a controversy.

    Although I have to agree with Chuck. The inclusion of MacArthur is pathetic. I suppose it was mainly because of the old film of him walking through the surf.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 30, 2011 / 10:29 pm

      I’d question whether the target audience could identify all of the WW2 commanders pictured in the ad.

  8. Lyle Smith May 1, 2011 / 5:16 am

    I finally watched the video. I’m not sure they exclude Grant because he would offend Southerners. Possibly I guess (I don’t know any Southerner who’d truly be offended by an image of Grant), but they also swept past the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. I mean where the heck was Andrew Jackson? Don’t tell me this is because of slavery or Indian Removal, cause he’s on our money too, just like Grant… and a lot more recognizable being that he’s on the $20 and not the useless $50.

    • Lyle Smith May 1, 2011 / 6:08 am

      Make that white Southerners.

      If at all, Lee could have been thrown in Mexican War style perhaps.

  9. ray o'hara May 1, 2011 / 8:23 am

    I’d imagine they just want to avoid any fratricidal imagery and it’s not a slight towards Grant or any other CW hero.

  10. Matt McKeon May 1, 2011 / 10:44 am

    Did you contact the makers of the commercial to see why they chose the images they did? It would be interesting to see what kind of guidelines they would have. No, I haven’t the slightest idea how to do that.

    I don’t doubt they(the potential audience) get the idea of dead presidents on money in tax prep software, but he’s more obscure than Washington or the 20th century images.

    Although the hard rocking, womanizing and homicidial Grant of the youtube videos is funny.

    Snoop promotes Army recruitment…strangely I can see that happening.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 1, 2011 / 10:48 am

      Given who reads this blog, I’m fairly sure this inquiry has already worked its way to someone who could offer an answer, and they are welcome to do so.

  11. Lyle Smith May 1, 2011 / 10:57 am

    America needs Mel Gibson to play Grant in a movie.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 1, 2011 / 11:00 am

      As opposed to Jason Robards or Kevin Kline?

      Sure, Gibson would work. Because all I’d hear would be more on how Gibson and Grant were both anti-Semites. Watch. 🙂

      • Lyle Smith May 1, 2011 / 11:18 am

        Yep, there will never be a Mel Gibson as Grant movie ever filmed. And it’s too the great detriment of Grant.

  12. Matt McKeon May 1, 2011 / 1:11 pm

    Jason Robards is dead, and unavaliable. Kevin Kline seems too cheerful. Russell Crowe?

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 1, 2011 / 3:19 pm

      But Robards did play Grant in the Lone Ranger movie (and put on quite a show). So I know he’s dead, but given the wonders of technology, that’s no barrier to his appearance in a movie. 🙂

  13. KarlGottschalk May 1, 2011 / 2:31 pm

    Perhaps this omission proves Joan Waugh’s point.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 1, 2011 / 3:07 pm

      Not really. To accept Waugh’s argument, which would have made sense had she written it in 1960, one has to banish a lot of work by a lot of people. If anything, her essay stands as an example of constructing a sort of other, a portrait of existing scholarship that serves as something of a setup. The existence of her own book contradicts her essay.

  14. KarlGottschalk May 2, 2011 / 8:59 am

    The point I was talking about is the proposition that although once he was the most popular man in America, Grant is ignored and neglected today. Seems to me that the absence of Grant that you note in the Army’s recruitment ad supports Waugh’s point.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 2, 2011 / 12:45 pm

      If all Joan Waugh wanted to make was that single point, I would disagree, but her argument is richer than that. The question concerning Grant’s absence is why he’s not there. Was he simply overlooked? Or was there a decision not to include him given the purpose of the ad? We can speculate about that, but I don’t think the reason an Army ad does not include Grant is because the United States Army is unaware of Grant. Omitting is not necessarily ignoring.

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