July 18, 2024

there are individuals and events in history so far outside the ordinary that a mere record of the facts, however detailed, cannot convey the worth of the man to the times he graced


Halloween is over, the Day of the Dead is here, and the debate continues… 

Given the opportunity to lead your horrifying hordes with any military leader in history, whom would you bring back from the dead, and why?

Here are the rest of our picks for the best, most frightening, or most macabre responses – again, in no particular order.



There’s only one true choice to lead my horde of the undead and that choice arrives as a matched pair – Mictlāntēcutli, God of the Dead, and his bride Mictēcacihuātl, Queen of the Underworld.

The origin story of both deities are complex, yet myth recounts at least one (Mictēcacihuātl) as having a human origin. Regardless, who better to command these shuffling legions than the very people charged with shepherding them through the underworld?

Mictlāntēcutli and Mictēcacihuātl possess three key characteristics that make them the superior choice:

  1. Purpose & Service. A good leader cares deeply for their charges and moves them forward in service of a higher purpose. This King and Queen are already charged with caring for the undead and know exactly where they’re taking them.
  2. Respect. All undead everywhere already know, love and respect these two and no learning curve or “warming in” period is needed for the followers to know their leaders.
  3. Resilience & Continuity of Command. If brought back to life and then by chance killed in combat, both could simply resume their prior role as deities and lead the undead to victory – no replacement commander necessary. (There are benefits to being a God, after all).

Happy Día de Muertos, everyone!



Why choose David H Hackworth? Colonel David Hackworth, or “Hack” as he was universally known, was an individual that shaped events. However, there are individuals and events in history so far outside the ordinary that a mere record of the facts, however detailed, cannot convey the worth of the man to the times he graced. Hack remains a genius for war in a troubled time in US military history.

Hack of course had the good fortune to serve in the most powerful army the world has ever seen, however unsuited doctrinally to the fight it found itself in. When Hack went to Vietnam, the light infantryman, thanks to the helicopter, was nearing the end of a prolong period of evolution. That evolution led to the adaption of new tactics, the best of those being the simplest, Hack became a master of simplicity. Perhaps Hack’s greatest achievement was to render the situation simple enough and was able enough to direct everything that was for lesser men, complex and the impenetrable. He removed uncertainty, doubt and fear from his subordinates.

That Hack triumphed was due to his command style, this style was based on Hack’s trust of his subordinates. This trust, the basic tenant of mission command was evident in every move. He combined responsibility with the confidence to use his authority as he saw fit. Battalion command fitted Hack like a well-worn overcoat, it embolden and suited him like very few commanders. While many men were given such command, only handful of them have risen to the task. Most fell back on precedent, caution and rote. Among the handful who rose to that challenge, few equalled Hack’s ability or insight into the war at hand.



If resurrection technology existed (or even heads in jars), we should bring back Rear Admiral William Moffett. Best remembered as the “father of naval aviation,” he possessed a unique skill set that led him to success during the interwar period and would easily translate into the modern security environment.

Moffett headed the navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics for twelve years from 1921 until his death in 1933. His remarkable tenure as long as it did because of Moffett’s deft leadership at handling politics, public relations, personnel, and culture. By courting powerful political allies, he maintained his grip on power across four presidential administrations and also received an ever larger share of the navy’s fiscal appropriations. Despite some personal reservations and a conservative officer corps culture, Moffett adeptly used public relations by staging airship flights, entering aircraft into races, and, eventually, getting naval aviation onto the nation’s movie screens. This not only attracted public support but also served to reinforce his political support in Congress. To man this nascent branch, he created an “observer’s course” that allowed senior officers (including himself) to command aviation ships and stations while also establishing planning billets to give younger aviators attractive mid-career options. This allowed Moffett to build a strong talent base of senior and junior personnel whom he could then encourage to develop aviation at the operational and tactical levels, including innovators such as Joseph Reeves and John Towers. The combined effect of these moves kept aviation not only under naval control but wedded aviators to the navy’s culture and vision.

As the DoD wrestles with the growing importance of space and cyber and seek to determine their place within the defense establishment, a resurrected Moffett would be immensely valuable in navigating the cultural and bureaucratic challenges inherent in integrating new technologies into existing organizations.


war tries to escape the bonds that constrain it



Assuredly, anyone who has been stationed in Europe has visited a fort that employed Vauban’s design. For much of the 17th through 19th centuries, his fortification systems influenced the designs of many fortressses. Massive star-shaped concrete structures built on key terrain with clear lines of sight on advancing enemies. Dozens of these fortresses are still intact, dotting the landscapes of France, Germany, and other nations (I have visited Saarlouis, Germany, site of the first fortress built using his system, and practically the entire structure still stands – with the help of a vigilant preservation effort).

But fortresses and defense were not Vauban’s only contributions to warfare. Some historians point to his innovations in sieging fortified locations as more important, and he devoted much of his career practicing the art of the attack. In the 1650s as a junior officer, Vauban distinguished himself in directing or participating in ten sieges. Then toward the end of the 17th century, ironically to siege fortresses designed with his system, he employed a method of “ricochet fire” that broke down the defenses.

It might seem odd to choose a general whose practices closely follow old characters of war, in which focused on physically separating friendly forces from the enemy. However, Vauban was more than a great engineer – he was a prolific writer and strong reflective thinker who adapted his systems several times based on the changing political landscapes of the time and lessons learned from on-going battles. While his original systems might not fit in today’s 360-degree urban environment, Vauban would be the right person to bring back from the dead to develop new systems better aligned to deal with threats from the inside.



No war college masquerade party would be complete without the reincarnation of “General” Otto von Bismarck and his gorgeous bride, Johanna.  On his deathbed, Otto mused that he would finally get to see Johanna who left for the living room “party” a few years earlier. The iron chancellor wore a general’s uniform during much of his public life, although he had achieved only minimal rank in the Prussian Reserve.  No one ever dared, however, to challenge the chancellor on his choice of “emperor’s clothes.”

Otto was reportedly not a great student, but born in 1815 he probably read at least a few pages of von Clausewitz’s On War, which black widow Marie published in 1832 when Otto was a seventeen year-old future prime minister and chancellor. Otto might have read Sun Tzu as well, for he captured Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark and Alsace-Lorraine from France virtually without firing a shot.  One look at his handlebar mustache and piercing eyes would cause many a meeker “trick or treat-er” to head for the hills with fitting chills.

To make the grand Shakespearean entrance complete, Otto could wear an admiral’s costume and arrive on a launch to the tune of “we gotta sink the Bismarck”!  The Bismarck was indeed “the fastest ship that ever sailed the sea”!  Only a Hood-lum could sink the Bismarck with a very lucky shot, but the song and the legend live on.  “When we find the Bismarck, we gotta cut him down.”  Some people blame Bismarck for setting the stage for both world wars, but little did they know that Bismarck was merely promoting the greatest battle-ax and battleship party of all Carlisle time!



“Of course the museum is haunted,” the security guard muttered through a deep German accent. The children in the tour group laughed.  Their teacher did not.  They stood near Bockscar, the B-29 that had delivered the atomic bomb to Nagasaki.  Photographs of destruction covered the walls.

“What you have to understand,” the old guard continued, gesturing around the vast hangar, “the planes here, they are instruments of death.  They were meant for killing, and sometimes they killed, sometimes very many indeed. They remember.  And if they don’t remember, they imagine.  The ones that imagine are worse than the ones that remember.”

A boy giggled and asked, “Are the planes ghosts, or are there people ghosts, too?”

The old guard ignored the teacher’s glare. “There’s one,” he said, “It looks like a man in an old Army uniform. Lots of medals. A colonel, or ended up that way. You see him, never quite in focus. At night, the darkness… clings.”

“Is he scary?” the boy asked.

“In a way. This place belongs to him, and he belongs to it. It’s here because of him. He’s buried in Wisconsin, I think. But he didn’t care for the surly bonds of earth while he was alive, and doesn’t seem to care about them now.” 

The teacher finally spoke up. “I’m sorry, Mr… Carl?  You are frightening the children.”

“Good,” said Carl, “Remember: war tries to escape the bonds that constrain it. He wants to break those bonds. The planes want to break them, too.” The old man gestured to the photographs that surrounded the old B-29, but the teacher had led the children away. “Someone needs to bind him. That’s why I stay here,” Carl muttered, to no one. A hazy figure stood in the shadows, distinct for only a moment, then gone.


The views expressed in this Whiteboard Exercise are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College, U.S. Army, or Department of Defense.

Image: Detail of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld, painted in 1619 and currently in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Image Credit: Creative Commons License.


  1. Notable that Dr. Harvey named a “matched pair,” male and female, but whoever formatted this article chose to list only the man in the header.

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