Gen. Ed Rowny: "Smokey Joe & the General"
Former Ambassador and Lt. General USA (Ret.) Edward L. Rowny, who is a long-time member of the International Advisory Board of the World Security Network Foundation, recently published a book, "Smokey Joe & the General" (Order the book via Amazon here), which is a combined memoir of his military and diplomatic career and biography of his mentor, Gen. John E. Wood.
Gen. Rowny, now 96, served in the Army from 1941 until 1979. He commanded forces in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. He also served in senior positions in the Department of Defense on the staffs of Gens. Marshall, Eisenhower and MacArthur. He also served as Gen. MacArthur's official spokesman during the Korean War. He rose to the rank of lieutenant general before retiring from the Army in protest over President Carter's signing of the SALT nuclear arms reduction treaty, which he viewed as unequal and unverifiable. He later campaigned for Ronald Reagan, and upon Reagan's election as president served as chief negotiator of the SALT II talks and an arms control advisor with the rank of Ambassador. President Reagan awarded Rowny the U.S. Citizen's Medal as one of the chief architects of "peace through strength."
Gen. Rowny's book offers readers with military and civilian backgrounds a unique look into some of the defining foreign policy events of the 20th Century. Beginning with his experience as a West Point cadet and a young officer under Gen. Wood's command, he tells how Gen. Wood and other senior officers innovated Army training techniques and command procedures. Gen. Rowny relates how he applied this type of ability to innovate in his own command experiences, from air-dropping a bridge to evacuate Marines from Chosin, Korea to introducing the concept of armed helicopters into Army combat. The book provides the reader with a unique perspective on senior-level government service both in the military and the political spheres.
Hubertus Hoffmann: You were an undergraduate engineering student at Johns Hopkins. You write in your new book "Smokey Joe and the General" about your experience attending the Berlin Olympics that propelled you to apply to West Point. What else in your upbringing drove you to pursue a career as an Army officer?
Edward Rowny: Growing up I lived with my maternal grandmother, who was steeped in Polish history. She told me a great deal about the life and career of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who served as General George Washington's engineer and built West Point. She encouraged me to pursue the military as being the most socially mobile career because promotions were based on performance.
Hubertus Hoffmann: As the child of Polish immigrants, your parents engaged you with the history of Poland. What else drove your early interest in international affairs?
Edward Rowny: My grandmother exposed me to Ignacy Jan Paderewski – the renowned pianist, composer and statesman. Paderewski drafted the thirteenth of President Wilson's fourteen points for the Versailles Treaty, leading to the resuscitation of a free, independent and democratic Poland. Later, Paderewski's example had a profound influence on me. When I started high school, another student and I organized the Polish Students Association. We got together every Saturday night for a historical lecture on Poland followed by dancing to the jukebox. My uncle was an architect who designed and raised the money to build a monument to Casimir Pulaski within Patterson Park in Baltimore. Accordingly, my relatives passed along their interest in Polish and Polish- American history to me.
Hubertus Hoffmann: You describe your meeting with Turkish President Kemal Ataturk in Smokey Joe in 1936. Can you talk a little bit about what drove you to seek out the meeting? It's an experience that would overwhelm many college students – were you intimidated? Did you feel like you could speak freely with Ataturk?
Edward Rowny: I was in Poland on a Kosciuszko Foundation scholarship that encouraged foreign travel. They gave me travel funds to visit other countries in Europe. After visiting the main capitols of western and central Europe, I wanted to go as far east as I could. I discovered that Ataturk was in Istanbul at the time of my visit. I boldly proposed to the U.S. attaché that I would like to meet Ataturk and was pleasantly surprised that he agreed. The president's willingness to meet with me and the gracious manner in which he received me helped me overcome my intimidation at meeting him. I wasn't nearly as knowledgeable about Turkey or its part of the world at the time, but I knew that Ataturk had done a lot to modernize the country. He was interested in my views of the Berlin Olympics and he agreed with me that war with Germany was imminent and that many countries would be involved. I recall that after I returned home I exchanged a round of correspondence with Ataturk.
Hubertus Hoffmann: When you began your career as an Army officer and were placed in command of others, what challenges posed by leading other men most surprised you?
Edward Rowny: Conventional wisdom held that leaders are born and not made. On the other hand, West Point taught that leaders can be trained. I had no illusions that I was a natural born leader. But I was surprised that I could develop leadership techniques. I learned that leadership began with acquiring military professionalism. Later, leadership was enhanced by adopting exemplary character traits.
Hubertus Hoffmann: In the book, you talk about your command experiences in the Korea and Vietnam Wars. Now that decades have passed since their conclusion, how do you think each war is viewed – both by those who participated and by later generations of Americans?
Edward Rowny: In Korea, I learned that the enemy was highly indoctrinated by the Russians. I had observed the Russians in Panmunjom developing and utilizing the same negotiation techniques they would employ in our arms control negotiations. We did not have trained negotiators in the U.S. and I resolved to do what I could to develop U.S. negotiators. Regarding Vietnam, one big lesson I learned was the extreme difficulty we faced in changing a bureaucracy that was highly risk adverse and reluctant to change. As we worked to introduce armed helicopters into Vietnam, I had no idea we would face such great resistance to any form of change. In the end, our Cabal of Four, by virtue of being in influential positions within the bureaucracy, had to get around the system and circumvent bureaucratic obstacles to implement our plan.
Hubertus Hoffmann: You recently traveled to Korea – how would you characterize the view of contemporary Koreans towards America, as compared with contemporary Vietnamese?
Edward Rowny: America is viewed very favorably in Korea, particularly among the older generation, for its actions during the Korean War. We rescued South Korea from certain defeat. In Vietnam, we were not successful in preventing a Communist takeover. Accordingly, the Vietnamese do not regard us as highly as do the Koreans. In Korea, the younger generation has very little knowledge of the war, or feel for America's role in it. The Korean government was interested in publicizing our visit to help educate the younger generation. Referring back to Vietnam, the Western media played a large role in influencing Vietnamese opinion, and in fact, world opinion, about the role America played in Vietnam.
Hubertus Hoffmann: Following your career in the Army, you served as an arms control negotiator. You had studied Russian, but what most surprised you about working with the Russian officials over an extended period?
Edward Rowny: In Graduate School I had read accounts of previous negotiations with the Russians. I learned that the Russians were very skilled negotiators. By studying our history, culture and language, they were able to put themselves in our shoes. They developed highly professional negotiating skills. In contrast, we Americans did not develop the same familiarity with Russian history, culture and language. As an example, I was the only Russian speaker on our team whereas every member of the Soviet team spoke English.
Hubertus Hoffmann: How did you see the Army change during your career? As someone involved in West Point alumni affairs, do you think today's Army officers are well prepared for the challenges they face? If you were beginning your Army career today, what do you expect would be different about your training?
Edward Rowny: The army changed for the better after our experience in Vietnam. The Army placed more emphasis on the need for leadership, discipline and control over the troops. When I was the commander of the troops on the DMZ in Korea in the 1970s, I visited Vietnam. I was absolutely shocked by the lack of discipline I saw in Vietnam and thought that the Army had sunk to a new low. I was pleasantly surprised that in the 1980s and early 1990s the Army gained a better understanding of the need for strong discipline and leadership.
Hubertus Hoffmann: What are your views about the current level of engagement Americans have with the world? Are Americans as informed or curious about international relations as they should be?
Edward Rowny: No. We have lost our interest in international relations. We care a great deal about domestic affairs but pay very little attention to foreign affairs. There has been a pattern of U.S. administrations reacting, and not leading, in the international sphere. It makes for a much different tenor than a generation ago.
Hubertus Hoffmann: You served in senior position in both the Army and the White House staff. Could you describe the differences in leadership and decision-making styles that you found among military and political leaders?
Edward Rowny: Leadership in the military was largely based on the traditional hierarchy and chain-of-command, whereby subordinates were expected to follow their leaders' orders without an explanation of the rationale behind the order. In contrast, political leadership is based more on convincing subordinates to follow their lead.
Hubertus Hoffmann: Smokey Joe is about your relationship with your mentor, Gen. John Wood. What advice do you have for younger generations about seeking mentor relationships in their careers?
Edward Rowny: My grandmother had a saying that "The thing wrong with a self-made man is that he is often the product of unskilled labor." I was strongly advised that leaders search out good role models and follow their example. This often leads to the fortunate circumstance where the role model becomes a mentor.
Hubertus Hoffmann: Thank you very much General Rowny. We are very proud to have you on our International Advisory Board. We admire what you have done during your long carrer for us all in the free world. You are our hero and role model for the young generation!