The average age of Napoleon’s generals was 41, and many of the brightest were even younger. Jean Lannes was named a general at 27, and a field marshal at 35. Andre Masséna was named a general at 35. Louis-Nicolas Davoust was named a general at 23 (really), and a field marshal at 34. Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s legendary cavalry commander, was named a general at 29.
By contrast, in 1939, when France started what would be the most serious debacle in its history, the supreme commander of its armed forces was Maxime Gamelin, age 67. Before the end of the Battle of France, he was replaced by Maxime Weygand, 73. France’s only World War II victories were won by a young general, who had previously written a prophetic book on blitzkrieg tactics, by the name of Charles de Gaulle.
This is a pattern so often repeated in military history that you can’t help but ask, “When will they ever learn?” A military force wins a series of victories. After doing so, it becomes cocky, set in its ways, sure that its tactics will work forever. A hungrier force comes up with new and unexpected tactics. The older force cannot adapt. It is defeated. The phenomenon is so well known that “generals fighting the last war” has become a common expression.
Marshall, Bradley, MacArthur, and Patton were not available for comment.
Actually, compared to some points in our history, we’re promoting officers far faster than normal. In between World War I and II, a Lieutenant could expect to make promotion to Captain somewhere around the 17th year of service. Today, that officer would expect to pin on O-5 around then.