Should Gen. David Petraeus Have Five Stars? It is in some ways the most elite group in the U.S. military — the five stars. There have only been nine men to serve at that rank — all of them during World War II. But a handful of veterans are convinced that the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, should be awarded a fifth star. Several military historians say that's not likely to happen.
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Should Gen. David Petraeus Have Five Stars?

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Should Gen. David Petraeus Have Five Stars?

Should Gen. David Petraeus Have Five Stars?

Should Gen. David Petraeus Have Five Stars?

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It is in some ways the most elite group in the U.S. military — the five stars. There have only been nine men to serve at that rank — all of them during World War II. But a handful of veterans are convinced that the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, should be awarded a fifth star. Several military historians say that's not likely to happen.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Rachel Martin talked with several military historians about why that's not likely to happen.

RACHEL MARTIN: Eisenhower, MacArthur, Marshall, cue the soundtrack.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal earlier this month saying Petraeus deserves a fifth star for leading the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past eight years. Historians say that's just not going to happen.

ROBERT SCALES: That's no reflection on the competence of Dave Petraeus or on the success that he's had, or for that matter, on the regard that the American people hold for him. The difference has to do with the scale.

MARTIN: That's retired Army general and military historian Robert Scales. He says World War II was a war fought for the survival of the nation. Eliot Cohen, professor of security studies at Johns Hopkins University, sees it the same way.

ELIOT COHEN: When everyone thinks about Iraq and Afghanistan, they are not the pivotal conflicts of our nation's history.

MARTIN: The U.S. five-star rank equalized things. Another reason, says Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, is the symbolism.

MICHAEL O: A way of giving the military, which had fought so hard, one more boost of support to say that the nation knew that what was being asked of the military at that point was unusual in the extreme. And one way to honor all the troops was to give their commanders this potential fifth star.

MARTIN: Again, Eliot Cohen.

COHEN: People began to feel guilty that General Pershing, the commander of World War I, who had been the mentor to a number of these people, wasn't made a five star, so they kind of retroactively gave him a fifth star. And then, of course, how could Ulysses S. Grant, how could he not be a five star. And then, my gosh, what do we do with George Washington?

MARTIN: Well, you obviously have to give him a fifth star, too. And that happened in 1976. Still, Eliot Cohen says there's almost something un-American about putting military leaders too high on a pedestal.

COHEN: Deep in our historical memory is the idea of George Washington receiving this commission from Congress and at the end of the revolution, he hands the commission back.

MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

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