A charter member of the “Greatest Generation”—that stoic cohort of Americans who faced down the Great Depression and defeated fascism, Japanese imperialism, and communism—left us this week.
Edward L. Rowny, known as the “scholar general,” died peacefully Sunday, we learned from his family. He played a part in all of the aforementioned events during his long 100-year life.
The life of this longtime Heritage Foundation friend was too rich in achievements to be allowed to pass without celebration.
Rowny commanded troops in World War II, the Pacific, Korea, and Vietnam. Then, after he “retired,” he advised presidents from Richard Nixon to George H.W. Bush.
Rowny, a West Point graduate, saw action in Italy during World War II, when he chased German troops up Italy’s western coast in 1944. After VE-Day, he went to Japan to help finish the job there.
Five years later, as an assistant to Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the 1950-1953 Korean War, Rowny helped plan the brilliant American landing at Inchon, a port on the western side of the peninsula, while communist North Korea expected the American troops to try to invade Seoul.
Later, he helped tens of thousands of North Koreans escape their tyrannical regime and flee to the South.
In Vietnam, Rowny pioneered the use of helicopters in the fight against the Viet Cong.
His understanding of field realities made him realize that the best way to avoid war is to be prepared for it. That led him to retire from the Army in 1979 in protest against President Jimmy Carter’s signing of the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) II Treaty on limiting nuclear weapons with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
The Senate’s subsequent refusal to ratify the pact wasn’t all due to Rowny’s lobbying efforts (the Soviets helped by invading Afghanistan), but he helped pave the way by making the case that it amounted to unilateral disarmament.
That earned him being called “a hard-line arms-control adviser” in The Washington Post’s obituary this week. We’re sure that he approved of the moniker.
The Post’s obituary recalled Rowny’s impatience with Carter’s rush to negotiate, captured in his quote to the Associated Press: “My problem is that the Soviets come from a country that has a lot of patience and plays chess,” he told the Associated Press in 1982. “I come from a country that has a lot of quarters and plays Pac-Man.”
President Ronald Reagan rewarded Rowny by making him the chief negotiator on strategic nuclear arms, and later, with the rank of ambassador, as his special adviser on arms control.
Like many members of the Greatest Generation, Rowny was of immigrant stock—in his case, Poland—and managed to honor the country of his ancestors while maintaining his devotion to the destiny of his own country.
In fact, it was a perfect balance. Former Time magazine correspondent Strobe Talbott wrote of Rowny: “He liked to remind people, including the Soviets, that he was of Polish descent; the implication was that he had a considerable dose of anti-Russianism in his blood.”