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Inspired by the question, Who is the Russian military commander in charge of the war on Ukraine?; this made me wonder why the United States makes it known who its generals are and what operations they will be leading?

Considering that this would make them potential targets for assassination, although unlikely that it would be successful, the risk is still there. I don't see why the public, much less the rest of the world (with the exception of the friendly forces we are working with), needs to know that information in general.

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    The US has plenty of generals. Even if you had a spy network that could assassinate one general, would you be willing to use it? Chances are pretty high that the spy network would be uncovered, possibly even without succeeding.
    – MSalters
    Mar 8 at 10:59
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    If a general is in a warzone/hostile country where they could be assassinated, they're probably there on business.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 8 at 11:19

5 Answers 5

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The U.S. feels secure from assassinations (and honestly, when was the last time you recall a U.S. general being assassinated, so the sense of security is not delusional), and values having visible heroes/leaders to personify military actions.

Also, it is virtually impossible to keep this information secret from even the most feeble foreign intelligence agency, since tens of thousands of people have a need-to-know reason to know the name of a military general.

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    The last time I recall a general being assassinated it was a drone strike by the US. The U.S. feels secure from assassinations and doing them. So, the question should be why would anyone else put their name out there? Same answer (personify military actions) but for different reasons. E.g., if you didn't like Desert Storm you can blame General Schwarzkopf, not Bush Sr. And if you didn't like OEF, then you can blame [Petraeus et al.] not Bush Jr.
    – Mazura
    Mar 8 at 23:20
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    "Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed revenge for the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad two years ago unless then-President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are put on trial." rferl.org/a/israel-iran-hackers-nuclear-soleimani/31637071.html - if only they had used a name to shift the blame to....
    – Mazura
    Mar 8 at 23:20
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While we could think in strictly military terms about the pros and cons of anonymity vs public knowledge, I do think it is largely irrelevant to your question.

You say:

I don't see why the public, much less the rest of the world (with the exception of the friendly forces we are working with), needs to know that information unless it's somehow relevant.

Why would the public would need to know about such things? And because you're asking that of the United States, I offer you this simple answer: because democracy.

I believe accountability is a requirement for a healthy democracy, and identification is a requirement of accountability. Would you be comfortable with a faceless, anonymous government? I wouldn't. How would you know if Minister of Agriculture has conflict-of-interest ties with agrobusiness? How would you know if Secretary of Defence is a vocal neonazi, or Secretary of Justice a rapist? That members of government are identifiable is a form of checks and balances.

The same extends to people empowered by the government to act in its name. Police officers and members of the military wear uniforms where they are (usually) identifiable. And it's also true of civil servants, which are usually required to identify themselves.

Without the ability to identify someone, the best you can do is lodge a vague complaint and hope the government will figure it.

Of course, this does not mean we should publish the full list of military personnel openly. That would probably be a bad idea, for reasons of privacy and operational security.

Accountability doesn't require that every person be identified all of the time, only that they can be identifiable when relevant. I think military commander being public figures satisfies that. You know who is ultimately responsible for the actions of the troops (not that the troops aren't also responsible of their own actions), so you have a way to check and balance their actions done in the name of your country or, in a perfectly functioning democracy, in your name.

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    That and military command and control. To some extent you'd expect large scale dissemination of who is in charge of a given operation. Otherwise it would be pretty hard to know who to listen to - jockeying for troops and resources is a common activity, even in wartime. As a junior officer you need to know which of two 3 star generals to listen to when they have conflicting requirements. Mar 8 at 17:29
  • (-1) Other democracies are a lot more discrete about operational commanders. The US famously maintains rather large secret intelligence operations and weapon-building programmes. For special ops and intelligence, it's quite common to actively conceal the identity of those involved, certainly at the lower operational levels.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 10 at 11:29
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica That is not how a military chain of command works. The whole chain certainly doesn't need to be public, let alone actively publicised, either.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 10 at 11:29
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    @Relaxed Firstly, I wasn't under the impression "special ops and intelligence" were in the scope of the question, nor did I try to specifically address them. I did mention operational security as a reason to not publish the name of officers, and that would be a circumstance where operational security trumps other concerns. But even then, the directors of intelligence agencies is still a matter of public record. Mar 10 at 13:50
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    Secondly, and for example, the French commander of Opération Barkhane is known. The press reports on Opération Barkhane and the name of the guy in charge of it naturally comes up. The US isn't exceptional there, however it is probably true that the US military operations are more prone to be reported on worldwide than, say, Portuguese military operations. I wouldn't conclude Portugal is more discreet though, rather that the US is much more often under the spotlight. Mar 10 at 13:50
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Part of it also has to do with how the US treats its generals as public heroes, who often go on to political achievements. Note that this list only includes people who were in military leadership roles, and not merely in military service

Some honorable mentions here would include

  • George McClellan - Former general under Lincoln in the Civil War, he would run and lose to Lincoln in 1864
  • Joshua Chamberlain - Only commanded a regiment at the Civil War battle of Little Round Top in Gettysburg, PA. Was so celebrated he became the 32nd governor of Maine
  • Colin Powell - Was Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff under George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State under George W. Bush. Was urged to run for President many times.
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    This is not unique to the US.
    – HorseHair
    Mar 8 at 18:38
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    No, but it created the opportunity to use one of those lovely-looking tables, and we have to celebrate the small victories sometimes.
    – Cody Gray
    Mar 9 at 5:51
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    General McClellan has not had a very good reputation in history, and he probably didn't have one at the time either. Mar 9 at 16:34
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    @Panzercrisis No, but he did win the nomination of a national party. Before the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln's victory was far from assured as well.
    – Machavity
    Mar 9 at 16:44
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In the United States, the public has a right to information about the working of its government. That right is enshrined in the Freedom of Information Act, which covers the workings of the executive branch, including the military. AmiralPatate is correct that this openness is hugely important for accountability in a democracy, but more than that, it is the law. The presumption in general is that whatever the federal government does, the public has a right to know about.

FOIA of course has exemptions, and in particular classified information is exempt from disclosure. But the names and responsibilities of senior military personnel are not classified, nor should they be. Anonymity is not necessary for the performance of their job duties (as it would be for, say, a spy); nor are US national interests harmed in any obvious way by having this information in the public.

Wars are, to put it mildly, often controversial; and they are always matters of life and death. The public absolutely has an interest in the question of who is leading wars on its behalf, and in the U.S. the government has a legal obligation to share that information.

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This practice is simply common. It's not only common in the US.

Russia itself has also regularly made this information available. It even has made it available during its invasion of Georgia in 2014 and during its invasion of Crimea. In fact, I distinctly remember the press conference after the invasion of Georgia. And while I don't remember his name, the 3rd person at the table (with Putin and Medvedev) was the general in charge of the military's actions in Georgia.

As I mentioned in a comment to my answer (to the question which inspired the OP question), the details of this war in Ukraine are as mysterious as its causes and goals. It's part of this war's mise en scene.

In general, it just makes it more practical to know the chain of command.

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