Where Have All the Five-Star Generals Gone? (And Other Follow-Ups)

In this Explainer, you say that there are no five-star generals today. Why not?

The rank of U.S. five-star general was created toward the end of World War II to level the number of officer grades among the Allied powers, which had combined forces. Five Army and four Navy officers received five stars (George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Henry H. Arnold, Omar Bradley, William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King, Chester Nimitz, and William F. Halsey). Bradley was the last officer to receive the rank, in 1950. The rank has lain dormant since then. According to military regulations governing rank, two Army officers achieved superior rank to that of five stars, even though they never got that many. They were George Washington and John J. Pershing.

In the same Explainer you say that Alexander Haig was mistaken when he thought the secretary of state came after the vice president in presidential succession. Just how does it go?

In order, with the people who fill the slots today: vice president–Dick Cheney; speaker of the House–Dennis Hastert; president pro tempore (presiding officer of the Senate)–Strom Thurmond; secretary of state–Colin Powell; secretary of treasury–Paul O’Neil; secretary of defense–Donald Rumsfeld; attorney general–John Ashcroft: secretary of the interior – Gale Norton; secretary of agriculture–Ann Veneman; secretary of commerce–Donald Evans; secretary of labor–Elaine Chao; secretary of health and human services–Tommy Thompson; secretary of housing and urban development–Mel Martinez; secretary of transportation–Norman Mineta; secretary of energy–Spencer Abraham; secretary of education–Roderick Paige; secretary of veterans affairs–Anthony Principi.

The order of Cabinet officer succession derives from when their department, or a predecessor department, was created. Ability to serve also depends on meeting constitutional qualifications. That means foreign-born Chao and Martinez will get skipped over if some Ebola-type virus sweeps Washington. However, being old enough to be entered on Antiques Roadshow, as in the case of Thurmond, is not a disqualification. For a history of how the order of succession has changed over the years, see this site.

In this Explainer you say that Survivor II losers had to hang around Australia during the entire filming. Did they get paid and what did they do while they waited?

Everyone who made it onto the show got paid on a sliding scale depending on how long they lasted. The prizes went from $2,500 for the first person booted off, to $100,000 for first runner-up, to $1 million for the winner. CBS picked up contests’ airfare and accommodations. The company would not say how the losers amused themselves once they left the site–a mock Temptation Island perhaps?

Next questions?

Explainer thanks David Keough of the U.S. Army Military History Institute.