Small Wars Journal

Whatever Happened to Larry Cable?

This is a sad but true story, many who contribute and visit here probably have opinions concerning this once "acknowledged guru" of our operations in Vietnam. Ben Steelman of the Wilmington Star-News has an update - sort-of - enough said.



Thu, 11/17/2011 - 1:05am

I attended Shimer College with Larry Cable in the early 1960's. Larry definitely did NOT graduate from Shimer College. He flunked out in 1963. Even then, he was considered a bit strange.

eugnid (not verified)

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 4:10pm

Cable was never too convincing as he tended to overgeneralize. It wasn't a summative generalization it was the kind: "Look I went through it at every level, don't tell me."

In those days one did not challenge one's military experience as military experience was considered rather limiting. Yet his main tendency was in disusing ideas about the mechanisms operation in our intervention. The same came to be an issue with several other academics and escalate to big bucks in the case of an NGO building schools on three cups of tea in Afghanistan.

One cannot help but wonder why it is that in America it is always the person and not the idea that counts. Could it be the mercantile character of current intellect?

Meaningful Dialogue made Vietnam a self-exposing war. This has yet to happen as the media chooses sides, the ex-military elaborate their own stories and the think tanks churn out their ideologizing-- all in monologue as if the other didn't exist. Is this why we've been so dumb in making current history? Namely, the nation and the ideas in service of personalities? Surely the big bucks are made during conflict, not after, so what's pushing this name brand attitude? Haven't all these guys something useful to say?

dinokr (not verified)

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 4:06am

In talking with my wife about this, I was reminded of an incident that makes me question the validity of the charge that he had not served. I was in his office with other students when a classmate came to talk to him and said that he had been a Marine. Instead of showing fear that he would be exposed, Larry Cable traded Marine Corps stories with the guy. They had common experiences and Larry described training events and locations that the ex Marine knew of. If he feared being exposed, Cable would not have had that conversation. Not to mentioned he would look at people in the eye when talking about past events; liars avoid eye contact.

I also saw Larry under the influence of booze one time after we had some drinks. He never got out of character. If he was acting, he was the best ever.

As for his political leanings. Cable was Republican through and through. I can tell you this because I saw him get in to it with liberal profs at UC. The left teachers hated him for his views. Any attempt to link him to the left are laughable.

But Larry was very critical of the way the war was conducted and how it did not have to be lost. His views, I'm sure did not gain him friends in the conventional arms community. But to even insinuate that he was anti-war is laughable to those that knew him. He just hated that we lost. He blamed generals who wanted to re-fight WWII in the jungles and politicians.

As for the Phoenix program, he mentioned it briefly in class, but not as extensively. I do remember him saying that such programs were doomed to accidental killings at best and abuse by interested parties at worse. He never said he was a part of it in front of me.

I can't say I'm 100% certain he was straight up about everything, but one thing I do know is that if he had so much contact with real Marines, they would have been able to spot lies easy. My experience with Marines is that they share a common bond they do not share with us from the other services. You don't fit in to their world by reading books and watching movies.

dinokr (not verified)

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 12:23am

It was hard reading this about Dr. Cable. I knew him in the late 80's when he taught history at the University of Cincinnati. To say he was popular (with the students) would be an understatement. I and a few other ROTC students took about all his classes and learned allot about counterinsurgency, history and covert opps. He had plenty of stories to tell. My wife and I visited him at his home and on a couple of occasions went drinking with him. If he was the fraud some claim him to be, he deserves an academy award for acting and chose the wrong profession. What he did tell me, that I do not care to repeat in case its true, was too involved in my view for it to have been made up. But then I guess given enough time and effort a person can make up anything. I'll never know.

My family had looked for years to find record of my great uncle's service and combat death in WWI. After a while, we started to question if any of it was true and he like others had faked his war service by sending home a faked document. But just this year we found evidence of his service and death by a witness of his last battle. Like most immigrants he had changed his records can be lost or changed. And in the case of special operators, their service can be classified.

Either way, him lying or having his character questioned, are both sad.
Where ever he is, if he is still with us, I wish him and his wife well and hope he found some peace.


Fri, 07/17/2009 - 10:20am

Why do "wanna-bees" always pretend to be a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine (or CIA, FBI, 3-letter agency guy) and never a cardiac surgeon, corporate lawyer, record label mogul, computer software genius or Congressman?

Steve (not verified)

Tue, 07/14/2009 - 7:53pm

I took several of Dr. Cable's classes until my graduation from UNCW in 1996. Since I was in my 30's when I attended, I was amazed at the amount of Liberal indoctrination. One professor actually told students that the closest thing to Hitler at the time was someone like Jesse Helms and they dutifully wrote it down without question. It was refreshing to hear from someone (Dr. Cable) who I believed to be a combat vet, had bled for the country and had an incredible ability to give detailed lectures without notes. His insights into counter insurgency, revolutions, etc. were eye opening. It is disappointing to hear that his Marine vet persona was all an act. He could have pulled off the same routine as an ex-domestic terrorist and still retained tenure.

Steve (not verified)

Sun, 07/12/2009 - 5:36pm

We will probably never know the extent to which Larry Cable misled or lied to us. Regardless, the fact remains that there are serious problems with BG Burketts research methodology in the writing of his book, Stolen Valor. That he accused Cable of never graduating from Shimer College, when in fact he had, certainly raises a major red flag. After all, how seriously should we take the writing and accusations of someone who missed something that is part of a public and non classified record? Additionally, Mark Moyars book, while well researched, accused Cable of not having served in Quang Ngai based on the use of his name, when the use of a nom de guerre while in Vietnam would not have been impossible or implausible. Again, one must wonder about the methodology employed here.

Whether Cable served in the USMC or not is irrelevant to the impact of his teaching and writing, which have never been challenged on their merits. From my perspective, it is unreasonable to be so dismissive of Cables scholarship and impact based solely on this controversy. Cables impact on our collective historical understanding of insurgency and counterinsurgency has never been intellectually challenged. Also, as someone who personally knows more than just a handful of his former students, I can attest to the fact that a significant number went on to public service, in many respects as an extension of their experiences with Cable in the classroom and in personal interactions. I also have no doubt that he had an important impact on the lives of many of his students - if in no other way than by showing them how important and interesting the subject of history is and should be to all of us.

Rather than see dismissive ad hominem attacks, I would be more impressed to see some new and legitimate ideas, research and scholarship that challenge Cables historical writings and his impact on our understanding of the Vietnam War, small wars, and counterinsurgency. For example, one of Cables theories regarding counterinsurgency operations emphasized the need for patience, persistence, and perseverance and the need for cultural awareness and the building of rapport based on honest interactions between US forces and local leaders and forces. This is absolutely being employed in Afghanistan in USMC operations where they have adopted an operational model of keeping Marine units in villages for extended periods and pairing them with local forces to include close coordination with local elders and leaders. This is much like the CAP/RF/PF model from the Vietnam War. The question remains if contemporary USMC leadership and US political leadership have the patience to see such operations to their logical and legitimate conclusions. I would suggest that, in the face of mounting economic pressure, we might have some problems. It is interesting to look at this in comparison to Vietnam where economic pressure was far less but the motivation to end CAPs was internal to the military where CAPs did not produce the body count of conventional operations. Could such pressure eventually emerge in Afghanistan since the operational tempo of these USMC forces is not as high as in other areas of more conventional operations?

The US is usually an impatient nation in war but the George W. Bush administration proved resilient to such pressures. President Obama entered office with a commitment to put a time-table on withdrawing the bulk of US forces and bring an end to the war. It seems he has had to reevaluate that position and his JCS has committed to the new commander in Afghanistan that tehy will consider whatever force level he needs - so long as every service member is necessary and fully employed in accomplishing the mission at hand. Can the Obama administration sustain that and limit its reactions to political pressures to withdraw so long as US forces keep the American body count to a minimum? Will that be enough? Or will they have to bow to the mounting economic pressures of significant force deployments in two nations?

Or, in the words of Cable to numerous students and USMC/USAF officers over a decade ago, will the US have the patience, persistence, and perseverance to see this through to some level of victory and stability in the Middle East?


Sun, 07/12/2009 - 9:49am

I disagree that Cables ability to enthrall qualifies him for a semi-qualified position of respect, in re: he "made a difference" because some of his students went to work in government or other related jobs. One would need to conduct an exhausting interview process to determine whether or not Cable was so effective as a college professor he motivated otherwise ambivalent students to enter into public service. I wonder how many he motivated to join the Marine Corps?

He was certainly captivating. Ill never forget his opening statement "I was a bad Marine", which commandingly boasted as a strolled out on to the stage as a guest lecturer for the USAF Special Operations School course I took in the mid-nineties.

Habitual liars are thoroughly disreputable people. They are a cancer on society and they need to be expunged from its system. Odd indeed, individuals like Cable and Ward Churchill have a similar distinctive manner of dress, worked in a collegiate environment and somehow managed to still have a few strident people supporting them despite their transgressions.

No matter their motivations, they fully deserve the shame, scorn and going forward complete isolation to contemplate their dishonorable and disgusting behavior.

Matt (not verified)

Fri, 07/10/2009 - 1:51pm

It remains a shame. Looking back there is no clarity on his personal history. Yet the article notes well the strength of Cable's research and historical writing. He made an impact on many people in the military. And a lot of students went on to government work and other related jobs that they would not likely have been involved in otherwise. If that is his legacy, then Cable did make a difference. Just a shame that his public personal suffered this fate whether it was self-inflicted or not.