Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


Where Have All the Leaders Gone? by Lee Iacocca








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What kind of cigar is Lee Iacocca smoking on the cover of his new book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? If the cover is meant to reflect the text, it’s probably blunt. From the beginning to the end of this book, Iacocca is outspoken and outraged about the paucity of leadership on a variety of significant issues. His emotions flow on every page, and he can often be inspiring, given his indefatigable optimism. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 4, “Aren’t We Supposed to be the Good Guys?” pp. 33-38:


I’ve had a new word added to my vocabulary. The word is waterboarding. I kind of wish I’d never heard of it. No, it’s not a new sport. It’s a method of torture that involves dunking a pris­oner underwater until he almost drowns, then pulling him up for air—and repeating the process until he talks. It can give you nightmares if you spend too much time thinking about methods of torture. But what really gives me nightmares is finding out that the United States is the one doing the torturing.

Hey, aren’t we supposed to be the good guys?

Look, I’m not naïve. I know war is hell. As General George Patton used to remind his troops during World War II, war is about killing. It’s bloody. But even in war, our nation has always chosen to uphold a certain moral code. We have declared that we are not going to become the evil we are fighting. I’d like someone to explain to me how torturing prisoners has become the American way.

And don’t try to sell me that line of bull about how Sep­tember 11 changed the rules of the game. September 11 was a horrible day. It was an act of unimaginable evil. But I just don’t buy it that because a group of terrorists attacked us on Septem­ber 11, we’re suddenly justified in torturing people. I don’t buy it that it’s patriotic to pull people off the street and hold them indefinitely—and maybe forever—without even having to tell them why. Or ship them off to secret prisons in Eastern Europe. That might be worse than torture.

It’s pretty sad to think we’ve come to this point. It makes you nostalgic for the leaders of the past.

I can still remember how things were right after we defeated the Nazis in World War II. We had captured some of Hitler’s top henchmen, and everyone was wondering what we were going to do with them. These were guys who had ordered the murder of millions of innocent people in concentration camps. These were guys who had conducted cruel medical experiments on little children. They were evil, in the truest sense of the word. A lot of people thought we should just line them up and shoot them, or turn them over to the concentration camp survivors and let them be torn apart. Emotions ran pretty high. Would anyone really have objected to torturing those sons of bitches? I doubt it. But we had leaders then who reminded us of our higher ideals. Win­ston Churchill and Harry Truman insisted on holding the Nuremberg Trials. Think about it. We took the worst criminals of our times and we put them in a court of law. We gave them lawyers. We didn’t become the evil we were fighting.

I also remember a few years later when the United States signed on to the Geneva Conventions. Who were the most enthusiastic supporters of the Geneva Conventions? Well, it might surprise you to know that they were two great military heroes—General Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisen­hower. You wouldn’t call them pansies or bleeding hearts. They were speaking from experience. They’d seen how American soldiers were tortured and murdered in Japanese prison camps. The Geneva Conventions were meant to protect our soldiers in captivity. From that day forward, even during the Vietnam War when the North Vietnamese refused to abide by the Geneva Conventions, we always did.

Until now.

Vice President Cheney has argued in favor of torture. He said, “We have to work through, sort of, the dark side.”

Sort of the dark side? Hey, I have news for Cheney. There’s no sort of about it. Torture is the dark side.

I can’t believe we’re even having a discussion about whether it’s okay to torture prisoners. The people who think torture is okay seem to get most of their examples from the movies or TV dramas. They always give some outlandish exam­ple, like, if you were holding a guy who knew of a plot to blow up America, wouldn’t torture be justified to get information? The problem is, that’s not what is really happening. What’s really hap­pening is that you’ve got a bunch of guys who were rounded up in Afghanistan, handed over to the U.S. military by locals, and shipped off to Guantánamo. To my knowledge, there’s not one leader of Al Qaeda in the bunch. Am I the only one who’s embarrassed that they call Guantánamo the American gulag?

By the way, morality aside, I think we have to ask this question—even when we’re talking about torture: Does it work? Most experts on the subject say that under torture a prisoner will tell you anything you want to hear. But it won’t necessarily be true. And that’s what’s really pathetic about this whole mess. We’re trashing our principles, and we’re not even getting any­thing in return.





When I say I’m proud to be an American, what I mean is that I’m proud to live in a nation that is a force for good in the world. I’m proud to live in a nation that values human life. I’m proud to live in a nation where we “hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We don’t say “some” men. We don’t say “except when we decide you’re evil.” How did we lose our way?





Words matter. Winston Churchill, one of the great orators of the twentieth century, put it this way: “Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. Aban­doned by his party, betrayed by his friends, stripped of his office, whoever can command this power is still formidable.”

Words can inspire. They can lift us to heights we never dreamed possible. Words can also provoke fear and rage. They can pound people into the ground.

A true leader always strives to inspire. That doesn’t mean he can’t express outrage. But he motivates people to act by appealing to the good in their hearts, not the evil in the hearts of others. He motivates people with possibility, not with threats. President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “You don’t lead by hit­ting people over the head. That’s assault, not leadership.”

If you want to know how we got to the point of condoning torture, all you have to do is look at the trail of rhetoric from our leader:

Axis of evil

Mushroom cloud

Shock and awe

Wanted, dead or alive

Ticking time bombs

Enemies of freedom

The forces of darkness and tyranny

You’re with us or against us

Bring ‘em on


Do you start to see a theme here? We can’t bully the world into submission. We can’t expect to win cooperation by calling peo­ple evil. You don’t have to talk tough in order to be tough. I have a simple piece of advice for President Bush: Fire the goddamned speechwriters!

Look, this planet is a crowded place, and the only way we’re going to survive is to learn to get along with one another. Now, you can decide that the way to lead is to knock off all the people you think are against you, but that’s never really worked, has it? And it’s not what democracy is all about.

It’s time to get back to basics. What is democracy, anyway? Who are we as a people? Are we willing to do what it takes to be the good guys?


Iacocca also fesses up to some of the mistakes he’s made in retirement on these pages, and gives his candid appraisal of the current crop of presidential aspirants. Where Have All the Leaders Gone? will please many readers, while some will dismiss Iacocca as tired and irrelevant. During a time when most public figures are cautious about what they day, Iacocca breathes fresh air into challenging issues, and presents a common sense, plain-speaking alternative to the spin-controlled rhetoric heard far too often.


Steve Hopkins, June 25, 2007



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the July 2007 issue of Executive Times


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