Jeffrey Matthews’ new book looks at dishonorable military leaders—and what society can learn from them.

Jeffrey J. Matthews knows leadership. As the George F. Jewett Distinguished Professor in the School of Business and Leadership, he has spent chunks of his career digging into the subject. And, as a historian, he’s also not afraid to call it as he sees it. His new book, Generals and Admirals, Criminals and Crooks: Dishonorable Leadership in the U.S. Military (Notre Dame Press, 2023), is an investigative meditation on military leadership gone wrong—a tour through hiccups, eruptions, and bad judgment that winds through Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the Tailhook scandal, and the travails of the late Gen. Colin Powell (whose biography Matthews also wrote).

But Matthews, whose father was career Army and whose brother is a retired Air Force general, believes in the military and its potential for ethical leadership. “This is not an attack on the military,” he says of his book. “I’ve gotten to know a good number of people in there. They’re really fine, dedicated, honorable public servants. I’m just spotlighting this very small percentage. But given their power, we have to take the problem seriously.” We asked Matthews to talk about his book and the motivations behind it.