General is a military rank, in most nations the highest rank, although some nations have the higher rank of Field Marshal. The title is used by land and sometimes air forces. In the navies of the world, the equivalent rank is Admiral. Its equivalent rank in the Royal Air Force and air forces of many Commonwealth Countries is Air Chief Marshal. A "general officer" refers to any rank of general.
The term began appearing around the time of the organization of professional armies in the 17th century. At first, it was added as an adjective to existing names of ranks, yielding "Captain-General", "Lieutenant-General" and the like, used to distinguish the ruler's most important officers and usually made up as needed for individuals, often involving a certain amount of negotiation over precedence. Later, as part of further professionalization efforts, some of the terms, such as "Major-General" (originally "Sergeant-Major-General"), were assigned to specific ranks.
American four-star general insignia
In the United States Armed Forces, "General" may mean either any rank of general officer, or the highest regular rank, which is usually referred to as full general, or four-star general, if it is necessary to identify it specifically. The different ranks of general are identified by the number of stars worn; a General of the Army wears five stars, a General four stars, a Lieutenant General three stars, a Major General two stars, and a Brigadier General one star.
In the British Army, a General's insignia is a crossed sword and baton. This appeared on its own for the now obsolete rank of Brigadier General. A Major General has a star (sometimes called a "pip") over this emblem; a Lieutenant General a crown instead of a pip; and a full General both a pip and a crown. The insignia for the highest rank of Field Marshal, equivalent to an American five-star general, consists of crossed batons within a wreath and surmounted by a crown. Brigadiers, although equivalent to Brigadier Generals in other armies, are not considered to be general officers in the British Army.
German Army formerly had pips somewhat like the British, but with five sides on heavy gold braid shoulderboards to indicate generals. The lowest-ranking general had no pip on his shoulderboard.
Some nations maintain a rank known as Colonel-General which outranks a full general but is subordinate to a Field Marshal. The rank of Colonel General is most often used in militaries which do not have an equivalent to Brigadier General.
During the American Civil War, all generals in the Confederate military, regardless of grade, wore an insignia of three stars in a row with the middle one being slightly larger and placed in an open wreath. One exception to this was General Robert E. Lee who chose to wear the insignia rank of a colonel (three stars) even after he became overall commander of the Confederate armies in 1865.
The correspondent rank for General in the Israeli Defence Forces is Rav Aluf . There can only be one active "Rav Aluf" at a time. The "Rav Aluf" rank is given only to the RAMATKAL (Chief of the General Staff), which is the highest position within the IDF.
Similarly, in Switzerland, General is a title held by the chief of the Army in time of war only. Senior officers used to hold the rank of Colonel (there were "Brigade Colonels", for instance). Nowadays, these ranks are designated without the "Colonel" extension. Generals were appointed during the Franco-Prussian War, First World War and Second World War, although Switzerland did not take part in any of these conflicts. An exception to the rule is the rank of the senior Swiss officer detached to the line of demarcation in Panmunjeom, South Korea, who is designated "General" for equality purposes.
In France, generals are named after the type of unit they command. In ascending order these are Général de Brigade, Général de Division, Général de Corps d'Armée and Général d'Armée. The insignia for these ranks is two to five stars (one more than for the equivalent rank in the United States). The six star insignia is reserved for the local commander of the Paris defense sector regardless of his actual rank. The appointment of a Maréchal de France, wearing seven stars, is purely honorary.