Military Officers or Just Stooges?

By | September 26, 2013 | 0 Comments


There is Moe, attempting to understand the plans. Larry is about to hit him, apparently the result of a professional disagreement. And Curly is peering into the distance while oblivious to what is happening around him. The Three Stooges made lousy construction workers, but they would make even worse Joint Chiefs of Staff. For military leaders, we need, well…leaders. We don’t need stooges.

It is a sad but instructive fact that despite all the controversy during the Vietnam War, and despite all the grumbling about the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara, not a single high-ranking officer resigned and spoke out. Not one. If you are interested in this subject, check out the books by the late Col. David Hackworth.

The image many civilians have of military officers is that of dedicated, tough men and women who would do anything to accomplish their mission. Yes, but define “mission.” Is it to defeat the enemy and occupy his territory? Or is it to advance their own careers?

To achieve high rank in any large bureaucracy, civilian or military, you must be one part expert in the field and one part politician – sometimes two or three parts. By the time you have stars on your shoulders, you may have more expertise in furthering your own career than in actually winning wars – or even in protecting military bases from attack.

To paraphrase Brad Thor, you may have more expertise in kissing ass than in kicking it.

But there is a risk here. Taking too seriously, the adage, “You’ve got to go along to get along,” may accustom high-ranking officers to going along with almost anything, no matter how illogical or counter-factual it may be, so long as their careers require it.

For example, take the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. His career is distinguished and, so far as I am aware, uncontroversial. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Dempsey is senior military advisor to the president and secretary of Defense. Yes, but define “advisor.” Does it mean give your advice, and then go along with whatever the civilian leadership wants? Does it mean testify before Congress that you agree with positions which you actually oppose? For example:

● Regarding the “sequester,” which President Obama opposed, Gen. Dempsey warned that budget cuts would seriously weaken the military. But now, when Obama proposes budget cuts, Dempsey favors the cuts. That is, the initial cuts, which could be blamed on Republicans, he opposed strongly. But those cuts still stand. Now, when Obama proposes further cuts, Dempsey agrees to the cuts. (Consistency? We don’t need no stinkin’ consistency. We want to keep our jobs.)

● Gen. Dempsey says he favors assigning women to ground combat. When questioned as to whether women can meet the physical standards for infantry service, he declared that he would examine the standards to see if they are “too high.” That is, if women can’t carry the necessary load of weapons, ammunition, food, water, and supplies, don’t transfer them to other duties – lighten the load. If women can’t meet the standard of being able to move a wounded comrade to safety, drop the standard. Of course, Gen. Dempsey won’t be that wounded soldier left under enemy fire – some poor grunt will be. Let’s just hope he’s slightly built and easily moved. Otherwise, he may die from “diversity.”

● Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist and now a civilian contractor, told police he was hearing voices, people were stalking him, and the microwave was controlling his body. The police reported these classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia to the Navy, which did not review his security clearance, much less revoke it. If they had reviewed it, they would have found the two civilian arrests for discharging a firearm recklessly. There arrests occurred after the clearance was first granted. If the arrests had been discovered, and the “voices” had been considered, the clearance would have been revoked and Alexis’ job terminated. But nothing was done. No one risked being accused of racism or bias against the mentally handicapped.

So Alexis was able to enter Washington Navy Yard and kill 12 people before being killed himself. When asked how someone with blatant mental problems could retain a “secret” clearance, Gen. Dempsey opined that people with mental-health problems should be able to get treatment “without being stigmatized.”
The problem isn’t getting access to treatment. The problem is a florid paranoid schizophrenic armed with a “secret” clearance and a shotgun getting access to a sensitive but gun-free installation. Luckily for Gen. Dempsey, it wasn’t one where Dempsey worked. Then he might have thought twice about dangers of being “stigmatized” versus the dangers of being shot dead.

● Malik Hasan trained as an Army psychiatrist. He repeatedly ranted about the superiority of Islam, going so far as preaching to his patients – a serious ethical violation. Nevertheless, Hasan was promoted to major and assigned to Fort Hood, where he demonstrated his devotion to duty by shooting up the place, killing 14. (Not 13, one was pregnant.)

Hasan saw his duty as jihad, not as fulfilling his oath as a commissioned officer. When questioned as to how this obvious troublemaker could have remained in the Army, Gen. George Casey, Army Chief of Staff, declared, “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” Worse than death?

“Diversity?” Diversity of what?

● Diversity of race and ethnic background? Of course.

● Diversity of religion? Yes, so long as that person’s conception of religion does not include making war on all “infidels” and forcibly converting everyone.

● Diversity of gender? Yes, so long as physical and other standards are not lowered to include candidates who are unable to perform the duties of that job safely and effectively.

● Diversity of political belief? Yes, so long as that belief does not include enforcing foreign laws and customs on everyone.

● Diversity of mental health? Only if the problem is mild. But blatant paranoid schizophrenia? Obviously not. Someone you would not hire as a dishwasher was allowed to continue working in a sensitive installation using a “secret” clearance. Now that’s diversity.

● Diversity of loyalty? Absolutely not. A nation, and especially its armed forces, cannot survive if some members are loyal to it and its ideals, while other members are loyal to other nations and very different ideals.

Would we order a dish in a restaurant if the menu described its ingredients merely as “diverse”? Of course not. The dish might include ingredients that were distasteful or even toxic. Then why do we tolerate so-called leaders who advocate armed forces that demonstrate “diversity” – without a full explanation of what that diversity includes?

Of course, neither Gen. Dempsey nor Gen. Casey nor any other high-ranking officer dares to suggest that service members should be allowed to carry firearms on military bases. Fort Hood? Washington Navy Yard? What, me worry? Political correctness and careerism win every time.

Granted, some high-ranking officers have criticized the administration after they retired. Gen. Stanley McChrystal was relieved and retired for unwise comments reported in “Rolling Stone” magazine. His current memoir is said to detail disputes with the White House. But the fact remains that, just as during Vietnam, not one high-ranking officer has resigned in protest.

Civilian control of the military means that there can never be a military coup. But we have never even come close to a military coup in America, except in the fevered imaginations of Hollywood leftists. Indeed, it could be argued that we have come much closer to civilian coups. It could even be argued that we are close to one now.

Recall that military personnel take their oaths not to the president, and not to the government, but to the Constitution. What if the civilian government demonstrates less and less respect for the Constitution? What if the government assumes powers never granted by the Constitution or even imagined by its authors? A military led by yes-men cannot be a bulwark against such a civilian coup.

Civilian control of the military is not a virtue in itself. It is a virtue only insofar as it helps to guarantee the survival of the Constitution and of the freedoms the Constitution embodies. Civilian control is a tool. It is good only insofar as it does good. Generals and admirals who lower themselves to act as ventriloquists’ dummies for the current administration are no better than parrots – but a lot less beautiful, and a lot more expensive.

After all, parrots require only that the paper at the bottom of their cages be changed daily. Cleaning up the excreta of these yes-men generals and admirals will be a lot more difficult.

Moe, Larry, and Curly made hilarious clowns who amused us with zany antics. But in the real world, clowns and their zany antics can lose us our freedom or our lives. We need military leaders, not administration stooges.

In case you forgot, let me remind you what real leadership is:

The attributes of a leader are competence, courage of conviction, and care of subordinates.
− Bing West, author, war correspondent, Marine

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