Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Armchair Generals

Within the past few weeks, several retired generals have spoken out against Secretary Rumsfeld and the conduct of Operation Iraqi Freedom. General Anthony Zinni, the former commander of U.S Central Command,
accused the Bush Administration of "true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility, [and] at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption." Retired Marine Lieutenant General Newbold, who was the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until 2002, said that the Iraq war was executed "with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions — or bury the results." And of course, as I observed in a previous post, Major General Paul Eaton maligned Secretary Rumsfeld and most of the senior uniformed military leadership in a recent op-ed screed.

Everyone in this great, free country of ours is entitled to their own opinion, and the aforementioned generals have a worldview as senior officers that is of no doubt interesting to the public at large. Wilsonizer certainly pays attention when a flag officer takes time to write a piece for the Times.

But deep in the bottom of the cold Army heart of mine that pumps the green Army blood throughout my body, I cannot help but wonder if there is a ring of hell reserved for comfortably retired generals, who utter opinions maligning the efforts of soldiers and commanders in the midst of carrying out wartime missions.

Free speech is a great thing, but in the case of these retired generals, what does it truly achieve? Their words do not hasten the outcome of the war in any way, do nothing to dissuade our enemies or bolster the morale of the U.S. soldiers in combat, and certainly will not strengthen American resolve or even clarify the stakes involved in the war. While each of the generals, in "saying what must be said", apparently quieted the nagging voice of a disturbed conscience, they accomplished little else .

Each of these men was gifted enough to beat the odds and rise to the highest levels of military leadership; together, they served their country in uniform for a combined total of a century. Yet in retirement, when their country (which they all swore an oath to protect, by the way, an oath that in my opinion does not expire until you stop drawing breath) is involved in the most difficult, high stakes war in a generation, what services do these august men offer their country? A few vicious, bitter paragraphs on the editorial pages, and nothing else.

These Generals, all of whom are in the prime of life, might take a lesson from General of the Army George Catlett Marshall.

Hours after retiring from forty years of military service, Marshall, at the request of President Truman, immediately returned to government service as a U.S. representative to China. Marshall later served as an exemplary Secretary of State, and was the architect of the plan to rebuild Europe from the ashes of World War II. Marshall continued serving his country well into his seventies.

General of the Army Marshall served his country without reservation until he was a tired old man; he accomplished a great deal for America and its allies, in war as well as peace. Rather than dither about and diminish himself in op-ed columns, he rolled up his sleeves and continued serving his country, until he had nothing more to give.

I have no doubt that in the coming weeks there will be more General Zinnis, Newbolds, and Eatons, bored and bitter in their retirements,taking time to criticize the Bush administration's handling of the war. There are plenty of these men to go around. If only we had a few more Marshalls. . .


Dymphna said...

The Retired Armchair Generals are starting to resemble the Retired Armchair Presidents. To watch Clinton and --of all failures-- Carter talk about our military forays is beyond disgusting, considering their own track record.

Haven't you noticed that generals tend to be like entertainers? They've been surrounded by aides and flunkies for so long they don't have a grip on reality. Besides, it gets them some noteriety they wouldn't otherwise have if they were positive about our efforts.

I agree with your idea about that ring of hell reserved for this kind of mendacity...

Sure wish we had another few John Boyds around to spill cigar ashes on their ties and generally give them headaches...

docdave said...

A reflection for this holy Easter week end: Judas got 30 pieces of silver for his betrayal of Christ. One wonders how much these once loyal generals were paid for their betrayals.