You know, it’s funny.
Funny ironic, not funny ha ha.
When I write something that calls for reason, for compromise, for listening to both sides of the debate (whatever the debate might happen to be at that particular moment), I get more vitriolic mail, push back, and negative comments, than when I pen something far to either side of the political spectrum.
Now, to be fair, I get hate mail no matter what I write, even if it’s about coffee shops, or auto maintenance, or kittens who fart bacon scented sunshine and rainbows – and there’ll always be at least one guy who agrees with what I wrote but hates how I wrote it and writes to tell me what a pompous ass I am.
And to be completely fair, I do get a marked increase in supportive correspondence from folks close to America’s political center as well. But when I write something people perceive as an attack on one side or the other, such as the America post, it gets shared all over the social media sphere. America and its two follow-up posts were shared over a hundred thousand times on Facebook alone, and continue to generate a minimum of a thousand pageviews a day from sites like StumbleUpon. While it’s true that I had to close the comments under America because airlocking the trolls became a fulltime job, I got a lot more email that said, “HA! I can’t wait to show this to my jerk of a [coworker, friend, relative, spouse, gerbil, etc].”
But write something about compromise, and people are almost embarrassed to share it. I got a number of requests to share and repost the previous article, So, You Hate The Debt Deal, but not nearly as much as for the more partisan posts. Now, I admit to the possibility that fewer people shared the post simply because they didn’t like it, didn’t agree with it, thought the writing sucked big hairy donkey gonads, and didn’t think it was worth inflicting on their friends or enemies – though if history is any guide, a lot of people pass along things they dislike just to irritate the people they also dislike.
What puzzles me, and prompted part of this post, was the number of folks who emailed to say, in essence, “I agree with the spirit of your article, but there’s no fekkin’ way I can share this with my friends or my enemies because they’ll think I sold out…”
And that seems to be the general opinion in the larger political conversation too. Conservatives think John Boehner sold out. The TEA Party thinks most of their representatives sold out. Liberals think Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi sold out. And everybody thinks President Obama sold out.
As I was sitting here reading through my email and trying to decide if I wanted to write a post on this subject or just hit “Select All/Delete” and then pour myself another slug of Jameson’s, I came across a note from reader Norman Rea.
Norm asked me what I thought about an opinion piece that appeared today on CNN. It’s column written by Colonel Paul Yingling, US Army. The Colonel is no stranger to those of us who served and continue to write and read about the military. Yingling is no armchair officer, he served five combat tours (three in the Gulf War, and two during the current conflict), and somewhere between deployments he earned a Master’s in International Studies, taught at West Point, and managed to graduate from the Command and General Staff College and School of Advanced Military Studies.
And then, in 2007, as a Lieutenant Colonel, he took on the General Corps.
And if you don’t think that takes some big huge Oysters, you don’t know a damned thing about the military. Yingling penned an article called “A failure in Generalship” which appeared in the Armed Forces Journal and where he made a strong case that the US Flag Officer Corps needs a serious reboot – which is where I first heard of him and started avidly reading the good Colonel’s stuff. Here’s a quote,
“the intellectual and moral failures common to America’s general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitutes a crisis in American generalship”
Intellectual and moral failures.
Jesus Haploid Christ.
If you think that went over well with the Four Stars, you’ve probably imbibed more Irish than I have tonight. Yingling is about as popular with the general officer corps as wet bird shit on dress blues, most especially because he committed the unforgivable sin of being right.
And yet – and yet – he was still prompted to full bird colonel after saying that and much worse, which is as much a statement on the the correctness of his words as his action was a testament to his moral courage.
Today, he is assigned to the George C. Marshall Center in Germany where he is a professor of Security Studies and the deputy director of the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies. Listen, seriously, you don’t get that job unless you really, really know history, global politics, religion, law, demographics, current events, domestic and international military matters from bottom to top and sideway in all directions – along with about half a dozen other disciplines.
So, as I said, this guy isn’t any slouch, when he speaks, you should listen – I didn’t say you had to agree, I said you should listen. Carefully. Those generals, as pissed as they were, did. And still do.
In the article that appears today on CNN, Yingling takes on yet another General – and comments directly on the topic of compromise.
This time it’s Lieutenant General Russel Honoré (ret), commonly called “the Ragin’ Cajin” by his Soldiers and known to America as the Hero of New Orleans.
Honoré isn’t any slouch either, and he’s damned far from being an armchair general. He’s loud, mean, impatient, outspoken, eats puppies whole and whimpering, and is the kind of guy who kicks ass and doesn’t give a crap what your name is. Like Yingling, he’s a professor, at Emory and Vanderbilt Universities. You met him in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when he took over military relief efforts following the disgraceful performance of just about every other local, state, and federal authority.
There aren’t many folks in Louisiana who wouldn’t cheerfully buy the General a beer.
On August 2, Honoré penned an opinion piece for CNN titled “For lesson in shared sacrifice, send Congress to boot camp.”
The piece begins with,
“Like most veterans, the men and women who have worn our nation's uniform to defend this country, I am furious with and disappointed in the state of indecision that plagued Washington these past few weeks…”
Then the general goes on to talk about shared sacrifice, shared vision, and shared purpose. He opines that everything America military men and women fought and died for these last two centuries is at risk because our national leaders do not share a sense of common purpose. Specifically Honoré says,
“They have failed to live up to their oath of office, to protect and defend the Constitution and the United States of America. Instead they strike partisan poses they hope will be remembered during their next campaigns. This isn’t leadership, it’s play acting. And we should all be disgusted.”
Boy, those thoughts sound damned familiar to me, except that I used the word “treason.”
On this point, General Honoré and I are in complete agreement.
But then he goes on to say:
“It’s time to get draconian. […] I mean it's time to load our elected officials on troop planes and send them to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Put them in tents with no air conditioning, have Army drill sergeants teach them teamwork and physical sacrifice. When they recognize their responsibility to the people of America, they can return to D.C., their upscale restaurants, and military plane trips, as though they were royalty.”
You know, I can’t say that I don’t completely understand where the General is coming from with that statement.
And I can’t say that I don’t feel the exact same rage and disappointment and disgust, because I do.
As a career military man, myself, I can certainly understand the impetus. Our military, no military, is a democracy. We move together with a shared sense of mission, of purpose, of dedication, of sacrifice, of camaraderie and teamwork, of service. We know who answers to whom and where we fit in the grand scheme of things and how things work. Orders are given and the mission gets done.
One of the things that we career military often find repulsive about civilian life is that it’s messy. It’s chaotic. It’s disorderly. Civilians don’t follow orders and they grow their hair long and they dress like hobos and they slouch around and they’re lazy and they talk back and they do whatever the hell they want to do and you can’t stop them even if they’re doing something fatally stupid. They place themselves above others. They refuse to work together. They’re opinionated and not shy about expressing it. It makes us insane. Not a day goes by that I don’t have the urge to start barking orders at you damned greasy civilians (never mind that I am now a damned greasy civilian myself), and sometimes I even give in to that impulse. Sooner or later it’s probably going to get me a fat lip – or another fat lip, to be more correct.
We in the military often look upon the appalling self-centered self-involved self-serving shenanigans of Washington with something more than a little akin to contempt.
And so I can certainly say that I agree with spirit of General Honoré’s frustration.
But it is here that we must disagree.
Yingling says specifically that taken at face value, Honoré is advocating no less than a coup d’etat.
I disagree, sort of. Or rather, I don’t think Yingling goes far enough. I think that taken at face value, Honoré’s suggestion of a military and political re-education boot camp for government officials is military fascism.
Oh relax, I’m certainly not calling the General a fascist. Only an idiot would do that.
Just like only an idiot would call Robert Anson Heinlein a fascist for writing Starship Troopers (required reading at the US Military Academies by the way). But there are damned few military folks who don’t have at least some sneaking suspicion that Heinlein’s military/service orientated government wouldn’t be a better way to do business (note: that in Troopers, one of the professors responsible for indoctrinating young citizens into the military dominated society says very specifically that their method of government isn’t the best, or superior, or even preferred – it was just the one they had. That was Heinlein speaking. People tend to miss this paragraph, hence the persistent accusations of fascism).
No, I’m not calling Honoré a fascist.
What I am saying is that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Constitution aside, how long do you think it would take, if we rounded up all the members of Congress and sent them to military style boot camp in Mississippi there to be indoctrinated by Army drill sergeants until they learn ‘teamwork and physical sacrifice,’ before Senators and Representatives and the President started awarding themselves medals and wearing military garb? Before they all start thinking alike. Before the natural checks and balances of differing opinion and debate are removed? Before the very pitfalls outlined by Colonel Yingling in A Failure of Generalship become evident? In his response, Yingling asks who decides when those prospective leaders are sufficiently reprogrammed? When have they learned enough to place service and the nation above self? Who decides that? The President? The military? The Generals? Ye gads!
Go down this road and sooner or later, you’re going to end up with military fascism. Probably sooner.
Even if it didn’t, lead to fascism, America as we know it would still be doomed. Doomed to stagnation and uniformity. The military is structured the way it is for very good reason and it works very, very well for us – but every single time somebody, including military folks, has tried to run a country in this manner, it is an utter disaster.
This is, in microcosm, the immigration argument – and why building a wall around our culture is stupid and counter-productive.
Change, dynamic interaction, chaos, are the very things that spur innovation and vigor and initiative and generate vision – the very vision that can, indeed, give our country, and the world, a true sense of shared purpose.
Like Colonel Yingling, I suspect that General Honoré didn’t really mean what he said. He’s a passionate speaker and writer, something I’m quite familiar with, prone to florid bombast and hyperbole – which doesn’t mean the rage and frustration he expresses is any less valid in any way. Yingling speculates that the General is really “lamenting the partisan rancor in Washington when compared to the discipline of America’s military force.” I suspect this is correct.
However, here’s the problem: there are going to be plenty of folks who read the Hero of New Orleans’ words and take them at face value. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see this idea right alongside the balanced budget amendment on the TEA Party’s agenda - just as there those who seriously think the government vaguely outlined in Starship Troopers is a great idea. To quote Larry Niven, yet another great science fiction writer, there is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
Colonel Yingling goes on to talk about the Constitution and about its chief architect, James Madison (Yes, that is correct, the Constitution was not, in fact, written by Thomas Jefferson as so many Americans apparently believe, including the writers of last night’s episode of Franklin & Bash. But I digress. And I still love F&B). Yingling quotes the Federalist Papers, specifically Federalist 10 and Madison:
“There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes and the other, by controlling its effects. There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving every citizen the same opinions, the same passions and the same interests. It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an ailment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish for the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency."
I would argue that there is a third method of reducing the mischief of faction.
The same method I’ve advocated here on Stonekettle Station many times and as recently as in the previous post, to wit: if you want a better republic, then you need to start with better citizens. Rather than repurpose shoddy material, as General Honoré suggests, rather than shape it into a new mold by force, I suggest that you start by choosing better ingredients. Get educated. Get involved. Vote with your mind, with reason, instead of your heart. If you’re a card carrying member of a political party, if you vote straight ticket every time, then you’ve given up your freedom. Become a registered Independent, make the bastards work for your vote. Encourage others to do the same. Get involved. Speak up. Speak out. Do not stand idly by while extremists take your country away from you.
If you see your neighbors as the enemy, it should come as little surprise when your elected officials do likewise.
If you have no respect for the opinions of others, it should come as little surprise when your elected officials have no respect for you.
Like Colonel Yingling, I take issue with General Honoré’s assertion that he speaks for “most veterans.”
And I must respectfully disagree.