I recently received an email from a friend, a retired military officer, which quoted the citation afforded General Stanley McChrystal from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates upon the general’s retirement. There is nothing wrong per se with praising a man who devoted his adult life to military service. Whether one agrees with the combat entanglements in which the general served or not, it is undeniable that he did not initiate such entanglements. The civilian politicians did.

And the largest part of McChrystals’s career appears to be without major controversy. Of course, in essence he was fired for being publicly critical of his Commander in Chief, a privilege he does not have by virtue of his position and rank. Even if the criticism were justified, and that is a matter for debate, McChrystal violated protocol, precedent and common sense, if not the special rules in place for the military.

I would guess that the forwarder shared a favorable opinion of McChrystal with many still in the Army. There was no mention of the negative reason for his dismissal and subsequent retirement. However, whoever devised the email went out of his way to add his two cents worth in criticising that Commander in Chief, President Barak Obama. This criticism was not merely an assessment of Obama’s decisions but made strong inference that his overall plan, nay scheme, is to greatly weaken America from within, if not totally destroy it.

This type of allegation is trumpeted consistently on the right by folks who don’t simply dislike Obama, but consider him an illegitimate ruler based on whatever fanciful, even outrageous, rationales they propound.

Unfortunately I deleted this email without responding with my customary outrage and indignation, and thus have no record of it now.

And the reason I even deign to discuss it is not because McChrystal is praised and Obama is denigrated. Rather I believe it noteworthy that the contrast in the email is extreme, while the reality of McChrystal’s service takes on a patina of tarnish when examined further. One could argue that the general’s “sins” have had a greater effect on undermining the American system vis a vis the military than any proposal or action by the President.

Our lead witness is Mary Tillman, mother of the late Pat Tillman, the NFL player who rejected multimillion dollar pay days in order to join the Army. Tillman acted on what he felt his duty to be to his country after 9/11. He ended up dying horrifically in the hellhole named on most maps as Afghanistan. And the truly shitty thing about his death is that it was not as a result of heroic or at least brave actions on his part. He was killed by his own fucking troops; friendly fire as it’s termed, though the use of friendly seems to be completely misbegotten when your head is blown the hell off.

Military experts, historians, eyewitnesses and grieving families all know the sad truth of death by friendly fire. I suppose it is an unavoidable consequence of war, and military commanders undoubtedly take steps to minimize the possibilty of its occurrence.

Strange shit happens in war. It is all ugly, no glory attached, even if confined to official combatants shooting at each other. When civilians are the victims or combatants fall to friendly fire, it is beyond ugly. it is an atrocity.

One would think the atrocity perpetrated on Tillman would be handled in a reasonable, honest manner. One would be wrong. Initially  Army brass did not only not attribute Tillman’s demise to friendly fire, they attempted to portray him as a hero, dying valiantly while protecting his nation. As a pro football player Tillman carried an especially high profile in the military publicity machine. They were not going to let facts stand in their way in promoting Tillman’s case as the epitome of sacrifice for one’s ideals.

It seems General McChrystal had his nefarious hands in what has been termed a coverup. Mary Tillman, as Pat Tillman’s mother, naturally finds it difficult to avoid an unbiased view of this debacle. But she makes several cogent points regarding McChrystal’s role, and concludes his military career should have ended years before it actually did.

I’ll link you here to where you can read her column    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/08/opinion/la-oe-tillman-mcchrystal-20100808

and conclude my contribution to this discussion thusly:

The military exists as a part, but only a part, of the foundation  of the United States. Our Constitution places control of the military within the hands of elected civilian leaders. Whatever the goals and aspirations of this leadership, the military is obligated to follow, though wise advice as to potential problems with these goals from a military standpoint should be freely forthcoming.

As long as they serve, and in light of the sacrifices they often make that no civilian suffers, our troops, officers and enlisted, are due both praise and gratitude. But neither should be offered blindly or in ignorance of missteps along the way.

The military brass, especially at the highest level, have a duty to their training, a duty to their country, a duty to their Commander in Chief, and, most particularly, a duty to the men and women serving under them. When these duties are breeched, opprobrium, not praise, is in order.

(Post-publishing note: the link to Mary Tillman’s op-ed is no longer available so I have changed that link to the original source—The L.A. Times.)

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