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GENERALS WITH FEET OF CLAY

Deyan Ranko Brashich

The White House mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a political huckster, a flimflam artist, said that it would be “highly inappropriate” for me to debate John Kelley, a retired four-star Marine general and Donald Trump’s apologist, over his lies and false statements regarding last week’s imbroglio over military condolences and honor.  

Let me start with the fact that I have 3 generals, 2 captains, a score of non-commissioned officers and privates and 3 medal of honor recipients in my family stretching back 200 years. They were all honorable men, but nevertheless men and not saints. Even though prejudiced in favor of things military, I am fully capable to debate and argue without restraint.

Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign attacked institutions that had lost the confidence of the American electorate – Congress, Wall Street, big business, the media – but it hitched its wagon to the institution that had steadfastly retained America’s trust – the military. Once ensconced in the White House he surrounded himself with generals to exploit a falsely perceived virtue and continues to do so to this very day.     

          Elevation in rank to general officer does not make one less susceptible to the sins and temptations of the flesh. A pedophile parish priest does not lose his spots on becoming bishop or assuming a cardinal’s miter, witness the charges now pending against Australia’s Cardinal George Pell. To suggest that a general officer or fleet admiral by dint of advancement alone sheds his or her sins is just plain whistlin’ Dixie, or as The Urban Dictionary puts it “pure bullshit”.    

          It might be appropriate to document recent dereliction of duty by general officers to assess credibility and moral fiber. General David Petraeus comes readily to mind. Petraeus, the Commander of the United States Central Command, Commanding General of the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was to be charged with a felony for violating classified information and having an extramarital affair pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was cashiered.

          That sorry mess came hard on the heels of General James “Hoss” Cartwright’s 2016 guilty plea of lying about being the source of classified information. Not only was he a four-star general but he had served as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His rehabilitation required an unwarranted Obama presidential pardon.

Then there was Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair a five-combat tour veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who was charged with “forcible sodomy, multiple counts of adultery and having inappropriate relations with female subordinates”. He was courts martialed for “forced sex, wrongful sexual conduct, violating an order, possessing pornography and alcohol while deployed, misusing government [funds] and filing fraudulent claims”.  

          In 2013, after a Freedom of Information Act demand, The Washington Post reported that Major General Ralph Baker was fired for sexual misconduct, groping female employees while drunk; that the Superintendent of the US Military Academy at West Point was forced to resign for “unspecified reasons”; that General Joseph Fil, “a former commander in South Korea and Iraq” had been charged with financial misconduct and allowed to quietly retire; and General “Kip” Ward, “chief of the military’s Africa Command [was] required to reimburse the government $82,000 after investigators found he took lavish personal trips – including a week-long mission to Bermuda – at taxpayer expense.”   

The foregoing is a list of but the most recent general officers that made the evening news – guys you wouldn’t buy a used car from, date your sister or invite for Thanksgiving dinner with Mom.

Generals lead by example. One of my generals, Ilija Brašić was defeated in battle and spent four years in a German prisoner of war camp sharing his lot with his troops, surviving on the same rations and enduring the same deprivations dealt his men.

True to his oath to King and country [Yugoslavia] he refused repatriation and for 5 years lived in a former prisoner of war camp in occupied Austria until every man jack of his command was granted asylum in a new country under post war refugee programs. He died in penury, in exile in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1951. His obituary in The New York Times noted that “he was cited by the United States Army for his generosity to American prisoners of war.”

Everyone be they generals, government officials or elected politicians is subject to inquiry as to their public actions and statements and often as to their private ones as well, if circumstances warrant. If not, you ain’t living in a free and open democracy. 

It took a disgraced four-star general, David Petraeus, to set the record straight: “I think we [generals and public officials] are all fair game. We, in uniform, protect the rights of those to criticize us, frankly … we are fiercely protective of the rights of our Americans to express themselves, even if that includes criticizing us”, proving once again that even a broken clock is right at least once a day.

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