The Generals Speak OutWe once served in the military. We rose to the exalted rank of Staff Sergeant, a rank in which we made life or death decisions requiring verification by low-ranking officers who were several years younger, graduated from college last year, and ignorant of most of the technology involved. The "Butter Bars" were commissioned by Congress though, so you listened and obeyed because they were "officers and gentlemen". Besides, the young Lts. were mostly rubber stampers, well-versed in their own limitations.
One of the things we learned on the way to our august position was that military personnel are never allowed to carry out an unlawful order. We repeatedly and literally had it screamed into our brains from our very first day in Boot Camp. If you receive an unlawful order you are required to disobey and report it to your chain of command - a chain that usually starts with the person who gave the order. It's all right there in the Uniform Code of Military Justice - the UCMJ - the military's version of the law of the land.
Of course there are good reasons for this caveat. Battlefields sometimes warp people and make them lose sight of the niceties of jurisprudence while they're killing people. If a nut goes nuts, don't follow him or the whole thing becomes a rehash of Mi Lai.
The UCMJ is less clear about how one knows a command is illegal. Battlefields are awfully intense places and what passes as legal or illegal isn't usually distinguished by much that's readily apparent. There's also the other side of the coin to view.
If everyone declared killing people to be illegal, there'd be damn little battling going on. We'd wager that if every soldier could simply declare a command - to say, charge a machine gun nest - illegal at will, the military would become a very large and very expensive door stop.
The UCMJ is a little clearer about the consequences of arbitrarily deciding to get fuzzy about the legality of a command. If the boot on the ground makes a bad choice, he can find himself a guest of Ft. Leavenworth - where he will make little rocks out of big rocks. Or worse, in the case of WWII's Eddie Slovik, on the wrong end of a distressingly short rope.
Officers in the Pentagonal range have other, more vexing headaches. The UCMJ requires them to forcefully voice reservations about a command decision if they truly believe it is a damaging command. However, these reservations must always be voiced behind closed doors and never publicly directed at their superiors - especially their civilian superiors. If they truly believe the decision is damaging national security they are expected, as a matter of honor, to resign.
Again, this is a good rule. It's the one that distinguishes a healthy democracy from a Junta. This is the point the Frat Boy-in-Chief ineloquently tries making when he says dissent is hurting the morale of soldiers in the field. The theory goes that it's tough to ask grunts to go over the top and attack the machine gun if their generals are telling everyone who will listen that the President is a crackhead who shouldn't be listened to - even if it is true.
Again, this is a fuzzy sort of proposition. Suppose you ask Rummy if you can have 130,000 soldiers for an invasion and Rummy says his pie charts, bar graphs, PR flaks, and monumental arrogance and ego say it can be done with 50,000, what do you do? If you resigned every time someone made a stupid decision, you'd never have gotten to the Pentagon. So you argue - and if our experience with senior Generals is an indication - quite loudly and almost to the point of fisticuffs. But at the end of the day, you are sworn to carry out the order as told as long as it isn't illegal but only incredibly stupid and ill-advised.
Rummy has quite the reputation for brow-beating people who aren't normally brow-beatable. He can do this because a complete moron is his boss and the moron pretty much goes along with whatever stupid idea Rummy comes up with because - well, because George can't find his ass with a flashlight. The Generals know this. The troops in the field know this. The public knows this. Hell, even Rummy knows it. George? Maybe not so much, but what's a poor general to do?
He does as he's told, because that's a soldier's lot in life - you follow order whether you're private or a General. You're welcome to fume all you want, just do it behind closed doors and keep it low-profile.
Most of the time this concept works, though it is frustrating to the point of distraction. But, sometimes our incredibly boobific electorate chooses such an equally incredible boob as Commander-in-Chief the normal laws of politiomilitary gravity fall apart. Sort of what Einstein would call an "uh oh" in quantum physics.
We are now ass deep in "Uh oh" and something quite extraordinary tells us so. Over the past few weeks several recently-retired generals have spoken out about how they didn't get all the resources they asked for. They said they weren't listened to. The said Rummy is an incompetent Rummy and should resign. They said this whole Saddamistic adventure has been a fiasco from the get go. That these proud military men would openly speak such things, even if they did wait to retire first, is the rough equivalent of, "Sir, bite me. I'm not going to take your asshattedness anymore."
They may be a little late. They may not have resigned when they should have (although we're sure some seriously considered it). But now they're speaking out for the good of the country and if our sorry-ass politicians had the balls to do the same, we could wrap this whole sorrid affair up and get on with the true business of being a democracy.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Wednesday, April 12, 2006