In a longer article for TomDispatch.com, I recently wrote about Donald Trump’s team of generals for national defense and homeland security. Trump wants four senior retired generals, two from the Army and two from the Marine Corps, to serve as his senior civilian advisers in matters of defense and security.
Here’s the point: You simply can’t have civilian control of the military when you appoint senior generals to these positions.
I’m astonished more Americans aren’t outraged at this. It’s a sign of how much militarism has gripped our nation and government, as well as the sweep and scope of the national security state.
I was reading Samuel Hynes’ excellent book, The Soldiers’ Tale: Bearing Witness to Modern War, and came across two passages that resonated with me. In talking about war as a culture, Hynes notes that “Military traditions, values, and patterns of behavior penetrate every aspect of army [and Marine Corps] life and make the most ordinary acts and feelings different.”
The generals Trump is hiring are all military careerists, men whose “traditions, values, and patterns of behavior” are steeped in the ways of the Army and Marine Corps, affecting even “the most ordinary acts and feelings.” Their behavior, their commitments, their loyalties, their world views, are the antithesis to civilian culture and to the ethos of democracy. (For example, General James Mattis, Trump’s selection as Secretary of Defense, is most often described as a “warrior-monk,” a man with a Spartan-like dedication to war. But would Athens have anointed a Spartan, even as its minister of war?)
Again, the point is not to attack the military. It’s that the U.S. government already has plenty of generals in charge, wielding enormous authority. Trump’s decision to add yet another layer of military authority to his government makes it less of a democracy and more of a junta.
A second point from Hynes. He notes how most citizen-soldiers in America’s military past were not war-lovers, but that a few were, notably General George S. Patton. In the same breath, Hynes notes that dictators like Hitler and Mussolini “loved war.”
Which American general does Trump profess to admire the most? George S. Patton. And who among his generals most resembles Patton as a “real” warrior? According to Trump, it’s General Mattis.
Again, the point is not to attack the military, but rather to note the U.S. national security state already has plenty of warriors and warfighters in charge. Putting an alleged Patton-clone in charge of the Pentagon represents an abrogation of two centuries of American tradition that insisted on civilian supremacy over the military.
Given his inflammatory tweets about nuclear arms races with their “bring it on” mentality, Trump has all the makings of tinpot provocateur, an unstable military poseur who likes to speak loudly while swinging a nuclear-tipped stick. Will Trump’s generals, his Pattons and MacArthurs, serve as a check to his provocations and his posturings? It doesn’t seem likely.
Congress should reject Trump’s choices for Secretary of Defense (Mattis) and Homeland Security (Kelly). Not because these retired generals are bad men, but because they are the wrong kind of people. If you want civilian control of the military (and don’t we still want that?), you need to hire true civilians. Men and women whose identities haven’t been forged in armories. Independent thinkers and patriots with some history of dissent.
How about someone like Daniel Ellsberg for Secretary of Defense? And, since global warming is a huge threat to the U.S., how about Bill McKibben for Homeland Security?
After all, whether they’re in or out of uniform, the U.S. government already has plenty of generals.
25 thoughts on “More on Trump’s Generals”
Walt Whitman claimed that America could never be defeated by external enemies, but it could be defeated by internal enemies. Generals called “warrior-monks” either retired or cashiered out of the military, now being proposed as civilian leadership of the military is just the internal enemy Whitman was concerned enough to comment.
Coupled with a president-elect that has an authoritarian streak and it equals trouble for the republic.
Important points clearly made. It is too bad that most of us pay so little attention to the major outlines of social history. Sad…
no one is going to be the right pick as long it is DJT doing the picking…keep in mind the GOP for past eight years has been promoting the idea that the military thought BO was junior varsity and a socialist. He and his wife hated our national traditions, saluting the flag etc….kept aircraft carriers in port, held the military back from finishing the job in IRAQ etc and fired or bypassed generals for top jobs etc…personally I am keeping my powder dry and watching, observing and try to sort through the fog of noise produced by cable news with every DJT tweet or two minute press conferences
While I applaud the sincere intentions which motivate and inform this article, I think some of the specific points made in it could stand correction. For instance:
“General James Mattis, Trump’s selection as Secretary of Defense, is most often described as a “warrior-monk,” a man with a Spartan-like dedication to war. But would Athens have anointed a Spartan, even as its minister of war?”
In the first place, the term “warrior monk” describes not a “pagan” Greek combatant in the The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) — fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta — but a fanatical Christian knight, belonging to one of several religious/military orders, who took up residence in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Medieval Crusades from 1096 to 1291 AD. The better known examples of these crusading military orders include the Knights Hospitaller, the Knights Templar, as well as the Teutonic Knights in the Baltics.
To better understand the seething, bigoted, frustrated religious animosity that motivates crusading military failures such as retired Marine Corps General James Mattis and — even more so — retired Army General Michael Flynn, I encourage the interested reader to consult In Praise of the New Knighthood, a flaming, early-12th-century exortation to the fledgling Knights Templar, written by the Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (whom the Catholic Church later made a saint), officially addressed to his friend Hugh de Payens, one of the founders of the Templars.
With the above sordid (if not psychotic) history in mind, it pays us to understand that failed crusader generals such as Mattis and Flynn do not belong in the twenty-first century. They belong in the twelfth. And let us, by all means, refrain from insulting pre-Chrisitian Greek pagans, whether Athenian or Spartan, by associating them in any way with the “warrior-monks” — a schizophrenic contradiction in terms — of the failed Christian Crusades of the Middle Ages. After all, when it came to imagining gods made in their own image, the ancient pagans could at least count higher than the number one.
Now that we’ve got the proper historical references sorted out, we may proceed with other criticisms of the Warfare Welfare, Makework Militarism, and taboo Military Idolatry personified and exemplified by President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of retired loser generals to staff important “civilian” departments of the U.S. Government. …
Yes, I’m mixing and matching here, Mike. But with a purpose. The U.S. military is using both Sparta and the Crusading knights as historical exemplars. A popular book within the US Marine Corps is Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae.” Yes — the U.S. military’s “warriors” fancy themselves to be the offspring of Sparta’s elite, holding the gates against today’s version of Persian hordes. At the same time, they also often see themselves as Christian crusaders, fighting for the one true faith against “false” religions. to include Islam of course. Thus the pagan is mixed with the Christian with no sense of any contradiction existing, let alone tension.
In this case, I think my description of Mattis and his crew stands — they see themselves as Spartan, as warriors, and as Christian, never mind the internal contradictions to those of us with some knowledge of history.
From George Orwell’s famous dissertation on meaning, “Politics and the English Language” (1946):
“By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking.” [emphasis added]
I had the above observation in mind when I wrote my previous comments regarding the necessity of keeping relevant historical events clear and distinct from each other, so as better to understand and draw useful lessons from them. I have no doubt but that President-elect Donald Trump’s chosen military advisers — especially Generals Mattis and Flynn — see themselves as some romantic combination of pagan Greek “warriors” and ascetic Christian monastics, without understanding the first thing about the Western world’s current and still-unfolding history: namely, that the late-Dark-Ages conversion of Germanic/Scandinavian Vikings to Christianity in fact converted Christianity into the savage, militaristic plague that it became and remains today, especially in the United States, over a millennium later.
I know exactly what the term “warrior-monk” means and so does most of an informed, educated, and horrified world. Mixing up the ancient pagan Greeks in this sordid Crusader saga does nothing but obfuscate the truh of things and so I refuse to indulge in any such “mixing.” I’ll leave that dubious enterprise to Generals Mattis and Flynn who wouldn’t recognize a fanatical Christian Crusader if it stared back at them from the mirror they use to shave every morning. Mixing metaphors and wildly different mythologies hardly seems to me like a recipe for any sort of coherent “thinking.” So you’ll pardon me for insisting that we keep our historical memories as true-to-real-life as possible. For my part, I’ll leave the romantic novels ( you know, fiction) to General Mattis, General Flynn, and Donald Trump.
In the realm of real life as opposed to fabricated fantasy, James Carrol reminds us notoriously ignorant Americans (in his book Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War) of something the rest of the world reembers only too well:
“… The Crusades created a state of consciousness that still shapes the mind of the West, and if Americans don’t know that, many Muslims do. … It is not only that the savagery of these wars remains unforgotten in vast stretches of the world today [empahsis added], but also that the lines they drew remain contested borders even now — as the Balkan wars of the 1990s reveal.”
One more time: nothing of the intra-Greek wars of antiquity has any bearing on today’s disastrous destabilization of the Middle East, which owes its awful resumption of criminal savagery to historically ignorant fools like U.S. President George Bush and his Svengali Vice President Dick Cheney, if not to their predecessor Crusader President Bill Clinton and successor Crusader President Barack Obama. Twenty-four straight years of bloody American stupidity, aided and abetted most enthusiastically by “professional” Crusaders like Generals Mattis and Flynn, among a parade of other “military minds” too numerous (and deservedly forgotten) to mention.
Until the people of the United States confront the long, sordid history of The “Christian” Crusades — now in their “new” and unimproved Tenth (Zionist) edition — the world will continue to regard our country as an insane asylum “led” by psychotic, uniformed inmates who have no idea where they are, let alone where they have been.
“History never repeats itself,” said Voltaire; “but Man always does.” So here we go again, fellow Crimestoppers, merrily mixing metaphors along the way to more (and more of the same) confusion. No doubt the U.S. military bestows a really spiffy ribbon, medal, or Boy Scout badge upon its most senior officers for just such brueaucratic intellectual “heroism.”
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Sure, Mike. But the central point remains. Spartans lived for war. They took their identity from it. Their society was structured around it. Crusaders also lived for war, though they arguably invested it with even more meaning.
Whether U.S. generals speak of Spartans or warrior-monks or some bastardized fusion of both, they are speaking of something totally contrary to civilian control of the military. They are also repudiating the American citizen-soldier ideal. They are rejecting their own country’s traditions. That is the central lesson here. And the central danger.
thank you both for a great discussion…I served as an enlisted in the Navy before I could be drafted into grunt service. I did a tour in Ras Tanura Saudia Arabia in 1967. We had no weapons and the compound was shut down during one of the Arab Israeli battles. Faisal sent his Sunni Guards into roundup the malcontents, sent Army to the border of Jordan cause he didn’t trust Nassir. But I got to take an R&R to Beirut and remember riding from Airport and seeing this tent city full of displaced Palestinians. The Arab countries vowed they would return to their home land “palestine” and thus began the indoctrination of generations of young Arabs. So the Arab/muslim history of christian hate continues to fester and will never be lanced as long as Israel stands as the state created by British (The West) mandate.
Thanks for reading and contributing to the site. I really appreciate it.
To further clear up the relevant Crusader terminology for today’s American readers, consider the following from Dungeon, Fire, and Sword – the Knights Templar in the Crusades, by John J. Robinson (1999):
“Crusaders were military pilgrims, who came to fight and go home. The Templars were military monks, committed to remain in the Holy Land to consolidate the gains, or to clean up the mess, after the Crusaders had fulfilled their vows and then sailed away from the scene of their triumphs or tragedies.”
In the interest of historical accuracy, then, Generals Mattis and Flynn (like so many of their equally forgettable officer/bureaucrat colleagues) clearly do not merit the label of “military monk,” much less “warrior,” since they never did any actual fighting themselves and never stuck around at the scene of their crimes long enough to personally learn something valuable about the Middle East and its tragic history. Rather, we ought to clearly recognize and label these self-tooting career ticket-punchers as “military pilgrims” who travelled occasionally to the Middle East to make a royal mess of things before leaving for their next — and more lavishly appointed — desk job back home in General David Petraeus’s “perception management” bubble where any and every sort of fantasy, fabrication, figment, falsehood and fraud — i.e., Outrageous Lie — effortlessly passes for “military expertise” marketed mercilessly to an ignorant and apathetic civilian population so unfamiliar with actual military life as to have made of this dreary and usually pointless “profession” something of a national religion, or, better yet, a cult: one that I like to call Military Idolatry. What a clueless and credulous crew of comic-book Crusaders, completely unhinged from history, not to mention reality.
And what “strategies” or “plans” did our Christian Crusader ancestors pursue nine hundred years ago that produced a devastating defeat so total that most of the Western World has expunged the memory of it from all consciousness? Again, from Dungeon, Fire, and Sword:
“It was that incessant animosity between the Shiites, who controlled Egypt, and the Sunnis, who controlled Syria, that made the First Crusade possible, especially in that the Sunni Syrians also had to contend with Shiite enemies to the other side of them in Persia. At the time of that Crusade, the Sunni Caliph was based in Baghdad, while the Shiite caliph was resident in Cairo. It became the focal point of Christian diplomacy to play off one side against the other until the time came that all of the Middle East was united under one dynamic leader who was given the honorary title of Salah-ed-Din, or Saladin.”
In other words, as that ostensibly informed historian/diplomat Henry Kissinger explained U.S. policy — dictated by the Apartheid Zionist Entity (AZE) — during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988): “Let them kill each other off.” Judging from what I’ve heard of Generals Mattis and Flynn (especially the Islamophobe Flynn) that “divide and conquer” policy towards the Islamic World remains official U.S./Zionist policy today. Wreck everything Islamic and by all means try to prevent the predictable consequence of such cynical violence: another Saladin.
Gee whiz and gosh-all-fishooks, Batman, who would have ever thought that doing the same stupid thing that failed miserably nine hundred years ago — despite two centuries of bloody trying — would fail again today? I’ll tell you who believes that sort of bloody horsehit: namely, “military pilgrims” like James Mattis and Michael Flynn. Mattis, especially, has a real hard-on for Shiite Iran, a nation of 70 million people increasingly allied with Russia and China. Unfortunately, an exploration of his asinine animosity would require another essay and I think I’ve about made my point with this one.
What a concept: Historically ignorant and professionally belligerent Christian military pigrims advising our next President how to further fuck up America’s future in the world by doing that “religious warrior” thing again. Not a good sign. Not good at all.
U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan: Take the Low Ground
From The Outpost, by Jake Tapper (2012):
“But sir … that is a really awful place for a base.” This new camp in the Kamdesh District would, like the dangerous Korangal outpost that their pilots knew too well, be surrounded by higher ground. But whereas the base in Korangal was situated about halfway up a mountainside, in a former lumberyard, the one in Kamdesh would sit in a cup within the valley’s deepest cleft, ringed by three steep mountains that formed part of the five-hundred-mile-long Hindu Kush mountain range. Blocked off on its northern, western, and southern sides by rivers and mountains, it would moreover be a mere fourteen miles from the official Pakistan border – a porous boundary that meant little to the insurgents who regularly crossed it to kill Americans and Afghan government officials before taking refuge in caves or in the mountains or returning to their haven across the border. The camp would be one of the most remote outposts in this most remote part of the country that was itself cut off from much of the rest of the world, and the area all around it would be filled with people who wanted to kill those stationed there.
“So it’s located at the base of a mountain peak?” Whittaker asked. It didn’t take a Powell or a Schwartzkopf to know that as a matter of basic military strategy, it was better to be at the top of a hill than at the bottom of a valley.”
“Sir, this is a really bad idea,” said Whittaker. “A. Really. Bad. Idea. Anyone we drop off there is going to die.”
“What’s the point of this base? Whittaker asked. “It’s on the low ground. It can’t be supported in any meaningful way. The troops there will be horribly outnumbered by potential bad guys in the town next door. They can’t even really go out and do anything because the rivers, the town, and the mountains will block any patrol routes.”
“All they can do is die,” he added.
So there you have it, fellow Crimestoppers. Your tax-dollar-supported, genius U.S. generals at “work.” Fourteen years and counting with no end in sight. Obviously, our genius U.S. generals never heard about General George A. Custer at the Little Big Horn. Never heard of the French at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam, in 1954. Never heard of General William Westmoreland’s brilliant strategy of “come and get us” at Khe Sanh.
“Take the Low Ground” — like at the Beirut Airport where 241 U.S, Marines perished in 1983 because their commanding officers deployed them in an untenable position down at the base of some hills (in support of the Apartheid Zionist Entity’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon) and then started shelling the Lebanese villages on high ground surrounding the airport. What brilliance! What military genius! And General James Mattis really hates the Iranians for somehow training two Lebanese truck drivers to effortlessly wipe out an entire barracks full of Marine enlisted men.
No wonder that the U.S. military’s “training” of Iraqi and Afghan “armies” hasn’t worked out too well after a decade-and-a-half of “doing some stuff” in foreign places where the U.S. military has no conceivable business operating. We didn’t do any better in Vietnam, either. I know. I once had to try and train starving Vietnamese naval personnel to fight and kill their own friends and countrymen so that President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger could sneak out of Southeast Asia without having to shoulder the blame for their collossal fuck-ups. The poor Vietnamese sailors somehow couldn’t get enthused about the U.S.-offered “training.” Can’t say that I blamed them. The French called our “Vietnamization” policy, “Yellowing the Corpses,” but, starngely to us Americans, those little yellow Vietnamese people didn’t want to become corpses for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. I rather suspect that the Iraqis and Afghans and Libyans and Syrians feel the same sort of reluctance when confronted by another U.S. government pushing it’s latest “browning the bodies” campaign.
But, anyway, with genius military-pilgrim “trainers” like James Mattis, Michael Flynn, and David Petaeus “taking the low ground” and royally pissing off everyone in the surrounding (usually at higher elevation) countryside, what could possibly go wrong?
And President-elect Donald Trump wants “advice” and “management” of the U.S. miltiary from these proven losers?
Must be some low ground out there somewhere that needs “taking.” If it exists, these fools will find it.
There’s an “Alice in Wonderland,” running to stand still, quality about these military interventions, Mike. An absurdity to them. Until you remember that some people are profiting from them.
“Take the low ground” is quite the motto. I continue to think that the U.S. believes it “occupies” the high ground because of air power, but even with drones, you can’t “occupy” the air. It’s transitory. But our god’s eye view of the “battlespace” emboldens us. Everything looks easier, i.e. far less messy, from the air.
Think of Korea or Vietnam. Sure, we dominated the air, but it didn’t produce victory. The ground — and the people — that’s what really matters. And in places like Iraq and Afghanistan we’re never going to “dominate” the cultures and thoughts of the people on the ground. How could we?
But we can’t admit defeat. So we’ll continue to run to stand still, counting the “steps” we take as progress toward “victory.”
Just finished reading Outlaw Battalion written by an officer. Pakistan was supporting jihadists attacks against our troops, who could not go after them each time they drove them across the border. It is a tragic story of how place our military in danger and restrict their counter attacks. NSA tracked a signal from Iran to an Afghani interpreter who was reporting each days maneuvers allowing the enemy to set up IEDs. If every potential enlistee read this book, they would think twice about signing up.
And Pakistan is ostensibly an ally of a sort.
More “Alice in Wonderland” here — the absurdity. While some would say it’s time to kick ass with no rules, to me it’s a further argument for getting out, i.e. you’re putting troops in untenable conditions and unwinnable positions, mainly to send “messages” that amount to staying the course, when the course is wrong to begin with. So the only “message” we’re sending is one of stupidity — or mule-headedness, which amounts to the same.
Speaking of my fellow Vietnam veteran Daniel Ellsberg, I highly recommend this interview with him on the Real News Network, conducted in October of 2009 when newly installed President Barack Obama faced the predictable attempt by the uniformed military services to bully him into escalating U.S. troop involvement in the already long-lost quagmire war in Afghanistan: a committment that, once made, would tie him and the United States to the terrible tarbaby for the remainder of his presidency, as, in fact, did happen. So here in 2017 at the advent of yet another new presidency, it pays to review once again the sordid, stupid military history that the United States continues to stumble into again and again.
In this succinct and comprehensive interview, the man who knows lays it all out in “Ellsberg: From Vietnam to Afghanistan.” I wouldn’t advise missing a single moment of this remarkable synopsis, but in the interests of brevity here, I’ll just skip ahead to an excerpt from the interview’s concluding paragraphs [emphasis added]:
PAUL JAY (RNN): “So we’re at a moment right now where President Obama’s about to announce a decision about whether to expand American troop presence or not. There’s a grand debate taking place between the military and the White House and within the White House. What does your experience in the Vietnam days tell us about this?”
DANIEL ELLSBERG: “I think that I’m reliving the period when I was in the Pentagon in June and July of 1965, when President Johnson was about to enter an open-ended escalation of the war. He had at that time about 70,000 troops in Vietnam, exactly what Obama has in Afghanistan at this time. And he was facing, actually, requests for an initial 100,000 to go over. Let’s say that corresponds to the 80,000 that is [General Stanley] McChrystal’s least-risk figure that he’s getting right now, or 40,000 as a less-risk. What is the meaning of that? And if the president does what the BBC says he has already decided to do, if he sends 45,000 troops, which is McChrystal’s minimum at this point, why will he have done that? The Pentagon Papers showed basically what Johnson’s reasons were, and I think the reasons for Obama would be the same: to keep the military, the top military, from resigning and going public with complaints that he has abandoned a winnable war, a war that the president doesn’t himself believe can be won, and yet he goes into what he foresees will be a bloody, long, escalating stalemate in order to prevent his military from making a political case to his public and to the Congress that he has been weak, unmanly, indecisive, weak on terrorism, and has endangered American troops and Americans …”
PAUL JAY (RNN): “But if he’s really afraid of that, then why not fire these guys before if this happens?”
DANIEL ELLSBERG: “And he doesn’t feel he can fire them, actually, because like Johnson he appointed them, and he can count on Senators from his own party saying, like Dianne Feinstein right now, “You appointed these crackerjack people, you signed on to this policy, and now you’re changing your mind. Isn’t that flip-flopping? You’re not trusting military judgment.” Now, the president, I feel sure in this case, doesn’t trust the advice that he’s getting. That’s why he’s delaying as long as he is. And he’s right not to trust it. And the advice he’s getting from people like General Powell and John Kerry, both of whom have experience in Vietnam, is that he should not trust that advice, that it’s invalid. And nevertheless I think he will do what Johnson did: go against his own instincts as to what’s best for the country and do what’s best for him and his administration and his party in the short run, facing elections, which is to avoid a military revolt. We’re almost facing something like the threat of something like a coup, that the military will impose their authority against his in this case, and in order to do that, many Americans, many Afghans, will die in order to protect the president from that kind of blame.
I agree that a military coup has indeed taken place, but I’ve said before that it happened at the end of 1945. Anyway, the fact that a knowledgeable and erudite man like Daniel Ellsberg has no chance of serving anywhere in the U.S. government — let alone at the Pentagram — probably foretells the doom of the next administration (if not America) as well as anything.
Hi Mike: Thanks for this interview with Ellsberg. He deserves to be called a wise man.
Back in 2009, I wrote my own article on this issue, at this link: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175060
I think that I may have read your Tomdispatch article back in early 2009, Bill, but thanks for reminding me of it again here. I’ve read it once more and will add it to my reference notes.
You make many telling points, but, essentially, your point-number-two about U.S. presidents desiring, above all else, “never to be labeled a loser” pretty much subsumes all other considerations beneath it. As concerns the United States and what passes for a “government” in that lunatic land, “the world” really boils down to an incestuous clique of “elite” hothouse orchids and special snowflakes double-dog-daring each other to look all-tough-and-stuff (to each other) on the prep-school playground. Nothing more than that, really. To place real destructive power into the pudgy little hands of such infantile creatures — think Lord of the Flies, here — has brought infinite grief to many innocent foreign lands as well as virtual impoverishment, moral and economic, to our own.
Speaking of William Golding’s dystopean novel as a metaphor for gross U.S. government ineptitude in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere: I tried to explore that awful concept poetically back in 2006, when it became apparent that You-Know-Her and Bubba Bill Clinton had designs upon the U.S. presidency once more in 2008. Little did I realize that what I wrote in 2006 about Dick and Dubya and You-Know-Them would apply to their pathetic ineffable legacy, Barack Obama, as well, for the eight years leading up to Donald Trump in 2016.
Anyway, just for a change of pace, how about a little lyrical trip down memory lane (if not down the Memory Hole) with:
Boobie Lords of the Flies
(from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)
They came of age concurrently
And all dodged Vietnam
Which helps explain why they fucked up
And got us in this jam
They didn’t know what to avoid
And don’t know how to scram
Their lack of war experience
Led them to overlook
The cruelty and ruin that
The likes of them mistook
For power possibilities
In their day-planner book
Since war had never touched their lives
Or troubled their careers
They had no understanding of
The first mate Starbuck’s fears:
That those who do not fear a whale
Make bad boat-rowing peers
See, George and Dick and Bill and her
(whose name we will not speak)
All bought into an urban myth:
That anti-war is weak
Inflating a hot air balloon
That now can only leak
This damned deluded gang of four
Learned nothing from the past
They said we had to get right to
The future — very fast!
Without a pause to sniff and smell
The noxious gas they passed!
Without a map to there from here
They set out to set straight
Their country’s loss of “innocence”
With ignorance and hate
And wound up with some egg upon
Their face but not their plate
Bill bombed a Chinese embassy
Then had the cheek and gall
To get his feelings hurt when they
Would not return his call
(They felt their pain enough without
The need to hear him bawl)
George wanted so to have a go
At bad Saddam Hussein
Whom Bill had bombed for eight long years
Without a hint of gain
But which old Madam Albright thought
Was “worth” the grief and pain
But Dick and George — co-presidents —
Had proved the theory true
That for the worth of less than one
We’d pay to have us two:
A pair of pompous pathogens
Who like a virus grew
George then got to act out his dream:
A chance to kick some ass
He pounded poor Saddam Hussein
But as it came to pass
Received a knock-out blow upon
His jaw of crystal glass
So now he staggers drunkenly
And bounces on the ropes
Advised and counseled by a troupe
Of inept crony dopes
With no choice but to eat his teeth
Along with all his hopes
He’s turned so many corners that
He’s circled his own block
To come again to where he’s been
Like hands upon a clock
Without the least awareness since
His head’s as hard as rock
And now they want to tell us that
We haven’t any choice
The pundits have anointed her
The country’s “new” Rolls Royce
Another lemon lottery
In which we’ve had no voice
It looks like all the grownups died
And left us to survive
To rediscover savagery
Like bees within the hive
Consumed and ruled by other kids
More brain-dead than alive
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006
Yes. I think your point-number-two about covers it for the United States of Amnesia, the Land that Forgot Time.
Ah history…I am afflicted with it now at this ripe old age of 75. Looking back on how my brother and I fell for it all and enlisted – he to Korea and Vietnam and me to sailing the seas. Looking back on the periods we lived through only to see weak leaders making bad decisions and blowing up all the myths we believed in. How many other veterans feel betrayed. Is there a “Veterans Fedup” group? I want to join!
If you look around a bit, you can find a few U. S. veterans and veterans’ groups who oppose the Perpetual Corporate War and who speak out against the Lunatic Leviathan. I have in mind, Vietnam Veterans Against the War as well as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War, to name just two such organizations. Unfortunately, these individuals and groups seldom get any favorable publicity in the United States corporate media. In fact, they often receive vitriolic, abusive treatment from fellow veterans who fully support and cheer on any and every “war” that involves the United States in any way whatsoever. I have in mind here, as only one example, the so-called and self-styled “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” who attacked fellow veteran John Kerry for his service with the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. I called these despicable character assassins “Sewer Boat Sailors for Slander,” but my own characterization of them never caught on. Nobody seemed to care what disgusted and alienated veterans like me thought. As Chris Hedges explains the phenomenon in his book Death of the Liberal Class:
“Public manifestations of gratitude are reserved for veterans who dutifully read from the script handed to them by the state. The veterans trotted out for viewing are those who are compliant and palatable, those we can stand to look at without horror, those willing to go along with the lie that war is the highest form of patriotism. ‘Thank you for your service,’ we are supposed to say. These soldiers are used to perpetuate the myth. We are supposed to honor it.”
As you no doubt remember from your own experiences in the U.S. military, the term “tooth-to-tail ratio” describes the relatively small number of actual combat units in relation to the much larger number of support personnel who never see any fighting during their military service. Many of these men and women look back on their time in uniform as an extended summer camp experience that they fondly remember and seek to recapture by joining war-supporting groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, for example. You can, if you have the stomach for it, always see war-promoting politicians making bellicose speeches to these groups to enthusiastic applause. I could never belong to any kind of group like that.
At any rate, when the AWOL Texas air national guardsman, Deputy Dubya Bush, and Five Deferment Dick Cheney, his rear-eschelon Rasputin, started foaming at the mouth about Saddam Hussein and his rumored “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in Iraq, I started getting really pissed off all over again. All day long. Every day. My wife grew alarmed at my insomnia and irritability. I couldn’t help remembering when I came home from South Vietnam in February of 1972 after 18 months service in the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent. I remembered why I understood, utterly, what Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce wrote about “patriotism” and “patriot” in his Devil’s Dictionary: namely, “combustible rubbish, ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name,” and “the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors,” respectively. I felt burned all over — all over again. So I went looking for Veterans groups where I hoped to find someone to talk to about my “problem.” But living here in Taiwan, I found none. So I went on to the Internet, did some research, and learned of many veterans self-help groups who had started forming poetry workshops as DIY therapy. None of those here in Taiwan, either, so I figured I would just have to learn to write poetry all by myself. I bought a few books on the subject. I started practicing by emulating classic examples from the world’s literature. This went on for more than a decade. I feel much better now. Still pissed off. Still irritable as hell, but feeling a little better about it. I guess that will have to do.
Thank you Michael…my brother never wanted to belong to anything either and never spoke about his experience except on one occasion after we share beers together. He talked about one kid asking him about reenlisting while in VN because the bonus would allow him to build a house for his bride and new baby back home. Being Top, my brother tried to convince him not to stay but to go home. Some time later the kid was killed. My brother talked about arguing with his bosses in the rear about sending patrols out at night to no avail. I had the sense his main goal was to keep his men alive and to hell with the war. He hated to write letters to families about the lose of sons. I was happy to have taken care of him the last 3 years of his life as he suffered from TIAs and the onset of dementia.
Newsflash…once you are out of the military you are a civilian, no matter how much pretentious jibberish you put out to claim otherwise.
And if the worldview of your military leadership is antithetical to the “ethos of democracy” (para 5) than it is pure stupidity to deny that you failed to be a democracy long ago. In that case, the only resort is armed revolt.
And of course, Athens wouldn’t appoint a Spartan to leadership; anyone who knows history, knows that had nothing to do with Athens being democratic but to long held tribal rivalries between the city-states. Athens would have certainly appointed someone just as warlike as any Spartan of the time. Much of what we know of Sparta is Athenian propaganda anyways. We view Sparta through the lens of Athens. Such a question is transparently pretentious.
To argue that putting a “Patton-Clone” in power is redundant because of how many powerful generals there already are ignores the fact that most generals today are in line with the neocon/neoliberal agenda outlined in Thomas Barnett’s book “The Pentagon’s New Map”, which views American intervention in a way that is diametrically opposed to anything Patton would support. So if the man does have anything in common with Patton, it would simply be lazy piss-poor logic that would lead anyone to say that he is adding another layer to “plenty of generals” already in power.
The idea of a warrior-monk, in modern terms, simply means a warrior-scholar or someone who tries to engage in culture, literature and art as well as develop martial pursuits. Anyone honest knows these men aren’t trying to be monks in the classical sense. They aren’t celibate, they aren’t fasting and praying after returning from the field, they are not trying to win converts. They are simply taking the ideal of developing other skills beyond the martial skills and looking to the tradition of the warrior-monk to find some justification for that attempt. To say that they are like the Spartans or the crusaders is simplistic hysteria.
One thing I will agree with from my time in the military is that most folks there are one-dimensional and don’t have a sound grasp of basic logic. This article is a case in point.
To repeat myself: The day you leave the military is the day you become a civilian. But to argue that men like Mattis and Kelly, both with 40+ years of service as Marines, are the same as civilians in their ethos, experiences, education, and commitments, is to embrace the absurd. Let’s not forget as well Mattis’s quick move to make money with military contractors ($1.5 million) in his brief retirement, including his association with the disgraced company Theranos (see here http://www.wsj.com/articles/gen-james-mattis-has-ties-to-theranos-1480651171). General Flynn also profited quickly in his “retirement.”
When “retired” generals occupy the highest civilian posts in the land (SecDef, Homeland Security, National Security Council), what are we to call that? Is this a democracy? When the U.S. military fancies itself to be “warriors” and “warfighters” (“citizen-soldier” was good enough for the Greatest Generation in WW2), what are we to call that? It is a deliberate adoption of Spartan imagery, and in fact “Gates of Fire,” by Steven Pressfield, which exalts the Spartans at Thermopylae, is must-reading in today’s Marine Corps (see this link http://www.stevenpressfield.com/about/).
Heck, if you think retired Marine Corps and Army generals are going to change the culture of the Pentagon, that they’re going to stop us from getting involved in unwinnable wars, that they are the answer to reining in the Pentagon’s worst excesses, well, I think I might not be the only one without “a sound grasp of basic logic.”
How long before Trump will be on a Cheerios box Breakfast of Champions
I live in Taiwan and I have a Buddhist monk for a brother-in-Law. In fact, the historical Buddha — who lived five-hundred years before the advent of Christianity — invented monasticism, which other religious traditions like Christianity and Islam, for example, picked up on and continued in their own way. Hence, I know what a monk does, and monks do much the same thing today that they did in antiquity. They do practice celibacy — except for some pederast priests in the Catholic Church — and they still fast and pray and try to win converts. Ever heard of the word “missionary”? We have lots of them here in Taiwan, too. Unlike the U.S. military, though, they don’t go around shooting and killing people for Citicorp or Goldman Sachs or Exxon Mobile while preaching “Democracy” at the top of their lungs. So I don’t really get the distinction that you try to draw between “modern” monks and “classical” monks while mixing them up with self-styled “warriors.” If you don’t actually know any monks, then I can see where you have trouble differentiating them from “warriors” who resemble my gentle and loving brother-in-law — not to mention the Catholic Berrigan brothers — in no conceivable manner.
When I served in Vietnam we had a Marine Corps major briefly in charge of our little outpost (before a maniac Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel replaced him) who had formerly studied to become a Catholic priest before dropping out of seminary and joining the military. We enlisted sailors would ask him how to explain his change in life career. He told us that, actually, life in the Marine Corps did resemble monasticism in some ways: mostly the emphasis on rote learning, credulous belief, and simply following orders. “Discipline,” I think he called it. Some people like that sort of thing and cannot get through life without someone in authority imposing it on them. Anyway, I once told him of a book I had read, The Sand Pebbles, by Richard McKenna, wherein a German expatriate in China tells the Navy machinist mate, Jake Holman: “You’re like a monastic brotherhood, sworn to poverty, unchasity, and obedience.” That pretty much describes life in the U.S. Navy alright. The Major laughed when I told him that little story. Not a bad guy, actually. Pretty honest. And I never once heard him speak of killing anyone. The asshat Marine lieutenant Colonel who replaced him however really thought of himself as a killer and couldn’t grasp the idea that we had already lost the war and wanted nothing more than to get back home alive. So he went charging off on several “ops” and got a few more people killed, both Americans and Vietnamese. He probably got a bunch of medals for doing it, too.
As I noted in some detail above, the term “warrior monk” carries with it a very specific reference to Medieval military orders like the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller. And if the “scholar” James Mattis doesn’t know this, then he hardly qualifies as any sort of “scholar” in my opinion. He really shouldn’t use historically frightful words if he doesn’t know what they mean or how they apply to himself and his own career to date. He has boasted that he considers it “fun” to kill some people, and I don’t know any monks who think or talk that way. So if he wants to call himsel a “Jerk-off Jarhead,” I would concur with his terminology, but not if he wants to call himself a “warrior monk.” He simply doesn’t know what the words mean to an entire world that recognizes a fanatical crusading religious zealot when they see and hear one.
As for those — like retired General James Mattis — who don’t really know any monks or who really can’t see the applicablity of Crusader history today, I recommend a very good book by the Catholic historian and Boston Globe columnist, James Carroll, entitled Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War. As William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” That remains true for all crusading “warriors,” modern or medieval.
So say I, a former U.S. Navy enlisted monastic, sworn to Poverty, Unchastity, and Obedience.” And although only the first and third of these qualities generally apply to monks, I rather doubt that Poverty applies in any way to retired Marine Corps General James Mattis.
“Simplistic hysteria”? No. Simple history.
Again thanks for the clarity. Being from Boston I have read James Carroll, a former Paulist priest and very learned man. http://www.jamescarroll.net/JAMESCARROLL.NET/Biography___CV.html How about yourself, you should publish your experiences and lessons learned. I also plan on getting Sand Pebbles.
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