Tuesday :: Dec 9, 2008

Giving the Military Leadership a Pass on Iraq


by paradox

Very rarely have I experienced the irrational impulse to have a historical character come back to life, but I did the other night watching The Making of the Atomic Bomb on the Discovery Channel, for there was the hulking, Teutonic Edward Teller (I grew up just miles from his hush-hush home in the hills somewhere, his sprawling bomb lab a huge influence on my hometown), gravely intoning the hydrogen bomb was human progress, we had to have it, otherwise other countries “not committed to peace as we are” would get it.

Way to go, you hulking Hungarian hegemonist, come on back and take a look around at the great American architecture of peace our noble, great leadership brought into the 21st century. We haven’t used nuclear weapons, no, but we idiotically and reprehensibly went berserk as well as the Japanese did with an un-provoked war of aggression, the insanity of killing to keep the peace. Where the hell was that wellspring of American goodness, that great bulwark of United States character now, Mr. Father of the Hydrogen Bomb, as we try to get out of the putrid criminal mess?

One of the most heartbreaking political experiences of my life was the run-up to the Iraq war and my desperate search for our institutions to stop it. Congress—good God, what frightened lemmings they were. Journalism—hell, they wanted better ratings, not delivering the truth. The Christian churches, well, the Prince of Peace turned out to mean less than keeping donor Republicans in the pews. Please, please, what about the military leadership? Surely they would stop it, Vietnam was only 40 years ago!

We all now know of course the Pentagon brass gulped the kool aid as fervently as everyone in our grand excursion of felony to Iraq, and in a fascinating post at Orcinus it’s explicitly stated they knew it too, keep your mouth shut, toe the criminal line to create murder and mayhem, Army man. Their excuse is that their chain of command—Bush and Rumsfeld—ordered them not to, and they publicly broke the careers of the few that tried.

I have a lot of sympathy for that argument, more than one might assume, given my position on the war. Unless you’re the lead dog the view never changes, and the military could not exist in any fashion without chain of command discipline, in theory it may be nice to say military leadership should have stopped the war but institutionally it’s a fantasy. The thesis is buttressed in fact by the occurrence of the war, if there was any instance that screamed fierce debate and disobedience it was Iraq, but the Pentagon were herded like goats.

The argument cuts both ways, however, for if they had to follow orders then they should have seen the duty in the human lives that followed their orders. At this juncture their choice is to keep their careers and positions and live with the consequences in their souls and history, not as light a sentence as one might initially think. The stars are still on the epaulettes and the paycheck still comes in, but the Pentagon leadership knows what it’s done, so will future generations, and their eventual outcome to the war will not be easy, whatever it is.

So it goes with all our shining American institutions, the Pentagon is not the only actor to skate away from the nightmare without official responsibility. No one in major media journalism has lost their jobs for so horribly botching it, Congress doesn’t even understand they’re supposed to hold other branches of government accountable, let alone themselves, no Bishop or Cardinal or whatever is criticized, while Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are totally allowed to walk. If no one is going to take a fall then why should the generals and the admirals?

For extremely good realist political reasons Barack and Michelle Obama has embraced and accepted American militarism on many levels, as I’ve said before the alternative was losing the election, but that still does not ease my great concern, the coffins still roll in every week at Andrews and hundreds of billions wasted for horror and death.

When all is said and done one must fervently hope that somehow we learn never to pre-emptively attack again, even if no one is formally held accountable, and the irrevocable knowledge that the well of American goodness is solely held by the President in our modern Age of Executive. If the President is a good person we’ll be all right, but if he or she isn’t there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it, that is the America we know and live with.

paradox :: 7:30 AM :: Comments (11) :: Digg It!