Since Oct 15, 1999

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U.S. Army, 1974-1977, 2d Armored at Ft. Hood.

"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native criminal class in America except Congress."

Mark Twain, 1898

"Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defence against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests."

George Washington, September 17, 1796


“In April of 2003, I was invited by the U.S. Naval Academy to address the midshipmen in a lecture hosted by their Center for the Study of Military Ethics. I chose as my topic “The Obligation to Speak the Truth.” I told these future leaders that speaking the truth could be painful and costly, but it was a duty. Often those who need to hear it won’t like it, even punish you for it; but you owed the truth to your country, your leaders and your troops.

I have been amazed that men who bravely faced death on the battlefield are later, as senior officers, cowed and unwilling to stand up for what is right or to point out what is wrong. There are many reasons for this, from careerism and the hope of personal gain, to political expediency, to a false sense of obedience, to a kind of “Charge of the Light Brigade” mentality: As long as guys are dying out there, it is morally reprehensible to criticize the flawed policies and tactics that put them in that predicament. Bullshit.

I vowed long ago to a wounded young lance corporal in Vietnam that I would never shrink from speaking out. If it required an end to my career, so be it. Later, I was blessed to serve under great leaders who allowed me to speak and welcomed and encouraged my input, even when it was contrary to their views. These men taught me more about courage than I learned on any battlefield – people like Hugh Shelton, who, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, required all of us four-star commanders (CINCs and service chiefs) to read a book by H.R. McMaster, then a bright young Army major and a celebrated armor officer in Desert Storm (as a captain he commanded Eagle Troop of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment during he Battle of 73 Easting, the biggest tank clash since 1973 in the Sinai). The book, Dereliction of Duty, details the failures of the Joint Chiefs to speak out during the Vietnam War; they knew they were building a military campaign on lies, but they pressed forward anyway into the Valley of Death. At a breakfast meeting on January 29, 1998, which was led by Major McMaster, the chairman’s message was clear: He expected us to speak out. I experienced the same sort of encouragement under exceptional commanders like Generals Al Gray, Bob Barrow, Jack Galvin, Mick Trainor, Fred Haynes, Jim McCarthy, Joe Hoar, Binnie Peay, Bob Johnston, and Admiral Snuffy Smith. We need more leaders such as these.

Moral courage is often more difficult than physical courage. There are times when you disagree and you have to suck it in and say, “Yes, sir,” and do what you’re told. There are also times when you disagree and you have to speak out, even at the cost of your career. If you’re a general, you might have to throw your stars on the table, as they say, and resign for the sake of some principle or truth from which you can’t back away.

Careerism is corrosive to the principle of truth telling. So is political expediency. In both cases, the hope of personal gain outweighs personal integrity and honor. “Don’t rock the boat” leads to moral blindness about threats to the mission or the lives and welfare of the troops and of their families. The troops are interested in more from their leaders back home than statements such as, “We back them one hundred percent.” The mentality of the chateau generals in World War One who sent hundreds of thousands of fine young men to useless deaths. IF you make a political mistake, the troops have to pay for it with their blood. Our political and military leaders must be held accountable for their mistakes. Somebody has to tell them that the measures of success they’re selling are not what is really happening on the ground.

I have often been called “outspoken”. I am. Too many of our senior commanders have been “Stepford Generals and Stepford Admirals. “They fail in their obligation to speak the truth. And when they do, they’re vilified. Recently, the Army chief of staff testified that we would need 300,000 troops to pacify Iraq. Everybody in the military knew he was right. But the party line down from the Pentagon decreed that the number was half that, and he was pilloried. Incidents like that are not lost on our subordinates. Many are disgusted and disillusioned, and leave the service of their country. Others learn that following the party line is the course to high rank.”

General Tony Zinni – U.S.M.C. (Ret.) quoted in Battle Ready, G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2004

and I'll close with one of the great things about Texas