Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Judging Soldiers

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 8/25/09

I noticed that when one of the major papers asked different people this morning whether President Obama should follow up on Attorney General Eric Holder’s report of CIA abuses, they asked a variety of self-appointed “watch” groups for their opinions with fairly predictable results. Obama should investigate but soldiers and administrators including CIA operatives should best be judged by those who have served; people like General Wesley Clark and Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson rather than by those at the salon who sit in pensive detachment and wait to pounce on malfeasance by those engaged in the action and passion of history. A number of others fall to mind for a panel or council; Major Tammy Duckworth, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, and former CIA station chief Haviland Smith, who writes today on foreign policy here in New England.

Self appointed watch groups with no authority vested by voters should perhaps always be ignored. They tend to create a shadow culture; an antithetical opposition organically hostile to the needs of power when power is needed.

When the American press turned against the war in Vietnam, they also turned the American people against the soldiers who fought in Vietnam. That is why today we have black flags flying beneath Old Glory in every town square in America. Toward the end of the war in Vietnam an entire generation of Vietnam veterans were denounced by the shaded reporting of the tragedy at My Lia. American soldiers were despised then and this influence still ripples through the culture and possibly the Obama administration. Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano should have been fired on the spot for her suggestion that Iraq war veterans are potential terrorists.

In the later Sixties and Seventies the elite northern universities in a pique of righteous indignation threw ROTC off campus. It has not yet returned. Naval officer Joe Sestak, now running for Senate in Pennsylvania, talked about the cultural and regional imbalance of the military in his campaign. The result today is an army of Southern officers. This is an abdication of civic responsibility on behalf of the northern universities and their students and professors. Poor reportage of events like My Lai and the Watergate hearings which at times struck an anthropological cord is partly responsible for this. They became Show Trials calling for human sacrifice.

People volunteer for danger in the service of their country out of a noble human instinct. In following through on their commitment they become results oriented even knowing, as one CIA agent said, they would have to pay for it later. To those who have not responded to that initial instinct to serve “. . . God and country,” it can sound corny. It is not. There is a second phase; a reflex to build a more detached and stylist “alternative.” There is no alternative.

Although done on a much grander scale, the Nuremberg Trials were such a successful model because like much done in that period it was done without public theater or intentional malice. The great General Eisenhower even hired the most learned scholars of the day to find a way to bring conquest to Germany and Japan without the kind of public humiliation what would break their spirit. For this he hired Ruth Benedict for Japan and C.G. Jung for Germany. The desired result was to rehabilitate these nations and bring them back into the community of nations. An army captain, Telford Taylor, directed the show at Nuremberg.

Because of widespread press outlets today including blogs – which bring a ubiquitous chant similar to the “underground newspapers” of the Sixties and Seventies – there is a greater potential today for press opinion to descend to a horde mentality than there was even then during the reportage of My Lai and Watergate. The result then was backlash. It will be today as well if these events are managed so poorly and unprofessionally.

If Obama is to go forward with this he should instead look to the wisdom, care and maturity of the Eisenhower day.