I don't like to think of myself as “old”. In the grand scheme of things, I'm not. The wizened sage, with a knowledge-whitened beard, and gnarled wooden staff to thump at the earth, punctuating worldly pronouncements? Not me.
What I am however, is what all of us are—namely, a witness to history. I remember classes being stopped to watch Apollo launches, I remember the “evil” of cyclamates, and vividly recall seeing The Fifth Dimension sing “Wedding Bell Blues” on Ed Sullivan. I have always been, in addition to to a witness, something of a news junkie. Combine that with a weird propensity for memory, and you get someone who sees today's news unfold as part of a longer continium—where events are all small links in the long chain that is history.
That “chain” was rattled again this week with the “testimony” of General David Petraeus before both houses of Congress. I'm sure it rattled your chains as well, because it links so seamlessly with things we've all seen before—stomach-turning episodes of Dejå Vu that don't end benignly with you and I going “Hmmm. That's wild. I could've sworn I saw that before”.
No...these episodes end with some mother's son coming home in various states of obvious disrepair in a black body bag.
You don't have to think very hard to recall the other instances of men in olive drab twill, left chests bedecked with all manner of ribbon and brass, sitting solemnly before Congress and the public, and saying things that were—to be very kind—supremely suspect.
The most obvious instance of this, that Petraeus' testimony recalled, was that of Gen. William Westmoreland, who went before Congress in 1967 at the behest of LBJ and repeatedly...and willfully understated the strength and efficacy of the opposition forces in Vietnam, low-balling the numbers against us in an attempt to make the war seem that much smaller and insignificant in the eyes of Congress, and via Congress, we...the people. He sat there, and knowingly lied—deluding himself and the rest of the military who depended on him for information, while creating a false sense of over-confidence in the 19, 20 and 21-year olds who were being trucked into Southeast Asia daily to fight an allegedly backward and low-numbered enemy. American lives were lost—wasted—because of his self-serving mendacity. And for all of those so quickly rushing to Petraeus' side to defend him in the face of some verrrry hard fact-checking, it is his not-so-distant military forefather, General Westmoreland, whose later debunked “mis-statements” are the heirloom seeds from which the flowering cynicism about Petraeus' words can be traced to.
Would that he was the only lying military officer forefather Petraeus could claim.
The right's beloved Oliver North—then an overly well-connected Lt. Colonel also sat before Congress and testified in 1987, seeming almost to “vogue and pose” for stills in his fitted dress uni and glint-catching medals. And that rule-raping clown not only lied about illegal shipments of U.S. weapons to a nation that had a mere few years before had kidnapped American citizens and held them hostage, but proudly did so—cloaking himself in the flag to boot, all tremble-lipped, and faux earnest-voiced as he admitted lying to Congress under oath about secretly re-directing the weapons and cash. He was indicted for it, and convicted of aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry.
Let's...hear that one more time.
He was indicted and convicted of aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry.
There's one more—and this one is a man who David Petraeus knows very well. Former Four-Star General Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff while Petraeus was Assistant Professor of International Relations at the U.S. Military Academy. The much decorated Powell served in the Vietnam war that Petraeus would gain fame for writing his doctorate dissertation on. But Powell is remembered by many in these post-Vietnam days—and very unfondly I might add, for his now-debunked “testimony” before the U.N. in February of 2003.
Testimony where he sat there in front of the world touting bogus drawings of Iraqi fantasy weapons out of Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D. , and agenda-puffed-lies. He has admitted to being skeptical of the disinformation he relayed that day—but...relayed it nonetheless, fully aware that countless lives—American and Iraqi would be damaged by it. And too many lives would actually end because of it. Powell wore a deep charcoal suit that day, when he pimped for war as Secretary of State—but make no mistake, that suit—that body—was cloaked in the “invisible-to-the-un-discerning-eye” deep olive of his halcyon military days. That “rep”—that image that Americans remember him for, the straight-shootin', brass-sportin' general who oversaw 28 separate military actions, was being used as cheap camouflage on that pivotal Winter's day, to flack for a war he himself didn't even believe in. The pass Powell has been given on the lies he flacked for that day, is that he was being what he'd always been—“a good soldier”, as it were. That he was “conflicted“ as he let himself be used as a pawn in a power play that has senselessly wounded 25,000 and sent nearly 3800 U.S. troops off to the land from which none shall ever wake. Cold comfort, that.
Powell's testimony/address is key here, because it gets at the greater point of what Petraeus did this past week, and the swirling controversy over it.
There are those who would use the imprimatur of Gen. Petraeus' lavishly decorated uniform/military authority as a shield to cravenly hide their self-serving deeds behind. Those who would try to blunt criticism of the continuance of this war by spluttering about people not acknowledging a general's “honor”, and “dedication”, and that to even note the possibility that such a person would massage the truth for untoward reasons is somehow...unpatriotic to even comprehend.
I cited the earlier instances of high-ranking men in uniform willfully twisting reality for the benefit of their commanders-in-chief for a reason—they are part of a pattern—a play as old as time, where those not in uniform are expected by powers-that-be to hold the word of those in uniform as totally above reproach. We are expected to unquestioningly ascribe the weight of Gods to the words of Generals. We are to believe that they will never deceive us, and that considering that possibility is to cause the earth to open up and swallow us all whole.
And quite simply, it's time to call “bullshit” on that fable.
Generals...officers...grunts...are men in uniform. Men. Who bleed, and sneeze, and sweat and shit just like everyone else. Human beings as prone to the foibles of opportunity and advancement as anyone else. And to question these people is the same as questioning anyone else who comes at you with sketchy, tenuous information. Their uniforms and medals don't make them any more or less prone to lie to you.
Medals don't lie. Men do.
It's why PSYOPS divisions exist in the military. There are hot wars, cold wars, and information wars. And many times, as is described in the definition of PSYOPS—
“techniques used by military and police forces to influence a target audience's emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and behavior. Target audiences can be governments, organizations, groups, and individuals, and are used in order to induce confessions, or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originator's objectives.”
—its direct practitioners do so at the behest of the policy's originator—in almost all cases, the commander-in-chief. The military pledges fealty to the CIC. That's just the way it is. The President asks—they do. Their responsibility is not to the non-military populace—the public. So quite honestly, the public has little or no leverage over what generals say or do. They serve the President—and sadly, just like in any hierarchal structure—be it corporate or governmental, people who serve are loathe to give the boss bad news, and will more often than not, go out of their way to not only give the boss ONLY good news, but parrot ONLY GOOD NEWS to the masses if that's what the boss wants put out there.
That's the nature of the beast. If the order from the CIC is “Say 'X' even if the reality is 'Y',” 'X' is what you will hear. And in those instances where a general exercises free will, and that free will means sharing facts that do not fit the CIC's desired narrative, that general will be punished. You need look no further than what happened to General Eric Shinseki, Lt. Gen. John Riggs, and Major General Antonio Taguba when their words—truthful as they may have been—ran afoul of desired administration spin.
What has people in an uproar is the idiotic, simple-minded idea that we, the people are for some reason wrong to dare doubt the word of these for the most part, “spin-hamstrung” administration mouthpieces. That if you hint at their being untruthful, you are—“gasp!”—dishonoring their service! Self-interested parties want us to elevate these men to “God” status, where words escaping their lips—true or not—cannot be questioned, thus giving said interested parties an impenetrable, green shield to hide behind when confronted on their bullshit.
This is not to say that all generals are liars. I've cited here instances when generals have told brutal, unvarnished truths and paid for it. What I am saying is that generals...are not deities. They are human beings...people. And people will lie. That is why, considering the tsunami of lies we've heard from this administration about the war thus far—and seeing so much of the numbers floated out by Petraeus so quickly debunked—he simply doesn't deserve blanket “benefit of the doubt”.
Cede too much to men in power, where you elevate them to near-mythical status, and you leave yourself open to be taken advantage of. It's what we saw in the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandals, where clear misdeeds are overlooked because more important than anything else—“we must believe”. Bush and the GOP for the last three months have tried to deify General Petraeus, via the wet-eyed, steady repetition of his—“The Savior's” name, hoping to turn it into some sort of holy, healing novena that if said enough times would fix all bad in Iraq.
And let woe betide anyone who dares doubt “The Savior”, right? At least, according to those who need him to cover for their bullshit. Because that's who's really at fault here. The wingnut cowards who would use a man's uniform, and a man's service, and a man's fealty to the CIC to hide behind and shoot their war-mongering spitballs from.
Let's be clear—there is no savior. No water-walking “god” who cannot be questioned about the conduct and implementation of this war.
There are only men—who bleed, and sneeze, and sweat and yeah, shit just like everyone else. They sometimes lie, too—for reasons that are sadly, part of the job. But screw the people who can't deal with them being called out when it happens. And double-screw the people who fake outrage at the much-deserved cynicism, because it exposes their cowardly hidey-hole where they all hold hands, shut their eyes, and chant “War forever. War forever! WAR-FOR-FUCKING-EVAH!
Defend your shit on the merits. Oh...wait! You stopped doing that a long time ago, didn't you?
I believe we get it, now.