The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Generals Won’t Save Us From the Next War

Maj. Danny Sjursen, June 10, 2019,

I’m very much afraid that Danny Sjursen is correct when he states, “The American military, especially at the senior ranks, is apt to let you down whenever courage or moral fortitude is needed most.” I had been hoping that tRump’s fascist take-over of the U.S. government would eventually be stopped by our military as a last resort. BUT, what Danny is pointing out is the basic cowardice of our generals, which I agree is of grave concern. I retired from a different branch of the military and one pay grade lower than Danny. But my observations are similar… our general officers and those aspiring to that position are primarily political animals, not used to thinking outside-the-box. The “American War Machine” is more interested in perpetuating itself and comfortable retirements, rather than ideology. ~ Don Chapin

Original Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The American Conservative.

Poll after poll indicates that the only public institution Americans still trust is the military. Not Congress, not the presidency, not the Supreme Court, the church, or the media. Just the American war machine.

But perhaps that faith in the U.S. Armed Forces is misplaced. I got to thinking about this recently after I wrote articles calling for dissent among military leaders in order to stop what seems to be a likely forthcoming war with Iran. While I still believe that dissent in the ranks stands the best chance of galvanizing an apathetic public against an ill-advised, immoral conflict in the Persian Gulf, I also know its a pipe dream.

These are company men, after all, obedient servants dedicated—no matter how much they protest otherwise—to career and promotion, as much or more than they are to the national interest. The American military, especially at the senior ranks, is apt to let you down whenever courage or moral fortitude is needed most. In nearly 18 years of post-9/11 forever war, not a single general has resigned in specific opposition to what many of them knew to be unwinnable, unethical conflicts. Writing about the not-so-long-ago Vietnam War, former national security advisor H.R. McMaster, himself a problematic war on terror general, labeled in his book title such military acquiescence Dereliction of Duty. That it was, but so is the lack of moral courage and logical reasoning among McMaster and his peers who have submissively waged these endless wars in Americans’ name.

Think on it: of the some 18 general officers who have commanded the ill-fated, ongoing war in Afghanistan, each has optimistically promised not only that victory was possible, but that it was “around the corner” or a “light at the end of the tunnel.” All these generals needed, naturally, was more time and, of course, more resources. For the most part they’ve gotten it, billions in cash to throw away and thousands of American soldiers’ lives to waste.

Why should any sentient citizen believe that these commanders’ former subordinates—a new crop of ambitious generals—will step forward now and oppose a disastrous future war with the Islamic Republic? Don’t believe it! Senior military leaders will salute, about-face, and execute unethical and unnecessary combat with Iran or whomever else (think Venezuela) Trump’s war hawks, such as John Bolton, decide needs a little regime changing.

Need proof that even the most highly lauded generals will sheepishly obey the next absurd march to war? Join me in a brief trip down an ever so depressing memory lane. Let us begin with my distinguished West Point graduation speaker, Air Force General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers. He goes down in history as as a Donald Rumsfeld lackey because it turns out he knew full well that there were “holes” in the Bush team’s inaccurate intelligence used to justify the disastrous Iraq war. Yet we heard not a peep from Myers, who kept his mouth shut and retired with full four-star honors.

Then, when Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki accurately (and somewhat courageously) predicted in 2003 that an occupation of Iraq would require up to half a million U.S. troops, he was quietly retired. Rummy passed over a whole generation of active officers to pull a known sycophant, General Peter Schoomaker, out of retirement to do Bush the Younger’s bidding. It worked too. Schoomaker, despite his highly touted special forces experience, never threw his stars on the table and called BS on a losing strategy even as it killed his soldiers by the hundreds and then the thousands. Having heard him (unimpressively) speak at West Point in 2005, I still can’t decide whether he lacked the intellect to do so or the conscience. Maybe both.

After Bush landed a fighter plane on a carrier and triumphantly announced “mission accomplished” in Iraq, poor Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the newest three-star in the Army, took over the hard part of conquest: bringing the “natives” to heel. He utterly failed, being too reliant on what he knew—Cold War armored combat—and too ambitious to yell “stop!”  Soon after, it came to light that Sanchez had bungled the investigation—or coverup (take your pick)—of the massive abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison.
General John Abizaid was one of the most disappointing in a long line of subservient generals. It seems Abizaid knew better: he knew the Iraq war couldn’t be won, that it was best to hand over control to the Iraqis posthaste, that General David Petraeus’s magical “surge” snake oil wouldn’t work. Still, Abizaid didn’t quit and retired quietly. He’s now Trump’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, which is far from comforting.

Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster was heralded as an outside-the-box thinker. And indeed, he was a Gulf War I hero, earned a Ph.D., taught history at West Point, and wrote a (mostly) well-received book on Vietnam. Yet when Trump appointed him national security advisor, he brought only in-the-box military beliefs with him into the White House. He then helped author a fanciful National Defense Strategy that argued the U.S. military must be ready at a moment’s notice to fight Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and “terror.” Perhaps at the same time! No nuance, no diplomatic alternatives, no cost-benefit analysis, just standard militarism. These days, McMaster is running around decrying what he calls a “defeatist narrative” and arguing for indefinite war in the Middle East.

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