Favorite

Generals make mistakes, too 

Silly me, here I'd been fantasizing about a soft military coup preventing the Braggart-in-Chief from starting World War III. Surely the Pentagon has procedures for removing emotionally incapacitated commanders, and Trump's generals, as he calls them, must have made contingency plans.

Or maybe not.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders says that arguing with a four-star Marine general like White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is almost sacrilegious. Americans haven't always thought so. I had two uncles who'd served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur —one in the Philippines, the other Korea. They considered him a vainglorious blowhard who was reckless with his men's lives.

They'd have agreed with President Harry S. Truman's explanation for why he cashiered MacArthur in 1951: "I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President," Truman told Time. "I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."

Service as grunts in the Pacific had persuaded my uncles that going into Vietnam was folly. They were keen to convince me that it wasn't necessary to go to war to be a man — advice that, like Donald J. Trump, I was eager to hear. No bone spurs here, merely educational deferments.

I do not apologize.

History teaches that while military virtues are real — duty, honor, sacrifice and courage — so are military vices: chief among them authoritarianism and an inability to admit error. Generals spend the first half of their careers polishing apples and their command years getting their apples shined. That can lead to an inability to see other people's point of view — particularly those of lower rank.

Hence Gen. Kelly's unfortunate role in Trump's latest degrading Twitter feud — exchanging insults with a congresswoman in a silly hat over the president's ill-fated attempt to console a war widow.

Ill-fated because this president utterly lacks compassion and pretty clearly bungled his attempt to deliver the script Kelly offered him. The general's dignified, moving description of a friend's advice about how to talk to bereaved families evidently came out very differently in Trump's mouth.

Sgt. La David Johnson's widow, Myeshia, recalled the president saying that her husband "knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways. And it made me cry. I was very angry at the tone of his voice, and how he said it."

One can certainly question U.S. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson's motives for making a political issue of so intimate a moment, but everybody who overheard the exchange on speakerphone as Sgt. Johnson's people drove to the airport to collect his remains heard it the same way.

Trump struck them as cold and unfeeling.

At that point, a normal man — even a normal politician — would apologize for expressing himself clumsily, praise Sgt. Johnson's heroism, offer further condolences to the families of all the Green Berets killed in Niger, petition God to bless the United States of America, and put it behind him.

But that's now how Trump rolls. So he began attacking the "WACKY" congresswoman, and sent his pet general out to double down on her. Or maybe Kelly volunteered.

Either way, he gave a lacerating account of a speech Wilson had given at the dedication of a new FBI building in her district in 2013.

"A congresswoman stood up," Kelly told reporters, "and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down. And we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned."

Trouble was, apart from the fact that Wilson did, indeed, speak at the FBI building dedication, everything Kelly said about her speech was completely false —a nd was proven so when the Florida Sun-Sentinel published a video recording.

Wearing her trademark cowgirl hat, Wilson said nothing about securing funding for the building, because she hadn't. She never mentioned Obama at all. She did praise GOP House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who helped her to get the building named for two fallen FBI agents whose heroism she extolled at length.

I doubt Kelly lied, but something about Wilson clearly set him off. Democrat? Woman? Black woman? Or maybe it was just the damn hat. Whatever, he owes her an apology, but I doubt she'll get it.

See, when generals go off half-cocked, everybody has to salute.

But Kelly's not in uniform anymore.

Favorite

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Like wrestling

    So what's it going to be, America: a democratic republic, or Trumpistan? A nation governed by the rule of law, or an oversized kleptocracy, whose maximum leader uses the decayed shell of government to punish his political enemies and reward friends and family?
    • May 24, 2018
  • Talking baseball

    "God bless America!" I exclaimed to nobody, as the dog and cat watching the Red Sox game with me were napping.
    • May 17, 2018
  • Trump under oath? No.

    The ongoing made-for-TV spectacle of the Trump administration has more shocks and plot reverses than the most elaborate professional wrestling extravaganza.
    • May 10, 2018
  • More »

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Like wrestling

    So what's it going to be, America: a democratic republic, or Trumpistan? A nation governed by the rule of law, or an oversized kleptocracy, whose maximum leader uses the decayed shell of government to punish his political enemies and reward friends and family?
    • May 24, 2018
  • Talking baseball

    "God bless America!" I exclaimed to nobody, as the dog and cat watching the Red Sox game with me were napping.
    • May 17, 2018
  • Trump under oath? No.

    The ongoing made-for-TV spectacle of the Trump administration has more shocks and plot reverses than the most elaborate professional wrestling extravaganza.
    • May 10, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Trade places

    I confess that over the years I've wished a fall from grace upon a number of people. I've come to call it the "Trading Places Award." The recipient is someone who has shown no compassion or empathy for someone else in a tough situation.
  • Now, the main event

    I write Tuesday morning, before polls close on primary and judicial election contests.
  • Like wrestling

    So what's it going to be, America: a democratic republic, or Trumpistan? A nation governed by the rule of law, or an oversized kleptocracy, whose maximum leader uses the decayed shell of government to punish his political enemies and reward friends and family?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Like wrestling

    • Great reminder/summary. So much happens in Trumpistan that last week's news seems like months ago…

    • on May 23, 2018
  • Re: Talking baseball

    • I loved Bill Elder "calling" the Travs games on the road. He did it by…

    • on May 22, 2018
  • Re: Talking baseball

    • 1090 was Little Rock's own Mighty 1090 KAAY, the greatest radio station ever. But i…

    • on May 22, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation