Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On General McChrystal

The fallout over "The Runaway General," Rolling Stone's profile of General Stanley A. McChrystal, seems to be rather overblown after reading the article (which I have just finished doing). While it is peppered with profanity -- as military life often is -- the most offensive of the remarks weren't really made by the General at all but rather by his staff; the General, on the other hand, comes across as a dedicated, hard-charging warrior -- someone devoted to his troops and to whom, generally speaking , they are likewise devoted.

One wonders why on earth he would even grant the interview in the first place. Rolling Stone is a generally leftist publication anyway (although they did carry P.J. O'Rourke for a number of years, cumulating in his service as the Chief of their Foreign Affairs desk) that focuses on music more than military affairs. If the interview was going to be granted one could hope that COL Charlie Flynn, General McChrystal's Chief of Staff, would ride herd on the staff to ensure that flippant and controversial comments would be kept to a minimum while the prying eyes of the media were around.

That, of course, didn't happen and General McChrystal has been summoned to the White House to meet with President Obama. There are reports that the General has submitted his resignation and reports that it has been declined. It remains to be seen whether General McChrystal will join fellow Celtic Generals McClellan and MacArthur in being removed from command.

One aspect of this whole story that I found a bit troubling, not because of the General per se but because of what it portends for society and the military are reports that General McChrystal voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 elections. While I disagree with his vote if that was the case, I am troubled with the fact that that information even came to the fore. For many years there was a tradition that active duty military officers were apolitical while serving. General George Patton even took that tradition so far as to have never registered to vote; his rationale, focused mainly on the office of President, was that if he voted for the incumbent he would have allowed his vote to be purchased and if he voted against the incumbent he would have committed a nearly mutinous act. A career officer who was a very close friend of mine since childhood (I conducted his funeral in 2005) told me that he didn't vote until he retired from the Army in the mid-1960s because Regular Army officers typically did not by tradition (he regularly voted and contributed to campaigns in retirement, however).

Times have changed. Units now have Voting Assistance Officers to facilitate voting via absentee ballot. While I certainly have no problem with those serving in uniform participating in the electoral process, I do question the wisdom of a senior General discussing how he voted.

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