Lessons for the General and the PFC

[by JSC5]

By now, everyone knows that Gen. McCrystal said some insubordinate things about his superiors to the press and is now getting summoned to Washington for a ritual spanking. Certainly much can be said about this story. I agree with Yglesias that Ackerman had the best critique of McCrystal’s actual words:

“The amazing thing about it is there’s no complaints from McChrystal or his staff about the administration on any substantive ground … just immature and arrogant snipes.”

Take-home lesson #1: If you’re going to badmouth your boss and potentially ruin your career, at least make sure your comments are about something.

What I want to point out, however, is not McChrystal’s stunning lack of judgment, but rather the equally-stunning prevalence of bomb-’em-all-to-hell thinking in and out of the armed forces.

A quote from the end of the original NYT story:

Pfc. Jared Pautsch is quoted as telling the general the Americans should just drop a “bomb on the place,” and asking, “What are we doing here?”

On the one hand, you have to feel sorry for Pfc. Pautsch. We all say stupid things sometimes, and I for one don’t want those things preserved for all time on the front page of the New York Times. An off-the-cuff, ill-considered remark shouldn’t go down in history as Pfc. Pautsch’s final word on the subject. But it most likely will. That’s a shame, and a story for another post.

Regardless of Pfc. Pautsch’s actual thoughts on the wisdom of bombing Afghanistan into the stone age, however, this sort of mindset is certainly not rare inside the armed services or in our society at large. It’s one thing for some patriotic, if ignorant, high schoolers to talk like that right after 9-11 — something I’m very familiar with.  Bit it’s quite another thing for our professional soldiers to still have that kind of attitude after a decade in which it should now be painfully obvious that we’re not facing the kind of threat you can solve just by nuking a country off the face of a map. Honestly, what kind of training are they dishing out?

At the end of the day, this may be one of the most damning statements in the entire NYT piece. Sure, McChrystal erred with his lame schoolyard insults (and they really are lame. I’d expect a higher caliber of insult from such a highly educated man). But if the boots on the ground still don’t understand the mission, after all this time, doesn’t that raise serious concerns about our ability to carry out the assigned task?

Take-home lesson #2: It’s really hard to keep soldiers from being soldiers, so be careful how you use them.


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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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