Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Difference Between Uniformed and Uninformed

Last night was Midsummer Eve, and according to medieval tradition, if you harvested fern seeds on that night and carried them with you, you would be invisible. Apparently, in those days, people thought that fern seeds were invisible. For all I know, they are, because I don't remember seeing any fern seeds around here. Maybe I left them in my other pants.

But I know who wishes he were invisible, and that's this General Stanley
McChrystal, the Army guy who is in so much trouble because he and his staff just couldn't stop criticizing the president and his top brass, even though there was a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine hanging around, gathering seeds and berries to whip up this article that really bakes McChrystal's poundcake.
President Obama read the article while flipping through the magazine looking for summer concert tour venues, and now he has called Stanley back the White House for a good old-fashioned gettin' fired.

Once again, it's the same old thing we've seen so many times. People just want to do their own thing, say what they feel like saying, express themselves no matter what the cost. And so Stan the Man got the heave-ho, and was forced to walk the plank, for his outspokenness. (I'm sure he would appreciate the Navy talk in that last sentence. Hey, maybe he could enlist in the Navy, now that it appears that his Army career is winding down like tired but chatty soldiers after a 50-mile hike.)

Now I was never in the service, but I have a feeling that the discipline might have been good for me. As it would have been for anyone! So what happened to this McChrystal? Wasn't he a general, for crying out loud? Where is his discipline? Why is his tongue a-flappin' so much? Isn't there a war he was supposed to be running? In World War II, did we see Eisenhower giving interviews to Ladies Home Journal about how he didn't like Franklin Roosevelt? What is he talking about in the article, his staff telling people that McC didn't feel engaged enough when he talked to the president for the first time? Is the president in office to make some general feel engaged? I mean, really?

I've had friends in all the armed services except for the Salvation Army. To a man or woman, they all said the same thing: the discipline that they mete out is singular in purpose. It takes away the individual and leaves the soldier/airman/sailor/whatever. And it makes sense. In a battle, or when something is wrong, there needs to be a person in charge and he or she needs to give orders and not have to explain or cajole. When an infantry captain tells his troops to throw a hand grenade into a certain location, he or she is doing so because that is part of the plan. To have a soldier say, "Hmmm. Is this what I feel like doing?" destroys all that and makes things fall apart.

Similarly, when you go to work, you may have all sorts of opinions about the people you work with, the customers you serve, and the bosses who tell you and the people you work with how to serve the customers. You may certainly express these opinions at home, where, heaven knows, they have heard it before but will listen again to how things would be if YOU
were only in charge. You can tell your friends about it, and you can write to your Uncle Ned in Oregon about it, and you can scream and moan the whole way to work and the whole way home. But you shouldn't tell a nationwide magazine about it, especially a magazine read by hundreds of aging hipsters dying to hear the latest about Keith Richards.

General McChrystal and his people are indiscreet, at least, and disrespectful, at worst. I have said it many times and will say it here again. We know that military people don't tend to like the president. But they owe him and his office the respect that a little bit of lip-buttoning and smart saluting would indicate. You think it's so easy trying to win a war when you have loose cannons rolling around on the battlefield?

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