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Honor, Sacrifice and Imperial Duplicity

Four Dead in Niger. Anybody Know Why?

What's going on here? General Kelly has created in his mind, for one reason or another, an idea of Rep. Wilson that comes out like Al Sharpton processed through the mind of Sean Hannity. He, then, did his best to humiliate that figment of his mind by reducing the human being it represented to an “empty barrel” -- that is, someone unworthy of his time. It's clear, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson did not reach where she is by being a shrinking violet. This is a woman with some edge; she bites back. In this case, she dared to express offense at the president’s attitude and his remarks. In General Kelly's mind, she was in a class below that of military warriors and their code of honor. That a professional military man looks upon a dedicated educator with such disdain should tell us something about our militarized culture.

Kelly may be “the adult in the room” keeping a self-centered Donald Trump in line, but in this instance, he sadly exhibited a quite Trumpian self-centeredness and insensitivity. Donald Trump’s problem is one of rewarded narcissism, even sadism; General Kelly exhibited a different problem. His righteous self-centeredness was based on personal suffering and the ever-more-exclusive clubbyness of our professional military. For instance, during his press conference, he insisted that only Gold Star parents could ask him a question. If you’re not an intimate part of today’s elite military, if you’re not “one of us,” you can’t understand and, accordingly, you don’t have the right to say anything. Of course, anyone familiar with political science will tell you that's an anti-democratic formula for authoritarianism.

So there you have it. On one hand, since the end of World War Two, US leadership has asked young American men and women to don uniforms and without a lot of real information to go and fight in strange, distant lands. They're not expected to ask questions. When I was in the Army, the joke was, "When I say 'Jump!' don't ask me 'Why?' ask my 'How high?" When young American soldiers get to their foreign deployments they too often run afoul of US leadership’s misguided and arrogant mid-understandings of the history and human realities of that foreign place. That is, the politics of Washington DC acts like a template overlaid over this mysterious foreign place and its problems; too often that template’s unreality leads to disaster for young troops on the granular level. I knew an Iraq veteran who came home and shot himself in the head because, in my view, in his young mind he could not match what-was-supposed-to-be with what-really-went-down. That is, he could not match the coding of the top-down warrior brotherhood with the bottom-up realities and his own inadequacies. I know numbers of wounded US servicemen who feel as I do. I know veterans rotting in prison due to crimes rooted in the violent training and experiences of their service. These men would be sneered at by the likes of General Kelly, maybe be reduced to "empty barrels."

story | by Dr. Radut