Unworthy, shameful and rotten

"Since November 2012, when an adulterous affair felled David H. Petraeus, the CIA director and most renowned Army general of his generation, the armed forces have struggled to cope with tawdry disclosures about high-ranking commanders. The Navy has been humbled by a spiraling sex-and-bribery scandal, as well as a gambling incident involving a three-star admiral who authorities say they caught using counterfeit chips at a riverfront casino. The Air Force relieved a nuclear commander after investigators said he went on a drinking binge in Moscow. The Army fired one general for allegedly groping a woman, forced another to retire after he accepted expensive gifts from a foreigner, and demoted its top commander in Africa after an investigation found he treated himself and his wife to a $750-a-night Caribbean hotel suite at taxpayer expense. The subject is painfully sensitive inside the Pentagon, where many generals and admirals say they are appalled but reluctant to openly criticize their peers."  Washpost


It would be foolish to imagine that flag officers have not taken personal advantage of their rank in the past.  Most civilians will not be surprised that this is true because civilian life is largely about placing personal gain above all else.  Nevertheless, it is true that military life demands something better.  A life dedicated to the readiness to sacrifice all for the state demands something more.

These generals and admirals have not met that better standard and there seems to be an epidemic of that sort of behavior.  Why?  IMO this has been caused by the kind of expansion of the size of the officer corps that always accompanies prolonged war.  What happens in such wars is that standards are inevitably lowered in order to have the people needed to fight the war.  After the wars end, a Reduction in Force is alway done for the purposes of re-sizing the force and also to discard the deadwood and detritus accumulated in the the officer corps in the course of the war.   After Vietnam some 10,000 officers were put out on the street by board action.  These were, in the main, reserve officers on active duty in their commissioned ranks.  A lot of them had enlisted ranks as well and many were put back in the ranks.  This was painful but necessary.

During  these latest wars  standards fell far.  Promotion rates to the field grades (major, lieutenant colonel and colonel) became ridiculously high in a system which is designed to function in an "up or out" manner within a steeply pyramidal rank authorization structure.  I lecture several time at the service war colleges in the last ten years and can only say that many of the field grade students I saw there would not have been selected for the war college before 9/11.

Prolonged war can twist men's souls.  The finer sides of our nature are hard to hang on to in those circumstances.  Some people remain virtuous servants of the state.  Some do not.  These disgraceful flag officers are products of that phenomenon.

There should be a purge.  pl        


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24 Responses to Unworthy, shameful and rotten

  1. Charles I says:

    Perhaps duty, authority, honor have been a little worse for wear the past few cosy generations. I imagine there is just a smaller pool soldiers imbued with the requisite character to select from as a baseline, as well as the staggering lucre now to be found in the MIC siphoning off some.

  2. VietnamVet says:

    Your post is exactly on point.
    “Greed is Good” is the ruling American ideology. The volunteer army self selects those who don’t have second thoughts going off to unwinnable wars.
    Have you seen the pictures from the Ukraine? It is medieval.
    The criticism of Income Inequality is thought to be equivalent to “Kristallnacht – the night of shattered glass” for the extremely wealthy.
    I have no idea what the officer corps thinks. As I told the second lieutenant 43 years ago when I was late for morning formation “I hear a different drummer”.
    The USA did not survive the end of the Vietnam War well. There are no civilian jobs out there today for RIF’d soldiers, only as contract mercenaries. There are powerful reasons for the Israel Firsters, Generals and the Elite to conspire together to continue the Middle East Wars forever and not purge the ranks.
    The one truth is that if my government pension stops, I’m dead. I just want too put it off as long as possible. The current risky behavior of business and government puts us all in harms way.

  3. The Twisted Genius says:

    I read this story this morning while waiting for my car to be inspected. If Colonel Lang didn’t post something on it, I was going to. It chapped my ass that much. That article said the former CG of Fort Jackson was fined $5,000 for his transgressions. What’s that? Half a months pay? I’ve seen junior enlisted get fined more than that for lesser transgressions. He’s going to retire soon, the article says. He should have been made to resign his commission or, more properly, been stripped of his commission without retirement. Too harsh? Not in my book.
    “The subject is painfully sensitive inside the Pentagon, where many generals and admirals say they are appalled but reluctant to openly criticize their peers.” That’s pitiful. Their peers are sullying the honor of the officers corps and they won’t even openly criticize them. It would be refreshing to at least see some screaming matches or an occasional fistfight in the halls of the Pentagon. Too bad dueling is out of style.
    When I was young I would play Richard Kiley singing “The Impossible Dream” over and over. I probably wore out that track on my parents’ record. It’s Cervantes/Don Quixote’s profession of the chivalric code. Of course, Don Quixote was but a delusional, old fool. This world sorely needs more such delusional, old fools.

  4. turcopolier says:

    Yes. They need the Farinelli treatment. pl

  5. walrus says:

    I’m sorry to say that from my vantage point, a purge isn’t going to happen, or rather, if it does, it will be those who “openly criticize their peers” who will be made to leave because narcissists are great haters with long memories.
    I say this because I believe the same “political correctness” that has destroyed age old mechanisms for weeding out potentially bad leaders in business has apparently done exactly the same in the military. There may be no “good apples” left to weed out the “bad apples”.
    Those mechanisms, now discarded, involved long term observation of a persons character in a variety of situations where artifice and “managing up” are impossible and true character appears – on a Golf course or other sporting endeavour, in social settings, in family settings, at school and university and so on.
    All that is now deemed irrelevent or positively discriminatory. What counts now are written reports and the correct stamps on your ticket. Evidence of anti social behaviour, perhaps bordering on the psycopathic or evidence of total lack of empathy with ordinary humanity is inadmissible. To put that another way, a person can be a total asshole of a human being and still be promoted if they make the right noises and lick the required behind.
    How else does one explain how Holly Graf ever became captain of a United States Navy Cruiser?

  6. turcopolier says:

    Yes. Yes. There will be no purge. I know that. Would you prefer that I say nothing? pl

  7. Will says:

    regarding income inequality,it has always been that way in capitalist or communist systems.the usual or pareto rule in 80/20.
    “He [Pareto] was also the first to discover that income follows a Pareto distribution, which is a power law probability distribution. The Pareto principle was named after him and built on observations of his such as that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.”
    he later found out all countries have that distribution, more or less.

  8. Thanks PL for this post!

  9. walrus says:

    Col. Lang, I know you are fighting the good fight and more power to you. I think it is important to try to fight it, that way you can sleep soundly knowing you have continued to do your duty as you see it.
    If it is any help, I know of some organisations that have started to deliberately attempt to screen out narcissists and people with possible psychopathic tendencies. The axis of the test is an assessment of ability to empathise. An example question: “how would you go about telling a mother and Father that their only child has just died in a car accident?”.

  10. Don Bacon says:

    There are too many flags, to begin with. And each one requires a fancy office, expensive home and unproductive aides, horse-holders, hangers-on, etc.
    Currently in the US Navy of 283 ships there are 320 admirals. 10 U.S. Code § 526 allows only 162 admirals, but the lwa includes a “limited” exclusion for joint duty which opens the door permitting too many to enter. So the Navy has about double the number allowed by law (without the waiver).

  11. bth says:

    It isn’t just that promotions have been so probable, its that promising officers are bailing out of what has become a bad system. Bad is chasing out good.

  12. JfM says:

    As sickening as these too frequent episodes are, the more often resulting punishment hardly reinforces any idea that the military is serious about stamping out such behavior. Guilty flag officers lose a star or have their last LOM rescinded. Poppycock! The result of flag officer conduct inimical to the officer code needs to very harsh; substantive forfeiture of retirement pay, meaningful reduction of rank, immediate retirement in disgrace, and in truly egregious circumstances..a BCD. Similar transgressions by enlisted more often result in true poundings, offending officers should have at least the same consequences.

  13. Bill H says:

    My father was a career Air Force officer, while I served as enlisted Navy so I can’t speak with any authority to the point of officers being unwilling to “openly criticize their peers.” I do know that my father took great pride in the service and the nation he served, and that he did not “suffer fools gladly.”
    I was a petty officer in submarines, and took pride in the group of men I served with. I was too proud of my peers not to criticize any of them who did not meet the standards which were demanded of the group. Seems to me that any officer unwilling to “criticise his peers” lacks pride and/or respect for his service, and certainly lacks respect for himself.

  14. John Gavin says:

    I have served in the US Army for over 22 years. There is a purge underway. Those with integrity and honesty are being purged. If a senior officer or NCO does not have flexible integrity, they are being purged. If one is not willing to look the other way, or insists on following laws and regulations, or insists on telling the truth, there is no room for that person today.
    In the past, we followed orders because the orders made sense, and were consistent with US laws and military regulations. Now, we are expected to follow orders simply because we are told to, and often those orders are contrary to law and regulation. If you don’t go along, you are smeared and purged.
    The US military has ceased to be a values-based organization.
    JM Gavin

  15. Bill H says:

    Upon reflection, I wonder if this issue does not reflect somewhat poorly on today’s noncoms. In diesel boats fifty years ago officers who lacked personal integrity never made it past the “boot Ensign” stage, because chiefs and senior petty officers sniffed them out and ran them off the ship.

  16. For over a decade I conducted an interview with over 50 Presidential appointees as an agency ethics official and assisted them in obtaining Senate confirmation if needed.
    I could often determine which ones might be problematic through my questioning. It largely divided this group into those who felt “entitled” and those wishing to serve the people of the USA. You can guess which ones became most of the problem!
    Very few in either category went on to “bigger” jobs IMO!
    Governing and military service in combat are very very tough jobs. Perhaps too many flag ranks do little of either.

  17. oofda says:

    That latest article you noted underscores your comment that “there needs to be a purge.” There are just too many poor and incompetent people in leadership positions in the military today.

  18. PStu says:

    I can hear Hackworth’s epithet of “Perfumed Princes” echoing from the grave.

  19. Fred says:

    One has to wonder who put that women in the WAPO report into the SES and why hasn’t our ‘commander in chief’ held these people accountable?
    I hope CJCS Dempsey is able to clear out the dead wood within the senior flag ranks. I don’t envy him his task but I am glad he is there to the process started.

  20. fanto says:

    Colonel, what is the number of White officers who misbehaved vs. Black, especially as the nuclear weapon control is concerned? I am asking this because the pictures seem to indicate 50/50 split ; not sarcastically. BTW. the information from Robert Gates’ book seems to be that Pres. Obama was deeply distrustful of the Military people, in view of all the revelation – Mr Gates is barking under the wrong tree, IMHO. Thank you.

  21. turcopolier says:

    I have no idea. If it is anything like 50% that would be very high since there are not really a lot of Black officers even now. pl

  22. walrus says:

    Once a few narcissistic bastards get into the chain of command, they automatically remove anyone who they consider a threat to their self image…this includes hard working and honest subordinates and they are replaced them with arse lickers like themselves since only a narcissist will work for another narcissist. That is my explanation for the proliferation of these creatures in leadership roles.
    I watched a CEO fire her hard working Chief of Staff for having the temerity to correct one of her more obvious mistakes. She was replaced by an Oxford educated and beautifully spoken useless sycophant.

  23. fanto says:

    “…If you don’t go along, you are smeared and purged.” – Sir, it is as bad or worse, in medical profession, where I spent 40+ years

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