The Chairman Speaks Up

"QUESTION: And, General Pace, what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if — like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail?

PACE: It is absolutely responsibility of every U.S. service member if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it. As an example of how to do it if you don’t see it happening, but you’re told about it, is exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago. There was a report from an Iraqi to a U.S. commander that there was a possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility. That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts. They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it.

So they did exactly what they should have done.

RUMSFELD: I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it, it’s to report it.

PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."

OSD Press Conference 29 November, 2005

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) occupies a special place in the minds of the members of the US armed forces.  Contrary to the assumptions of many civilians, service in the military is not just a job, or even worse an occupation taken up as an escape from disadvantage.  For professional soldiers of the kind who now populate our armed forces, life in the military may start that way, but the ethos of military life and the bonds of loyalty and service that tie soldiers together quickly push motivations like that to one side, to be replaced by a code of honor and "stand up" responsibility that becomes more important than anything else.  It is not for a job that soldiers are willing to risk death and maiming or to kill as necessary.  No, it is for a vocation, a "guild," or perhaps even an "Order."  If that characterization is correct then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could be thought of as "Grand Master" of the Order and custodian of its honor and values.  The Chiefs of the Service Staffs used to perform this function but in recent years, law and reality have brought the Chairman into everyone’s awareness as the man who speaks for all.  As the most senior "soldier" of the United States he has the responsibility to defend the right, to speak without fear.  He is, in a special way, the voice of those who have no voice, those who are forbidden by law and custom from expressing their inner feelings and opinions with regard to US government behavior and the policy that it represents.  This silence is the price that soldiers pay in accepting their role as apolitical servants of the state.  In return for this silence the soldiers expect that the government will not take up policy positions that violate the code of the American soldier. 

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff speaks for the soldiers.  Yesterday, General Peter Pace USMC effectively rebuked Donald Rumsfeld in public when Rumsfeld implied that prevention of abuse of prisoners by Iraqi security forces was not a responsibility of American soldiers present at the commission of such crimes.

"..sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."

With these words Pace began to meet his obligations to everyone who ever wore our uniform.  Just after the war in Indochina, I witnessed the humiliation of a former Chief of Staff of the US Army at the Armed Forces Staff College where I was a student.  This man had been chief of staff when Lyndon Johnson decided to put major US forces into Vietnam.  In a lecture, he described the process by which Johnson bullied the "Chiefs" into accepting his decision to do so.  The general said that he had known at the time that it was a catastrophic decision but that he had accepted it.  My classmates were all badly "bloodied" veterans of what Johnson had set in motion.  When the general stopped speaking, one of them stood to ask why he had not resigned in protest rather than be part of what had happened to us all.  The general said that he could not have stopped Johnson and thought that if it were to be done, then he should do it.

Thee were no more questions.  There was no applause.  They would not stand for him when he left.  They would not even look at him.

He had not met his obligations, had not paid the required price.  He had failed us all.

Perhaps General Pace has heard this story.

Pat Lang

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16 Responses to The Chairman Speaks Up

  1. Sally says:

    Let’s hope he continues to meet his heavy obligations and every time he puts on that uniform is reminded he has under his control and command people who will be sent every day to death’s door while in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something the rest of the brass don’t seem to consider their obligation.

  2. Geoff says:

    He also questioned Iraq as an insurgent state yesterday.
    To me, this is unbelievable, but perhaps I’m mistaken (PL weigh in on this if you want). I attempt to correct the dilusional Sec of Deffense here:

  3. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I heard that as well. What I understod from that was that Rummy was trying to peddle a cutesie name for the insurgents and Pace would not let himself be pushed into saying the “Rummyism.” pl

  4. Geoff says:

    I’d call it revisionism

  5. Squashed Lemon says:

    Related item on torture/pentagon.
    Douglass feith give short speech. (including Q/A where he does mental gymnastic on geneva convention. min’52’)
    I can’t decide if he doesn’t know real situation on the ground or he is OD-ing on halcyon.

  6. George says:

    I’ve enjoyed your site very much. I’m not nor have I ever been in the military. Being 49 years old means I just missed Vietnam by a couple of years. As a result of Vietnam I’ve developed a distrust of our military.
    I don’t doubt that there are people of integrity in our military but I don’t think everyone in our military is a person of integrity. Sadly, I think the majority of the high ranking military officers are particularly lacking in integrity. Too much has happened in Iraq for me to think otherwise.
    If you haven’t read this yet I hope you will read it soon.
    Thanks for the great site and insight,

  7. bud says:

    Pat, by the creed that has been described in your post, Gen. Shelton was a total wanker for having being pushed around by Rummy and not standing for the soldier’s ethos. He probably set the tone for Gen. Sanchez and others responsible for Abu Ghraib and all the other unAmerican instances of sanctioned torture. Totally repugnant behavior that has shredded any credibility that we have to moralize to anyone.

  8. Barbara says:

    in nuce : the arrogance of power.
    Thank you Sir, this was exactly what it felt like to hear Mr Defense Secretary, Rumsfeld when he visited Germany, pleased to be extensively interviewed, generously sharing his views.
    Unfortunately life is not a Greek tragedy where hybris is revenged, quite the opposite …

  9. Larry Mitchell says:

    My former company commander in VN (now a retired COL) told me the same story. He felt is was a tragedy for the Chief of Staff and that he carried the weight of that decision to his grave. The story came up as we remembered the Chief of Staff and Westmoreland visiting FSB Burt early Jan 1968 after a large battle. I am looking hard for heroes in this current mess, and it looks like GEN Pace is a leading candidate. Thanks for your postings and commentary. This stuff is hard for us regular people to follow.

  10. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Your friend may have been a classmate of mine at AFSC?
    The general (former CoS) was a good man. We all felt bad for him. He had been captured by the Japanese at Bataan in defeat of the isolated garrison there in 1942. He survived the war as a PW in Japan, had served with great distinction in the Korean War, and was generally thought of as a soldier’s soldier.
    Nevertheless, some failures are beyond forgiveness.
    “It is not a mercy to tolerate poor performance in offcers. Think of the men. Think of the men.” Robert E. Lee

  11. Hannah K. O'Luthon says:

    Thanks to all for an interesting thread. I’m wondering if what we’re seeing from the president on down the chain of command is merely “poor performance” or something more sinister and terrible. I don’t know, but I’d be interested in hearing what people who have been in or close to that chain of command think.

  12. Curious says:

    I have to echoes the sentiment. (Repost)
    To even discuss torture is disgusting.
    Newsweek reader scorned…
    Reading your article on torture literally made me sick to my stomach (“The Debate Over Torture,” Nov. 21). I am an 81-year-old citizen who served my country in the U.S. Army in WWII and as a flight surgeon during the Korean police action. I never dreamed that my beloved country would ever fall to the level of Third World dictatorships. For this government to even discuss torture is disgusting. If this is the level of morality of our leaders, many of whom are self-professed Christians, then may their Lord help us. This administration does not speak for me, nor do I believe that it does for the average American. I hope we can all come together and rid our country of this perniciousness in the next election. —Harry I., Washington
    George W. Bush and his spokesmen have felt free to argue that American interrogators may use torture on helpless prisoners because international law and treaties forbidding it–even ones we’ve signed–don’t apply to us. The U.S. Constitution states that “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby.” The president swears an oath to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Thus, contrary to the Bush Justice Department memo quoted in the sidebar (“How Terror Led America Toward Torture”), international law is binding on our nation’s government even if this administration finds it inconvenient. President Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about an extramarital affair. Surely trampling on the Constitution and worldwide legal standards while disgracing not merely the office of the presidency but the United States merits treatment at least as serious. —Eric B. L., Staten Island
    There is no “debate” over torture. It is an evil at all times and all places. It is also a crime under international and national law. That makes two groups: those against torture and criminals. —Dinah Shelton, George Washington University Law School

  13. Joe Friday says:

    My father has often told me the story of a meeting he attended during that period where the general you speak of rather adamently warned McNamara that the U.S. military should never fight a land war in Asia. According to my father, McNamara curtly dismissed him and froze him out of any future discussions on the subject. Is it possible that the general elected to take the fall because he later considered his attempt to be inadequate? Either way it is a shame.

  14. searp says:

    I don’t see the heavy price, myself.
    It is true that people get put into positions where they need to demonstrate courage and integrity. To me, this is an opportunity.
    If more people in this country resigned over principle, disagreed publicly with bad policy, etc, then wouldn’t the country be the better for it?
    I don’t know a starving, unemployed retired O-6, but I know plenty that are living in comfortable retirement.
    Gen. Pace deserves commendation, but we should also expect no less.

  15. W. Patrick Lang says:

    When you reach the stage at which you have a grand enough view of yourself to fear a loss of status then you will understand what the “price” is for these guys. pl

  16. HerbEly says:

    Setting the Ethical Standard: A Concrete Example

    We can talk forever about the value of contemplative prayer, personal growth and ethics. If we ever reach the end, we still have to stand up and ”be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only”. If we want

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