Time for “Encouragement”

200pxjohn_byng ""A bedrock principle of our military system is that we empower commanders with the responsibility, authority and resources necessary to carry out their mission," Gates said. "With responsibility comes accountability."

His comment suggested that senior officials in the Army chain of command would not be immune from disciplinary action.

Gates announced that two former Army secretaries, Togo West and Jack Marsh, would head an independent panel to review treatment and administrative processes at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md. Gates said the group has been asked to report its findings publicly within 45 days.

"After the facts are established, those responsible for having allowed this unacceptable situation to develop will indeed be held accountable," Gates said, adding that so far no one involved has offered to resign.

"We are not going to wait 45 days to begin addressing these problems," he said. "And so there have been some people who are most directly involved who have been relieved. But we will be looking and evaluating the rest of the chain of command as we get more information.""  AP – Burns


Gates could not be more right.  What happened to convalescent soldiers and marines at WRAMC and perhaps elsewhere must not happen again.  Unfortunately, the only way that officers, SENIOR OFFICERS, and their civilian political and bureaucratic associates can be taught a lesson about bureaucracy, obstructionism, indifference to the suffering of soldiers and neglect of duty is to "lop off" a few heads.

Up until now in this "War on Terror" generals and admirals have been immune from punishment.  They have not been punished for failure.  No, they have been rewarded for failure.  "Screw up and move up" has been rule of the day.  The sole exception was that hapless woman reservist Brigadier General in the Abu Ghraib mess.  I guess she just wasn’t well connected enough.

In the 18th Century, there was a famous incident, satirized and therefore immortalized by Voltaire, in which a British admiral, John Byng was court-martialed and shot for a failure in command.

Voltaire mockingly recounts his view of Byng’s death by having a character in Candide remark that; "in this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others" (Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres).

In fact, Byng was executed because a naval lieutenant had been executed a year or so earlier for much the same crime, and the British people and parliament demanded equal justice for equal crime in the Byng case.  The example set is widely credited with having contributed mightily to the future performance of the Royal Navy.

Let us hope and believe that Gates is serious and that his "panel" does not decide to let the malefactors and indifferent "off the hook" with a slap on the wrist.

As the sage of Secaucus, New Jersey (Imus) sputtered in rage last week, "Who are these men to say that they will ‘accept responsibility for this.’  They already have the responsibility…"  pl



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17 Responses to Time for “Encouragement”

  1. Will says:

    interesting offense (from the wiki): NOT DOING HIS UTMOST
    ” In consequence of many scandals which had taken place in the previous war, the Articles of War had been deliberately revised so as to leave no punishment save death for the officer of any rank who did not do his utmost against the enemy either in battle or pursuit. That Byng had not done all he could is undeniable, and he therefore fell foul of this law. ”

  2. Tuli says:

    I would be interested in knowing how many of those who are in the “Chain of Command” are loyalists and who have been put there by the Bush Administration? It seems like we keep on seeing “Heck of a Job Brownie” over and over again. That this apparent policy has infected the treatment of our troops is abhorrent.
    My brother, a registered Republican, worked for Kerry in the 2004 election because he works for the VA and was appalled by the Bush Administration’s policies toward the VA and our returning troops.
    What we are seeing is “Support our Troops” GOP style. My brother laid it all out for our Republican family in 2004 and he was right.
    “Heck of a Job Weightman!”

  3. W. Patrick Lang says:

    These military officers are not really part of any administration. They are the products of the army’s own internal political system. Their “sin” is that they are so self serving, and that they protect each other before everything.
    Casey, Schoomaker, maybe Kiley, the Army surgeon general were in some sense picked by Rumsfeld but the rest are not political in the sense that you mean.
    I am always surprised when civilians ask me which presidents I served under. For military professionals at anything other than the CoS level, it is an irrelevant question.
    Now the Secretary of the army is another matter. He is a civilian politicain. pl

  4. ali says:

    My God… finally accountability. That man Gates is an improvement.
    Byng was an unlucky however. As the Wiki entry says:
    “Byng was the last of his rank to be executed in this fashion.”
    The iron rules of class would protect far worse toff incompetents.
    Balaclava comes to mind. Bumbling Raglan, spiteful Lucan and the heroically stupid Cardigan:
    During the siege of Sebastapol thanks to poor logistics Raglan had a third of his men to sick to fight.
    The conditions of the hospital at Scutari would cause scandal that would change British military medicine.
    “The Medical Department of the army, like the Commissariat, had completely broken down under the strain of work for which it was quite unprepared and for which its system was outrageously inadequate to cope. An immense amount of Lord Raglan’s time was spent in vain attempts to improve its organisation and efficiency and in visiting the sick, for whom he confessed to feeling a deep and personal responsibility.
    Constantly obstructed in his efforts by Dr. Hall, Inspector-General of Hospitals, who refused to agree that anything serious had gone wrong in his Department, he had occasion at least once a week, and sometimes on several consecutive days, to complain of some particular case of negligence or stupidity.
    Dr. John Hall, soon to be created K.C.B. (‘Knight of the Crimean Burial Grounds, I suppose,’ commented Florence Nightingale with justified acidity), was a bitter, influential, hard and self-satisfied man who had felt himself entitled to a more important post than that of head of the medical staff of the Expeditionary Army. Lord Raglan could neither like nor respect him, and soon after the army came to Balaclava he was sent back to Scutari to report on the base hospitals there. Miss Nightingale had not yet arrived, and they were, as she subsequently discovered, ‘destitute and filthy’. Dr. Hall reported them as having been put ‘on a very creditable footing’. Nothing, he said, was lacking.”
    Raglan at least understood the duty of an officer; he shows every sign of being a man who knew ultimately it was his responsibility.
    He died of dysentery in the Crimea.

  5. Tuli says:

    Dear Col.:
    I apologize for not putting Dr. Harvey out front for criticism. It seems to me that he is the obvious political choice in the “Heck of a Job Brownie” category. I guess that I don’t believe that in any institution assignments are merely random or based on merit, but based on allegiance. As a former federal employee in the judiciary, politics was a consideration, though less so in the lower ranks.
    But, given your thoughts, I am willing to believe that the services are somewhat more immune to the political and loyalty test. Most of my “soldier” friends have shrugged and followed orders even if they disagreed with the policy or efficacy of the orders.
    That said, it does seem to me that Weightman and Kiley were definitely carrying water for the Administration and “their” Institution in this latest scandal and not for their wards, the troops. I believe that is shameful. And most of my “soldier” friends have not shrugged their shoulders nor have they acquiesced to these latest revelations which are not revelations to most Vets.
    Regards as always!

  6. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Nah. This was not policy. It was just neglect.
    “Old Army” saying. “Nothing is too good for the troops, nothing. And, that is what they are going to get.” pl

  7. Brian Hart says:

    The Assoc. Press article ends with this telling paragraph,
    “Asked about Gates’ statement that some have already been relieved of duty, Army officials said they were unsure that any such actions had been taken. One Army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Army is conducting its own review of what happened at Walter Reed, said officials are considering personnel changes.”
    Mr. Lang, note that the Army is running its own investigation, and they are ‘considering personnel changes’. Note no one has been relieved of duty.
    Sec. Gates thinks the damage is the negative publicity, not the revolting condition these wounded soldiers were put in.

  8. J says:

    one of the main underlying problems that was a causal factor in the detoriating condition at wmr is ‘brac’. once a facility is ‘brack’d’, they then fall off the radar screen in ‘importance’ both assignment and funding wise.

  9. pbrownlee says:

    I have always had some sympathy for Raglan who was in an impossible position (probably) in the Crimea and maybe in the increasing industrialization of warfare (see American Civil War, passim). Wasn’t it Raglan who asked for his amputated arm back so he could retrieve the ring on his (former) hand which his wife had given him? Also, he – and everyone else – was still dazzled by Wellington and did not sufficiently appreciate the Great Duke’s obsession with logistics and terrain.

  10. jbv says:

    “screw up and move up”
    An endemic reality in modern american corporate life as well.

  11. FDR_Democrat says:

    Having served in the federal government for many years, sadly I can attest to how terrible the bureacracy can be. But I admit I was shocked by the stories out of Walter Reed. As the wealthiest country in the world, it is beyond shame to read how the military wounded were being treated. Lack of funds is no excuse, when Congress is setting aside billions for things like corporate tax cuts.

  12. Ellen1910 says:

    . . . pour encourager les autres . . . .
    Never having read Candide in French, I never knew where that old saw originated. Thank you!

  13. anna missed says:

    * “(The Abu Ghraib prison scandal is) the key reason, the sole reason, that I was forced to retire. I was essentially not offered another position in either a three-star or four-star command.”
    Gen Ricardo Sanchez
    Not exactly “off with his head”, but. Little wonder the military is so obsessed with the press.

  14. Walrus says:

    If I remember correctly, the medical conditions during the Crimean war, and especially the state of Scutari, caused outrage in Britain.
    The Government naturally held an inquiry.
    It’s conclusion was that all the problems could be traced back to the non – arrival of a single shipload of hay, and that was due to bad weather, in other words, an act of God.
    (Quoted, if my memory serves me correctly, in “The Reason Why” author: Cecil Woodham – Smith)
    Lets hope for a more candid approach and a better result.

  15. Sam says:

    What I’d like to see is those who make resource decisions be held accountable for the results of those decisions.
    How many times have you seen a new commander coming in after an old commander was relieved? The new commander is typically told “Just ask for anything to get your (company, battalion, brigade, etc.) out of the swamp and you’ll get it.” Makes you wonder if the old (failure) guy would have done better if he had the promised resources.
    Many failures of command are also failures of resource allocation. Those that allocate the resources should bear much of the responsibilities for the failures brought about by those allocations (for example the failure to properly resource the after Bagdad TPFDD to account for the problems of reconstruction and rebuild).

  16. Lee Brimmicombe-Wood says:

    Ali, you outline a difference between the Army and Navy of that era. The British Army of the Georgian and Victorian era was ruled by class. The Georgian Royal Navy, more reliant on the trades and middle-classes, was for a while a harsh meritocracy (albeit one where patronage played a significant part). N.A.M. Rodger’s ‘The Command of the Ocean’ contains an excellent social history of the Royal Navy’s officer classes.

  17. marquer says:

    As the sage of Secaucus, New Jersey (Imus) sputtered in rage last week, “Who are these men to say that they will ‘accept responsibility for this.’ They already have the responsibility…”

    VADM Albert Church, then Naval Staff Director, was asked about there having been no ranking officers removed as a result of the Abu Ghraib abuses. He said,
    “I don’t think you can, you know, hold anybody accountable for a situation that, that, maybe if you’d done something different, maybe something would have occurred differently.”
    Lewis Black promptly observed that this is, rather, the very definition of accountability.

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