“When you are tempted to trust a general, remember how he got to be one.”

Could be any service…

The title of the post is a pithy saying that my father, who served 34 years in the US Army, offered to me when he finally realized that I was determined to accept a commission in his army. He had several other memorable bon mots. What he was telling me in this one was his observation that the great majority of flag officers cannot be trusted.

I worked with many generals during my service as an officer and later as a career SES. My father was correct.

The system in the US and any other country’s armed forces produces in peace time and any condition short of total war, men who may well look like leaders of men devoted to their trade and its mysteries but whom in fact are highly skilled politicians who will dissemble, lie and betray anyone or anything to protect themselves and their precious careers.

Why do I bring this unpleasant truth to the fore?

The question is now asked as to how the US government could have been so deceived with regard to the real capabilities of the Afghan armed forces in the pre-Taliban government era. How did this happen?

The generals in charge in Afghanistan for 20 years were either so stupid, and blind that they could not understand the evidence everywhere around them or they simply lied in their reporting and to visitors.

Why would they do that. You know the answer. They lied to cover their asses to make themselves look good to those who could advantage them. pl

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31 Responses to “When you are tempted to trust a general, remember how he got to be one.”

  1. Sam says:

    Petraeus & McChrystal as prime examples.

    Col. Lang, do you have a theory why folks in the top echelons of government fail upwards?

    Heckuva job Brownie! Heckuva job Fauci!

    For sometime I believed that it was all the Peter Principle in a Yes, Prime Minister kinda way. The evidence however is that these folks are malevolent in service to an agenda with large personal payoffs. The revolving door along with Citizens United have enabled the placement of the interests of the members of the Party of Davos over any national interest or the interests of us working stiffs.

  2. Widowson says:

    Col. Lang:

    I hope you are feeling better! I thoroughly enjoyed “Tattoo” and have shared it with a brother whose 17-year-old boy just made it through his first 13-weeks of the Marines with flying colors. Your autobiography was as close as I ever came to serving, and a spot on my father’s lungs kept him from serving in Viet Nam even though he was a notable ROTC marksman during his college years at the University of Kentucky. I am looking forward to reading your Civil War books next as I may be one of the rare citizens who had the opportunity to read Shelby Foote’s 3-volume Civil War series front to back while wracked with Mono during the first month of my year spent abroad in China during my own salad days in college.

  3. Christian J. Chuba says:

    I’ve noticed a peculiar dialect of jargon that only high ranking officers use. Something like, ‘I would incorporate that by facilitating and high impact actionable … ‘. I’m not getting it quite right because I struggle with my own jargon.

    I’ve heard several Generals talk like this in front of Congress. I’ve heard it enough that I think they picked it up from the same place. A West Point thing, from listening to others, or am I getting an early start on a brain tumor and imagining it?

    • Pat Lang says:

      The hyper-ambitious acquire the gen-speak no matter where they cam from.

    • TTG says:

      Christian Chuba,
      It’s not just generals. It’s SESs and business executives as well. During IOAC we were all herded in the building 4 auditorium to hear General Thurman speak. The only phrase I remember was “fungible envelope.” He repeated it multiple times and we didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Myself and two friends walked out while he was talking. I can’t believe we had the balls to do that as young captains. We ended up getting our first ride in the new Blackhawk helicopter in front of building 4. Much better use of our time.

      • JerseyJeffersonian says:

        TTG et al.,

        A link to a post on the sort of jargon-laden eructations to be found isduing from corporations, educational institutions, government bodies, and as the initiating theme in this post, even in sports management. It is, indeed, everywhere to be seen wherever modern Wokist Managerial Culture holds sway.


        P.S.: A Happy New Year to one and all.

  4. Degringolade says:

    Not brownie-ing here. But I have always maintained that anyone who is competent/honorable is dead-ended at O-6. Our host comes to mind, Doug McGregor comes to mind, hell even my Father-in-Law comes to mind (even if he was a goddamned squid).
    If you ever hang out with me when I I drunk, ask me about my Article 32 and the O-6 that saved me/

  5. Fred says:


    Our great ‘victory’ in Afghanistan makes me realize how blessed we were to have General Marshall when we did. As to the other flag ranks, look at the USN. It couldn’t fight a 2nd tier enemy to a draw the way things look now. But at least they are green, woke and all ‘rainbowy’.

  6. walrus says:

    How do they fail upwards Sam? It’s quite simple; they all have narcissistic personality disorder in one form or another. While they are usually highly intelligent and hard working, these sufferers have an insatiable desire for praise and adulation which translates into a single minded addiction to career advancement at the expense of EVERYTHING else. The fall out from that is a chameleon – like ability to charm and dissemble to anyone who an help them and a lethal hatred of anyone who they perceive to be a threat or obstacle to their ascent. People below them in the hierarchy? We are like dogs,nothing more. We are to be patted or euthanised without another thought.

    But how do they fail upward all the time and infest the Pentagon? Simple. Only a narcissist will work for another narcissist. As a subordinate you are required to kiss backside and do unspeakable things to other people at your bosses request. An honest human subordinate won’t put up with this so natural selection replaces humans with narcissists in the Chain of Command. This effect is more pronounced the higher up you go.

    I suspect that West Point doesn’t screen for narcissism and the requirement for Congressional sponsorship invites bright young narcissists to self select.

    Some, but not all, institutions are testing for this personality trait today.

  7. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    As you say, the disease is endemic. Our current defense minister is a good example (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hulusi_Akar ). Reality catches up with these klepts sooner or later: https://nordicmonitor.com/2021/12/turkeys-defense-minister-admits-the-failure-in-tank-project-run-by-erdogans-friend/
    Ishmael Zechariah

  8. sbin says:

    Officer corps should be cut in half.
    Then cut in half again.
    After making working for defense contractors illegal for former MIC employees.
    System is corrupt till its core and massively incompetent.

  9. Babeltuap says:

    I served 20. 10 enlisted, 10 officer. Right before I retired in 14′ it was becoming obvious to everyone that something was not right in the US Military. Now it is crystal clear. The military I served in (not that long ago) looks absolutely nothing like this one and I mean nothing. Willing to bet those being kicked out over the shot are over joyed they can about face this drowning victim of a military. It has been submerged too long. Let it drown so we can learn from the tragedy and rebuild it.

  10. TTG says:

    Beyond the problem of general officers, the Army and all other services are plagued by a an unreasonable attitude of zero defects. It wasn’t just a refusal to see and accept the shortcomings of the Afghan military, the Iraqi military also collapsed in front of the IS advance. We are not that good at creating armies in our image, a fool’s errand to begin with.

    I do remember one general who did not fit this mold, at least when I knew him. General Arthur E. Brown got his first star in the 25th Infantry Division. I was leading our battalion marksmanship teams for the Division championships when he came by the pistol range and showed us all the goodies he received in his big box of general stuff. He was like a kid on Christmas morning. He was especially fond of his Colt Commander and brought it to the MTU armorer to be tuned. I spoke with him a lot when I ran the Recondo School. He spent time with my instructors and students. I could call him and he would fly out in his OH-58 that day to talk with me. When I ended up in Tripler as a result of my failed human flight experiment, he was there right away to support me and my young wife. As I healed, he ensured my desires for going to the next available IOAC and then to Bragg for the SF course with assignment to 10th Group reached Infantry Branch with his and the CG’s endorsements.

    He retired in 1989 with his 4th star as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. I’m sure he was fully capable of playing the general officer games, but I like to think he remained the same BG Brown I knew in Hawaii. He still lives in the Hilton Head, still active in his 90s and still an avid biker as far as I know. BTW, he is Infantry.

  11. Alves says:

    It is not the same, but this kind of remind me of the so called bozo explosion talked about by Steve Jobs.

    Anyway, this kind of cover up plagues the corporate world too and once in a while it comes to light when a company goes bust.

  12. Email * says:

    .The General I Know..Taught French at VMI.. and went up through all the Ranks..In The Army..is a Great Writer..and was Col. Langs Teammate..in Viet Nam..I Love the Man..My observation..about Promotions in the Military is that Col Lang is Correct..In the Current arena..I’m not sure at What Point.In Our Political Evolution…. .Good Officers ..Who are Good Leaders..are Ignored for Promotions…and General Officers and Admirals..tend to become Politicians..in a Military Uniform..Belonging to the Order of Giant Lips..The Wrong People…In The Wrong Place…at the Wrong Time…Probably Collectors Of Italian War Memorabilia.

  13. Sam says:

    What about this 5 star?

    Dr. Fauci: “When you shut down society, when you shut down the country, there’s a lot of deleterious effects that go along with that, that go well beyond the economy — the availability of people to get things done for their own health.”


    How despicable can this man be? Going after the highly credible authors of the Great Barrington Declaration in personal attacks because they pointed out the disproportionate harms to the poor, working class and the infirm from lockdown.

  14. jim ticehurst says:

    My Sense of Security has been Restored…Yesterday..I Saw Video of the Commander In Chief…His Deputy Commander…and The Smart One..His Dog..”Commander” walking the Beach…On the Lookout For Chinese Landing Craft..I am waiting For the Cuban Cigar..

    • Pat Lang says:

      With regard to Alan. He served in VN for 3 or 4, then went on to become a distinguished teacher of French while staying in the reserves in SF. He retired from that as a Command Sergeant Major. He was appointed by the governor of Virginia and confirmed as a BG in the militia in order to be dean at VMI. He signs his name as CSM (retired). A dear friend and a truly humble man.

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