Our Out-Of-Control Military

By Peter Galuszka

Are we too in love with our military?

Forgive the pun, given the resignation of CIA director and former Army general David Petraeus in a sex scandal. But it still needs to be asked given the decade-long gush of praise for men and women in uniform, many of whom have some Virginia connection, either because they are based or from here.

To be sure, soldiers, sailors and Marines deserve lots of credit for their sacrifices fighting terrorism in South Asia, even though the need for the Iraq conflict remains questionable.

The sacrifice of some, however, has created a kind of admiration and marketing fest that has generated a climate of stardom that breeds excess and self-aggrandizement.

One can’t go to a Barnes & Noble or turn on cable television without being inundated with books and programs about special forces, in particular Virginia Beach-based SEAL Team Six. One SEAL’s book on the killing of Osama bin Laden, “No Easy Day,” continues to remain on best-seller lists. Advances for more can run in the six or seven figures.

SEALs are finding themselves so marketable that the Navy has trouble reining them in. One group got in trouble for serving as unauthorized consultants for computer game designers. If the SEALs are supposed to be so silent as well as deadly, why the orgy of self-promotion?

The same market aspect has very much to do with David Petraeus’s tragic self destruct. The highly-regarded commander in Iraq and Afghanistan got on the Harvard circuit with the usual business school BS  books on “Leadership.” One such tome was penned with a ghost-writer’s help by former West Pointer Paula Broadwell and was seen as so fantastically gushy that Jon Stewart mocked it on his comedy news show. Broadwell, married,  later got involved romantically with married Petraeus, leading to his demise and an embarrassing national scandal.

Her book, which did not get rave reviews, recalls a trend of a couple decades ago. Back then, corporate chief executives were in vogue. Everyone wanted to write the inside story of General Electric’s Jack Welch as “The Best Ever Leader,”but in the process missed some rather important parts of GE, such as how little taxes it actually pays in the U.S.

Another strange aspect is how mid-sized cities such as Tampa suddenly become major movers in the world of military power brokering. Tampa is home to MacDill Air Force Base, which hosts the Central Command that oversees South Asian wars and a special operations group.

I visited MacDill for a story a few years ago and it certainly seemed like a hotbed of tight security. But one wonders how a civilian  doctor and his attractive, dark-haired wife, now badly in debt, move to the area and, with no direct military connection themselves, start making great friends of such high ranking officers as Petraeus and Marine Corps. Gen. John Allen.

Maybe it’s my latent paranoia from working for six years in Moscow, but if I were in the KGB, FSB or whatever it is today and I wanted to penetrate top brass in the U.S., one idea would be to plant socialite newbies in smaller base towns like Tampa, set them up as local civilian social lions with plenty of champagne and caviar and then wait for the 20,000 to 30,000 personal emails to come in from four-star generals. (The generals’ total cluelessness in email security is another topic).

The odd thing is that despite all of the star glitter, America’s success rate with generals in Iraq and Afghanistan hasn’t been so good. In 2009, Gen. David D. McKiernan was fired as commander in Afghanistan in a presidential spat. The next year, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was let go after apparently making inappropriate comments about Vice President Joseph Biden during a rollicking interview with Rolling Stone. Now Petraeus is out at CIA and Allen’s next posting has been put on hold.

Oddly, there hasn’t been much public outcry. This is odd. George Patton faced intense public controversy when he slapped a solider in World War II. Douglas MacArthur was fired for defying President Harry Truman over Korea. Gen William Westmoreland was the focus of massive protests for his handling of the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

Today, there’s no outrage. Just book sales and talk shows.

17 Responses to Our Out-Of-Control Military

  1. Earth to Peter -

    Men copulate. So do women. Soldiers, sailors, and Marine do too.

    Folks in the Military also socialize. And make mistakes, all kinds. Just like everybody else.

  2. Space to Reed,
    Is it “copulate” and then “socialize” or the other way around? I don’t know – didn’t go to U.Va.

    I do think you miss my points: the military is too much into self-worship and marketing; socializing is fine but generals with responsibilities don’t need to start sending local civilians thousands of emails; and the Broadwell-Petraeus relationship raises all kinds of flags as far as security risks. The latest news is that classified documents have been found in her house. As head of the CIA, Petraeus should have known better.

    PG

  3. Well.. I thought it interesting that the folks who were and are not particularly enamored with Obama felt that people like Petraeus and other commanders had better “judgement” than the President…

    so much for that idea….

  4. Larry, the General kinda reminds me of “Slick Willy.”

    At least the General’s consort was an adult woman, not a White House Intern.

    On further consider, perhaps intern fare is more of a Dem. Dish. A tradition apparently that goes back at least to Camelot.

    PS – Your question re agencies should revive when our platform reappears.

  5. Reed – Touche!

    but I did not understand your PS.

  6. I have always found it odd that the US Navy Seals seem very publicity friendly while the US Army’s Delta Force is not.

    • Yes, I’ve noticed that too. Last time I read somewhat inside stuff about Delta was in Black Hawk Down. Seals chasing publicity is a very slippery slope. In my view, movie involvement by so called covert operators is way over the line. Evidences a growing lack of discipline – indeed, Vainglory. Not good.

      So my next 911 will goes to Delta Force.

  7. Reed,
    I’e never been in the military although I come from a military family and have covered military issues off and on as a journalist in this country and others.

    My experience was that the Coast Guard and the Marines were great a self-publicity because they had to fight to get any money out of Congress. The Navy was extremely aloof and bureaucratic. Didn’t deal with the Army that much but every attempt to talk to their special forces types at Ft. Bragg went nowhere.

    When I was in Tampa around 2005 or so, I found a very smoothly run, multi-service media relations team with two missions: (1) Make the Iraq War look good and (2) make Gen. John Abizaid, then Centcom commander, look good.

    When I read about the social life in Tampa, I am surprised that civilians had such easy access. Well maybe not so surprised.

    IN 1980, I was working for The Virginian-Pilot when the debacle at Desert One broke. Some of the helicopters used came from a Navy squadron at Norfolk Naval Station. My mission as to penetrate the base and try to make contact with the squadron along with a photographer. Both of us are Navy brats so we worked to come up with a plan.

    We dressed up. She normally wore proletarian denim and boots but dressed in a dress. I work a suit. We went to the front gate and said we had a lunch date at the Officer’s Club and how do we get there. The guard was most helpful and didn’t even check our IDs.

    We knew from AP reports the squadron number so we went to the airbase part of the station and asked around. The hanger where the squadron was based had a snack bar where pilots and others were sitting around having coffee.

    We said we were reporters and told them about Desert ONe. They didn’t seem to know the news but knew their colleagues were involved in general. We asked how it could be done. A helpful pilot pulled out a map of Iran and the Persian Gulf and pointed to two areas on the Iranian border. “I’d enter here or there because they don’t have good radar coverage.”

    We happened look outside the window. Shore Patrol and Navy officers were racing around with walkie talkies looking for us. We’d been nabbed! The jig was up!

    When they caught up to us a middle-aged officer said, “We don’t blame you. We blame your editors.”

    True story.

    • That’s a great story about the military, Peter. Here’s another.

      In a Texas panhandle town 2 years back, I met a Navy Corpsmen. Oriel Morgan spent his war going from one end of Saipan, Tinian & Iwo Jima to the other, looking after wounded and dying Marines. Given that such work was typically violent and short, I asked Oriel how he did it and survived?

      “I’ll never know,” he said. Then he looked off into the distance awhile. Then he looked back at me. “The Colonel and Doc. Galuszka were absolute best of friends. We all could see it. How they kept track of one another, and stepped off to talk alone, working things out. Somehow, us seeing them together helped to keep us going, doing what we had to do.”

      He said it as if trying to explain.

  8. Reed,
    Wow. Are you related to Lt. Col. Reed Fawell, commander of the 2nd Armored Amphibious Battalion? My father was battalion surgeon.He stayed in the Navy until retiring in 1962.
    Peter

  9. Reed,
    That’s fantastic. I’ve heard about your Dad since I was little. My father had the highest respect for him. I will look at the website. I also have a large unit book they did maybe 25 years ago. Do you know about that?
    Maybe we could get together some day.
    Peter

    • that respect was mutual I’m sure.

      I built the website from the book and also from meetings with vets, and my own research which is ongoing.

      Yes, let’s get together.

  10. that’s pretty darn neat!

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