My husband served in the U.S. Army, always an infantryman, from 1975 to 1999. He is a Grenada and Desert Storm veteran. When he decided to retire in 1999, his decision surprised me, because I believed he would serve 30 years, which was the limit for his rank.
When he talked to me about his decision to retire, his reasons were a combination of two factors. The first factor was some of our kids were in high school and didn’t want to move again. However, the larger factor was my husband had become very disillusioned with how political the Army had become among Army leadership. A frequent complaint he voiced was that too many officers are politicians more than soldiers these days.
That was 1999. Last summer, as America’s political parties were holding their presidential conventions, the politicization of America’s generals moved on-stage at both the Republican and Democrat conventions, with generals literally on-stage spouting partisan rhetoric.
It alarmed me.
Everything in America now can become a political football, a cause for protest, a “national conversation”.
Words mean things.
Definition of conversation
2a (1) :oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas
- … we had talk enough but no conversation; there was nothing discussed.
- —Samuel Johnson
(2) :an instance of such exchange :talk
- a quiet conversation
b :an informal discussion of an issue by representatives of governments, institutions, or groups
- conversations among the senators
c :an exchange similar to conversation
- We had a conversation by e-mail.
A conversation requires, not only talking, it requires listening, a willingness to open our hearts and minds to other people’s ideas, viewpoints, experiences and feelings. It requires a degree of mutual respect between people.
In America, where scorched earth information warfare rages, like I wrote in my last blog post, even the most trivial issue can become a national political battle. There are only skirmishes, thrusts and hit and run attacks, where each side attacks, tries to draw as much blood as possible, then retreats to reload for the next ambush.
There assuredly are few real “national conversations” about anything.
I’ve been guilty of putting on partisan blinders too, but I am working to remove them and refocus on looking at people as individuals, rather than pigeonhole them into an us or them tribe. President George W. Bush gave a very powerful speech on that topic this past week:
“We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.”
General John Kelly gave a powerful speech too and one comment struck me:
“It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred. You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.
Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.”
A few things need to be clarified about this past week’s scorched earth information skirmish. Some on the Left are using SGT La David Johnson’s death to create a narrative for “Trump’s Benghazi” and to attack General Kelly. On the right, vile Trump mouthpieces, like Sheriff David Clarke, have used this skirmish to sink to the level of attacking Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s looks:
The Trump spin masters are trying to divert attention away from the Gold Star family controversy and onto a Clinton/Uranium One storyline.
This morning Kurt Schlichter, one of the most dedicated Trump Twitter troopers, tweeted:
Put aside all the gold star stuff and George Bush’s catiness and understand that the Hillary uranium story is the only story.
Schlichter is a retired Army officer. SGT La David Johnson hadn’t even been buried yet. His funeral was this afternoon.
So many, on both sides of this scorched earth information war, are so entrenched at scoring cheap political points and “winning”, that all sense of decency has been lost.
Frederica Wilson might be a rabid partisan hack or she might be a friend of SGT Johnson’s family or she could be both, but her comments don’t have grave national consequences.
President Trump is the Commander-In-Chief. He has a sacred DUTY to all serving in the United States Armed Forces.
How he handles this situation can have lasting impact on the morale and welfare of all of America’s brave men and women serving in uniform.
Trump mouthpieces and friendly pundits are working to do damage control, writing stories about how much President Trump cares about the military and penning pieces quoting other Gold Star families who received calls from President Trump and feel his words were comforting. All that misses the point.
Military families need to have trust in our military chain of command and that starts with the President setting the right example.
President Trump has a duty to reassure the family of SGT La David Johnson that he did not mean to disrespect them and that he honors SGT Johnson’s sacrifice.
That is the right thing to do.