Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Support the Troops? Not If You Dissent

Throughout the Memorial Day weekend, we remembered those servicemen and women who gave up their lives for their belief that what they were doing meant that their beloved country would remain free. We were reminded that in times of war we must forget our differences and rally around the troops so that the war may be won.

Here in the wilderness, we believe that those people who have volunteered to serve in our armed forces joined up because they sincerely believed that their service -- and in some cases their ultimate sacrifice -- would help their fellow citizens to continue as free men and women.

Throughout history, warfare has been rife with examples of military men -- mostly men -- who refused to serve because they disagreed with the reasons for one war or another. In the most drastic cases within memory, scores of Americans fled their country instead of participating in the Vietnam war, a wear they were conscripted to fight. There are many instances of Vietnam era soldiers dissenting as well:
The internal rebellion that wracked the U.S. military during America's encounter with Vietnam marks one of the least-known but most important chapters during that period. From the Long Binh Jail in Vietnam, to Travis Air Force Base in California, to aircraft carriers in the South China Sea, the armed forces faced widespread resistance and unrest. Throughout the military, morale and discipline sank to all-time depths. Low ranking GIs organized more than 250 antiwar committees and underground newspapers. Unauthorized absence rates soared to record levels, until in 1971 the army reported seventeen AWOLs and seven desertions for every one hundred soldiers. - (David Cortright, Soldiers in Revolt: The American Military Today (New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1975).
There are, of course, examples of servicemen and women refusing to fight in Iraq as well. And the incidents of dissent are increasing.

But one incident you may not have heard of involved busting a decorated general officer because he had the nerve to state opinions that countered those of the military establishment, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Baltimore Sun reports that Lt. General John Riggs, a Vietnam combat helicopter pilot and 39-year veteran of the Army, was unceremoniously forced to retire with the loss of one star and the corresponding downgrade in pension benefits.

The Army said Briggs had to go because he let too many outside contractors perform tasks that the Pentagon said should have been left to the Army. Riggs says he had to do these things because the Army lacked the numbers to perform the necessary tasks in the first place. Reports the Sun's Tom Bowman:
His Pentagon superiors said he allowed outside contractors to perform work they were not supposed to do, creating "an adverse command climate."

But some of the general's supporters believe the motivation behind his demotion was politics. Riggs was blunt and outspoken on a number of issues and publicly contradicted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by arguing that the Army was overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and needed more troops.

"They all went bat s- - when that happened," recalled retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, a one-time Pentagon adviser who ran reconstruction efforts in Iraq in the spring of 2003. "The military part of [the defense secretary's office] has been politicized. If [officers] disagree, they are ostracized and their reputations are ruined."
Of course, Riggs is not the first general officer to be booted out because he dissented. General Eric Shinseki's planned retirement was moved earlier after the former Army chief of staff criticized Rumsfeld's Iraq troop and time assessment as too low and too short.

Shinseki was one of a number of retired Army officers who wrote to the Pentagon in support of Riggs, urging that the general's third star be restored. The Sun adds:
In his letter of support for Riggs, Shinseki said, "There was no one who was more professional, more honest, more selfless, more dedicated, nor more loyal to the Army and to its soldiers than John Riggs."
What exactly did Riggs do to get him fired? According to the Sun:
In a January 2004 interview with The Sun, Riggs said the Army was too small to meet its global commitments and must be substantially increased.

The interview made him the first senior active-duty officer to publicly urge a larger Army - and the first to publicly take on Rumsfeld and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who had repeatedly told lawmakers that such increases were not necessary.

After the interview appeared, Pentagon sources said, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz stormed into the office of the Army's vice chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., and demanded an explanation for Riggs' views. Riggs said Casey called him that day and ordered him not to talk about troop increases but to "stay in your lane."
Though few would assert that it's a great idea to have your senior officers publicly arguing with their commanders, one would assume that Riggs' contrariness was handled in much the same way as others who go astray of Army policy. But you would be wrong, as the Sun reports:
Seven years ago, Maj. Gen. David Hale, the Army's inspector general, was allowed to hastily retire after allegations that he pressured the wife of a subordinate into a sexual relationship. An Army investigation uncovered other affairs with subordinates' wives, and Hale was later put back on active duty and court-martialed. But it took an Army review panel another six months after his conviction to determine that Hale should be reduced by one star to a brigadier general.

Two Navy rear admirals were given letters of censure for not stopping lewd behavior at the 1991 Tailhook Association convention in Las Vegas, where dozens of women were groped and fondled by Navy and Marine Corps aviators. Both admirals retired at their two-star ranks.

More recently, the Air Force removed the four top officers at the U.S. Air Force Academy as part of a housecleaning after a sex scandal in 2003. While the superintendent was demoted from a three-star to a two-star rank, the other officers went on to jobs with similar responsibilities.
The Sun asked Rumsfeld, who approved Riggs' demotion, to explain why such a harsh penalty was imposed on so decorated an officer. Rumsfeld, the newspaper says, refused to comment. But he didn't need to. Clearly, in this administration, supporting the troops means make sure that everyone -- from the lowest private to the highest commanding officer -- speaks with only one voice. And let that be a lesson to us all.


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