THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS
Military/ Veterans Affairs Editor
© Copyright 2006, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.
Achilles is given a clear choice. He is told that he carries two destinies:
“If I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans,/my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting;/but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,/the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be long life/left for me, and my end in death will not come quickly.”
The primacy of honor is memorialized in Achilles’ choice to stay and fight. The conflict between what the hero must do for honor as opposed to even life itself is replicated in other ways in the hero’s situation.
In the role of the hero, one finds the prelude to the tensions and conflicts that structure the polis at later centuries. The political community as a community exists only on the battlefield, where the collective good of the community can be the primary concern of the hero. The community both sustains and provides for the warrior-hero and sends him to possible death…the warrior-hero experienced the conflict between the collective good as an end in itself, and as an instrument of his own glory and honor. The highest good for the warrior-hero is not, as Socrates/Diotoma point out in the Symposium, a quiet conscience, but the enjoyment of public esteem, and through this esteem, immortality.
-from Money, Sex, and Power – Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism, by Nancy C. M. Hartsock (Northeastern University Press, 1985)
April 25, 2006 1000 PST – (FTW) – Overdetermination:
It means that one should never seek only one, linear cause-and-effect that produces any phenomenon. There are multiple forces working in multiple directions that fold into every moment – even historical ones, like weather patterns that result in storms.
Exempting the weird and slippery Wesley Clark, whose presidential pretensions long ago led him to “critique” the Bush administration, and Eric Shinseki—who was Rumsfeld’s first object lesson on dissent—there is now a new conspiracy of generals who are circling around Rumsfeld, and through him, to Caesar Texanius himself. They include retiring Generals Zinni, Newbold, Swannack, Riggs, Batiste, and Eaton.
The Generals’ rebellion is unprecedented, precisely because the rapidity of the collapse of the Bush administration is unprecedented. The walls are tumbling down.
Even Oberstgruppenführer Peter Pace, when ostensibly defending the embattled Sec-Def, couldn’t resist backhanding Rummy for his treatment of General Eric Shinseki in the early hours of the war.
The commentary about this is so omnipresent it has created a chattering vortex. Alas, I am being sucked irresistibly in, because a point has been missed.
Is it the clannishness of the Generals? Are they still pissed off at how Archduke Donald dissed them at every meeting, at how he treated their fraternity-brother, Shinseki—when Sir Eric told Rumsfeld (in his roundabout, diplomatic way) that his network-centric warfare doctrine was a half-baked lunacy?
Is it the progress of the Fitzgerald investigations, methodically trenching their way toward the White House like Giap’s foot-soldiers digging their way into the perimeter of Dien Bien Phu? Do they see that when this edifice falls, the investigations into Abu Ghraib and Bucca and Haditha and Fallujah will suddenly cast the nets much more widely than one demoted (female!) General and a handful of enlisted people? Are the Generals preparing to tie Rumsfeld, and perhaps even Gonzalez with him, to a sacrificial stake?
Is it because they are seeking allies among the Democrats as that other shithouse burns? Do they need someone to watch their collective political back? At least some of the Democrats have been sufficiently frightened—committed imperialists that they are—that the lunatic fringe of the administration might decide on the diplomatic-suicide-bombing of an attack against Iran.
It is all these things. It is overdetermined. But there is one overarching reason, and that reason itself has a dual character. The US is losing the war.
No doubt many of them, including General John Vines (the gadfly still working at CENTCOM who has repeatedly warned that the insurgency is large and it is Iraqi), really believe the war was winnable, if only…always be alert when you hear that retrojected conditionality…if only “we” had sent in 500,000 instead of 130,000, if only we hadn’t cashiered the Ba’athist troops, if only those prison photos hadn’t gotten out, if, if, if.
If only a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its ass every time it hops. But frogs don’t have wings, and this war was never winnable, under any circumstances. “We” don’t get to decide that. The Iraqis do, and they have.
The question of win-ability, which the Generals and their new pals in the Democratic Party continually raise is a smokescreen, even for those who deploy it to delude themselves.
I personally know David Grange, CNN military expert, retired General. We drank and debauched together when I was at Delta. We spotted each other in the weight room. My team trained him when he came to the unit. He was my Squadron Commander, and later my regimental commander at 75th Rangers.
Dave is now tentatively joining the chorus. His father was once the most decorated General in the Army.
I’ll use Dave Grange to make my point about the twofold character of this Night of the Generals, and its relation to losing the war because Dave did not participate in this one, except as a spokesperson, as a television personality who put on oh-so-serious masculine airs and repeated mindless mantras about strategy and tactics to a guileless audience in order to paint the slaughter as a contest instead of a conquest.
So why should he care; and why should he join this chorus? He is not under the gun if Geneva gets dusted off. He can’t be blamed for the defeat of the world’s most expensive killing apparatus by “sandal-clad barbarians.” What obliges him to jump into this new, flame-retardant shithouse?
The answer to that is revealed inside the twofold character of this rebellion.
The first aspect of this Janus is referenced by Hartsock in the lead-quote. Neither Grange, nor the other Generals, are in it for the money…at least most of them aren’t. CEOs make 400 times what workers do, but Generals barely make 14 times what a Private does. Nor are they in it, as Hartsock says, for “a quiet conscience.”
They are seeking “public esteem, and through this esteem, immortality.” They grew up with the history of kings and generals—as we all did; and Grange lived with a highly esteemed General; and this was their collective aspiration. There is a little boy in them all that wants to be the warrior-hero. And the public perception of them—critically important to the whole enterprise of war in this post-modern epoch where heroic spectacles have to be created as overwriting narratives to conceal the banality of evil—is a perception that they will all retain or lose, together.
Losing or winning, as Achilles’ tale points out, is not the issue for the warrior, but having fought for the polis: “…the warrior-hero experienced the conflict between the collective good as an end in itself, and as an instrument of his own glory and honor.”
In modern imperial warfare, the hero is a mere cipher for the public imagination. That the Generals seek after it makes it no less imaginary. Colin Powell never experienced this conflict, because he has always seen himself first as a cunning bureaucrat—and in war he wanted nothing less than to prove anyone’s manhood. Avoid conflict when you can, he said, and when you can’t, go in big. Be the bully, or stay home. Not being European, perhaps we are less enamored of feudal warrior myths, their feats of derring-do.
Modern conventional war is deeply and inescapably bureaucratic. Bureaucracies don’t require heroes. They require yes-men and yes-women. And at some gut level, people know that this is the antithesis of heroism.
In the superlative film, Thin Red Line, there is a scene where an aging Colonel (played by Nick Nolte) blurts out to a subordinate, “I’ve eaten buckets of shit to get here. You’re only 23, and you already have your war. I may never get another chance.”
All these Generals signed on. Including Dave Grange. Every last one of them ate shit, in co-signing this war. If they knew something was wrong, they didn’t say a word until it was too late. Grange got on CNN and cheer-led the whole thing, while the news-models drooled all over him…“Oh, thank you, General Grange,” and he and all the others, when this was still a glorious war, lapped that shit up like dehydrated Bassett hounds. They thought they could have their bureaucratic cake and eat their hero cake…but it was the same cake, and it had a name and a people: Iraq.
So Rumsfeld will be the conceited civil authority who stabbed them all in the back, and with his sacrifice they can all be restored.
They are engaged in this little conspiracy for the same reason people whisper bargains at the sky in the back pews of churches. The night is long and dark indeed. They are trying to salvage their immortality.