Misplaced Loyalty and a Marine’s Dishonor

October 21, 2017 § 1 Comment

The Facts

A young Marine, La David Johnson, from Florida, was recently killed in a fire fight in Niger.  His body was returned home for burial.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who had known Johnson and his family for years, accompanied his mother as she was driven to the airport to attend the arrival of her son’s body.  During that journey, Ms. Johnson received a tlephone call from President Trump.  He expressed his sympathy but included in his remarks that the young Marine ” . . .knew what he signed up for . . . .”, which was interpreted by La David’s  mother and by Congresswoman Wilson as an insensitive suggestion that Ms. Johnson should not feel  the government should express regret or sympathy for her loss because her son knew what he volunteered for.

Congresswoman Wilson later issued a public statement critical of President Trump’s remark.  Trump, true to his well founded reputation for mendacity, first denied having said what he said, but others in the car who heard it because the phone was “on spoeaker” when he spoke to Ms. Johnson, confirmed the accuracy of Congresswoman Wilson’s account.

After this dispute was widely publicized,  John Kelly, Chief of Staff for the Trump administration and a retired Marine general, called a press conference and made a lengthy statement which began with an appropriate explanation about the usual practice of making condolence calls to the survivors of men and women killed in a military action.

Then, however, General Kelly launched into a vicious attack directed at Congresswoman Wilson. He did not call her by name but, instead referred to he as “an empty barrel”.  He went on to recount his recollection of her remarks at the dedication of a government building in Florida named for two FBI agents killed in the line of duty.  He claimed she used the occasion to praise herself for securing the financing of the building.  This was not true.  The Congresswoman did not become a member of Congress until years after the building was built.

He referred to the Congresswoman’s reference to Trump’s phone call to Ms. Johnson as if it had been a surreptitious effort to listen to a private conversation.  He knew full well that the phone call had been  heard by all those in the car with Ms. Johnson.

He laced his remarks with his own respect for women and plainly implied that Congresswoman Wilson did not qualify for it.  Lest I be accused of misstating General Kelly’s scurrilous language, here is a link to a transcript.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/19/us/politics/statement-kelly-gold-star.html?_r=0

I realize I am spreading this vile statement  by citing it but I trust that any intelligent reader with any vestige of a conscience or sense of decency will share my disgust at this rant from a Marine General and member of the President’s cabinet.

My Reaction

I was ten years old when WWII began.  During the next five years, like most young Americans, I was fascinated with the exploits of American armed forces.    I especially admired Marines because they were all volunteers.  They were the first to respond to enemy threats and their bravery was well known and well earned.  I learned all the words to the Marines Hymn and was thrilled when I heard it sung.  These four lines express my belief in the meaning of being a Marine:”

“First to fight for right and freedom

And to keep our honor clean;

We are proud to claim the title

Of United States Marine.”

I am now 86 years old and, during that lifetime I have forsaken many illusions about the true quality and integrity of my fellow citizens and, in retrospect, I have accepted my own failings.  I have not, however, become a cynic nor have I ignored the ability of people to change and to make amends for their mistakes.  Through all these changes I have retained my respect for Marines.   I know we now have new heroes:  Navy Seals, Army Rangers and other groups of specially trained warriors but  I still respect and admire Marines as honorable patriotic Americans.

So, it is especially sad for me when a man with the long career of service as a United States Marine, a warrior as well as a scholar, who has educated himself in our finest universities and numerous military training schools, allows himself to become enthralled and defensive by and on behalf of an empty suit enclosing a narcissistic blundering fool like Donald Trump.  There can be no honor there.  There is no patriotic  splendor there.  There is no intellectual depth there.  Trump has the attention span of a gnat and the moral integrity of an alley cat.

General Kelly should  publicly apologize to Congresswoman Wilson for his false and insulting attack on her..  I don’t want or expect him to change his opinion of her.   This country, however, is a constitutional republic.  The Constitution was deliberately designed to subordinate military force to the authority of Congress.  When General Kelly decided to pursue a military career, he swore allegiance to that Constitution.

He is entitled to his personal opinion of Congresswoman Wilson but he is not free to disrespect the office she holds or to publicly attack her.   If he wants to do that, he should resign his commission, his cabinet post and run for office.  His press conference rant was a plain violation of these well known rules of propriety and for that violation, he should make a public apology.  There is no dishonor in making a mistake but it is dishonorable to refuse to acknowledge a mistake.

An Afterword

Having included a citation to General Kelly’s diatribe against a member of Congress, I will use this post to preserve a citation to a speech by former GOP President George W. Bush.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/10/19/george-w-bushs-anti-trump-manifesto-annotated/?utm_term=.13adebba0c60

I have not been an admirer of President Bush and I agree with Aristotle that “One swallow does not a summer make.”  He has, never the less, well expressed ideas that have  too long been absent from our public discourse.  This, however, does not change my opinion that his presidency did not well serve our country.

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