November 6, 2017
October 20, 2017
First. Serving as one of many Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army for ten years (1995-2005) was an incredible honor. I learned a lot about the Army and military ethos. I attended services of many kinds and visited with wounded warriors at Walter Reed and other places. As a child, the mechanics of patriotism came very comfortably to me. I love the American Flag. I love the National Anthem. My emotions are almost too available when I walk among the stones in Arlington or when I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon or in countless places where my love for my country finds me. On a lighter note, I have a collection of over 50 so called “Challenge Coins” put in my hands by many officers, of many ranks, as well as civilian leaders and others from across the United States Armed Forces commands and posts. I’ve visited with many soldiers and their families, in good times and in bad. Civilian Aide was a volunteer position that carried a civilian protocol ranking of three stars. Our mission was to report to the Secretary, matters of significance in our communities that might be meaningful and to go out into the world and “tell the Army story.” I was very young. While I enjoyed studying some military history, I had no practical military knowledge or military skills of any kind. If I was able to contribute anything as a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, it was to bring some joy to soldiers when I travelled to their bases, because they may have liked a movie I was in. I was the youngest CASA (our abbreviation), probably still. But, one thing I brought to our yearly conferences at the Pentagon and wherever I went on official Army business, was an earnest desire to understand what I was seeing, to care about the people I was meeting and a deep respect for all of those who were dedicating some part or all of their professional life to our Nation in uniform.
I always feel the need to bolster my patriotism and citizen bona fides, when I’m critical of anyone in the military. Every citizen has the right, in fact the duty to speak truth to power, even if we haven’t served in uniform. In my mind, “Citizen Protocol” for speaking out in such a manner, must include a requisite amount of respect for the people and the institutions and sincere humility in the face of a long line of warriors who’ve preserved the continuing authority of our Constitution which enshrines that right. I will try to do so here with the caveat that some four letter words will be used not at anyone, but as an outlet. Begging a very little latitude, I respect the Uniform in theory and practice.
Second. General Kelly has, what they call in the military, “command presence.” Not since Chesty Puller has there been a Marine Leader like him. I’m sure the General would protest the reference, but by ANY measure, General Kelly is a Commander par excellence and a true American Hero. He is a Gold Star father. Barrel chested and deep voiced, his rhetoric, delivered calmly yet forcefully is, in a word, powerful. The personal loss and heartbreaking emotion he wears on his sleeve is, in a word, powerful. The strength of his persona, combined with his lifetime of service is, in a word, powerful. His rectitude. His discipline. His honor. His ability to focus the Nation’s attention on the sanctity of Military losses…powerful. Watching him speak from the White House Press Room today was both powerful and extremely dangerous.
When the General was speaking, alarm bells should have been sounding in the minds of every American. Grief. Deep in the soul suffering has it’s own tragic language, its own sound. As a Gold Star father, General Kelly has the right to struggle to bind up his wounds in his own way. Moral authority. General Kelly usually speaks from a position of moral authority. Today, the foundation of that perch was shaken to its core. What happened today was a spiritual calamity of epic proportions.
The world can see with its own eyes that President Trump is a train wreck of a public speaker who is extremely awkward whenever his duty calls him to empathize with people in distress. In Texas, he kissed an African American boy on the head in a moving and generous, if under reported, moment of compassion. Popular narcissism diagnosis aside, as a citizen, I felt good about that Presidential moment. Not many others. I take it on faith that General Kelly, has experienced Donald Trump’s expressions of sympathy toward others on a more intimate level.
But the chronology of events leading up to todays press appearance are so clear and so obvious, that it points to something altogether horrifying about what’s going on in the West Wing. Something fused today that cannot be unfused. General Kelly allowed, by malevolent choice, expedience, unwitting travesty or misplaced calculation, the grief over the loss of his son to be used as a political lifeline to the President. It reminded me of Colin Powell’s testimony at the United Nations in the days before the Iraq War, where he followed the immoral order to make a case for WMD to the world. General Kelly should be ashamed of himself and I believe he is, or at least he knows he’s on shaky ground, no matter how he tried to use his physical stature to cover some uncertainty. This kind of Civilian Leadership by Career Warriors in service of Presidents unworthy of their sacrifice will go down in history as one of the bizarrely inevitable features of democratic governance.
When it became dangerous, is when White House Chief of Staff, General Kelly leveled as overblown an attack on Representative Williams as any I’ve seen a Military person make about an elected official in my lifetime. I don’t think he understood precisely where the Congresswoman was when Sgt. Johnson’s widow took the call from the President. Apparently, they were riding in a vehicle together on their way to collect the remains (Dignified Transfer) of the fallen warrior. I haven’t heard how the speaker button was pushed, to initiate the call or at the request of Mrs. Johnson. General Kelly simply brought the weight of the Military world down on the Congresswoman’s head for listening in. Sacred. It’s a sacred moment he said and then used that tone I used to see from some when I was being escorted through the halls of the Pentagon, a sideways, condescending, self-righteous asshole look. I would be invited to eat in the officer’s mess. That is a privilege reserved for very few people. I never crashed the joint, I was invited, usually by Civilians, who those lifers just knew were shit. For the record, I served under 2 Presidents and 6 Secretaries from both parties. I learned about how the military is, in very important ways, often NON-partisan. But, it doesn’t take being bullied on a playground to know when someone thinks less of you.
And that’s what he did today. General Kelly thought less of the Representative and by extension he thought less of…he spoke down to…he insulted ALL Americans. He couched it in terms of this sacred infraction, but he was arguing the point too friggin hard. Did he know that Sgt. Johnson was a member of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project? Did he know that the Congresswoman was a personal mentor of La Davids? Is it possible that the woman was too distraught to answer the phone, but the Representative didn’t want her to miss the call because of what it would mean to her, her family, their community in retrospect? No. General Kelly was a jerk. And his vilifying this black woman, with the full might and measure of the White House, didn’t fool anyone. It was Trump who brought up calls to families. It was Trump who invoked the General as a resource for Obama’s dereliction of duty. Kelly did have the professional dignity to state clearly that it wasn’t a bad thing that Obama didn’t call his family when his son died. But, look at what’s happening. The finer distinctions of political efficacy and total absence of Presidential leadership are laid waste by this military man talking about embalming of the remains of his son and all fallen sons and daughters.
General Kelly’s description of the events surrounding the death of soldiers in combat was excelsior. His command of those facts and the gravity of their meaning were bracing and ennobling of the country. But the sum conclusion of his remarks were that the politicization of this issue was generated by a black, democratic, congresswoman and not his feeble and inept boss. Shame on you General Kelly. We have three branches of Government and you are running just one of them.
President Trump is attempting to demolish our free press. Now, his Administration is using it’s most effective member to try and demolish its opposition party with slander. The dangerous part, is that Generals are populating many senior positions in the Government. They are a class, a breed of individual that is truly extraordinary. Disciplined like no other. Harder working than no other. Smarter and generally fitter than most. But, they are military people and that means something.
General Kelly revealed that he is a cultural conservative, perhaps even a social anachronism. His awkward defense of women and his barely audible anti-abortion beliefs, mingled with another arrogant and self-important attack on a fellow Gold Star family. If Mr. Khan wouldn’t have spoken at the Democratic Convention, an event that dripped like poison from the Generals lips when he said it…would the General be holding his powder today? Obviously not, he is willing to use his loss in precisely the same way that Khan was when he held up the Constitution only Kelly is getting paid to do it.
General Kelly isn’t moderating Trumps thinking, he’s making it worse. Worse, because Trump doesn’t have any commitment to the social values that he knew to hold because of their political convenience, but boy oh boy are Kelly and Pence locking them in. Kelly and Pence deeply believe in their anti-gay, anti-choice—anti-a lot of stuff—deeply, they’ve thought about their feelings, they’ve hardened their beliefs over lifetimes of battles throughout their lifetimes of service. It’s dangerous that Trump will seek refuge in their ideologies, because of the political safety and media cover that it gives him. Only, he won’t know the difference. Somewhere along the line, something really bad will happen and the self-preservation instinct that Trump has, the opportunistic magnanimity that he can be counted on for…that the public has misplaced their trust in…will vaporize, and what will be left is General Kelly, angry from having compromised his values, eager to punish anyone it seems fit for him to punish to the extent he can.
And we’ll all be left praying, that the battered reputations of Representative Wilson, and that of so many other dartboards who wear the Congressional Member pin, doesn’t stop them from speaking out, of speaking up and on behalf of the people of this country…to stop insanity…to protect Americans. General Kelly, that’s what you did today in the names of the fallen, you sold out… I love you Sir. I will pray hard for you tonight. The goodness that is in you is righteous and I believe in it. But Sir, please remember that there are many generations following behind you now….behind me…You don’t know everything. You aren’t always right. You may think that you are providing guard rails for your President, but you may just be pushing him down a ski-jump.
A parting thought. As I prayed tonight (I don’t pray every night), I prayed that people wouldn’t feel as though my criticism for the General means in anyway that I don’t mourn the loss of his son. I pray for the safety of his son who serves still today on his 5th tour in Afghanistan. It’s messy and fucked up that loss and grief tangled up today or any day. I dream of a time when there is no war. I pray that all people find grace, however they understand that word, or peace…I pray that we can all feel the weight of duty to be our brothers keeper. I pray that I become a better, more tolerant, more understanding man, father, husband, brother, son, friend. I believe that General Kelly understands the violence of this world more deeply than I ever will. I pray that he understands that mastering the art of war is only the beginning and mastering the art of compassion is endless.
Lawrence has his own reasons for being appalled.
Much Love Always,
Citizen & Former Civilian-Aide to the Secretary of the Army.
My God, it is so much worse. I didn’t mention in my post that General Kelly excoriated Representative Wilson for her speech in Florida upon the occasion of the dedication of a new FBI building, named after two heroic agents who died in the line. Kelly was withering in his disgust of Wilson. He was clenched with fury recounting the “Empty Barrel” (repeated that name calling of a public official a couple times). He painted the picture of a dumb selfish bitch. He represented that he and FBI Director Comey of all friggin people right now…shared their utter contempt for this lowly, self centered, dastardly, idiot. I’m trying to characterize Kelly’s remarks here and I don’t think I’m hitting it too hard. These two superior sumbitches, Kelly and Comey…just know they are better than her. The color of her skin. The tone in her voice. The flamboyant cowboy hats (worn to honor her mother). The position…lowly ignorant temporary member of Congress…The whole thing…Kelly just fucking hates her. Pardon my french, but check the link above and rewatch it again yourself. And then you see this video. Her speech is a standard, straight forward, government building, memorial dedication verbiage. The standard recognitions, the descriptions of a legislative process (2 sentences about her own role) congratulating the passage of the bill and the signing by the President…the BLACK President…there is a theme in Kelly’s bile that is starting to come into focus… If I read the transcript, or Comey did, or a family member of the Agents being honored, it would bring everyone to their feet, as it stands the audience applauded strongly, some men standing to clap. Same words, different messenger. You can watch this clip and judge for yourself just what Kelly found so objectionable. But, one thing is absolutely clear, Kelly’s description of his feelings about the speech, reveal only his own bullshit bias. That he was offended by what I saw on that tape, in the context of this whole episode, all of the reporting…since this is me…my post and the powerful conversation it sparked is a damning indictment of Kelly as a pedigree’d, pompous jerk, quite possibly racist…whose lifetime of decorated service can’t inoculate him from. The picture that emerges when it’s understood that the Staff Sergeant pushed the speakerphone in the car with the widow and the congresswoman connecting the President…accusing Representative Wilson of initiating calls to the media to malign the President when the family of the fallen serviceman clearly were crying out and Trumps own fever driven media focus on the four men’s kin was hungry for details…Kelly’s blistering and righteous condemnation…his conviction that she had irrevocably broken the sacred honor of that personal exchange…this man…this General is standing in the middle of the street with his pants around his ankles. He must apologize to the Congresswoman, the widow, and the country. How dare he abuse his power in this way.