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Duty, honor, country-MacArthur. "It is nothing short of both a rude, astonishing awakening, as well as a great sense of shame and humiliation, to witness how far both our military and this once great nation have fallen..."

Conflict of Command

Posted April 8, 2005 thepeoplesvoice.org

By: Ted Lang

“Duty, honor, country,” were once the moral standards for the American military. They were the parameters for individual performance demonstrating one’s dedication to protecting the principles that ensured the individual freedoms this nation was founded upon. It is nothing short of both a rude, astonishing awakening, as well as a great sense of shame and humiliation, to witness how far both our military and this once great nation have fallen into such disgrace, disrepute and international condemnation and rebuke.

Those famous three words were uttered by the great American five-star General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur, and are the motto of the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. MacArthur amplified the meaning of those words addressing cadets on the occasion of his receiving and accepting the “Point’s” prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award on May 12, 1962. Another famous remark, amongst many others attributable to the great leader, was the Schwarzenegger-type real world promise, “I shall return!” when driven out of the Philippines early in World War II. He kept his promise.

In accepting the award, MacArthur offered an observation that should demonstrate how far we have fallen: “But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code – a code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. For all hours and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride, and yet of humility, which will be with me always.”

The General of the Army continued: “Duty, honor, country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”

And, “The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule. But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the Nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.”

It seems that the Great Soldier fully understood both his role and that of the military he led, a military dedicated to the defense of a great nation and its citizen freedoms. What could be a nobler undertaking but to put your life on the line for your countrymen for that all important human principle?

Echoing MacArthur’s sentiments as regards “a great moral code – a code of conduct and chivalry,” and expressing the need for building “basic character,” are the sentiments of yet another high-ranking military leader. This Army general addresses today’s “terrorism,” describing it as “radical populism,” offering that it undermines the democratic processes “to decrease rather than protect individual rights.” This American military leader offers that the military code of conduct and the character of the American soldier is indeed an extension of the moral values MacArthur expressed and necessary to transform military action for the protection of individual freedom.

General James T. Hill (ret), until last year the commander of the United States Southern Command, completed his final two-year command responsibility. On Tuesday, March 15th, President Bush nominated General Hill to the Base Realignment and Closure [BRAC] Commission. The BRAC panel was originated to assure a non-partisan assessment of the operational sustainability of military bases and installations. The BRAC panel’s mission is to evaluate and recommend bases that should either be closed or have their mission redeployed to another installation in the interest of cost savings.

On March 24, 2004, General Hill, while still heading the United States Southern Command, appeared before the House Armed Services Committee of the United States House of Representatives. The full text of General Hill’s briefing can be found here.

When General Hill uses the term “radical populism,” he explains that he considers it to be an emerging concern in the region covered by his command. The Southern Command covers 32 nations and 12 dependencies, from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Colombia. General Hill’s command was heavily focused on Latin American affairs, and particularly Colombia and the containment of “narcoterrorism.” Hill states in his Congressional briefing: “The narcoterrorist influence is bleeding over into what we see as a second and increasing threat to the region: growingly sophisticated criminal gangs.”

He says of radical populism there: “Radical populism is another emerging concern in the region. Populism in and of itself is not a threat. Rather, the threat emerges when it becomes radicalized by a leader who increasingly uses his position and support from a segment of the population to infringe upon the rights of all citizens. This trend degrades democracy and promises to concentrate power in the hands of a few rather than guaranteeing the individual rights of the many.” It is difficult from this description offered by General Hill to really distinguish whether he speaks of Colombia or the present United States.

Taking pride in both the American military’s role and that of the State Department in instilling a military moral code in the Colombian military, General Hill explains: “That professional ethos is also reflected in public opinion that now lists the Colombian military as the second most respected institution in the country just behind the Church. The Colombian military is at war, which it will win while fighting justly.” [Emphasis added.]

General Hill expands on the Southern Command’s overarching military code of conduct and chivalry: “Command programs are also intended to strengthen respect for the rule of law, civilian control of the military, and support for democratic ideals. We do this not only because it is in tune with the highest values of the American people, but also because it is a strategic, operational and tactical necessity. Security forces must earn the trust and confidence of their people before they can be effective. Only by respecting the law and the dignity of all citizens they are sworn to defend can security forces hope to gain the respect of those they protect.” [Emphasis added.] 

The more astonishing comments come after these preliminary ones: “Throughout the Southern Command area of operations we have advocated reform of military justice codes and procedures, education on human rights and law of war, and the inclusion of military lawyers in the planning and execution of military operations.” And then, there is this: “Many countries in the Southern Command area of responsibility are dealing with the legacy of human rights abuses committed during military dictatorships by strengthening judiciary and democratic institutions and by cementing civilian control of the security forces. Since 1996, USSOUTHCOM has conducted the Human Rights Initiative [HRI], ‘Measuring Progress in Respect for Human Rights,’ focusing on developing regional standards for human rights programs in the military and security forces. The HRI is a major strategic enabler tool for USSOUTHCOM and is a key component of the Command’s Theater Security Cooperation Plan. We also ensure that all units that receive U. S. security assistance are vetted for human rights violations in accordance with the Leahy Amendment.” [Again, emphasis mine.]

Now contrast General Hill and his Southern Command’s Human Rights Initiatives, as well as his assumed deference to MacArthur’s “great moral code – a code of conduct and chivalry,” with earlier comments he made in this very same briefing to the House Armed Services Committee. Under the subheading of “Detention Operations,” Hill expands upon one of the missions of USSOUTHCOM: “In addition to its work in Latin America and the Caribbean, Southern Command has directly and actively supported the War on Terrorism since January 2002 by operating a terrorist detention and intelligence operations facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Intelligence operations at Guantanamo have provided critical information regarding terrorist organizations’ leadership, organization, finances, planned attacks, and other specific information that has thwarted terrorist activities. As Guantanamo operations continue, we will improve intelligence exploitation, detainee review and repatriation procedures, and quality of life for service members.” [My emphasis.]

If you are capable of even a modicum of curiosity and reasoning, the very next question for US should be: How can General Hill offer this grandiose “democratic” concept of a Human Rights Initiative within the same briefing as one which glorifies the inhumane horrors of Guantanamo and their exportation to Abu Ghraib in blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions? And in precisely what time frame were these contradictory observations made relative to the outing of the Abu Ghraib/Guantanamo torture/murder scandals?

In Neal Lewis’ article for The New York Times of November 4, 2004 carried on Information Clearing House, Lewis offers that the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] had been investigating prisoner torture and abuse since January 2002, and issued another scathing report on torture and abuse to the American military in January 2003! [Emphasis mine.]

It should be painfully obvious, that as supreme commander of the Southern Command, General Hill would have been in a position to be completely apprised and familiar with the reports of the ICRC, which is the neutral international watchdog and investigative body ensuring compliance with the terms and conditions of the Geneva Conventions to which the United States is a signatory partner. Yet, as he reiterated his exemplary commitment to the highest standards of the code of military conduct and his dedication to human rights on March 24th, two days later he presided over the change of command at Guantanamo Bay. Brigadier General Jay W. Hood replaced Major General Geoffrey D. Miller as commander of Guantanamo’s Joint Task Force command.

It may be recalled that afterwards Maj. Gen. Miller replaced Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who, as a female officer, was expendable in the “good ole boy” scheme of things. Karpinski took exception to the torture conducted by military and civilian intelligence, which was also collaborating with Israeli intelligence operatives. It was brought out at the time that Miller’s reassignment was for the purpose of transferring and expanding Guantanamo torture methods to Abu Ghraib, the process being described as “Gitmo-izing” Iraqi civilians who were kidnapped and imprisoned for no reason.

And now it takes the ACLU, the enemy of the Boy Scouts of America [“On my honor, I will do my best…”], the enemy of the Second Amendment, the enemy of the Ten Commandments, the enemy of “Merry Christmas!” to point out that Maj. Gen. Miller’s boss in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, lied to Congress and is asking legalistic torture architect AG Alberto Gonzales to help prosecute Sanchez? What a “comedy” of terrors!

The violations perpetrated against the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, the Geneva Conventions, our military code of honor, and just basic human decency, by this proven corrupt, immoral and criminal administration, are beyond belief. Consider once again the words of General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur: “The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.” 

For the historically challenged, General MacArthur stood up to then-President Harry S. Truman over a conflict of command issue involving the pursuit of retreating Communist Chinese and North Korean troops into China. The disagreement between MacArthur and Truman culminated in Truman relieving the General of his command. It was a matter of principle on the part of both. But at least MacArthur’s integrity was never under question – his moral code would never have condoned the mass vaporization of civilian populations.

Here is another dimension of MacArthur’s interpretation of “duty, honor, country” as offered in that West Point speech: “They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.”

What else has been offered to the American people by this administration but words that were nothing more than lies, as well as “blood, sweat and tears,” the latter totally and woefully obtained by louder-than-word actions that could so easily have been avoided, and which are so devoid of duty, honor and country?


© THEODORE E. LANG 4/5/05 All rights reserved. Ted Lang is a political analyst and a freelance writer.



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