Tuesday, March 14, 2006

new Spotty winner!

Here's a comment on Eric Alterman's blog Altercation. It wins a Spotty.

Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Destin, FL
Hello Eric,

Old Navy guy here. I just returned from interviewing and meeting returnees and refugees from the devastated part of the United States on no one's mind formerly known as the City of New Orleans (and environs) but more on that at another time. I write in response to John from Vermont, Major Bob and the good Master Chief. As a retired senior Navy officer I have some direct experience with military topics. My continued involvement comes in many ways. Most significantly my son recently left the Marine Corps and was in both the Afghanistan invasion and the drive into Baghdad. My son-in-law served in Iraq as a "ground pounder" in the Army, having been called up from the Guard. He's an inactive reserve member and is being called up again to the end of his obligation to be sent back to Iraq.

Military members are like everyone else, especially a professional military in times like this one, in which national survival is not at stake. I can hear the howls now-but I challenge anyone to tell me how a well-financed terrorist organization of a couple of thousand members can threaten the nation to such an extent that an extraordinary and unprecedented consolidation of power in the executive and the violation of political rights and civil liberties (apart from the lies, corruption and abuse of power that seem to go hand-in-hand with these other actions) are necessary compared to, say, the Cold War where we faced the old Soviet Union with its sophisticated intelligence infrastructure, modern military and nuclear weapons that could (and we did come to the brink) wipe us off the map in a matter of minutes? Or how it compares to World War II where both Japan and Germany-two of the largest economies and military powers in the world at the time-were dedicated to our destruction and waged total war against us?

This is a fake war manufactured by cowards to hide their insecurities and to make money. Nor do military members have the inside track on virtue or truth (which should be self-evident). Only in fascist countries is the military held to a higher level of respect or position than a citizen. When I served I was doing a job. It was one that I felt required the highest ethical and moral conduct since the authority given me as a senior officer was quite weighty: one that flowed from the laws of the land. It is a necessary discipline because we all are only people-other citizens---and possess the same weaknesses, which-apart from all of the other stupidities to which one can become susceptible-includes the ability to be corrupted by power. There are military people who try to do the right thing, who obey the laws of the land, are professional and compassionate-like Major Bob and the Master Chief. But there are also those who commit crimes, abuse their authority and lead reprehensible lives. This is aside from the run-of-the-mill idealists, bootlickers, politicians, opportunists and careerists. Like the society that creates it, the military is generally representative of that society in terms of human frailties and virtues.

These common sense observations should go without saying, but a mystique seems to have grown around our military placing its members beyond criticism, especially convenient to those who would use it for questionable ends. The members of certain political and economic classes have aligned themselves with the military and, as a result, have through that alignment attempted to appropriate this mystique for their own gain. Some military members have been all too happy to oblige, further compromising their own legitimacy. Thus I think it is time to talk about the military tradition concerning the concept of accountability that seems to have been forgotten.

To the general public (and to the non-Sea Services) this is often and sadly a hard concept to grasp, but it is a necessary one for those who are given responsibility for decisions that can make the difference between life and death. After all, the sea is unforgiving. One who is given unique authority over others who falls short of what it takes needs to be removed from doing any more harm than he or she may have already caused. You can delegate responsibility to someone to achieve a particular goal but you, as a Commissioned Officer (or a President), cannot escape the judgment of accountability. For example, when you are given the "con" on a U.S. Navy ship, you are accountable for everything that happens during your watch. No special pleading about conditions that may have existed before your assumption of that position will save you from harsh judgment should you run the ship aground, hazard your vessel unnecessarily or collide with another vessel. You voluntarily took the con and are expected to understand all important conditions prior to assuming command. Without accountability power lacks legitimacy and we are left with official lawlessness and despotism. The Master Chief, of all the writers, should know better and is being disingenuous when he shifts blame for 9/11 and other lapses of judgment and offenses committed by this Administration to previous ones. I fault the 9/11 Commission for the same dishonesty. The 9/11 attack, the cooked evidence for the Iraq invasion, the Katrina debacle, the abuse of power in domestic spying involving hundreds of thousands of Americans with no connection to al-Qaeda, the widespread corruption involving billions of dollars in misappropriated funds all occurred on the watch of this President. Some of these involved unforgivable acts of omission and others were acts of commission involving the abuse of power.

No one forced George W. Bush to be President. He pursued that office and insisted on taking it even when all indications were that such a claim lacked democratic legitimacy. He sought it a second time through artifice and ruthlessness, cynically knowing that the perspective of time and discovery would be too late to stop him from continuing to pursue these acts. The judgment of the President's acts will play out in the political sphere, but there is another concern that I believe it is imperative that we understand. That is, it is time for this standing and institutionalized volunteer military-which increasingly is being manipulated and used as a pawn by economic and political elites through a presumptuous executive branch-be brought back into the fold of democratic government through reform before it is too late and we suddenly realize that we have reason to fear it.

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