On War #183
By William S. Lind
During World War II, one of the Führer’s favorite sayings was, “All generals lie.” Today, Washington prefers the word “spin” to lie, although the difference is often difficult to parse. As an eighteenth-century man, I prefer an eighteenth century word: puffery. If we consider some of the statements coming from our military leaders regarding the war in Iraq, we might think they are all clones of General Puff.
In recent days, a classified report on the situation in Anbar province, written by a senior Marine intelligence official in Iraq, has been widely reported on in the press. The report, which I have not seen, apparently paints a bleak picture of the situation there. According to a story by Tom Ricks of The Washington Post, the Marine commander in Anbar, Major General Richard Zilmer, said “I have seen that report and I do concur with that assessment.” Score one for the Marine Corps in the honesty department.
But then, General Puff seems to have stolen General Zilmer’s identity. According to Ricks’ story, Zilmer
The The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported a wonderful piece of military puffery on September 7. Speaking of a supposed turnover of command of the Iraqi armed forces to Iraq’s government, U.S. Major General William Cladwell, said,
In reality, the Iraqi government took control of just a single division; most troops in the Iraqi Army take their orders from militia leaders, not the government; and the Iraqi government itself takes its orders from the United States. This “huge, significant event” changed nothing.
According to a story in the September 13 Oregonian,
Sufficiently eager, it seems, to puff the numbers.
We expect puffery from politicians. But when General Puff represents the military to the American people, the military puts itself in a dangerous situation. The loss of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will, at some point, have domestic political repercussions, perhaps of some magnitude. The U.S. military will rightly bear some of the blame for both failures. It cannot credibly claim that it was forced to fight two Fourth Generation wars with Second Generation tactics and doctrine, when it has rebuffed every effort to move beyond the Second Generation (the Marine Corps is a partial exception).
But the American people, I think, will be more forgiving of mistakes than of puffery, which in the end is a deliberate attempt to deceive. If the public comes to think that all generals lie, the American armed services may find it difficult to re-establish their good reputations.
William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation
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