Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pat Tillman and the Size of the Lie

NBC reported late last Friday that a Pentagon investigation has found that:
…nine U.S. Army officers, including as many as four generals, were aware that Special Operations soldier Pat Tillman was killed by friendly forces in Afghanistan, but did not inform Tillman's family in a timely manner.

How about them bad apples?

Associated Press says that the Department of Defense inspector general "will cite a range of errors and inappropriate conduct" however, "it appears the inspector general will not conclude there was an orchestrated cover-up in the investigation."

Nine officers, including four generals, knew the Tillman story was a lie and there was no orchestrating?

The Baby With the Bathwater

As I've said before, one of the largest casualties we've suffered at the hands of the Bush administration has been its near total pollution of the information environment. It pains me to say that I don't believe a single thing the administration or its supporters say, and that includes information from any official military source.

The Pat Tillman saga is just one small example of the kind of denial/misinformation/disinformation machine the military has become under the present political regime. But don't think this atmosphere of duplicity started when Donald Rumsfeld took over as George W. Bush's Secretary of Defense. The origins of this web of deceit go back a long way.

Up or Out

Most of you have seen the film Patton, and know about the kinds of competitive spirit that existed among the generals in Eisenhower's European Theater of Operations during World War II. That kind of ambition and jealousy among military personnel was hardly a twentieth century phenomenon, though. In Shakespeare's Othello, the antagonist Iago creates unholy mayhem against his general in retaliation for having been passed over for a key promotion, and Shakespeare was merely reflecting a phenomenon in military affairs chronicled by Homer.

Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, introduced the "up or out" policy. Service members who failed to gain promotions by certain points in their careers were forced out of the military. This created an atmosphere in which every duty assignment became a competitive experience with one's peers. In theory, this had a certain Darwinian advantage: only the cream of the crop could survive and rise to positions of high rank and authority. Unfortunately, this policy created a "zero defect" atmosphere that encouraged caution, sycophancy, herd mentality, backstabbing, and the other earmarks of dysfunctional organizations. During my tenure in the military, "Go along to get along" was the careerist's motto, and the notion of a military leader like Bull Halsey or George Patton emerging in the contemporary age was considered, as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would say, "quaint and obsolete."

Sea Stories

I can tell a million of them. One of the most egregious sins committed by career officers is their willingness to lie about their commands' materiel readiness.

There was the two-star admiral whom I witnessed saying words to the effect of "Why should I take the hit for telling the truth about the readiness of my battle group when it's the fault of the supply system?"

There was the group commodore who told me on multiple occasions that my squadron deserved the Battle Efficiency award, but couldn't win it if I continued to tell the truth about the mission readiness status of my aircraft.

There was one of my first skippers who had to get up on a Sunday, put on dress whites, and go tell a three-star why he'd told the truth about his personnel shortage crises in an official (and required) report.

I could go on, but what's the point? No doubt, you get the idea. My experience was Navy-centric, but what I've related is the same kind of thing that put our ground troops into Iraq with insufficient body and vehicle armor, and lack of training to perform the kinds of missions they were expected to perform (think Abu Ghraib).

So that nine senior officers lied about the Tillman affair during Rumsfeld's tenure doesn't surprise me. In fact, it's the sort of thing I've come to expect. The military has been co-opted into the neoconservatives' Big Brother Broadcast.

And as to early reports from the likes of Bill Kristol that the "surge" strategy is working, well, pardon me if I'm skeptical.

At the end of the day, compared to all the other lies the Pentagon has told us, the Pat Tillman scandal is just a drop kick in the bucket.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.


  1. Anonymous5:15 PM

    I believe it was Frederick the Great, one of the few military leaders to repeatedly beat larger enemies on the battlefield, and larger countries in wars, with his superior tactics, who was asked why he only permitted aristocrats to serve as officers in his army.

    His curt reply: "They will not lie, and cannot be bought."

    I would imagine that VMI reflected this philosophy once upon a time.

    I wonder what use Old Fritz would have had for an occasional show in a reserve air unit.

  2. Anonymous5:19 PM

    There is another disturbing and related issue here. Up until this point, the vast majority of those in the U.S. who oppose the war in Iraq have drawn a crystal clear distinction between the policy makers and those tasked with implementing the policy. Republican ad hominem attacks notwithstanding, the vast majority of those opposed to Bush's policies do not "hate the troops".

    Unfortunately, the longer this conflict drags on, the more we will see protests like this one from Mar 13 in Portland, OR:

    The particular protest linked above was staged by a small group of people whose viewpoints are thankfully not shared by the vast majority of U.S. citizens today. Right now this particular protest represents merely a distasteful aberration. What concerns me though, is that it may be a harbinger of things to come.

    Certainly, this is what happened during the Vietnam war. And the question that prompted these feelings at the time -- as the Vietnam war drug on and on and on -- was a simple one, and can be paraphrased as "Why would someone join a group of people whose main task is to support such insanity?".

    And there is one notable difference from 35 years ago: Today's military is all voluntary. No one is being forced to serve unwillingly in Iraq (uh, well, ignoring for a moment the stop loss measures, extended tours, extra rotations, etc.)

  3. "the Pat Tillman scandal is just a drop kick in the bucket."



  4. Anonymous12:18 AM


    Thanks for this link. I'll pass it along.

  5. Anonymous1:01 PM


    For those of us old enough to remember the impact of the Kennedy/McNamara (pre-Viet Nam War) management policies on the U.S. military we are not surprised by what has happened in the intervening years. The abysmal lack of integrity found in the majority of the current crop of general officers should not be at all startling for precisely the reasons that you enumerate in your piece. When the concepts of honesty and integrity are exchanged for the management norms of large corporations what you get in exchange is a "dog eat dog" mentality which is almost completely devoid of anything even faintly resembling leadership.

    Today Instead of senior general officers who are capable of making sound military decisions based upon decades of troop leadership we have a cadre of self-promoting careerists who have spent their time largely in headquarters staff jobs honing their skills at being cheer leaders and "yes" men while raising "brownnosing" from an art to a science. To this sort of officer the words honesty and integrity are at best abstract ideas that have little or no place in his quest for the next rung on the promotional ladder. Doing what you have to do to get noticed favorably by the right people and being promoted is all that counts. In a peace time military those types of officers are bad enough but in a war time environment such officers are intolerable.

    Will we see any general officers facing a court-martial as a result of the Tillman affair? I doubt that the "Flag Officer's Protective Association" will demand much more than an early retirement for their actions. Perhaps not even that. After all wouldn't they have done the same things under similar circumstances? Exactly my point.

  6. BR,

    Toward the end of my career, when there was a real "push" to "clean things up" a popular slogan said that integrity was doing the right thing when nobody was looking.

    My response was, yeah, if you do the "right thing," you better make damn sure nobody's looking. ;-)

  7. Anonymous3:05 PM

    Hi Jeff-

    Let me take part issue with your comment "is their willingness to lie about their commands' materiel readiness" at least from my corner of the house. That part being the Reserve Components, in particular Army Reserve/Army National Guard.

    While I do see what you are saying coming from the active side of the house, it has been largely tossed aside in the Reserve side. There is no longer a career or a political fear, of saying that a unit is unable to deploy or does not meet readiness standards.

    What I am seeing are units that clearly do not meet readiness standards and no one, right up to the US Army Reserve Command and Guard Bureau sugar coating out.

    Further, Commanders are having no problem with stating their respective units not meeting readiness standards that are largely out of their control. We/they have reached the point, where we no longer "fear" that we will have a bad Officer Evaluation Report because _____ was failed.

    Now, the million dollar question is why are so many reserve units being deployed when they clearly should not be deployed and their is a solid paper trail saying that, is beyond me. And again, coming as a Reservist who does unit inspections, no one has asked myself to cut any slack. The reality today, is that Commanders seem to relish mobilization deficiencies that are clearly pointed out.

    But again, this is from the Reserve side of the house and something is happening beyond the USARC and NGB.

  8. I just don't understand why the Tillman coverup is so important. Nor, for that matter, the firing of the US attorneys when the deeper, more pervasive, lies and corruptions go uninvestigated. Given a Commander and Chief with no honor, or intigrity is it any wonder that even the thinest layer at the top of the cesspool stinks like its depths?

  9. Anonymous2:43 AM

    You know, from what I hear over here and at, parts of the US command is starting to remind me of the british higher officers during WW1. They all came from the same class, and were educated in the same few schools far away from the real world..

    "At 08.15, the infantry will have taken this position, and so we move the artillery here."
    "But sir, what if the infantry is bogged down? That will get them all blown up."
    "Do you question my orders, Smith?"

  10. And this came out late on a Friday? They couldn't wait till Good Friday before Easter Sunday?

    But hey, they would never do any news-management or psy-ops on the American public, oh no...!

    "Look! over there! Anna Nicole Smith's autopsy!"

  11. My ship won a Battle E in ASW. Whoo-hoo!!

  12. Anonymous1:29 PM

    It's time the media call the Tillman and Lynch pr campaigns "LIES". Enough of the "misinformation" talk. The fact is, this administration, the leaders at the Pentagon, and even the little men who prop them up believe that lying accomplish their goals, for whatever purpose and anyone's expense. And when they are caught, they're more concerned about "embarassment" than truth. It's a pattern that has plagued this government for a long time - lie to accomplish your goals and duck when you get caught. Whoever and whatever you harm, even the reputation of this nation and its leadership, is mere collateral damage. I hope this is a wake up call for this entire nation.