Generals opposing Iraq war break with military tradition
Sanchez of course is just the latest retired general to be critical of the war. It is correct to say this is unprecedented but only because the hubris and incompetence of the neocon driven Bush/Cheney administration is unprecedented.
What might be called The Revolt of the Generals has rarely happened in the nation's history.Now Bush often says he listens to the Generals - that's not the way the Generals see it.
In op-ed pieces, interviews and TV ads, more than 20 retired U.S. generals have broken ranks with the culture of salute and keep it in the family. Instead, they are criticizing the commander in chief and other top civilian leaders who led the nation into what the generals believe is a misbegotten and tragic war.
The active-duty generals followed procedure, sending reports up the chain of command. The retired generals beseeched old friends in powerful positions to use their influence to bring about a change.
When their warnings were ignored, some came to believe it was their patriotic duty to speak out, even if it meant terminating their careers.
It was a decision none of the men approached cavalierly. Most were political conservatives who had voted for George W. Bush and initially favored his appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary.
But they felt betrayed by Bush and his advisers.
“The ethos is: Give your advice to those in a position to make changes, not the media,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, now retired. “But this administration is immune to good advice.”
Eaton said he wrote the piece because he believed that three pillars of our democratic system had failed:To speak or not to speak
The Bush administration ignored alarms raised by him and other commanders on the ground; the Republican-controlled Congress had failed to exercise oversight; and the media had abdicated its watchdog role.
“As we look back, it appears that without realizing it, we were reacting to a constitutional crisis,” Eaton said in a recent interview.
It is rare in U.S. history for even retired generals to step outside the chain of command and criticize the nation's civilian leaders.Vietnam redux
That was true even at the time of the unpopular Vietnam War.
Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, said several generals who served in Vietnam now regret they didn't go public when it might have done the nation some good.
“That has encouraged generals today to voice their unhappiness,” Bacevich said.
For retired Brig. Gen. John Johns, the decision to finally stand up against the administration was a deeply personal one.Unprecedented times require unprecedented actions. The Bush/Cheney cabal supplied the times and the retired generals supplied the actions.
“My wife lost her first husband in Vietnam,” said Johns, who taught leadership and ethics at West Point.
“To learn later that President Lyndon Johnson and (then-Secretary of Defense) Robert McNamara knew as early as 1965 that we could not win there, that hurts her deeply to this day.”
Six months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Johns, who retired in 1978, agonized over whether to go public with a paper calling the impending war “one of the great blunders of history.”
He sent it to retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and to Pete McCloskey, the moderate-Republican former congressman from California who had opposed the Vietnam War.
“At that time, they did not want to go public,” Johns said.
Zinni has since become one of the most war's most vociferous critics, and McClosky now calls for bringing the troops home.
“And I was not convinced that the invasion would not be stopped internally,” Johns said. “Zinni was close to (then-Secretary of State) Colin Powell; I believed sane heads would prevail.”
But Powell's notoriously inaccurate speech to the United Nations in February 2003 “sealed the deal,” Johns said, and he knew the war was unstoppable. “I was very disappointed he did that. Powell was used.”
Many sleepless nights, long talks with his wife and solitary walks followed, said the veteran combat officer.
But Johns didn't reach his tipping point until 2005, when a longtime friend, retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, invited him to discuss the war at tiny Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
“Four out of five of us retired military panelists there said it was a moral duty for us to speak out in a democracy against policies which you think are unwise,” Johns said. “The time was right.”
The lifelong Republican-leaning conservative joined a pair of liberal organizations opposed to the war and supported the Democrats' call to get the United States out of Iraq.