Ugly media bias against the military must be countered
by BILL CONNOR
March 15, 2017
With recent national polls showing the lowest levels-ever of public trust in the media, columnist Georgie Anne Geyer's recent piece, "America's Security begins with Questions," reads with a bit of irony.
The piece - something of an anti-military diatribe - makes the claim that "military men" working in the Trump administration are "deeply angry inside [because] they have never gotten past their humiliation over Vietnam and now they are stuck with Iraq and Afghanistan." Geyer then slams military leaders as dishonest careerists: "Gen. McMaster is not the go-along-to-get-along kind of military officer we've been accustomed to since World War II ... he is a man of unquestioned integrity."
This type of irresponsible and fallacious media attack against the military is rearing its head in a way I haven't seen in a long time and must be countered with the truth.
First a bit of background. Geyer began her career in journalism during the 1970s, an ugly period of media bias against the military coming out of the Vietnam War. I remember the time well as I was the young son of a Vietnam veteran from a family with deep military roots, and so I well-recall the endless slights against soldiers and the unrelenting criticism of the military overall by the media despite the honorable and sacrificial service of military men serving in Southeast Asia and elsewhere around the world during the height of the Cold War.
The Reagan era of the 1980s saw a reversal of the trend (leading to victory in the Cold War followed by the crushing victory of the Iraqi Army during Desert Storm). There was a tremendous groundswell of public support for the military at that time and for years following. I personally experienced this as a newly commissioned U.S. Army officer in 1990. This experience included a type of repentance for the poor treatment of Vietnam veterans, and I believe many journalists like Geyer were forced to throttle back on their ongoing castigation of the military, all the while harboring the usual antipathy.
Today, it is quite easy to refute Geyer's negative assertions about the military.
First off, the active-duty general-officers of 2017, like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, entered service well after the end of the Vietnam War. Consequently, these officers harbor no deep-seated "anger" over alleged "humiliation" from Vietnam. Even retired Generals like Sec. Mattis and Gen. Petreaus, were commissioned post-Vietnam. They came of age during the victory of the Cold War and Desert Storm. Gen. McMaster, for example, was an Armor captain who received the Silver Star and subsequent public notoriety for his role in the now-famous Battle of 73 Easting.
Geyer is most-misguided in her characterization of post WWII military officers as dishonest "go-along-to-get-along" careerists. On the contrary, military officers have the highest integrity, particularly in comparison with journalists like Geyer. Ironically, the great crisis in civil-military relations came with Gen. Douglas MacArthur's insubordination against Pres. Harry Truman six years after WWII.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the media and Hollywood generally characterized outspoken general-officers as dangerous to the civilian control of the military. Movies like "6 Days in May" and "Dr. Strangelove" made the point (Outspoken Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay was hammered by the media as dangerous and, incidentally, advocated a much more robust bombing of North Vietnam, unlike what Geyer seems to understand of the Chiefs from McMaster's book). Geyer disregards the many examples in recent history in which senior military leaders have spoken-out at great personal sacrifice. I'm reminded of Gen. Eric Shinseki's testimony before Congress refuting the administration's estimates of troops required to control Iraq. Shinseki was forced into early retirement.
Interesting comparison: McMaster wrote his book critical of senior military leaders while still a captain then major. He was promoted all the way to three-star rank despite the raw feelings of senior military leaders. Around the same time, award-winning journalist Bernard Goldberg wrote critically of the clear liberal bias of the media. Unlike McMaster's career, Goldberg was forced out of the major networks and shunned by fellows in the media as a pariah. He was in a true "go-along-to-get-along" profession.
Geyer's insinuation about the lack of "free thinking" officers is similarly misguided.
I am currently a student in the United States Army War College, which is a Master of Strategic Studies and required if I am to be eligible for promotion from colonel to brigadier general. I have found this course much more academically rigorous than either my experience in civilian law school or the Bar exam (which I passed on the first try, unlike Hillary Clinton, who is praised by the media for her superior academic accomplishments). In the War College, we spend substantial time discussing the ethical way to handle disagreement with civilian superiors. Bottom line: Senior military officers provide the best military advice, but remain subordinated to elected civilian authority. One can resign, but otherwise must follow lawful orders of the President. It's a system which has worked for over 230 years, and a primary reason we never have to worry about a coup d'etat in this country.
We cannot go back to the journalistic malpractice of the post-Vietnam military reporting, and such reporting demands the light of truth. We have come too far as a nation, and those of us who remember have a duty to speak out. It is time for facts in journalism, and respect for those who put their lives on the line for our freedom; including freedom of the press.
Bill Connor is a S.C.-based attorney and decorated U.S. Army Reserve infantry officer, Ranger (Airborne), an expert in counterinsurgency combat and a founding partner of National Defense Consultants, LLC. He is a former senior U.S. military advisor in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.