It’s been sometime since I’ve written a more in-depth article on events. Truthfully, current events in America have reached a point where I’m left dumb-founded at the sheer callous nature of the Donald Trump, his Administration, and his Die-Hard Trumpists. Recent news has exploded over Trump’s complete lack of empathy and inability to handle the delicate situation of comforting the bereaved and even accept any form of responsibility for his gaffs. Having said that, his response to the deaths of four soldiers ambushed in Niger is an issue but it is not THE issue.
This is not solely about Donald J. Trump!
Consider, politics aside, there are currently families, friends, and communities mourning the tragic loss of their loved ones. Americans who lost their lives in service to their country. That is the story…yet, Trump and (let’s be honest for a moment – real talk folks!) the media has made it all about Trump. Much how Trump has hijacked the message of #TakeAKnee (let’s not forget the protests were about the rise of police brutality and continued discrimination of our law enforcement against persons of color), he has now hijacked the tragic story of those in mourning over their soldiers. Let’s not forget that.
SGT La David Johnson
SSG Bryan Black
SSG Jeremiah Johnson
SSG Dustin Right.
My, and hopefully yours as well, thoughts and prayers go out to their families.
On to the rest of my own meditation…focusing on John Kelly’s own reaction.
John Kelly: Marine Corps Veteran, Leader, White House Chief of Staff, and Father.
When Trump politicized the death of John Kelly’s son, it struck me as a low-class (if not entirely classless) blow; an under the belt tactic to further Trump’s own deplorable Brand. This was shocking and repugnant in my eyes not only as a veteran, but also as a human being with a capacity for empathy. To think that this was all done without the prior consent or consultation with John Kelly is utterly deplorable. Why, therefore, has he not come out more aggressively against his boss for such a tactless and toxic response.
I have my thoughts…and truthfully I’m somewhat conflicted; mainly because of my own political bias…but I feel that during this time some measure of slack should be afforded to Mr. Kelly…at least for the moment.
John Kelly is a Leader and a Human Being
Whether you agree with John Kelly or his politics, his role in the White House should be agnostic of his own experiences. The tragic loss of his son, 2LT Robert Kelly, USMC, has become a topic of discussion…and Kelly has been very public about the private nature of this loss. The death of a child, I can only imagine, is a horrific and tragic event that is difficult to talk about. I won’t besmirch the character someone who is not comfortable discussing this aspect their life. I would note that, in the face of such tragedy, Kelly had the presence of mind and character of a leader NOT to make the loss about him as a ranking Four-Star General; acknowledging that he does not hold a monopoly on loss and that there are many that were under his command that suffered loss and had tragically died as well. That is the reaction of a leader that could easily have been very public at the time, but chose not too. I would caveat this that I don’t think anyone would have (or should have) come out against him if he had either; but as a public figure and leader it took great courage and stoicism to keep such anguish from the public eye so as not to marginalize others falling victim to the same experience. Trump’s piece of outrageous political theater is selfish, narcissism (redundant?) at it’s worse.
As a side note: Trump is full of lies about presidential notification of families…but John Kelly’s original statement to Trump about Presidents not calling all families was taking horribly out of context. We’ve been involved in two wars for over a decade with thousands of lives claimed. It would be unreasonable to expect a presidential phone call to EVERY family (MOST presidents actually are very busy and work very hard…versus Donald Trump, our Golfer-in-Chief). I’ll add, at least a letter, or appearance at a memorial event typically can replace such a personal act of kindness and outreach.
John Kelly Remains a Military Veteran
This next commentary may sound like criticism (perhaps it is to a certain degree) but ultimately I’m only trying to place his own actions and reactions in recent days into the greater context of military Culture.
John Kelly served our nation in a distinguished military career, rising through the ranks of the Marine Corps over the course of his life. I’ll say, from my own experience, you don’t depart the military after a long and storied career without keeping artifacts of the military culture in your life.
- We support our Chain of Command. As Military Leaders (honestly, good leaders in general), we may disagree with the policies and decisions of our higher chain of command. Yet, despite these misgivings we “soldier on.” We continue to have our chain of command’s back. To speak ill of our own leaders and spread dissension in the ranks diminishes our capacity to carry out our missions; as doubt and misgivings can be toxic and spread easily throughout the ranks. Exceptions to this particular cultural artifact is when unethical, immoral, or illegal orders are given.
- The Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers aren’t the only leaders. There is the concept that those of us in uniform are ALL leaders. As such the point made above applies to the highest generals to the newly initiated private.
- Military professionals find political discussion to be an anathema. The idea of a military coup or outright revolt by our military is very real concern and was part of the framing of our government through our constitution. We answer to our civilian leadership. We pledge ourselves to the defense of the constitution; no singular individual. As such, while service-members are free to hold their own political opinions and viewpoints; to engage on such topics in an official capacity or whilst in uniform is a violation of Defense Department Policy and can result in disciplinary action. Ultimately, it’s designed to ensure that the military cannot not act unilaterally in the political arena and remind us that elected officials are the ones that ultimately direct the military.
- Military Leaders are typically more conservative. This point flies in the face of our disconnect from political discussion…yet it’s true. The officer corps is generally more conservative. I’ll follow up further in the next point, but conservative America has claimed an unfair and purely false monopoly on National Security Issues and military service (according to GOP rhetoric). Almost as an impulse, we would praise George W. Bush and decry Barack Obama because one is a Republican and the other is a Democrat. We are spellbound by the myth that Republicans believe in a strong military and support our troops, whereas Democrats are bleeding hearts, that hate the military. This is a false narrative that, frankly, the Democrats have failed to address. I have seen the military transform over the years, and as millennials have entered into service those politics are changing slightly…you also see those same politics changing as we see persons from more diverse walks of life enter the ranks of the military as well.
- We are diverse and mirror America in its plurality, but also in its privilege. I am proud of the diversity of our armed forces. We are an organization composed of Men, Women, Christians, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ, Straight, Cisgender, persons of all shades of color, citizens and non-citizens, immigrants, etc. The list goes on and on. Generally speaking, the military manages to bring these diverse groups together and work mostly harmoniously by striving towards a common goal/mission. Having said that…I feel the demographics of military leadership does not represent that plurality as it should. I’ll note, I HAVE NO DATA TO BACK THIS UP! This is purely anecdotal! Officers are mostly straight white men, privileged to have gone to college, a military academy, or achieved success as an enlisted service-member and have gone through Officer Candidate School. Yes, there are women officers. There are Black officers. There are Latino officers. I imagine, however, if comparing demographics and percentages, this is not a proportional representation of our rank and file enlisted soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.
- Complaining is generally not tolerated. We have jobs to do. So, “complaining” is actively frowned upon, and if one does it loudly and often enough you get labeled as a “dirt bag.” The “suck it up, and drive on” mentality is alive and well…and this organizationally-imposed stoicism is part of how we define a “good” soldier or leader.
- We take some offense at Civilians commenting on Military issues. This is true. I would even go so far that many in the military community have an active distaste for non-military individuals, using “civilian” as an epithet at times when talking about them. I occasionally have remnants of this come up in the back of my mind as well, but I’m mindful and try not to let it poison my logic, reason, and sense of humanity. We veterans and active duty service members would be better served remembering we serve to protect and safeguard our nation, our constitution and our fellow Americans (citizens or otherwise). We serve the American people: Civilians. We started life as civilians. Most of our families and friends are civilians. Those who have chosen or have been unable to serve may lack some of the experiences military veterans may have…but we all belong to the same community of humanity. Those without that experience, would do well to consider that…but a lack of military experience or context does not negate your ability to hold an opinion or viewpoint. Finally, you need not be a military to experience loss or find Trump’s lack of empathy repulsive.
- Our Core Set of Values are part of our identity. I can only speak for the Army, but the Army Values and the Soldier’s Creed are essential elements drilled into us from the start of our careers. I still have the Army Values memorized and (with some hesitation and maybe some help) can still recite the Soldier’s Creed.
The Soldier’s Creed
I am an American Soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
LDRSHIP: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage
John Kelly is a Civilian Leader Now – Not in the Military
Here comes the actual critique. We like to say, “General” Kelly. Indeed he served with distinction, something Donald Trump can’t say…but he’s not a General anymore; neither is Jim Mattis. They now have the privilege to carry the moniker of “Mister.” Transitioning from military service is a difficult process; I can only imagine the transition is monumentally more challenging when entering the public spotlight of politics.
In any of our lives, it behooves us not to openly rebel against our boss…yet, Kelly’s statement against Congresswoman Wilson feels like a statement from a military commander trying to get the “troops” back in line. Congressmen and women are not subordinate military personnel. The Press corps is not a military unit. As a public figure and public servant with a platform that has access to hundreds of millions of Americans, there’s a level of responsibility that requires a calm and balanced approach; redirecting us to the issues that are dividing us. John Kelly may think he can “whip us into” shape by directing us towards unity, yet, his approach has only brought ire upon himself and done nothing to resolve the deep divides in our nation created by the Man-Child-in-Chief in the Oval Office (I’m writing this on a Friday, so likely, Trump is not actually in the Oval Office…he’s probably golfing in Bedminister at the moment).
My Final Charge to the Reader
These are trying times, without a doubt. We want nothing but to see Trump’s staff openly oppose him or resign…but let’s be realistic. I don’t think it’s in John Kelly’s character to openly oppose Trump. If he’s critiquing Trump at all, it’s behind closed doors. It’s an admirable characteristic, even if he is trying to publicly support his “chain of command.” Despite having said that, however, I feel he is wrong in this approach as I could not in good conscience support a hateful, cruel, ignorant, and incompetent leader that has divided our nation, given a platform to hate-mongers, used fear to inspire the ignorant and terrify the rest. Truly, who knows what candid conversations Kelly has attempted to have with his boss. I don’t. His work may be behind the scenes, impervious to the view of the general public…this is a topic where I attempt to wear a hopeful aspect, at least for the moment.
For the record, were I in Kelly’s position…I would speak out and resign. We lauded Kelly as the “adult in the room.” It seems that there are two options:
- Kelly has failed to temper the mercurial Donald Trump; and Trump can’t be directed or taught.
- More terrifying: John Kelly has actually succeeded in tempering the Mercurial Donald Trump…could it be that Kelly’s actions like stealing Trump’s phone or dangling shiny objects in front of his face to distract the Orange Man-Child-in-Chief, he has actually averted even more outrageous policy directives and outbursts. Again…terrifying.
Back to John Kelly…Ultimately, I feel Kelly is framing his response within the context of his own emotions and experience. Mourning and loss is hard and emotional. I think Kelly’s is of the mind such things are to be kept private and out of the public eye. This is where he is coming from and this is why he has reacted in the way he did. La David Johnson’s Family has every right to engage whoever they please and I have yet to hear them come out against Congresswoman Wilson (correct me if I’m wrong). So this is where Kelly’s logic fails, not everyone is John Kelly. The reaction of Black Non-Commissioned Officer’s family is not the same as a White Four-Star General.
I only ask, that if we choose to speak out. Let’s try and consider what we say and Tweet:
- Try not to Lose sight of the real issues. Four Soldiers have been tragically killed and their families and communities are dealing with that.
- Allow the families and communities to mourn. Many of us have gone through loss. Let the mourners control the direction of the narrative and the issues for the time being. Politicizing them is inherently selfish on our part…so let’s dig deep into our own humanity and respect that. (I’m not saying we blind ourselves to the realities of Trump and his White House…let’s just try and keep our respect for the families in mind please).
- Let’s try not to “hate” John Kelly (at least for the time being). Perspective and context are key in understanding issues and people in all circumstances. An apoplectic attack on John Kelly truly achieves nothing and diminishes ourselves in the process.
Are you feeling like you’ve been taking crazy pills? Do you disagree? Well…I’d like to hear your thoughts too. Please feel free to Comment, share, and like. Also, subscribe to ensure you get the latest updates. You can also follow me on twitter @streamingdan82