Why Do We Believe What Our Generals Tell Us?


Prospective jurors in a trial requiring testimony from policemen are usually asked if they think law enforcement officers can be trusted more than other witnesses.  Accordingly, jurors who believe cops don’t lie are dismissed.  It could be argued that this notion of questioning one’s “automatic” integrity should apply to military officers as well, even those who graduated from prestigious service academies.

That whole military honor code deal has always seemed exaggerated.  Even if we ignore the numerous cheating scandals that, over the years, have plagued U.S. service academies (all of which adhere to rigorous honor codes), the most compelling reason for questioning the vaunted “moral rectitude” of these military colleges is the behavior of America’s officer corps during the Vietnam war.

While these men may not have cheated on exams as students, they certainly cheated once they became commissioned officers and began serving in the field.  During that dreadful war, America’s “best and brightest” habitually lied—they lied to their superiors, to their subordinates, to the media, and to the U.S. Congress.  A preponderance of those liars were ex-West Pointers. (“A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.”)

That’s why anyone old enough to remember Vietnam won’t be surprised at what happened to General David Petraeus (arguably the country’s most celebrated and ambitious 4-star general), who recently disgraced himself by being forced to resign as CIA Director after admitting to an extramarital affair.

To be fair, it’s possible this whole “marital infidelity” issue is a bit more complicated than it seems.  For instance, a husband engaged in an extramarital affair may actually have a mitigating story to share, one that would gain him sympathy.  Indeed, the man could have been trapped in a bleak, loveless marriage, and chose to remain in that hellish relationship purely out of loyalty.

But bad marriage or not, one thing is certain.  To avoid detection, an unfaithful husband is required to be a pretty good liar.  There’s no getting around it.  Because he’s living a “double life,” he’s required to lie to cover his tracks.  So, despite Petraeus’ reputation for integrity, his medals, his Princeton Ph.D.—despite his having been molded by West Point’s honor code—he has demonstrated that, if nothing else, he’s an accomplished liar.  Which makes you wonder what the whole point of that honor code was.

During my tenure as a labor union rep I had occasion to mix socially and professionally with six management employees who were graduates of U.S. service academies.  There were three West Point grads (a plant manager, an asset leader, and a staff assistant), two Annapolis grads (an engineer, and a team leader), and an alumnus of the Air Force Academy (a plant manager).

If you didn’t already know that these people (five men, one woman) were products of service academies, you would never know they had military backgrounds, because their management style was more or less indistinguishable from that of managers with degrees from civilian universities.

As to their comparative truth-telling quotients, the service academy grads didn’t seem any more honest than the civilian grads.  In fact, during my tenure, the two plant managers who stood out as “most honest” were graduates of the University of Mississippi and the University of Tennessee, respectively, and the manager who stood out as “least honest” was that team leader from the Naval Academy, whom I will call “Fred.”

As nice as Fred was (and he was very congenial), he was such an extravagant and notorious liar, he’d become something of a legend among union officers.  Nobody—not the shop stewards, not the executive board—could trust him, which, as one might surmise, made his involvement in union-management relations untenable.  Fred was eventually forced to resign.

Presumably, Fred lied for the same reasons most people lie:  to escape punishment, to avoid disappointing others, to aggrandize himself.  The truth of the matter was that this Annapolis graduate was so woefully unsuited and equipped for his job, whenever he got into trouble or came under fire, he did the one thing he felt comfortable doing:  He lied.

Again, it makes you wonder what the whole point of that honor code was.  Did it only apply to West Point cadets, and not to these same men once they entered the real world?  As for General Petraeus and his mistress, why would we treat their illicit affair any different than that of a fry cook and a waitress?   If we pretend that their dalliance was somehow more noble or elevated, we’re fooling ourselves.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition), was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net


November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”