The rollercoaster of history finds Americans today more than a little confused. To put it mildly, things weren’t supposed to turn out this way. The great crusade launched with considerable fanfare in September 2001 has stalled. That 20 years after 9/11, the Taliban have once more seized power in Kabul must surely rate as one of the preeminent ironies of the past century.
Allow me to suggest that senior U.S. military officers cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for the disappointments, disasters, and frustrations that have marked the ensuing two decades of our national life. The point is not to let civilian officials, beginning with the commander-in-chief, but also including the Congress, off the hook. It is rather to suggest that the nation’s mood and outlook might be rosier if the wars of choice that we inaugurated after 9/11 had ended in victory.
Our generals were expected to deliver those victories. As the abysmal outcome of the Afghanistan War reminds us, they came up short.
Allow me to suggest a corrective action: a purge. Oblige all active duty three- and four-star generals (and admirals) to retire forthwith. Rebuild the ranks of the senior officer corps with members of a younger generation willing and able to acknowledge the shortcomings of recent American military leadership at the top.
After the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941, the top U.S. commanders in Hawaii — Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter Short — were summarily relieved of their posts, reduced in rank, and retired. The action might not have been altogether fair, but it was necessary. Unless failure has consequences, further failures are all but guaranteed — a dictum as true in war as in business or sports or any other competitive enterprise. Firing Kimmel and Short laid down a marker: henceforth, failure was not to be tolerated.
Granted, purges tend to sweep up the nominally innocent along with the definitively guilty. But we need not shed tears for any senior officers given their walking papers. They will receive generous pensions, lifelong healthcare, and opportunities to monetize their active duty experience, whether within the military-industrial complex or elsewhere. They’ll do just fine.
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