Perfumed Princes

     When I was a newspaper editor, we ran Col. David Hackworth’s column. Hackworth, a much-decorated soldier, wrote the bestsellers “About Face” and “Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts.” He had great sources in the military and wrote some terrific journalism.
     Hackworth, who died in 2005, didn’t have a very high opinion of today’s military brass. He called them “perfumed princes.” He said the Army just rotated them around from year to year so they could “punch their tickets” and build up their resumés.
     Our recent military scandals show Hackworth was right. There is something seriously wrong with the Pentagon.
     Not with David Petraeus, and not with Gen. John Allen – with our military system, and, I dare say, with the U.S. public’s glorification and idolization of it.
     I have no interest in this week’s sex scandals.
     I would like to know, however, why it is that Gen. William Ward, who was demoted this week from 4-star general to lieutenant general for his narcissistic spending of tax dollars on himself and his wife, will get a $208,800 yearly pension anyway – down from the $236,650 he would have got had he not been demoted.
     That’s insane. True, it pales beside the multimillion-dollar handshakes that corrupt, incompetent bankers and corporate CEOs get after they’re sacked, but the Pentagon report on Ward makes him look like one of Hackworth’s perfumed princes. It makes him look corrupt.
     And the fact that Ward has a “spokesman,” who told The Associated Press that “while Gen. Ward is not perfect, he has always been guided by his faith in God and the belief that there is no greater honor as a patriot than to lead those who choose to serve our nation in the armed forces,” is simply nauseating.
     I’d like to know why Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey tried to talk Defense Secretary Leon Panetta out of taking that single star away from Ward.
     I’d like to know about Ward’s $750 hotel suites, on my dime, and his ordering up Army vehicles for his wife’s shopping trips. And why a guy who throws around taxpayers’ money like that is entitled to a pension at all.
     I don’t think our generals should have to live like Spartans. But if top officials in the U.S. Department of Education threw bashes like that on public money, the Republican Party would never let us hear the end of it.
     Thomas Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, pointed out this week that we are about to welcome our 11th commanding general for the 11-year war in Afghanistan.
     Hackworth was right: the Pentagon rotates generals around year by year, so they can punch their ticket and build up their resumés.
     Ricks said, correctly, that any corporation that had 11 CEOs in 11 years would be bankrupt.
     Ricks wrote in his new book, “The Generals,” that 155 U.S. generals commanded divisions in World War II, and that 16 of them were fired for failing to do it well. Those generals were given 90 days to shape up or ship out. But “No one gets fired anymore,” Ricks said this week on NPR.
     I’ve been a reporter and editor for nearly 30 years, and I think that U.S. military officers are the straightest shooters out there. I’ve had colonels declassify a report for me on the spot, just because I asked for it. I’ve never caught a military man or woman lying to me about anything – a statement I cannot make about any branch of our federal or state governments.
     But it’s long past time that we desanctify the military. A $208,000 pension for an arguably corrupt general is an outrage. Our national attitude of “hands off the military,” kowtowed to by a truckling press, is counterproductive, to say the least.
     Our generals should be held to the same low standards we demand of our politicians and businessmen.

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