By James A. Kidney
It took one week for Defense Secretary James Mattis to prove wrong those who believed he might be a stabilizing island of sanity in the Trump Administration. See the picture above.
It is a picture of President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary Mattis last Friday at the Pentagon, where Trump executed his signature on the executive order “temporarily” barring immigration from seven Muslim countries. Note the display medal in the background. The visible one among several backing the stage is is of the Congressional Medal of Honor — the country’s highest military honor. The word “valor” is carefully staged to appear in photos above Trump’s head. Mattis is shown happily examining the pen with which Trump signed the order.
I apologize for believing Defense Secretary James Mattis would bring sanity to the madness of the Trump administration. The disease that is Trump has already struck Mattis, as it has crippled the reputations of many other men and women who once claimed personal principles. Abiding by Trump’s will, Mattis, like the others, is reduced to a sycophantic coward.
But this is the most disappointing spread of the disease.
I thought that, as a four-star general with combat experience, Sec. Mattis would understand and carry in his heart the genuine meaning of valor, honor and bravery. I assumed Sec. Mattis would respect the personal sacrifices of men and women who died under his command. I expected him to understand the values of American history that cause men and women to die for their country.
I was wrong.
I apologize for believing that the son of an immigrant mother and a veteran of wars with and in Iraq would oppose closing our borders, even temporarily, to lawful immigration by innocents fleeing Middle East strife. Thoroughly vetted, their only goal is wanting to share in and promote American virtues in safety. Mattis could not stop the signing. But whatever Mattis’ true beliefs on the issue, he permitted a despicable use of important symbols of our nation’s brave men and women on his watch in his building.
I believed that, as one who rose on merit through the difficult demands of the Marine Corps, Gen. Mattis would understand the importance of mental and procedural discipline and the need for regular order in a large organization, like the military or the federal government. I thought he would value and require of his colleagues and even his superiors care, consultation, investigation and preparation before making major command decisions, whether military or civilian, seriously impacting the lives of others.
I was wrong. I apologize.
I believed that Secretary Mattis would understand the extraordinary danger and disloyalty of turning on allies in the cauldron of combat. I thought he would understand that Americans do not desert their fellow soldiers and those who risk their lives to help them on the field of battle by denying them access to our own country.
I was wrong. I apologize.
The signing was staged at the Pentagon in front of giant medals for bravery and valor in combat, including the aforementioned Medal of Honor. This, and similar pictures portraying Trump before the medal, will likely be among his favorites. “See, I am recognized for valor, too,” he might think to himself or, as likely, broadcast widely to others.
Mattis could have said no to this staging. He could have refused to allow use of this space and these medals. Instead, he demeaned himself and his career. He disrespected his colleagues and his country by lending himself, his office, the Department of Defense and decorations for military valor and bravery, for the promotional use of our chicken hawk, cowardly president.
I apologize for supporting his nomination.
The Pentagon and the medals are reduced to stagecraft for the signing of among the most un-American orders ever executed by a president. Never have those medals been so prominently abused by a higher-ranking Marine in power. A four-star Marine general permitted their desecration by a coward.
I apologize to our military heroes living and dead for believing Mattis would not dishonor you.
Trump favorably compared himself to Vietnam War combat troops by calling himself a “great and very brave soldier” by avoiding STDs while he was leading a comfortable, debauched, playboy life in New York City, building his personal wealth and nourishing his
narcissism. Others died in remote jungles in his place. Some were simply drafted and others volunteered. But award of a medal such as those on the wall of the Pentagon auditorium is proof that all died bravely. Meanwhile, Trump filed bankruptcies, sticking others with the debt.
John McCain was in a Vietcong prison while Trump used a minor — or phony — illness to avoid the draft. Years later, Trump showed contempt for McCain’s sacrifices (“I like people who weren’t captured”), including the real physical trauma McCain carries 50 years later.
When the parents of a man who gave his life in service to his country dared criticize him, Trump questioned their loyalty and patriotism. His own sons, meanwhile, enjoy firing weapons from the safety of a well-protected safari to kill innocent animals. They show off the animal parts as trophies — trophies of what? As a reminder of what it is to be a Trump?
Trump has said “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.”. He has compared thenational “intelligence services” (his air quotes, not mine) to Nazis.
He has allegiances in as yet unknown ways to Russia and its dictator. He praises Putin at every opportunity.
Trump has said on national television he has never asked God’s forgiveness. He is rewarded by the worship of some “Christians.” (Air quotes mine.)
Yes, the chain of command requires respect. But there are higher values than military discipline. We long ago recognized that “just following orders” is no excuse for violating the norms of morality and humanity. Desecration of military medals for heroism by a man who leads the troops qualifies as irresponsible, if not inhuman. These were your own men and women you were responsible to lead. They demand your lifelong respect. Respecting their memory always will be your responsibility. Having risen to high command on their graves you have no right to reduce the symbols of their courage to a stage background for actions betraying what they stood for by a man who knows nothing of their dedication and does not care.
You did not have to resign. Immigration is not your job. You could have just said, “No, Mr. President. Find somewhere else for your signing.” If he fired you, so be it. You would have saved yourself from the disease Trump spreads. But you did not. Did it occur to you? If not, you are unfit for leadership. If so, you, too, are diseased by the president.
I apologize for placing confidence in you, General.
But I can’t apologize for you. You will have to apologize yourself to those you have led, to those who you lead now, and to those who have made sacrifices far greater than yours by following the chain-of-command.I