General Kelly's Days in May: Miami Gardens, Florida is full of great kids.
(The same is true of Puyallup, Washington; Springboro, Ohio; and Lyons, Georgia, the hometowns of the other three men who died in Niger this month.)
Back to Miami Gardens:
Maybe fifteen years ago, La David Johnson was one of those great kids. By all accounts, he was lucky to be served by the mentoring program organized and run by Frederica Wilson, who was his congressional representative when he died this month.
In our view, General Kelly went around the bend and over the top when he aggressively belittled Rep. Wilson this week. On the other hand, we watched the videotape of Rep. Wilson's speech in Miami in 2015, and we can see why someone might have felt that she was perhaps a bit over her skis in her remarks that day.
Yesterday, it quickly became standard for mainstream and liberal pundits to say they couldn't imagine any such thing. The inability to imagine how Others might view an event is a dangerous aspect of human failing in times of tribal warfare such as the era into which we've descended.
General Kelly also made some obvious factual errors in his comments about Rep. Wilson's speech. Those factual errors don't go to the heart of what he said about Rep. Wilson, but they've been widely noted.
In our view, General Kelly's factual errors were largely trivial. His insulting remarks about Rep. Wilson went way, way over the line.
That said, everyone makes mistakes. In our view, General Kelly made a wider set of mistakes during his Thursday press event, and this wider set of mistakes has largely gone unremarked. This oversight should be corrected.
By all accounts, General Kelly is a disciplined, serious person. That said, he expressed views about the role of the military in American life which are historically dangerous and should therefore be assessed.
We refer to Kelly's repeated claims and insinuations that members of the military are our very best people, our top one percent, full stop. It's historically dangerous to think that way. This fact has been made clear in disastrous events all over the world down through the annals of time.
Simply put, those people aren't, all by themselves, our nation's top one percent, and they shouldn't be thought of that way. They're surely among our very best, but they have a whole lot of company.
What sorts of things did Kelly say that took us into this historically dangerous area? He started with some highly sensible remarks about the difficulty involved in informing a military family that their loved one has lost his life.
"If you elect to call a family like this, it is about the most difficult thing you can imagine," General Kelly said. "There's no perfect way to make that phone call."
That was a very sensible thing to say. He also described the painful process by which a fallen soldier's family is told of their loved one's death.
This was a powerful, worthwhile presentation. But along the way, Kelly made the highlighted remarks:
KELLY (10/19/17): A casualty officer typically goes to the home very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on. And then he knocks on the door, typically the mom and dad will answer. Wife. And if there is a wife, this is happening in two different places.Ignore the hint of Nixonian self-pity lurking in those remarks. Focus instead on this question:
If the parents are divorced, three different places. And the casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member and stays with that family until—well, for a long, long time. Even after the internment. So that's what happens. Who are these young men and women? They are the best one percent this country produces.
Most of you, as Americans, don't know them. Many of you don't know anyone who knows any one of them. But they are the very best that this country produces. And they volunteer to protect our country when there's nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required. But that's all right.
Are the men and women who serve in the military "the best one percent this country produces," full stop?
Actually no, they aren't, not all by themselves. And it's dangerous to start down that road.
Those men and women are surely among the best people we produce. It's fitting and just that we should remember that fact.
But are they the best we produce, full stop? it's dangerous to say such thigs because soon you'll be saying things like this, as you trash Rep. Wilson in an undisciplined way:
KELLY (10/19/17): When I listened to this woman and what she was saying and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them, because they're in Arlington National Cemetery.Are the men and women in Arlington National "the finest men and women on this earth?" It's dangerous to start down that road.
I went over there for an hour-and-a-half, walked among the stones, some of whom I put there, because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.
Those men and women are surely among the finest people on earth. But it's dangerous to say what Kelly said because you'll soon be saying this:
KELLY: In April of 2015, I was still on active duty. And I went to the dedication of the new FBI field office in Miami. And it was dedicated to two men who were killed in a firefight in Miami against drug traffickers in 1986 by the name of Grogan and Duke.Note the growing tone of self-pity. In that passage, Kelly makes his factual errors, and he characterizes Rep. Wilson's 2015 speech.
Grogan almost retired, 53 years old. Duke, I think less than a year on the job. Anyways, they got in a gunfight and they were killed. Three other FBI agents were there, were wounded, now retired.
So we go down. Jim Comey gave an absolutely brilliant memorial speech to those fallen men and the, and to all of the men and women of the FBI who serve our country so well and law enforcement so well.
There were family members there. Some of the children that were there were only 3 or 4 years old when their dads were killed on that street in Miami-Dade. Three of the men that survived the fight were there and gave a rendition of how brave those men were and how they gave their lives.
And a congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down.
And we were stunned, stunned that she'd done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned. But you know, none of us went to the press and criticized. None of us stood up and were appalled. We just said, "OK, fine."
After watching Rep. Wilson's speech, we ourselves can understand why General Kelly might have thought that she was perhaps a bit self-aggrandizing that day, especially under the circumstances. We can see why the children of the fallen officers might have thought that her remarks were a bit tone deaf.
But it's troubling to see General Kelly slipping into an Us-and-Them framework in which "we"—presumably, the military people on hand that day—are portrayed as the long-suffering Better People forced to hold their tongues about The Lesser Beings with whom they must share this earth.
On a global scale, it's historically dangerous when military figures start viewing the world that way. Before too long, they may start structuring our civic life in this way:
KELLY: So I'm willing to take a question or two on this, on this topic. Let me ask you this. Let me ask you this:It's dangerous to let yourself think that Your Kind are the worthy and best, full stop. Before too long, you may be saying that only people with ties or connections to your very best people are fit to take part in our national discourse.
Is anyone here a Gold Star parent or sibling? Does anyone here know a Gold Star parent or sibling?
OK. You get the question.
KELLY: Any other? Someone who knows who knows a Gold Star fallen person.
KELLY: I will take one more, but it's going to be from someone who knows [a Gold Star fallen person].
Before too long, no civilians need apply!
That was a very strange turn for General Kelly to take. As he ended his presentation, he rather strangely said this:
KELLY: As I walk off the stage, understand there's tens of thousands of American kids, mostly, doing the nation's bidding all around the world.By now, Kelly was coming close to directly asserting the moral superiority of that military one percent. He seemed to think he was being kind when he said that His Kind, the one percent, don't look down on the rest of us, although they feel a little bit sorry for us as they ponder our pitiful lives.
They don't have to be in uniform. You know, when I was a kid, every man in my life was a veteran, World War II and Korea, and there was the draft.
These young people today, they don't do it for any other reason than their selfless, sense of selfless devotion to this great nation.
We don't look down upon those of you that haven't served. In fact, in a way we feel a little bit sorry, because you will never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kind of things our service men and women do, not for any other reason than they love this country.
So just think about it. And I do appreciate your time.
By now, Kelly was thoroughly over the top. We thought of the potent John Frankenheimer film, Seven Days in May.
By all accounts, General Kelly isn't General James Mattoon Scott, the character played by Burt Lancaster, who tries to stage a military coup against the Timorous Lesser Beings who are running the United States government.
By all accounts, Kelly isn't that man. But he was talking like that man during Thursday's presser.
Sgt. La David Johnson was among our very best. So were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, who also lost their lives in Niger this month.
They were among our very best. But many others are among our very best, not excluding the energetic people who may establish and run the mentoring programs which may help the great kids in Miami Gardens become fully grown people like the late Sgt. Johnson.
All these people are fallible. None of these people are perfect. As Yevtushenko said of people:
"Whom we know as faulty, the earth's creatures."
None of these people are perfect. But many rank among our very best. Their ranks extend well beyond that meager one percent.
By all accounts, General Kelly is a highly accomplished, highly admirable person. By all accounts, he isn't James Matoon Scott.
That said, like all people, he's faulty. He was talking like James Mattoon Scott this week, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quickly surfing behind him.
He was talking historically dangerous talk. It may be several light years too late, but attention should be paid to the unwise things he said.
We can see why someone might have thought that Rep. Wilson's speech was a bit tone deaf. Especially during the tribal times which have historically led to our wars, it's important to be able to see the way the world looks to The Others.
It's the oldest fact on the earth. Your team is faulty too.