fMany of us were in the streets in the late sixties, college kids against the war, but it was hard to be against the troops. Half the guys we all knew from high school were in Vietnam, old friends, and a good number of them never made it home. The troops weren’t the problem. The problem was the military, or the military-industrial complex, whatever that was, or the nasty old men at the top, the civilians who directed the military – Johnson and then Nixon, Dean Rusk and then Henry Kissinger – that crowd. They got us into this mess. They’d gotten us into every damned mess. But the grunts had been our childhood friends. They really weren’t baby-killers. We listened to the same music. We could talk to them. We listened to them. No one listened to the nasty old men.
And then it was over. The last overloaded helicopter lifted off from the last dusty rooftop in Saigon. Gerald Ford puffed his pipe and life went on. But the nasty old men never went away. Those directing the military can still be jerks:
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s channeled President Trump when he lashed out at the captain he fired for raising concerns over the spread of COVID-19 on his ship
Modly made headlines on Monday after CNN reported on his screed against former Capt. Brett Crozier, saying that the captain he ousted was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in command. Modly was addressing the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, some of whom reportedly were shocked by the Navy official’s remarks.
Modly accused Crozier of purposefully leaking the memo he sent to Navy higher-ups about the dire COVID-19 infection rate on his ship.
In a statement to the New York Times, Modly defended his comments – “I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis,” he said.
Captain Crozier should be court-martialed for insubordination. He was intentionally trying to make the president look bad. And that’s his commander-in-chief! And he was implying that his sailors were weaklings who couldn’t handle a few sniffles. This had to be done.
None of the sailors seem to have felt that way, but they hardly mattered:
Both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Trump had defended Modly’s decision to fire Crozier. On Sunday, Esper told CNN that he supported Modly’s “very tough decision” to fire Crozier. Trump said that he thought the ousted Navy captain’s memo to crew members was “terrible.”
So the sailors heard this:
I’m gonna tell you something, all of you, there is never a situation where you should consider the media a part of your chain of command. You can jump the Chain of Command if you want and take the consequences, you can disobey the chain of command and take the consequences, but there is no, no situation where you to go the media. Because the media has an agenda and the agenda that they have depends on which side of the political aisle they sit and I’m sorry that’s the way the country is now but it’s the truth and so they use it to divide us and use it to embarrass the Navy. They use it to embarrass you.
So think about that when you cheer the man of the ship who exposed you to that. I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him.
That’s your duty. Not to complain.
That’s the long version of sit down and shut up, with a bit of frothing at the mouth about “fake news” and how the media has always been out to get Trump, along with the usual paranoia:
If I could offer you a glimpse of the level of hatred and pure evil that has been thrown my way, my family’s way over this decision, I would. But it doesn’t matter. It’s not about me. The former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden suggested just yesterday that my decision was criminal. I assure you that it was not. Because I understand the facts and those facts show that what your captain did was very, very wrong in a moment when we expected him to be the calming force on a turbulent sea…
The only reason we are dealing with this right now is a big authoritative regime called China was not forthcoming about what was happening with this virus and they put the world at risk to protect themselves and to protect their reputations…
The USS Theodore Roosevelt has to demonstrate to the citizens back home that it has its act together and that it’s knocking down this virus just like it would knock down the Chinese or the North Koreans or the Russians if any one of those nations were ever so stupid enough to mess with the Big Stick because she thought she was vulnerable.
That’s because everyone is out to get us, everyone, and they’re everywhere!
Who is this guy? He’s this guy:
Thomas B. Modly is an American businessman and government official who has served as Acting United States Secretary of the Navy since November 24, 2019… Modly is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Georgetown University, and Harvard Business School. He served on active duty in the United States Navy as a helicopter pilot and spent seven years as a U.S. Navy officer…
Modly served as the managing director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers global government and public services sector and as the firm’s global government defense-network leader, and has served as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Financial Management and as the first executive director of the Defense Business Board. He was nominated to become Navy Undersecretary by President Donald Trump in September 2017 and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate two months later
But he’s a temp, the “Acting” Secretary of the Navy. The Senate hasn’t confirmed him yet, to the top job. Trump hasn’t asked them to. This is a casual arrangement.
And this is odd. The New York Times team of Helene Cooper and Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt explores the situation:
The Navy’s top civilian, Thomas B. Modly, delivered his message over the ship’s loudspeaker system and deepened the raw us-versus-them atmosphere that had already engulfed the carrier. It also exposed the schism between a commander in chief with little regard for the military’s chain of command and the uniformed Navy that is sworn to follow him.
Like much in the Trump administration, what began as a seemingly straightforward challenge – the arrival of coronavirus onboard a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier – has now engulfed the military, leading to far-reaching questions of undue command influence and the demoralization of young men and women who promise to protect the country. At its heart, the crisis aboard the Theodore Roosevelt has become a window into what matters, and what does not, in an administration where remaining on the right side of a mercurial president is valued above all else.
In Vietnam it was the grunts who were caught in the middle, and now it’s these sailors:
The crew of the Roosevelt had already registered its discontent with the Trump administration’s decision to remove the commander, by cheering for Capt. Brett E. Crozier as he walked down the gangway last week and left the ship…
Mr. Modly, Navy officials say, then was angered about what he viewed as a public rebuke from the crew, and flew 8,000 miles to Guam to vent his ire to the sailors himself, according to audio recordings of the address that members of the crew shared with The New York Times and other news organizations.
So, he would teach these uppity nobody sailors a lesson, but he had created a public relations nightmare:
In an emailed statement late Monday, Mr. Modly apologized “for any confusion” his choice of words during his remarks to the Roosevelt crew may have caused. “I do not think Capt. Brett Crozier is naïve or stupid,” Mr. Modly said in the statement.
But his earlier remarks had echoed comments by the president, who on Saturday had lashed out at Captain Crozier as well.
On Monday, Mr. Trump again criticized Captain Crozier for writing the letter, saying it unwisely showed military weakness. But he also said he had heard good things about the carrier’s former commander.
“His career prior to that was very good,” Mr. Trump said. “So I’m going to get involved and see exactly what’s going on there because I don’t want to destroy somebody for having a bad day.”
Ah, the guy wasn’t stupid after all, and he shouldn’t be taken out back and shot, for treason. He’s just had a bad day. It happens. But the chief of naval operations and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military (not civilian) folks were pissed off:
Mr. Modly’s decision to remove Captain Crozier without first conducting an investigation went contrary to the wishes of both the Navy’s top admiral, Michael M. Gilday, the chief of naval operations, and the military’s top officer, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I am appalled at the content of his address to the crew,” retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said in a telephone interview, referring to Mr. Modly.
Mr. Modly, Admiral Mullen said, “has become a vehicle for the president. He basically has completely undermined, throughout the Theodore Roosevelt situation, the uniformed leadership of the Navy and the military leadership in general.”
But even worse, this was just stupid:
“At its core, this is about an aircraft carrier skipper who sees an imminent threat and is forced to make a decision that risks his career in the act of what he believes to be the safety of the near 5,000 members of his crew,” said Sean O’Keefe, a former Navy secretary under President George Bush. “That is more than enough to justify the Navy leadership rendering the benefit of the doubt to the deployed commander.”
Perhaps so, but at the top there’s that West Point graduate, the former chief of staff at the Heritage Foundation and for years and years Raytheon’s top lobbyist:
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said on Sunday that he supported Mr. Modly’s decision.
Raytheon’s top lobbyist had spoken, and that fixed nothing:
Several current and former Navy and national security officials said the Roosevelt episode illustrated how civilian leaders in this administration made questionable decisions based on what they feared Mr. Trump’s response would be.
“Modly got involved in the day-to-day deliberations to a greater degree than Navy tradition and the chain of command would expect precisely because Modly was obsessed with how the story might be playing inside the White House,” said Peter D. Feaver, a political-science professor at Duke University who has studied military-civilian relations.
But there’s a backstory here:
Mr. Modly, a Naval Academy graduate and former helicopter pilot, would not be in his current acting position were it not for the last political imbroglio, which involved the firing of the previous Navy secretary, Richard V. Spencer, by Mr. Esper in November.
Mr. Spencer had publicly disagreed with Mr. Trump’s intervention in an extraordinary war crimes case involving a member of the Navy SEALs, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was accused of murdering a wounded captive with a hunting knife during a deployment to Iraq in 2017.
Even his fellow Navy Seals said Gallagher was a bit of a murderous psychopath and wanted him gone, but not Trump:
Chief Gallagher had caught the president’s eye. Mr. Trump saw the commando as a victim of political correctness that he said hamstrings the warriors the nation asks to defend it.
When the Navy prosecuted Chief Gallagher, Mr. Trump intervened several times in his favor. When the chief’s court-martial ended in acquittal on most charges, Mr. Trump congratulated him and criticized the prosecutors. After the Navy demoted Chief Gallagher for the one relatively minor charge on which he was convicted, Mr. Trump reversed the demotion.
Finally, the commander of Naval Special Warfare, Rear Adm. Collin P. Green, started the formal process of taking away Chief Gallagher’s Trident pin, symbol of the Navy commandos, and expelling him from the SEALs. But Mr. Trump overruled the move – and Mr. Esper fired Mr. Spencer, who had supported the process of taking away Chief Gallagher’s Navy SEAL pin.
“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter in November. “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
Trump hates wimps, so he likes killers, and he worries about Fox News:
Coronavirus hit the Roosevelt as Mr. Trump was seeking to project a confident message of the United States getting through the pandemic with relative ease.
The acting Navy secretary “knew the president had sacked his predecessor when an internal matter of military discipline became the fodder for Fox News morning shows, and so was keen to manage – some would say, micromanage – the political optics,” Mr. Feaver said.
No wimps! No wimps ever! That would be the unified message. And that would mean there would be more than a few mystified sailors:
When his 15-minute speech was over, signing off with a tepid “Go Navy,” Mr. Modly had effectively drawn an invisible line between him and the more than 4,800 crew members of the Roosevelt, one crew member said. This sailor added that many of the crew thought Mr. Modly had called them stupid for putting so much faith in their commanding officer. After Mr. Modly’s speech, junior sailors approached the crew member, he said, looking to leave the service after their first enlistment.
Mr. Modly did not tour the ship, and practically no one, especially those in the lower ranks, even saw him. He was gone in less than thirty minutes.
And then it was over:
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he disagreed with the way Modly has handled the outbreak.
“His decision to relieve Captain Crozier was at best an overreaction to the extraordinary steps the Captain took to protect his crew,” he said in a statement.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a Marine veteran, said that Modly “spectacularly disqualified himself as an effective leader” of the Navy.
“President Trump or Secretary Esper should fire him,” Gallego said. “They may or may not do so, but I will not hold my breath.”
Trump, asked about the controversy Saturday, said he supported Crozier’s dismissal but didn’t make the decision.
But by Monday evening Trump was saying he’d look into this. Don’t hold your breath.
But all of this had been inevitable. Trump hates wimps, so he likes military strongmen who think their troops should just shut up and kill. He always has. In early 2016, Emily Flitter filed a curious background story for Reuters:
Presidential candidate Donald Trump admires the late Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, both World War Two generals. They were winners, unpredictable, and not especially nice guys, he says in campaign speeches. But Trump’s pledge to imitate their styles sets modern-day military experts on edge.
Although unquestionably in the pantheon of U.S. military heroes, MacArthur and Patton were also controversial figures remembered by historians as flamboyant self-promoters. The commander in the Pacific, MacArthur was eventually fired by President Harry Truman for speaking out against Truman’s policies in the Korean War, which followed World War Two. Before Patton died in December 1945, he questioned the need to remove Nazis from key posts in postwar German politics and society.
It seems that Donald Trump doesn’t attend to details:
Born in 1946, a year after World War Two ended, Trump often praises MacArthur and Patton for the blunt ways he says they commanded respect. “George Patton was one of the roughest guys, he would talk rough to his men,” Trump told an audience last week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “His men would die for him,” Trump added. “We don’t have that anymore.” He said Patton would wipe out Islamic State without hesitation, were he still in command.
His audiences cheered, but others didn’t:
Interviewed by Reuters, recently retired military personnel voiced doubts about Trump’s grasp of U.S. military operations. One retired four-star general called Trump’s references to Patton and MacArthur “bumper sticker foolishness.” Another said Trump was comparing “apples to oranges” by likening America’s role in World War Two to the fight against Islamic State.
“He has no understanding of how it works, at least in my view,” said an aide to a third retired four-star general. “He makes these bold statements and one-liners, but that doesn’t translate into understanding what it takes to be a military leader, what it takes to develop a plan.”
In short, Trump was an amateur pretending he knows stuff that he doesn’t know:
Trump often says that in the spirit of MacArthur and Patton, he never wants to reveal his specific plans for military operations, since that would give the enemy a chance to prepare and counterattack. “I don’t want my generals being interviewed,” he said in Myrtle Beach.
Trump’s statement had an irony about it, given his oft-repeated comment that he knows what military experts have to say from their interviews on television. But historians said the comment also showed he has little understanding of just how often MacArthur and Patton spoke to the press.
“They were the media whores of their time,” said Daniel Drezner, a professor at International politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University who often writes on national security. He said anyone vaguely familiar with Patton by way of the 1970 George C. Scott film “Patton” would know he got into trouble for remarks that were politically controversial.
Trump saw that movie, everyone has, but there was this scene:
In early August 1943, Lieutenant General George S. Patton slapped two United States Army soldiers under his command during the Sicily Campaign of World War II. Patton’s hard-driving personality and lack of belief in the medical condition post-traumatic stress disorder, then known as “battle fatigue” or “shell shock”, led to the soldiers becoming the subject of his ire in incidents on 3 and 10 August, when Patton struck and berated them after discovering they were patients at evacuation hospitals away from the front lines without apparent physical injuries.
That was in the movie – Patton slapping the troubled soldier in the hospital and calling him a coward – and maybe Trump liked that scene. Trump’s like that. Everyone else is a coward. He’s not. Even if he didn’t go to Vietnam, he did attend a military academy, not a regular high school, so he knows about such things, or so he says:
Donald J. Trump, who received draft deferments through much of the Vietnam War, told the author of a coming biography that he nevertheless “always felt that I was in the military” because of his education at a military-themed boarding school.
Mr. Trump said his experience at the New York Military Academy, an expensive prep school where his parents had sent him to correct poor behavior, gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”
But of course Patton paid for slapping those soldiers:
Word of the incidents spread, eventually reaching Patton’s superior, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who ordered him to apologize to the men. Patton’s actions were initially suppressed in the news until journalist Drew Pearson publicized them in the United States. While the U.S. Congress and the general public expressed both support and disdain for Patton’s actions, Eisenhower and Army Chief of Staff George Marshall opted not to fire Patton as a commander. He was nonetheless sidelined from combat command for almost a year.
In the end, Patton, the tough guy some folks still love, was more trouble than he was worth:
Seizing the opportunity the predicament presented, Eisenhower used Patton as a decoy in Operation Fortitude, sending faulty intelligence to German agents that Patton was leading the Invasion of Europe. While Patton eventually returned to combat command in the European Theater in mid-1944, the slapping incidents were seen by Eisenhower, Marshall, and other leaders to be examples of Patton’s brashness and impulsiveness. Patton’s career was halted as former subordinates such as Omar Bradley became his superiors.
Brashness and impulsiveness ended Patton’s career. Brashness and impulsiveness ended MacArthur’s career too – that unauthorized sudden move to take all of Korea without thinking about the Chinese on the other side of the Yalu or what Harry Truman wanted him to do. The Chinese trapped MacArthur’s overextended forces. MacArthur asked Truman to nuke the Chinese, all of them. Truman fired him. But he was still a hero to Trump.
Captain Brett Crozier never stood a chance. Bumper sticker foolishness did him in.