Sunday, November 18, 2012

Petraeus scandal puts four-star general lifestyle under scrutiny

Then-defense secretary Robert M. Gates stopped bagging his leaves when he moved into a small Washington military enclave in 2007. His next-door neighbor was Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, who had a chef, a personal valet and — not lost on Gates — troops to tend his property.

Gates may have been the civilian leader of the world’s largest military, but his position did not come with household staff. So, he often joked, he disposed of his leaves by blowing them onto the chairman’s lawn.

“I was often jealous because he had four enlisted people helping him all the time,” Gates said in response to a question after a speech Thursday. He wryly complained to his wife that “Mullen’s got guys over there who are fixing meals for him, and I’m shoving something into the microwave. And I’m his boss.”
Read the rest here.

Yes, there are some fair points here. But I wouldn't put too much stock in it. One of the oldest expressions in the military is R-H-I-P (rank has its privileges). Every general or admiral in history has had staff including enlisted men who effectively function as personal servants. Even junior officers and some senior enlisted people rate a certain amount of deference and waiting on. The military is more hierarchical than Downton Abbey. On some level we inherited that from the Brits. The main difference being that the military is mainly a meritocracy and neither the rank nor the deference is hereditary. If that is really a huge hangup then you probably should not join.

Private executive jets and motorcades sounds over the top to me. But speaking as someone who never rose above the naval equivalent to sergeant I am not going to begrudge a man who has stars on his shoulder from the respect, and yes privileges, that come with rank. Admirals have better things to do than shine their own shoes, press their own uniforms or even cook their own meals. And though it rated only a sentence in the article, it's worth reiterating that the military has a lot of pomp and tradition which civilians usually just don't get.

Lastly, and with all due respect to former Secretary Gates, it is a hell of a lot harder to earn four stars than to be named Secretary of Defense.


Samn! said...

On the lack of a functioning meritocracy at the general officer level--

Ochlophobist said...

Has anyone made the argument that Richard Gabriel's 30 year old analysis of military incompetence is no longer accurate? If so I'd like to read it. Every member of my extended family who has served is decidedly of the opinion that competence is not correlative to advancement, but grant it, all of them save my mother (a nurse) were in the enlisted ranks.

And as for aristocracy, my former boss grew up in NY where his father taught at West Point (when he wasn't off a warring in WWII). That boss' grandfather also taught at West Point for many years. That boss' brother just retired a few years ago from teaching at West Point. All three of those family members retired as generals. The boss in question married a girl who grew up on Martha's Vineyard. When talking about his childhood at West Point, and his family experiences there, he never left me with anything other than the impression that the place was dominated by not just blue bloods, but blue bloods from old WASP elite American families. Perhaps all the inbreeding led to the extraordinary level of incompetence seen in American military history.