Why Do Men Go To War?

Sunday turns out to be a crappy day, weatherwise, so I find myself spending a bit more time than usual wrapped up like a dead fish in the New York Times.  I get completely absorbed by this long article about General Barry R. McCaffrey.

You can sift through the details if you like — I find them fascinating, but I see where some might be bored stiff.  Or limp — which support the general theme:

Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest.

Connecting the dots among McCaffrey’s clients — defense contractors that pay him thousands of dollars per month for consulting services — his testimony before Congress during the course of the war, where he urged the nation to purchase products manufactured by his clients to more efficiently and effectively pursue military objectives, and his solemn, expert commentary on network and cable news and opinion shows, the writers call into question the objectivity of his views and the judgment of our leaders in adhering to them.

war-is-moneyIt’s very troubling, particularly where McCaffrey is seen backtracking and sidestepping when it appears as though he’s said or done something that would bar his access to the information and decision-makers he needs to deliver on his consulting contracts.

Naturally, he claims he has nothing to either defend against or apologize for.  His exclusive interest, he says, is the safety of the military and security of the nation.  His service to his country is beyond reproach and his sole reward.  The dollars, the media exposure, the influence, etc., are immaterial.

It could be real “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” type stuff, but I’m neither questioning his patriotism nor calling him a scoundrel.  I’m out here, not in there, and I can’t know for certain.

What I do know, though, is that McCaffrey and his ribboned ilk are routinely cited as authorities in these life-and-death matters, and their zillion dollar consulting contracts, which render them “lobbyists” by any definition, are rarely scrutinized to determine if their counsel is tantamount to a sales pitch.  We ‘Mer’cans don’t like to disparage our generals, nor call their integrity into question.  Maybe he was simultaneously flogging his clients products while defending the troops — is it okay then?

But to me, the interesting wrinkle here is the way the news industry becomes a player in the same game, not just reporting their testimony, but featuring them as commentators and soliciting their views.  All the while avoiding any mention of his clients’ identify.

And just another excellent reason why we shouldn’t trust what we see and hear on the news.  Particularly when emerging from the mouths of experts on retainer from financially interested parties.

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15 Responses to Why Do Men Go To War?

  1. Ms Calabaza says:

    money corrupts. money corrupts. money corrupts.

    Years ago I hear Gen. McAffrey state unequivocably that Cuba was not a party to the drug trade involving Colombia to the United Republic of Miami. I knew then the guy was full of it.

  2. Hose B says:

    It’s one thing to be wrong, and quite another to be wrong-for-money.

  3. Beardsley says:

    So now it’s the “military industrial MEDIA” complex. How far we’ve advanced. Ike would be so proud.

  4. Lazlo Toth says:

    Right, so these generals might be doing the same thing doctors do when they advocate use of a particular drug, and at the same time they’re being paid by the drug companies who MAKE that drug for “consulting” or “research.”

    Well, it makes sense. Generals got to eat too, you know. And why should they make sacrifices for their country when nobody else does?

  5. One Man's Opinion says:

    Sounds like we have the makings of true capitalism here. And they said it couldn’t be done. Ha!

  6. Agustin Farinas says:

    wrapping fish in the NYT? Now that sounds like a great idea.
    When I lived in New York City I used it for lining the floor of my apt so my German Shepherd puppy could defecate all over it. I thought that was a much better use for the NYT than reading it.
    Some of my bird loving friends exotic birds used to line the bottom of their birds cages with it. I always though the NYT deserved a bigger load of dog feces than just the small bird poop.

  7. Squathole says:

    Auggie: Interesting that you prefer to slam the NYTimes than address the issues in the story it printed, which I take it is your way of saying that the story itself isn’t legitimate.

    As I indicated, I don’t know either. It sounds plausible to me, but it’s one of those complicated deals that involves maneuvers where the light rarely shines. Lazlo (above) made a good point: why should we doubt that generals and the defense industry do what doctors and the pharmaceuticals practice for the exact same reason?

    As for the media, nothing that happens on their watch surprises me, except when a rare moment of integrity strays to the surface. If they’re part of this manipulation of facts for funds, paid or not, it’s par for the course.

  8. Joe Balls says:

    I don’t doubt it for a nanosecond. To rise to the rank of general you need to be a very skilled politician, capable of manipulating people and data, making all kinds of deals, and maintaining a credible front at all times. You’re always out for #1. You grab the best deal you can make. No, this rings exactly right. Sorry to say.

  9. Claude Eustace Teal says:

    Of course the media is “in on it” or somebody would think to ask the right question (as the Times did): “General, are you in any way financially associated with the company whose weapons you recommend purchasing?” But they don’t because they might lose viewers already enamored with their expert/general. They might lose a good story. They’re entertainers, not informers.

    Poor us, but hasn’t it always been so?

  10. Agustin Farinas says:

    FYI, I am not alone in slamming the NYT. It seems they having been losing their readership faster than you can say Obama. In fact their stock has dropped like a lead anchor recently. The NYT had thrown objectivity out the window a long time ago and I guess their former readers have found that out too and so they have abandoned the newspaper for better pastures.
    Their recent performance during the past elections was an celar indication of why they are in trouble.
    Generals like everyone else have their agenda and try to abide by it. We all do.
    The recent events in Mumbai will give anyone the desire to wage war on these bastards who slaughter pregnant women and defenseless men just because they happen to be Jews.
    How I will love to see them face Israeli commados armed to the teeth to see how barve they are!. But they know better. They stick to killing defenseless women and unarmed men which is a lot easier and more in tune with their coward behavior.

  11. Squathole says:

    Auggie: In the entire world of journalism, since Day One, there has never been a newspaper EVER that has been “objective,” and all the conversations you’ve been bombarded with about how a paper, a teevee show, a radio broadcast, etc, condemning them for “abandoning their objectivity” are sheer nonsense, intended only to further the speaker’s own claims.

    The best discussion of this in action that I’ve ever seen in A.J. Liebling’s account of how the press handled Huey Long’s administration in Lousiana years ago. How even adjectives were deployed in a partisan manner (e.g., Long looked “fatigued” or “drawn” when he issued statements the paper disapproved of, and “hale” and “alert” when he said things they liked.

    Lots of people hate the NY Times, always have. Ditto the WSJ, Wash Post, and any other high-profile newspaper. This isn’t the reason any of those papers’ stock has been plummetting; the entire industry is under seige in direct proportion to the millions of former readers who now read their papers on-line. Papers aren’t selling to younger readers at all, and even old farts like me get their news on-line (altho I still get 2 papers delivered daily, and 3 on Sunday).

    As for the generals, their agenda ought to be the nation’s, as determined by the civil leadership. Not their employers.’ Not the highest bidder’s. That’s the part that has me freaked.

  12. Agustin Farinas says:

    as I look around all of the Americas and in fact all over the the world, I do not see one single country (well maybe Switzerland) where the military has less political power than here. For over 232 years the USA has managed to have a civilian leadership in charge of the military even during sevarl wars, without any recorded coup d’etat. That in itself is a great accomplishment and one that is very seldom mentioned by critics of the US. All Americans should be proud of that fact.

  13. Hose B says:

    Agustin: How about Costa Rica? No army!

    You right about the way the military understands its role as serving the civilian leadership in the US, but I suspect the same is true in much of western Europe, including the Scandinavian nations, France, Great Britain, etc. It would be an interesting project to analyze all of these.

    Hey Squatto: maybe the reason the US military behaves itself like Agustin says is they have the chance to make lots of money off consulting! In which case, the system is probably worth the price! ha!

  14. Ali says:


  15. Squathole says:

    Ali: Men go to “was”? Shouldn’t that be “Men WENT to was?”

    Welcome to the blog.

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