“On a chill November day in 2010, a crowd of mourners gathered in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, America’s Valhalla. The highest-ranking U.S. military officer to lose a child in combat in the post-9/11 wars was there to bury his youngest son, 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, killed in action in Afghanistan. Sitting at gravesite 9480 next to his son’s wife, watching her accept the folded flag with the thanks of a grateful nation, hearing the retort of the rifle salute and the sound of the bugler playing “Taps,” Gen. John Kelly was confronted with the same question that haunted the families of the more than 5,500 Americans killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Was such unbearable sacrifice worth it?
At some point Kelly realized it was not for him to say. His son had already answered the question. “In his mind — and in his heart — he had decided somewhere between the day he was born at 2130, 5 September 1981 — and 0719, 9 November 2010 — that it was worth it to him to risk everything – even his own life — in the service of his country,” Kelly would later tell other Gold Star families. “So, in spite of the terrible emptiness that is in a corner of my heart and I now know will be there until I see him again, and the corners of the hearts of everyone who ever knew him, we are proud. So very proud.”
The quote is from an article by James Kitfield of Yahoo News.
Ever since that day, John Kelly has striven to keep from politicizing his son’s death or making too much of it based on his own stature. Just days later, he insisted that the loss of his son not be mentioned when he gave a moving speech commemorating two other Marines killed in combat. He has discouraged questions about his loss even as he rose from commander of U.S. Southern Command to the head of the Department of Homeland Security for the Trump administration and to White House chief of staff. When approached by the Washington Post for a profile in 2011, he revealed a source of his reticence in an email: “We are only one of the 5,500 American families who have suffered the loss of a child in this war. The death of my boy simply cannot be made to seem any more tragic than the others.”
These last two weeks have seen our President, a man who dodged the Vietnam draft in his youth exhibiting for everyone to see his total lack of empathy for anyone but himself.
Ever since Donald Trump was asked about his curious delay in commenting on the deaths of four servicemen in Niger and, instead of answering, began to brag about how he was the only president to call all the families of fallen soldiers, this ugly story has been festering. Once again, Trump’s reflexive self-aggrandizement to cover up for his failures was on display.
“After making that ignoble boast, Trump went on a radio show and said that someone should ask John Kelly, the former Marine general who is now his chief of staff, whether President Obama had called him after his son was killed in Afghanistan, which obviously meant that was where he’d heard that Obama fell down on the job. The White House later confirmed this.
Evidently, this spurred Trump to finally call Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in Niger, while she was on the way to meet the coffin at the airport. He behaved like a boor because he doesn’t know how to act any other way. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who was accompanying the family to carry out this terrible duty, complained publicly about Trump’s insensitive comments which the fallen soldier’s mother confirmed. Instead of taking the mature and dignified course and simply apologizing for being inartful with his words, President Trump called everyone a liar and sent out one of “his generals” to clean up his mess.”
Everyone respects General Kelly; but he is no longer in uniform and has willingly become a partisan political player working for a contemptible leader. When he decided to use his stature and experience to bail out his boss for making a mess of what he calls a sacred issue on Thursday, he sold his own reputation cheaply.
After giving a sincere account of how the military and military families handle such dreaded news, Kelly abruptly went on the attack, accusing everyone but his boss of lowering the discourse and destroying everything that’s traditionally sacred in our society.
He mentioned the “sacredness of women” conveniently ignoring the fact that his boss bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” and Trump’s demeaning of John McCain’s service during the Vietnam war with his famous “I like guys who aren’t captured” quip.
Finally he decried the politicization of war dead when it was his boss who politicized the issue by turning a relevant question about the lack of White House response to the deaths in Niger for 12 days into a political attack on his predecessor.
“Then Kelly went for the jugular and brutally attacked Rep. Wilson for “eavesdropping” on the conversation between the president and Sgt. Johnson’s wife. Apparently he hadn’t bothered to read anything about the incident or he would have known that the call was on a speakerphone in the car and the exchange was confirmed by others who heard it. Had he looked into it, he would also have found out that Wilson, a former educator, is a good friend of the family and ran a program Johnson attended called the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, for youths pursuing military careers.
Not that any of that matters. It was apparently decided in the White House ahead of time that the best way to protect the boss was to smear Rep. Wilson. Kelly carried out the order with relish, even though its premise was a lie.
Just like his boss, the president, Kelly never once uttered the name of Sgt. La David Johnson or his pregnant widow, Myeshia.
After having his personal pain exposed in the current controversy, John Kelly said he visited Arlington National Cemetery to clear his head and “walk among the finest men and women on earth,” some of whom were following his orders at the time of their deaths. “I still hope as you write your stories, and I appeal to America, let’s not lose this maybe last thing held sacred in our society — a young man or woman going out and giving his or her life for our country,” Kelly said at the end of yesterday’s press conference. “Let’s try and somehow keep that sacred.”
Oh General! Do you still not know why your son chose a career in the military? Do you really have no clue? Do you not see in the mirror each day as you shave? Do you still believe the death of your son, stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan, was worth the sacrifice?
And what of those deaths in Niger? Were they “worth it?” Telling the widow while she is going to pick up the body of her dead husband at the airport that “He knew what he was getting into when he enlisted” is not evidence of sympathy or respect, especially from one who dodged the draft.
And General Kelly should not defend such a man.
During my military service I spent 14 months arranging for the notification of next of kin for Army soldiers residing in New York killed in Vietnam. Fully one third of the KIA were conscripts – kids drafted off of the streets of cities or towns, given 8 weeks training and dropped on a hillside in Dak To. The war consumed over 55,000 lives; way to many to get a call from the President.
When we showed up to make a notification we were hated by the populace. A young man had been drafted off the street and now he was dead. The people saw the uniform and the green Army staff car and knew someone in the neighborhood was no more.
And the dead were not “fallen;” they did not “give their lives” for their country. They were killed; their lives taken from them. Most would agree in retrospect that they were killed in an unjust and pointless war against a country now selling shirts in Target and furniture at Rooms to Go.
Today everyone is a hero; the military has been deified as if they are the only patriots -because they volunteer and no longer face either serving or jail. Since they volunteer they “know what they’re getting into.” General Kelly joined the Marines as a very young man – because his draft number came up. He was a high school graduate with limited prospects. He took a break in service to attend college to become an officer. He had found a home.
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.” – Senator John McCain
Unless he wants to become the next Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the clearest mission for General Kelly now is to ensure that he and his fellow Generals keep our sociopathic leader from nuclear codes – especially when he is having a bad day.
He can salvage his honor later when he writes the book; or his can salvage his honor now and simply resign.