WASHINGTON—You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
That idea began with the Bible. But at the Pentagon, that law for military leaders could be: If you speak the truth it will make you free . . . free to seek other employment.
There was a time when the first and greatest loyalty of any military officer was to the truth, and his obligation was to tell the truth as he knew it to his superiors, military or civilian.
They still teach it that way at West Point in the honor code that guides a cadet: I will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate anyone who does. Even quibbling—any semblance of an evasion of the truth—can lead to expulsion from the academy.
Before the invasion of Iraq, when the planning was under way, the civilian leadership made it clear that this war was going to be done their way and anyone who got in the way would regret it.
If anyone in uniform needed an object lesson they had only to look at what happened to an honorable and loyal soldier, Army chief of staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, when he reluctantly answered a senator who demanded his opinion on how many troops it would take to occupy Iraq. This was in late February 2003.
Shinseki answered that, based on his experience as the first commander in Bosnia, that it might take "several hundred thousand soldiers" to occupy Iraq with its 25 million people.
One military commander told me that on that day, when Shinseki said what he said, the plan called for 280,000 American troops to carry out the invasion and the follow-up occupation. The next day that force was reduced by 60,000 troops. Later the occupation force would be much smaller, well below 200,000. Well below 150,000 in fact.
The civilians would prove Ric Shinseki wrong no matter what it cost, and they would do everything in their power to punish him and everyone who liked him and supported him. Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, publicly rebuked Shinseki, saying his estimate was "wildly off the mark." They also made him a lame duck by leaking the name of his proposed successor more than a year before he was to retire.
When Army Secretary Tom White spoke up on behalf of Shinseki he was fired.
All the while Rumsfeld and his civilian inner circle kept singing the same tune: Anything the commanders over there ask for they will get. As the younger generation likes to say: Yeah, Right. If they ask for more troops they will get the ax.
Ask Army Lt. Gen. John Riggs. In September 2004 while Rumsfeld and Army chief Gen. Peter Schoomaker were doing their best to keep Congress from adding more troops to the Army, Riggs was quoted in a newspaper article (Baltimore Sun, Sept. 13, 2004) that even 10,000 more soldiers not be enough.
"You probably are looking at substantially more than 10,000," Riggs told the paper. "I have been in the Army 39 years and I've never seen the Army as stretched in that 39 years as I have today."
Riggs had already requested retirement. It usually takes 60 days for the paperwork to get done. Two days before that period ended Riggs was told that he was being demoted to two-star rank and would retire at that rank and pay. Riggs has appealed.
Meanwhile the Pentagon leadership continues to respond to all questions about the troop strength in Iraq by singing the old song: Anything the military commanders over there ask for they will get.
That is the answer even though those same commanders don't have enough troops to permanently base any of them along the wide-open Syrian border crossings where hundreds of foreign Jihad terrorists have crossed into Iraq on their way to become suicide bombers killing Americans and Iraqis alike.
That is the answer even though those same commanders have never had enough troops to secure the hundreds of old ammunition dumps scattered all over Iraq which contain over a million tons of bombs, artillery shells, bullets, rockets and launchers.
No doubt that will still be the answer when the Army and the Marine Corps have been utterly broken by unending combat deployments that grind up soldiers and equipment alike. When the Army cannot recruit enough replacements for those who are leaving something they love because they love their families more.
You shall know the truth but if you are a general you must remain mute. Try teaching that at West Point.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young