On Generals Testifying Before Congress

A Mash Note

April 14, 2008

Whenever I see that some dismal general will testify to Congress regarding the war against Iraq, I imagine the first paragraph of his Power Point presentation:

“All metrics show a downsurge in the violence in Iraq, and a continuing improvement in indicators of the production of a better life. Next slide. The Iranians are aiding the enemies of America, and must be bombed. This is a recording.”

What solemn, fraudulent, emetic mummery. Congressmen will—do—ask the General puffball questions, after which they will do whatever the President tells them to do. I can make no criticism of this. It is the American way. Still, may I suggest a few questions I would like to see the General, any general, asked?

1) General, five years ago the Commander in Chief said that combat operations in Iraq had ended. Since this isn’t true, the Commander in Chief was either lying, delusional, or simply a fool. Which do you believe to be the case?

2) You have said on various occasions that Iran is meddling in Iraq, that it is supplying weapons, fighters, and training to the warring factions. Others have charged that the United States is meddling in Iraq, that it is supplying weapons, troops, and training in Iraq. Which of these assertions do you believe to be the more accurate? Have you seen any evidence of American involvement?

3) You have expressed a commendable admiration for our soldiers, saying that they are the finest young men of our nation. Would you let your daughter date a black Pfc. with a GED? A kid named Gonzalez with tattoos?

4) Permit me a personal question, General. Have you ever said anything but “yes” to anyone who could affect your chances of promotion? Can you give us examples?

I have received a letter from a squad leader in Baghdad who suggests that always saying “yes” qualifies you as a streetwalker but not as a soldier. I am sure this isn’t true. That is, I am sure you could be a soldier as well. Will you explain to us why the sergeant is wrong? Can you give the Congress a reason to believe that anything other than your career matters to you?

5) Excuse me, but I have a question concerning your health. I know the sun is very bright in Baghdad. Might it be that when you were putting suntan lotion on your face, you somehow missed your nose? It seems much darker. The country cannot lightly afford to risk skin cancer in its officers.

6) General, years from now, when you loll in some sunny clime writing your memoirs, perhaps having served as a handsome and chiseled Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, tens of thousands of enlisted men will be living with colostomy bags or white canes or missing legs or the ruins of faces. Does this in any way bother you?

On second thought, I withdraw the question as irrelevant. Pardon my foolishness, General.

7) I assume that you must have many qualifications for administering a counterinsurgency operation in the Middle East. Here I mean things other than being photogenic or a wizard with Power Point. For example, I am certain that you speak Arabic well, as do the Commander in Chief, President Cheney, and Condo Rice. For the record, will you confirm this?

8) Let me drop for a moment into the dry details of soldiering. No doubt this will be boring shop talk to many in this chamber, but I believe we can spare a moment.

A constituent who served in Viet Nam wrote me with the following account of someone who has “taken a round” (that is the military phrase, I believe?) through the face. He says that teeth shatter, the jawbone dangles from the head with white stuff showing where it was attached, blood spurts from the arteries in the top of the mouth, one eye bulges out from the concussion, and the man jerks his arms strangely and says “Kuh-kuh-kuh” until he dies from drowning in blood. This takes a few minutes, the sergeant says.

Do you believe the Public Affairs Office of the Pentagon is right in saying that squads should carry plastic bags for covering the man’s face? So that reporters don’t take pictures and give the public a misleading idea of the war?

9) Critics of the military say harsh and, I am sure, unjustified things, such as that generals are simply hired murderers and have no more honor or morality that hit men for the Mafia. I want you to understand that I do not for a moment believe this. I am sure that you would not kill thousands of people you don’t know on command of some nonentity, and then accept strange-looking medals for doing so. To rebuke those voices that say such ugly things, would you give us an example of a country you would not attack if ordered to? Name something you would not do for another star?

10) Will you explain the surgical use of a five-hundred-pound bomb in a densely populated suburb?

11) General, if an Iraqi army attacked your home state in an endeavor to impose democracy on the United States, killed thousands of your fellow citizens, and left your daughter of seven years screaming as she died of burns, what would you do? Would you accept Islam with gratitude and embrace democracy? Or would you fight the invaders? Would you spend the rest of your life trying to kill as many of them as you could, in any way that you could? Just curious.

12) Some of your critics, sir—misinformed, I am sure—say that you send kids from small Southern towns to die while you work on your Power Point presentations. To put this foul canard to rest, would you tell us how much time you have spent in combat as compared to a rifleman on his fifth tour?

13) Finally, General, can you estimate the number of veterans in wheelchairs, blind, gutshot, lacking genitals, on crutches, having nightmares of when Jim Dog took a round through the lungs north of Vung Tau—guys of that sort, in the Disabled American Veterans, in expat bars around the world, in upcountry Thailand and the middle of Mexico—who hate men like you with a dark intensity that makes them pull the arms off chairs when they think about it, so that even their friends back away, a hatred that would make it most unwise for you to be near?

Just asking. And thank you so much. For your testimony, I mean.