So often people of all political persuasions try to elevate military personnel to superhuman status and grant them unquestioned respect simply because of their chosen profession. This also includes police officers and firefighters and generally anyone that dons a uniform in service to their country or their local community. The recent Congressional condemnation of the Moveon organization because they dared to impugn a general is a good illustration of our warped need to create heroes where none really exist.
While overall these organization certainly rate our intense thanks and support for doing the dirty work the rest of us often take for granted, we can never remove the individuality factor from our daily assessments of their actions. Nations throughout history have experienced the perils of suppressing analysis and criticism of their authoritarian groups.
I don't know General Petreaus but I do know human beings and I've seen what military service can do to them. I spent an enlistment in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear reactor technician right after the Vietnam War. I've lived under the Uniform Code Of Military Justice (UCMJ) and saw my Constitutional rights evaporate as my hair fell to the floor. I no longer had the right to freely speak my mind publicly if my thoughts ran counter to the mission set down by the Commander in Chief without the possibility of severe retribution. I might add that my service did not include combat (other than being a Cold Warrior) so I imagine the pressures are even greater when bullets are flying.
I found myself among not just a band of true patriots but a very mixed bag of humans there for a variety of reasons. The percentages of good and bad were not what I had experienced in civilian life. Despite meeting some incredible individuals, a good portion of people I saw around me were from the bottom tier of society, often the types that would cause you pause if you passed them on a darkened street. I suppose I somewhat expected that in the ranks of people that would be on the front lines armed to the teeth dodging bullets but I was shocked to see that some of that type slowly moved their way up the chain of command and were in positions of incredible power over their underlings.
By the end of my time I understood how these pathological types could rise up the ranks. Despite the service requiring good behavior and knowledge of their particular task, part of the formula simply rewarded time in service, an element essential to a system consisting of volunteers. I found the truly bad leaders probably stayed in the military because, at the end of their first term, they realized they didn't have the skills and leadership abilities to prosper in the real world.
Now of course that didn't fit all "lifers". There were some amazing people I served under that would have risen to the top of any profession they chose and they truly believed in the purpose of their career but I found this to be a glaring exception and not the rule. I met a whole lot of bullies and "little chicken-shit ass-kissers" in the officer corps so when Admiral Fallon used that eloquent phrase it did not surprise me at all. Does General Petreaus fit that quote? Who knows except the people that serve with him daily. My guess is he's a complex human being with elements of good and bad and his ethics vary like any flawed human being.
That's the operative phrase in this essay - human being. Our generals deserves no more respect, admiration, or immunity from criticism than your neighbor who goes to work everyday to support his family or the weatherman on TV who gets the forecast wrong. Debate, often stinging and heated, is part of the job, part of life, and those with too thin a skin to take it have no business being entrusted to put lives into the path of cannons.