WARNING: Reading this commentary may be injurious to your perception of the United States Army, its traditions and command structure.
General Kevin P. Byrnes, Commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Virginia has been relieved of his command by order of the Chief of Staff. An Army spokesman said there was no record in modern times of a four-star general being relieved, so we’re seeing some history here, albeit probably a brief history as the story appeared in my yesterday’s newspaper and was gone today.
You may recall that General Douglas MacArthur was famously relieved of command by President Harry Truman during the Korean War for disobeying a direct Presidential order. That circumstance was a history-making reinforcement of the constitutional prerogative of civilian dominance over the military. An eye-popping event that garnered worldwide attention and further established our government as one that brooks no political interference by our military.
So, this is an extremely serious charge, unprecedented in recent history and it thoroughly trashes the legacy of a military commander with an otherwise outstanding and unblemished record, whose planned retirement was a mere three months away. No minor player, Byrnes command oversaw 33 Army Schools, from basic training to the war colleges. The charge must have been grave indeed.
The charge: Having an affair . . . with a civilian.
Wow! I guess the Army forgot all about Dwight Eisenhower having an affair with his wartime driver, Kaye Summersby. Eisenhower, pictured at left with Summersby in the background and looking particularly pleased with himself, not only maintained his rank, he was twice elected President.
So now we come to General Peter Shoomaker, four stars, Army Chief of Staff, the top guy, whose responsibilities include: supervising the execution of Army policies, plans, programs, and activities and assessing the performance of Army commands in the execution of their assigned statutory missions and functions. You can bet that somewhere in there among the ‘assessing of performances’ was an opinion about relieving the first four-star in modern history of his command. Not an out-of-town hit, but an inside job. After all, it was carried out over his signature.
Tough place, the Army.
There are only eleven generals in the entire Army of four-star rank. A pretty small club. One can but wonder how Pete feels about crushing Bryan’s career, but hey, Bryan old boy, no hard feelings. The Army has been much criticized of late for prisoner abuse scandals and accused of not going after high ranking officers. Army officials said relieving Byrnes was meant to show the public that the service takes matters of integrity seriously. So an outdated definition of integrity is a no-no, but dereliction of command duty is perfectly okay. All those out-of-control kids at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib that General Shoomaker claims were on their own is a story even the FBI can’t bear to support.
Just how does skewering Byrnes show anything about the Army other than disloyalty, passing the buck and total incompetence within the command structure?
On Kevin Byrnes’s watch
- No prisoners were abused
- No Iraqi general was beaten to death zipped helplessly in a sleeping bag
- No Geneva Conventions were broken
- No International Red Cross allegations were covered up
- No blanket denials of responsibility were made up and down the command chain
- No lies were told under oath to Senate committees
- No crises in military morale were generated
- No military esteem and honor was internationally degraded, and finally
- No one in his command buckled under to the civilian breaking of military law
Every single one of the above disgraces to the reputation of the United States Army occurred under the command of General Peter Shoomaker. Harry Truman’s buck stops on his desk. There is no shame greater than making a scapegoat and whipping-boy of a brother military officer for dereliction of one’s own personal duty.
Once again we are asked in this unendingly agonizing drama, to follow the yellow-brick road.