Response: Who Owns the Truth, Professor?

Originally posted: August 24, 2007

Larry Tibbetts is a 1956 graduate of DePauw University who served 34 years in the United States Air Force. Tibbetts wrote the column below in response to an August 24 Indianapolis Star column by DePauw Professor Ken Bode.

I refer to the August 24 article by Professor Ken Bode (who teaches journalism at my alma mater), “Americans Can Handle the Truth.” I’ve sent counters to his op-ed pieces several times and assume he includes me in the “stand-by force of retired officers ready to rise up.”

Yes, I’m a retired officer, but no, I’m not part of a “force.” And I haven’t referred to the professor as stupid, unpatriotic, undercutting the mission, or not supporting the troops. I also refrain from popping slugs at tourists on the beach. I totally support his right to his opinion, but I can also question the assumptions and facts upon which he bases that opinion.

The professor overlooks a few things. In his review of public trust in our institutions, he conveniently leaves out journalists — who rank just two points above Congress. He also ignores the misadventures of several journalists with regard to “truth.” Remember the lad at the New York Times who was fired for plagiarism? Or the “expose” by Dan Rather regarding the president’s service in the Air Guard? (Totally fraudulent.) Or the news magazine “expose” of the guards at Guantanamo who flushed the Qu’ran down the commode, which caused riots and several dozen deaths in Muslim countries? (Also totally disproven.) I guess these lapses of journalistic truth will not end up in the “trash bin.”

Are general officers 100% pillars of virtue? Nope. Over the years, a handful have spent some time in Leavenworth. Is an aversion to truth a virus that infects the entire group? Hardly. Folks, your generals have a specific mission in our Constitutional system: to provide the capability to deter war. And if that fails, to manage the ensuing violence. They have years of training and experience in this rather arcane field. Most have been in combat and have led troops in combat. They and their troops voluntarily agree to the “unlimited liability clause” that is unique to their professional contract. They agree to risk their lives in conflicts chosen NOT by them, but by our elected political leaders. And those political leaders, most of whom do not have the same training and experience, often have very strong views about where and how to use military force. The duty of the generals is to provide the political leaders with reasoned and clear estimates of the costs and risks involved. They do that. And when the political decision is made, they have two choices: (1) salute and march, or (2) retire.

Have there been mistakes in the execution of the Iraq operation? Sure. We put a lot of faith in the dreams of exiled Iraqis — turned out wrong. Was the number of troops required to perform the mission under-estimated? Yep. Will 20/20 hindsight cure the current problem? Nope. At any rate, collectively dismissing our general officers as liars doesn’t lend much to the debate.

If you believe our country has been misled by our political leaders, and that we’re on the wrong track, you have a voice. A national election will occur in November, 2008. As you ponder your choices in that election, you might wish to weigh carefully the reckless, slanted views of the professor and keep an open mind to “truth.”

And by the way, those generals may be one of the best bargains you taxpayers have. You pay them about what a good Indiana plumber makes, and maybe a third the salary of a Chicago Cubs rookie.

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