Impromptus

A pair of generals, &c.

U.S. Army General Robert B. Abrams speaks with Korean and U.S. officials at the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, Republic of Korea, November 10, 2018. (Sergeant Michael Roach/US Army)
On U.S. commanders, Saudi Arabia, football, and more

Some people think that generals should be seen and not heard — or maybe not even seen. There is protocol to be followed, for sure. But I often like it when our generals are heard. And I was glad to read about Vincent Brooks, an Army general.

I’ll quote an article from the Agence France-Presse:

The outgoing commander of US forces in South Korea on Thursday urged Seoul and Washington to maintain their alliance as differences mount in their approach to the nuclear-armed North.

Brooks spoke at a change-of-command ceremony. (Transcript here.) I will do some more quoting.

“In this place, we have never succeeded by going alone,” Brooks said. (He was speaking in South Korea, at Camp Humphreys.) “We have always succeeded when we went together — crossing the river in the same boat …”

Reflecting on his expiring tenure, Brooks said, “We grew stronger under the tests and strains that confronted us, contrary to predictions of cracks and fissures. Let this be a lesson to all in the alliance.”

The alliance between the United States and South Korea is an important one indeed.

Brooks said, “We need not fear anything when we are together, sharing the hazards and the joys alike. But our fears and concerns should rise if we become inclined to go our own way.”

The AFP article noted that General Brooks once described his tenure as “a rollercoaster ride.” He had no indication that President Trump, after his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un last summer, would announce the cancelation of joint military exercises between the U.S. and the South. Trump called these exercises “very provocative,” as well as “tremendously expensive.”

In any event, Trump is the commander-in-chief, and, as the AFP reported, “the allies have since suspended most of their major joint exercises.”

The incoming commander in South Korea — Vincent Brooks’s successor — testified before the Senate that there has “certainly” been “a degradation in the readiness” of the joint forces, owing to this suspension of exercises. But he is confident that the forces can get back on track. (For an article in Stars and Stripes, go here.)

This new commander, incidentally, is Robert B. Abrams — son of the man for whom the tank is named.

The Korean Peninsula is one of the touchiest, most dangerous places on earth, and I like the sound of our military commanders, frankly. Civilian leaders must have control, ever and always. But it’s nice when the military men show sense and spine.

Do you know what I mean? Generals and admirals should not be celebrities, probably — except in rare circumstances (Stormin’ Norman in the Gulf!). But it doesn’t hurt the public to know a little about them.

• You will remember “Operation Faithful Patriot,” the military deployment to our southern border shortly before the midterm elections. An article in Politico begins,

The 5,800 troops who were rushed to the southwest border amid President Donald Trump’s pre-election warnings about a refugee caravan will start coming home as early as this week — just as some of those migrants are beginning to arrive.

Huh. Then why were they sent in the first place? Can you blame people who suspect this might have been a political decision, or stunt, rather than an honest military decision?

• I wonder if you saw this story (Wall Street Journal) about our Saudi allies. It reports,

At least eight of the 18 women’s-rights activists detained by Saudi authorities this year have been tortured, including at least four who were subjected to electric shocks and lashings, according to two advisers to the Saudi royal family …

Sure. Par for the course.

• Asked who should be held accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who had fled to the United States, President Trump said, “Maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place.”

Forgive some gallows humor, but I can imagine young people, confronted by their parents for some wrongdoing: “Look, maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place.”

• Jackson Diehl, the deputy editorial-page editor of the Washington Post, wrote a column about Trump, Saudi Arabia, and the Khashoggi killing. (Jamal Khashoggi wrote for the Post.) Diehl’s column says the necessary, I think. I strongly recommend it (here).

Let me quote a single portion:

The United States has always tolerated human rights abuses by friendly dictators, but there were limits — as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, the shah of Iran and, more recently, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak discovered. By refusing to impose sanctions on the Saudi crown prince even after the CIA concluded he was responsible for the Khashoggi murder, Trump has set a new standard. No atrocity is too much — not even sawing up a critical journalist and then baldly lying about it to the president and secretary of state.

The resulting open season on dissidents, journalists and human rights activists by regimes that used to worry about U.S. reaction will be compounded by a second Trump message: Abductions and murders in other countries are now okay.

• Fred Ryan put out a strong statement. He is the publisher of the Washington Post, and he used to be chief of staff to Ronald Reagan, after Reagan left office. Ryan’s statement is here, and I will quote just two sentences: “President Trump is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so.”

• This is one of my problems with the “realists,” so called. They seem not to realize that they sometimes make the world a more dangerous place by refusing to hold malefactors accountable for their actions. This gives those malefactors a green light for more abuse. There is no check on them.

• Moreover, how “realist” is President Trump? He is coy — even cutesy — about the Khashoggi murder, and Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility for it. “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” Trump wrote. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

Oh, please. A real realist would say, “Yeah, our friends seized a journalist who had fled to the United States for protection; tortured him; killed him; and chopped him up into little pieces. So? Get over it, cupcake.”

That’s realism, my friends. Don’t stick a toe in it. If you’re going to be in it, be in it all the way.

• Do you remember the man who, extraordinarily, survived both atomic bombings? The one in Hiroshima and the one in Nagasaki? His name was Tsutomu Yamaguchi. I thought of him, I’m afraid, when seeing this (sickening) headline: “Pair survived the Las Vegas massacre. A California shooting took one away.” (Article here.)

• Thinking about Amazon — the company, not the river or the basin — I thought of Rick Brookhiser. The year was 2012. The Republican primaries and caucuses were in full swing. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and others who style themselves “true conservatives” were attacking Mitt Romney as a “vulture capitalist.”

One of my colleagues asked Rick, “What do you think?” He said, quietly, with a twinkle in his eye, “I like Staples. I like the Sports Authority.” These are two store chains in which Romney had a hand.

Rick’s simple and few words spoke volumes.

Recently, Amazon has come under furious attack. I’m sure that some of that attack is justified. What company, especially one so large, is free of sin? Yet I regard Amazon as something of a miracle — same as the Sears catalogue was for an earlier generation. I find myself grateful for it.

I also wonder: All the people who attack Amazon — do they use it? I bet they do, many of them. And they’re right.

(“People vote with their feet,” goes an old saying.)

• Shall we have a little language? In 1957, grammar took a blow in America. A game show appeared called “Who Do You Trust?” It was hosted by Johnny Carson, who would go on to greater fame on The Tonight Show. Grammatically speaking, the title should have been “Whom Do You Trust?” But television was letting its hair down.

I thought of this when looking at Twitter — which gives you some advice: “Who to follow.” I cannot force my mouth to say that. It has to be “whom.” But diff’rent strokes, diff’rent mouths …

• Okay, this next item may cause some controversy (like the preceding ones, actually) — but I just don’t care. You know how some black Americans are freer — looser-tongued, more candid — about race than other people are?

I loved Darius Slay, the Detroit Lions cornerback, on Christian McCaffrey, the Carolina Panthers running back. Let me quote a story in the Detroit Free Press:

… Slay marveled at McCaffrey’s abilities Thursday, and at how different he is from other NFL running backs.

“I just never saw a white guy do it like that,” Slay said. “He goes ham out there and like he plays on an elite level at the running back. (Most) white running backs (are known for) running folks over, he be out there shaking them and doing all what he needs to do, and catch it in the air. So he’s special. He’s special.”

The sheer freedom of that observation. The sheer unafraidness. I’ve always liked Darius Slay — “Big Play” Slay — and like him even more now …

• Speaking of football: My college team, the University of Michigan, took a terrible shellacking against Ohio State on Saturday. The score was 62 to 39. I read two astounding facts.

Michigan had not given up that many points — in a regulation game — since the 19th century. (The year was 1891, versus Cornell.) Also: In its five games so far this season, the Michigan basketball team has not given up as many as 62 points. Really.

My friends and I have spent hours analyzing and talking about this game. And I would like to make an observation that may seem (a) weak, (b) wrong, and (c) exculpatory of Michigan.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, my golf friends had an expression: “gourding.” It came from “to play out of your gourd.” And that meant to play way, way beyond your normal capabilities.

One day, I came back from attending a pro tournament and said that a particular player — a veteran — had putted the lights out. Jaime Ojeda, of the University of Michigan golf team, said, “Then he gourded. He’s not that good a putter.”

(Jaime was, and is, I’m sure, a wonderful guy, and had great slang.)

I’ll provide a couple more examples:

“Man, I just saw that Joe Blow of Mississippi State shot 65 in the Chapel Hill Invitational!” “Oh, I know Joe. He’s just an average player. Must’ve gourded.”

“How’d you do yesterday, Mike?” “Oh, it was great, man. I absolutely gourded.”

And so on.

I believe that Ohio State, as a team, gourded — and gourded at exactly the right time. At the same time, the Michigan team was down, down.

What’s the opposite of “gourded”? I don’t know. “Tanked”?

It’s possible to overanalyze a game, especially a loss. Coaches will tell you this. I don’t mean to sweep Michigan’s weaknesses under the rug. And I certainly don’t mean to slight Ohio State. But maybe there aren’t big lessons to draw. Maybe OSU simply gourded, in a big-time — no, historic — way.

See you sports fans, and other fans! Thanks for joining me.

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