Who amongst us can fail to be inspired by great orators? Within my own lifetime the speeches of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and President Barack Obama have stood out from the rest. Recently joining this esteemed group is former and current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whose wise counsel former President George Bush sought out in turning around, until his timely entrance, the disaster of our Iraq War. A war that was a criminally conceived, ill planned, poorly executed, costly and unnecessary war of aggression that was foisted on the Iraqi people and the jingoistic American public. A war that may very well bankrupt our nation.
President Obama was wise to retain him within his own administration. Despite protests from the Left, Secretary Gate’s orchestrated surge of troops and equipment into Iraq, salvaged Richard Cheney and Rumsfeld’s debacle. Our recent successes in Afghanistan and Pakistan reaffirm his leadership. A leadership that is remiss in what passes for politics these days.
In his April 7, 2010 address to the midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy, Secretary Gates emphasized the essential qualities of leadership: Vision, perseverance, candor and moral courage. Character traits that are sorely lacking in many of our elected politicians, business leaders and members of the 4th estate.
The transcript of Gate’s talk is available on the Department of Defense’s website that I visit frequently. He gave the speech at the academy’s Alumni Hall for the Forrestal Lecture Series, named after our nation’s first secretary of defense, James V. Forrestal. Secretary Gates told the young men that, “ The first secretary of defense, for whom this lecture is named, after World War II had to contend with a Navy that didn’t even want to work for him, preferring to stay and independent cabinet department despite the National Security Act of 1947.”
The USS Forrestal, CV-59, our nations first super-carrier was named in honor of the man that served as ,first Undersecretary of the Navy, and then Secretary of the Navy under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during WWII. As Secretary he witnessed the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945 from abroad ship.
A tragic fire that crippled the carrier and killed 134 sailors and injured 161 was the subject of a training film, “Trial by Fire,” that I must have seen 10 times. The film, as well as the official reports following the fire, cast doubts as to the recollections of one Lt. Cmdr. John McCain, who at the time was a A-4 Skyhawk pilot on the flight deck when the Zuni rocket on another plane accidentally fired and started the conflagration. The investigative report entitled, “Investigating John McCain’s Tragedy at Sea,” by Mary Hershberger, is available on the “Truthdig” web site.
Gates used examples of courage and leadership in the face of adversity from U.S. Military history, starting with the career of a Marine Corps first lieutenant, Victor Kurlak, a man who would earn the Navy Cross in World War II and commanded the Marine Pacific forces during our Vietnam War. His next examples were from the lives of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, followed by Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover, Navy diver Roy Boehm who led the first commando unit that became our elite Navy SEALS, General George C. Marshall and finally a reference to former Supreme Allied Commander of WWII and President Dwight D. Eisenhower who warned us of the emergent military industrial complex.
Summarizing their lives Gate said, “What strikes me about figures like Krulak and Nimitz, Rickover and Boehm, is not that they were always right, nor that they should be emulated in every way, to put it mildly,” he said. “What is compelling about these leaders is that they had the vision and insight to see that the world and technology was changing, they understood the implications of those shifts, and they then pressed ahead in the face of often fierce institutional resistance. Indeed, one of the key reasons they were successful was because they were willing to speak truth to power — willing to tell superiors what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear.”
I can not do justice to Secretary Gates words in this short essay however several topically relevant additional examples might illustrate his as well as my points. First, instead of the attitude of Boehm, who upon meeting President John F. Kennedy said, “Well, Mr. President, I didn’t vote for you, but I’d die for you,” we have house minority leader John A. Boehner (R-OH) screaming “Hell No You Can’t,” now in a viral YouTube video. Secondly and finally, we have virtually the entire Republican Party ignoring the warnings and advice of the vast majority of the world’s scientists on the subject of Global Warming and Peak Oil.
Unfortunately, instead of vision, candor, moral courage and integrity in many of our elected officials, we have corruption, partisanship and deception. I wish they too heard Secretary of Defense Gate’s speech and would heed his sage advice.