Back in 2010, while reading an article called "The Runaway General" about General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of ISAF , “International Security and Assistance Force”, which is all U.S. and other troops in Afghanistan, my jaw dropped so hard, it almost dislocated. I could scarcely believe what I was reading. A four-star Army general and the highest-ranking members of his staff were hanging out with a reporter from Rolling Stone? They might as well have invited someone from RT and Xinhua, too. WTFFFFFFFF? I knew that some helmeted, beret’d, and uniformed heads were going to roll; sure enough, within several days of the article being published, General (or to use the proper abbreviation for a four-star U.S. Army general, “GEN”) McChrystal was recalled and his resignation was readily accepted by a very pissed-off Obama.
(Note: The article’s title has been augmented; Rolling Stone is obviously very proud of this accomplishment)
The article was both hilarious and horrifying, but mostly hilarious. While it is common for soldiers of all ranks to criticize or at least make fun of politicians, it is actually a crime for commissioned officers to tell certain politicians what they really think of them, as set forth in Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”), “Contempt Toward Officials”:
“Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
The potential consequences of de-camouflaged and combative candor are “Dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 1 year.” They clearly mean business.
Personally, I didn’t feel that GEN McChrystal and his gang said or did anything particularly scandalous. The bantering was pretty standard for military dudes everywhere on Planet Earth, and the words and sentiments they expressed were (and are) shared by many, many other service members besides them. It could have been much worse. For example, back in 1993, USAF Major General Harold Campbell was cashiered for calling President Clinton a "gay-loving," "pot-smoking," "draft-dodging" and "womanizing" Commander-in-Chief who was unfit for the job. His comments were well-received by his audience (except for the one who squealed on him), and reflected almost the entire U.S. military’s attitude toward Bubba Clinton, which bordered on open revolt.
Naturally, the politicians can and will fire back with their own brand of scorn and contempt. President Abraham Lincoln, frustrated with Union General George McClellan’s lack of progress, described him as behaving like “a duck that got hit on the head”. JFK, feeling badly-served by the brass, referred to them once as “the sons of bitches with all the fruit salad”, describing the colored ribbons on their chests. However, the most famous (or infamous) example of a commander in an active war zone being relieved and forced into retirement for disparaging remarks and/or conduct toward politicians was President Harry Truman’s firing of General (actually, General of the Army, a five-star rank) Douglas MacArthur over his behavior during the Korean War. Truman made his reasons crystal-clear, as only Give ‘Em Hell Harry could:
“I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President ... I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”
Sugar-coating as usual there, Harry…tell us what you REALLY think.
After reading the article a few times, something dawned on me; Mr. Hastings had made some powerful and very, very scary enemies. People in general, and military people in particular, usually aren’t too keen about being betrayed. Someone once described journalism as an act of seduction and betrayal, and Mike betrayed them with gusto, although to his credit, he made clear to the General and his subordinates his intentions that he was going to write about anything and everything they said and did, outside of things clearly sensitive (Geraldo Rivera leaps to mind) and/or “off the record”, but according to Hastings, that happened only twice, and he honored both of them. Although I liked both the story and his style, I instinctively felt that Mike Hastings was going to suffer some form of consequences.
When I read about Hasting’s death in 2013, my initial reaction was the same as when I heard about Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin’s death in 2006. Whenever you mess with dangerous creatures that have a very rich record of lethality, don’t be surprised if you get stabbed through your heart. Hasting’s demise was much more spectacular. The Mercedes he was driving was at maximum speed when it hit a tree in LA and exploded with such ferocity that Hasting’s body was burned beyond recognition. My first impression was that somehow the car was hacked and Michael Hastings, the intrepid young reporter who was very talented at his work, was professionally smoked by some of the special operators who worshipped GEN Stanley McChrystal as a modern-day and real-life version of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. Modern technology makes such assassinations possible. It’s also possible that Mike had a moment of madness; a self-described “war junkie”, maybe living too close to the edge finally took its toll. Whatever the case may be, I was saddened by his death, as I liked his reporting very much. The death of Michael Hastings was a big loss for the world, in my humble opinion.