Posted by Lex, on August 5, 2010
During the summer of 1972, official Washington was dragging Air Force Gen. John D. Lavelle’s name and reputation through the mud. Multiple investigations by the Pentagon and Congress concluded that the four-star commander had ordered unauthorized bombing missions in North Vietnam and then tried to cover them up. He was demoted to major general and forced to retire, in disgrace.
Lavelle maintained his rectitude until his death, saying he was acting on orders. Nearly four decades later, it turns out he was right.
On Wednesday, after an exhaustive reexamination of Lavelle’s actions, President Obama asked the Senate to restore his honor and his missing stars. In the process, the decision officially sets the record straight about who really lied during the controversial chapter in the Vietnam War, who told the truth and who was left holding the bag.
Historical records unearthed by two biographers who came across the material by happenstance show that Lavelle was indeed acting on orders to conduct the bombing missions, and that the orders came from the commander in chief himself: President Richard M. Nixon.
Soldiers are, by definition, expendable. Politicians, on the other hand, having arrogated to themselves the trappings of the state, they tend to self-identify with it. The soldier’s calling requires commitment to the potential for sacrifice, while political ambition requires commitment to the principle of self-aggrandizement. This is why military academies have honor codes, however loosely enforced they have come to be in modern times. After all, even in peacetime, lives depend upon the decisions made at every level in the military command structure.
Politicians accustom themselves to lower stakes.