Mr. Kelly, if you want to keep the sacrifices of American soldiers “sacred,” you could reflect on who first made a public spectacle out of your own son’s death. It wasn’t a Democratic Congresswoman listening to a speakerphone, it was our president and your boss. He wasn’t counterpunching, he made this into a contentious issue all by himself. Others, including media and politicians, may have all kinds of motives, and maybe some people are “empty barrels,” but if you think Trump was not gratuitously trashing President Obama to deflect blame from himself, you are deluding yourself. If you think Trump ever allows the buck to stop with him, you are not paying close attention, and the country needs you to pay closer attention if you are going to stay in your job. If the mother of Sgt. Johnson backed up Congresswoman Wilson’s account, which she did, what exactly stunned you? She was traveling with the Johnson family when the call came; that’s between them, none of your concern. If it is the violation of sacred sacrifices that stuns or offends you (and you do have a real point there, sadly) that ship sailed when Trump chose of his own free will to make an issue of Presidents Obama and Bush and how they responded to soldiers’ deaths. Not to forget Trump’s unpardonable attack on John McCain for getting himself captured in Vietnam.
Soldiers on active duty may or may not the finest 1% of our country, but you are no longer among them. You are a retired general, and you are now serving your country in a political role. I cannot as a citizen let myself be swayed by deference to your past military service, because everything you do affects politics and policy. Precisely because you are a civilian, it is vulgar and vicious of you to pull rank on the rest of us by claiming that non-military just don’t get what soldiers go through. There are all kinds of ways to suffer, and you ought to know that at your age (which is about the same as mine). You said today “there’s no reason to enlist.” I’m not sure what you meant, unless it’s that there’s no draft and military service is entirely voluntary. If you have such bitterness about the way our society is organized, and believe that there should be a military draft or some compulsory service, go on and say so. Don’t be brittle, be constructive. You lament the loss of sacredness: women aren’t held sacred anymore, you say, nor is religion. Is that so? The Constitution does not mention the word “God.” That was not an accident or oversight by the Founders, and I do not need to hear you, a civil servant, tell me and my fellow citizens how or what or how much we should believe or practice our faith or not. As for women, they know better than I the cost in lost opportunity of being held “sacred,” and have you watched any tapes of your boss talking about Megyn Kelly, or beauty pageants, or–really, sir, you might give the critiques of our culture’s coarseness a rest so long as you serve Trump.
I appeal to you as “Mr. Kelly” because you in 2017 are a political appointee of a (relentlessly political) president. That president is not my commander-in-chief, not because of his own shirking of service, but because I am a civilian. I have a president, I have representatives in Congress, I live in the midst of police officers and firefighters, but I do not live under the authority of any military commanders. Your military identity is clearly central to you, and you showed today how grieved you are that the sacrifices of soldiers are not, in your eyes, held sacred. You are on to something very real. I would feel you were keeping perspective if you also acknowledged the dangerous ways that we have also become a society in which (as Rosa Brooks writes) “everything is war and the military is everything.” You showed so much grievance and bitterness today that I wonder if you can even remember that you are serving in a political role in the White House–and it is not cool, not kosher at all for you in your current job to pull rank on and disparage civilian American life. You are a civilian too now, and along with every other American, I have the right and in fact duty to exercise my best political judgment about you and your boss without being obstructed by the bad faith of your Spartanism. I mean a bad faith that draws sharp lines between civilian and military when it suits one purpose but blurs the lines when that suits another purpose. When you said today you would take questions only from those who are personally connected to a Gold Star family you lost touch with the greatness of our free press tradition. Does your personal suffering insulate you from questioning from those you deem unworthy? It takes all kinds to ask and to answer questions in a democratic nation, Mr. Kelly, and you head down a dangerous path when you forget that.
Finally, you chose to not answer the question, “what are doing in Niger anyway?” You are not the only one to evade that question lately, but if our public officials can’t or won’t explain what our “warfighters” are fighting for, what kind of democratic constitutional republic do we have left? I am sad to hear of American military deaths anywhere, but I also wonder, what the heck is going on?