(Opinion piece by Jim Denison from the Associated Baptist Press.)
President Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” in his first meeting with military leaders after taking office, according to Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The general was even less impressed with Vice President Biden’s opposition to his Afghanistan strategy: “Are you asking about Vice President Biden? Who’s that?” he laughed.
By now you’re familiar with the Rolling Stone
interview in which the general and several of his staff are quoted as criticizing the president and other civilian leaders of the war effort in Afghanistan. Response was swift.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the man who recommended the general for his command, was adamant that McChrystal “made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment” in his comments. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), three of the general’s biggest supporters, called his statements “inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between commander-in-chief and the military.”
The day President Obama met with the general, The Wall Street Journal
carried an editorial that called Gen. McChrystal “a hero--a selfless, fearless and inspiring soldier,” “something of a military genius,” and “one of the fathers of victory in Iraq.” But then it stated, “President Obama should, nonetheless, fire him,” calling his published remarks “an appalling violation of norms of civilian-military relations.” The general himself responded, “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.” After meeting with the president, he was replaced by Gen. David Petraeus.
I have no informed opinion regarding what the president should have done, nor do I think you should care what I think on the subject. My interest in the issue stems from an unnamed NATO spokesperson who called the now-infamous Rolling Stone
piece “rather unfortunate, but it’s just an article.”
I beg to differ, for reasons that have nothing to do with the politics of this controversy. Words transform the world. They endure long after actions and events are forgotten.
History is not just written in words -- it is the story of words.
[Denison cites several powerful Biblical and historical examples, then concludes]:
We cannot unring a bell. The words you speak today will echo in eternity. Choose them wisely.
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.Jim Denison is president of the Center for Informed Faith and theologian-in-residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.