Some of the top military men who led us into the Iraq catastrophe three
years ago have since left the armed forces. They escaped with their lives and
their health, unlike tens of thousands of their fellow US soldiers and hundreds
of thousands of Iraqis. But they still have their income to think about. Like
a growing number of Americans who are working two or more part-time jobs to
make ends meet, some of our retired generals are scrambling for whatever work
they can pick up.
One enterprising retiree is General Richard B. Myers, who, as Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the nation's top military officer from 2001 to 2005.
Earlier this year, he landed a part-time job as professor of military history
at Kansas State University. While continuing to live in Virginia, he'll visit
the KSU campus three to four times a semester, for three or four days each time.
His salary: $100,000 annually. (See all the sorry details here.)
Myers won't just be puttering around in the garden during those ten to eleven
months of free time allowed him by his professorship. Last week it was announced
that he's joining the board of armament contractor Northrup Grumman. With eight
board meetings per year (two of them by conference call), Myers will boost his
income by $200,000.
General Tommy Franks commanded US forces during the invasions of Afghanistan
and Iraq, then retired three months after Saddam's statue fell, about the time
things started turning ugly. He has since turned to after-dinner speaking as
a career, reportedly pulling
in as much as $75,000 per appearance.
Franks apparently gives an audience its money's worth. When he spoke to the
local chamber of commerce here in Salina, Kansas two years ago, the local paper
reported that he "delivered a relaxed, folksy presentation, spiced with
plenty of light-hearted and humorous stories." His view on the
death toll among US troops, which then stood at around 500, was certainly relaxed:
"If it costs 500 [lives], that's OK, or 5000, OK, or 50,000,
that's OK with me," he told the audience.
Former General and Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell retired from the military
way back in 1993. During his time in the private sector in the 1990s, he cashed
in on his role in the first Gulf War, commanding big fees for telling his war
stories. Back in government, as Secretary of State during the campaign of deceit
that culminated in the 2003 Iraq invasion, he told some of the biggest whoppers
In retirement, Powell has taken his silver tongue on the road. Having gotten
some big laughs from a Sarasota, Florida audience recently, he mused that he
"could have made a lot more money as a stand-up comedian
than as Secretary of State." He mentioned in passing that he'd recently
bought a Corvette, which he called "some kind of cool." No doubt he
can afford it. One 2005 report
put Powell's speaking fee at "$100,000 plus first class expenses for two
to include a Lear 60 Jet," but gave no more specifics.
The National Defense University announced last week that it was establishing
the Colin L.
Powell Chair for National Security Leadership, Character and Ethics. The
first occupant of that Chair will be none other than Richard B. Myers, who will
still have plenty of time available after taking care of his KSU and Northrup
Grumman jobs. The duties he will peform for NDU were not outlined, nor was his
salary announced. But I think we can agree that he deserves the post -- that
the character and ethics he exhibits are every bit the equal of General Powell's.
Of course, the Pentagon's revolving door is an old story. Last year in his
Washington Post blog, William Arkin went down a
list of nine other, lesser-known retired generals and admirals who among
them have landed 32 corporate board positions or vice presidencies.
Nevertheless, the behavior of Myers, Franks, and Powell has to be viewed alongside
the suffering that these men helped bring about and for which they are now being
rewarded. They came out of the past three years somewhat more comfortably than
did the troops who've done the fighting. More than 2300 of those people are
dead and more than 17,000 are officially wounded (and many more unofficially).
Thirty-five percent of returning troops are seeking psychological counseling,
and the National Military Family Association estimates that 200,000 antidepressant
prescriptions have been written for service members and their families in the
past 14 months. The San Diego Tribune reported
Sunday that mentally ill soldiers are routinely being medicated and returned
to combat, and that doctors are being pressured not to diagnose mental problems.
In such circumstances, it's easy to see how a little humor and a heftier
retirement income can help the former generals forget that none of this suffering
was necessary. But I'd like to have a chance to ask them what Bob Dylan asked
the bosses of America's military-industrial complex 43 years ago in his song
"Masters of War":
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good,
Will it buy you forgiveness,
Do you think that it could?
I'd like to ask, but I can't lay my hands on $75,000 just now.
Stan Cox is a plant breeder and writer
in Salina, Kansas.