God may be an Englishman, as somebody who sounds like Kipling once surmised, but the Lord obviously likes Americans, too.
Look at who He has given us for enemies in this era of Petticoat Generals: Haiti, Rwanda and Kosovo the East Carolinas, Slippery Rocks and Boise States of international warfare. These are the only enemies we dare even speak sharply to. The Petticoat Generals flinch at real words like “enemies,” and call our enemies by euphemisms like “peer competitors.”
But it’s a perfect Army for the likes of the deputy chief of staff for (delicious irony) intelligence, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy. General Kennedy is indisposed at the moment, recovering from combat wounds suffered under fire in what is being called at the Pentagon the Battle of Third Bull Run.
The “bull,” in this case, is not that little stream at Manassas hallowed forever by Union and Confederate blood, but a male general, identity still unknown, with a sharp eye, a large libido and roving hands who … groped groped General Kennedy when she was, as Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan might have put it, the very model of a modern major general. She has apparently filed sexual harassment charges against the “bull,” though the Army is too timid to confirm it.
The after-battle reports are not all in, and in fact dispatches from the scene of battle are sketchy, and reliable war correspondents learn quickly to beware of breathless first accounts. The “bull” is said to have been quite agile in maneuvering around a desk in hot pursuit, with hardly a pant or a wheeze when he finally laid a hand on her. But we don’t know that yet.
Not only that, but we are dealing here with something new. Unlike gut wounds, grope wounds were unknown in our earlier wars, when generals were much more likely to ride into the maelstrom of the battlefield than modern generals do. When Pat Cleburne, “the Stonewall Jackson of the West,” was killed at the Battle of Franklin, on the Harpeth River outside Nashville in 1864, as the third horse of the day was shot out from under him, he was laid out on the front porch of a farmhouse along with four other general officers of the Confederacy. Wounded generals, even slain generals, were not so rare then as now, when a grope wound suffered in hand-to-hand combat is front-page news.
The talk in the hushed corridors of the Pentagon is that General Kennedy, on the eve of retirement, has the bruises to win her Purple Heart. Well, not bruises, exactly, but, uh, places on her person that were once red. Or maybe at least pink. Not quite flesh-colored, anyway. We shouldn’t blame the lady, of course, but you might think that a general, any general at all, would know better than to leave her flanks unprotected. We learned that much in the Air National Guard.
The Army is being very hush-hush about it, as you would expect in a grave national-security crisis. But the shame of it, alas, is not that the lady general turns out to be, at 52, a helpless little thing maimed by the mean and oppressive past, unable to protect herself against the dreaded grope, but that the Army’s bulls are so badly behaved in the modern Army of carin’ and compassion.
General Kennedy must have been overcome by combat fatigue. In an interview three years ago in U.S.A. Today, she reflected on her grueling anti-harassment training. “I dealt with it individually,” she said. “I just said no in the way I needed to say no, and there were times when I had to say no very forcefully.”
But in this woman’s Army, you have to be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings. General Kennedy made this clear to a conference of senior sergeants last year at historic Fort Huachuca, Ariz. The ghosts of a thousand grizzled old Indian fighters who had never heard a bugle sound retreat nevertheless retreated into the mountains, not believing their wrinkled ears.
The sergeants, expecting a talk on the Army’s changing intelligence structure, got a lecture instead on the Army’s Consideration of Others program, which the Army once trained to kill people and break things in defense of the country naturally calls COOS. Men and women of the Army are brought together to talk about “share” is just the right word their feelings.
“She giggled, much like a little girl, as she inferred that they had not been ‘COO’ing at those bases,” one sergeant recalls. “I really was tempted to ask about training, but I couldn’t risk being politically incorrect.”
Playing the what-if game here is irresistible. What if General Kennedy had been a division commander on D-Day, and had met the crack 244th Waffen SS Groper Regiment, the 12th Parachute Pincher Battalion and the 325th Panzer Fanny Patters on Omaha Beach? Pure disaster.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.