- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

Compromise by definition is imperative in an open society and, by definition, too, compromise has the raggedness of all half-a-loaf decisions. Thus with the Pentagon's decision in the Black Beret affair. There was no question that Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, got himself in an untenable cul de sac with his diktat that the Rangers' distinctive and hard-earned black berets would become the issue headgear for all GIs.

Protests by former Rangers (current members of the elite commando formation were constrained, of course, from public comment, but their sentiments were hardly classified), a presidential nudge and congressional comment ensured that Gen. Shinseki would have to "stand down" in one way or another. And the boneheaded Pentagon gambit to have some of the black berets made in Communist China was the final absurdity.

So the compromise of a distinctive beret to be worn by Rangers tan was the color favored by troopers of the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning will allow a symbol of achievement and history to set them apart. Members of the Special Forces will continue to wear their green berets and the airborne will keep its maroon beret.

This was a fairly delicate affair, though the absence of coverage by most of the media indicated how trivial the pressies thought the matter the special culture of the armed forces is increasingly alien to those who report on it. Gen. Shinseki was operating within the chief of staff's area of service autonomy; his mistake was simply poor reasoning. Unity of the "New Army" would be served by issuing the black beret to all soldiers, he felt. But this disregarded the vital elan that distinguishes elite formations.

Gen. Shinseki reached this wobbly conclusion, according to columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, after reading and rereading Mark Bowden's powerful book, "Blackhawk Down," the account of the debacle in Mogadishu in which 18 Americans were killed. The chief of staff figured that the fault in that bloody affair was that three separate Army units were involved Rangers, Delta Team and the 10th Mountain Division. Too much separateness, Mr. Shinseki felt. The basic problem in that operation, however, was a deficient strategy by Washington and inadequate tactical planning. The GIs fought heroically.

In the best of all possible worlds, the Rangers would have kept the black berets they've worn for decades. But this isn't even the second best of all possible politico-military worlds, and the compromise of the tan berets is preferable to Gen. Shinseki's original marching order.


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