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Hot Air or Hard Truths: The Air Force Makes Major Headlines

May 1st, 2008 | 3 min read

By Tex

It has always been an interest of mine to compare the eye-catching slogans and headlines of major newspapers to the content of the articles that follow. Quite often the blaring headline and opening paragraph can be bold and chilling enough to send shivers up the spine of even the most brave-hearted of men, while the ensuing article progressively weakens its statements until what seemed so terrifying is finally reduced to manageable and realistic phrases that calm the initial shock. I can’t help but wonder if this practice is employed largely for the marketing benefits, rather than for the lofty pursuit of public knowledge and the free proclamation of truth.

Cynicism aside, all the major news wires were abuzz with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ comments to students at the Air Force’s premier school, the Air War College in Maxwell, AL. Headlines blared such shocking statements as, “Air Force Lagging in War Efforts”, “Air Force Under Fire from Defense Secretary”, and “Pentagon Chief Rips Air Force Over War”.

After my staunch military heart ceased to pound over such shocking news (I bleed Air Force blue, after all) I found that the follow up articles were less than compelling and lacked the material needed to substantiate such heart-stopping claims. You can read Gates’ entire speech and decide for yourself if the headlines (and the ensuing mediocre articles) were justified.

It seems as though major news sources just can’t get enough fodder to raise doubt over the American war efforts, this time using a well-reasoned and thoughtful address to American military professionals to raise concerns that our military suffers from irreparable internecine strife—strife that justifies certain doom-and-gloom reports on the futility–and audacity, to borrow contemporary rhetoric—of hope in the American war effort.

Be that as it may, a truly interesting fact was revealed in the official military response to the disparaging headlines. In line with current attempts at military efficiency every Airman received an e-mail response from the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff to both Gates’ speech and its characterization by the major news outlets. They were at pains to assure Air Force members they weren’t really being criticized by the Sec Def. An excerpt reads:

It is important for all Airmen to know Secretary Gates applauded Airmen for their significant contributions to the Long War...It is also important for Airmen to know Air Force contributions are making a difference, and that Airmen continue to do everything possible to support the Secretary of Defense’s priorities.”

Apparently the reigning assumption among top brass that the men and women who have subordinated their personal lives to military duty and who consistently put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of American national interest are unable to take a healthy bit of criticism (constructive or otherwise). This great concern with the feelings of the force leaves me scratching my head and just a little bit concerned. The concern arises from previous attempts by hawks, conservatives, and a fair number of right-wingers to silence discussion about the success and validity of the war effort by claiming that any such public discussion would weaken morale, i.e., hurt the feelings of the American soldier.

Unfortunately, it is just at this time that we can’t afford to avoid asking the right questions (some of them hard) just because they might make a soldier or airmen feel sad. While morale is an important factor for military leaders to consider, they would do well to definitively answer the doubts and questions rather than smother them for the sake of the troops.

Read Secretary Gates’ speech. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he criticized not only the Air Force but the entire Department of Defense, as well as pointing his finger at vices that exist in the federal government as well. Perhaps the “Defense Secretary Scolds Air Force War Effort” a bit; surely we are all able to take a good scolding, especially when coupled with helpful alternatives, and then get down to the business of doing our work well and with excellence. I would have been surprised and suspicious if Gates had had nothing but flattery for the Air Force; each branch has more than a few areas in which to grow and the sooner we can put our tender feelings aside and focus on the task at hand, the sooner we will make real changes that might have far-reaching results in Iraq and around the globe.