The American Battle Monuments Commission has some excellent videos posted on YouTube that show overseas military cemeteries for US servicemembers from past wars. The Commission was created in 1923 to build and maintain overseas cemeteries to honor US war dead in foreign wars. Each clip ends with the following quote:
“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”
Last week I returned to my Alma Mater, West Point, for a conference that was held on 30-31 August 2023. In the evenings, I visited the West Point Cemetery to see my grandfather’s grave (West Point Class of 1940). I had not been to West Point since 2001 and could not help but notice a recent and tragic addition to the hallowed grounds – the section for graduates that fell in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 90 members of the Long Gray Line were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many are buried at West Point.
The DEI Conference I attended convened with LTG Gilland and his command team speaking for over an hour. Much of their discussion was focused on promoting DEI and complaining about the inconvenience placed on the Superintendent by Congress by demanding testimony in July 2023 about Congressional concerns for DEI’s harms. Self-preservation seemed to be the priority. The conference had a mix of military and civilian speakers, many from West Point, who droned on about the strategic imperative for imposing DEI on our force to win future wars. There was no scheduled discussion nor even mention of America’s Longest War that ended shamefully just 2 years before in a loss. No invocation or prayer. No moment of silence on 31 August. The only mention of the war was by me during the last question and answer session when I pointed out that DEI was not one of the top 10 reasons for the loss in Afghanistan and how astonishing it was that USMA seemed to be closing the book on Afghanistan. No official introspection, no resolve to identify and fix issues such as senior leadership shortfalls. Just no mention at all. It is as if the tombstones magically appeared in the cemetery and the fallen officers’ sacrifices were in vain. Identity politics and the “me” mentality seems to be far more important to the cadets and officers in attendance.
Perhaps LTG GIlland is following the lead of senior US generals and the Commander in Chief. The architect of the Afghanistan collapse, President Biden, was ripped by former NY governor George Pataki last week for not even being in the lower 48 states for the 9/11 commemoration. Biden will be taking a pit stop in Alaska on the way to a conference in Asia.[i] Biden was criticized this week for abruptly leaving a Medal of Honor ceremony with no notice before it was even done.[ii] Two years before Biden famously kept checking his watch in a supreme sign of disrespect when the 13 coffins of US servicemembers killed in Kabul returned to the US.
While a war hero himself from past deeds as a young officer, LTG Gilland is also an astute general officer, working his way up the ranks. Surely he is aware that the Commander in Chief and the general officer corps at large does not wish to discuss the war anymore. No one wants to accept blame. No one wants to do meaningful analysis and change because it would continue the spotlight on the failures at senior officer levels.
Some graduates of West Point have called criticism of currently serving general officers shameful. What is shameful is the general officer corps’ refusal to publicly and thoroughly analyze the ethical shortfalls of the war to fix the problem that is being wallpapered over in the senior leader ranks. Remembering the sacrifices would require personal courage, but such a character trait is not conducive to promotion and acceptance in the new Army’s general officer corps.
The American Battle Monuments Commission was created by Pershing decades ago and continues to honor the courage and sacrifice of Americans killed in Europe over 100 years ago. It is clear modern generals’ respect for the most recent war dead ended not even 2 years after the war ended.
John Hughes, MD
Veteran of Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan
Member of STARRS.US and the MacArthur Society
This letter is the opinion of the author and does not represent the stance of any organizations or corporations.