Simon Says

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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

The Culture Of Kvetching

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I’ve read the Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, circling and re-reading the parts that got him relieved of command in Afghanistan. What I mostly read is a bunch of guys sitting around griping.

In the Army, privates gripe about sergeants, sergeants growl about captains, captains grouse about generals, and I guess, as we learned this week, a general’s aides gripe about the people around their commander-in-chief.

This week David Brooks of The New York Times described what he called the "kvetching" among aides who surround any powerful figure: "They bond by moaning and about the idiots on the outside."

Just as street cops gripe about detectives, and detectives grouse about commanders, and nurses complain about surgeons, while surgeons whimper about the chief of surgery, and reporters moan about editors, and editors groan about publishers.

Gripe, groan, moan, whine — it’s how a lot of us let off steam. Before you say, "I’d never talk like that," you might ask yourself how many times you already have.

When my mother worked in a clothing store, the sales people would grouse about the store managers, and the managers would gripe about the executives, who were far-off in London and couldn’t possibly know what it was like to sell shirts and dresses in Chicago.

All different professions, chanting the same mantra: the higher-ups and muckety mucks don’t know what’s really going on, like those of us in the trenches do.

That’s why it’s especially hard to read how General McChrystal’s aides mocked an e-mail from Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Early this week, before the Rolling Stone article broke, Mr. Holbrooke was in Afghanistan with General McChrystal, where they just missed the attack—probably directed at them—of a suicide bomber. Richard Holbrooke was in the trenches of Bosnia and Kosovo when General McChrystal’s bright young aides were in high school.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal rose meritoriously through the ranks of paratroopers, Rangers, and Special Operations. The men and women in those units are some of my favorite people. They are often irreverent, blunt, profane and funny, as well as loyal and brave. But the sense of humor that can prevail in those units—like among cops, emergency rooms, and reporters—can be harsh, and puzzling to the outside world.

In the end, General McChrystal’s departure had dignity. He apologized, acknowledged poor judgment, saluted his commander-in-chief, and resigned. President Obama relieved General McChrystal of command. But he did not disparage a man who, after all, has risked his life and given it to his country.

In a time when politicians could have a partisan dispute over National Hot Dog Day, the episode even managed to inspire something truly rare: bipartisanship. Democrats and Republicans supported a decision the president seemed almost pained to take.



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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

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