STEVE INSKEEP host:
The investigation of that suspected cover-up is one of many things on the mind of the president's top military adviser. General Peter Pace sat down to talk at the Pentagon during a week that some Americans were charged with killing civilians. General Pace is soft spoken, but you sense his intensity when you see his desk. He keeps two photos under the glass where he'll see them every day: Americans who served in Iraq and Vietnam.
General PETER PACE (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff): One is of Lance Corporal Guido Ferranero(ph). And Guido is the first Marine that I lost in combat as a Second Lieutenant. And I keep Guido's picture as a reminder of all the individuals who I lost in combat as a Second Lieutenant, of the promise I made to myself, and repeat to myself every day, that I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that the guys and gals in the battlefield now, are being properly led and properly taken care of.
The other picture is of Sergeant Maupin, United States Army, whose duty station and status is unknown, and has been unknown. Up until a couple of days ago, when he had the other - had the two soldiers who were not identified, Sgt. Moppin has been the U.S. service member who has not yet been accounted for. And his picture is on my desk because I want to make sure that we account for him.
INSKEEP: How do troops make sure - when their comrades are being killed - make sure that they do not harden themselves against the civilian population?
Gen. PACE: You must think through, before you're in a situation, who you want to be when you have to confront that kind of situation. So you must think through, on your way into Baghdad, whether or not you would allow yourself to harden against civilians. You must think before you get in battle, what you would allow yourself to do and not do, when your buddy gets killed on your left or your right.
If you haven't at least given yourself a chance to think those kinds of things through, when the emotions hit you - and they roll over you in waves when you're in combat - if you haven't thought through who you want to be at the end of the day, you may not like who you are at the end of the day.
INSKEEP: Had you managed to think all that through before you arrived in Vietnam in 1968?
Gen. PACE: I did, because, as you recall back then, at least in the newspapers, they were talking about, you know, some U.S. troops did, you know, did something to bodies and things like that. So I did think through what I would allow myself to do and what I would not allow myself to do in combat. And even having done that, there were times on the battlefield when one of your Marines - in my case - gets killed, the desire to strike back is very strong.
INSKEEP: Also, as part of these discussions, we heard from Joseph Galloway, long-time military correspondent, who denounced the civilian leadership at the Pentagon and of this administration. And one of the points he made was that the civilian leaders here have not had military service. Does that matter -that you're taking orders from people who have not been there?
Gen. PACE: Absolutely not. And you know, by the way, the secretary of defense is a retired captain of the United States Navy Reserve. The president of the United States served in the National Guard, so...
INSKEEP: I think Mr. Galloway was referring to combat experience.
Gen. PACE: Most of the military leaders in the chain of command, the majors and lieutenant colonels out there, didn't have combat experience. So it has nothing to do with that. Folks who are not part of this building do not appreciate the way Secretary Rumsfeld gathers information from those around him. He has more meetings with his senior leaders than, I believe, any secretary of defense has in a long, long time.
He gets all of us together, all the four-stars together, three times a year for three days. I'm with him a minimum of 30 minutes a day, usually three or four hours a day. So the amount of military opportunity to give recommendations to the secretary and to the president is enormous. And if they're not getting good recommendations, shame on us, not shame on them.
INSKEEP: Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Our interview continues at npr.org, where you can also hear all of this week's conversations about leadership in war.
(Soundbite of music)
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.