Monday, August 15, 2011

I'd Rather Be Dead than Special

I know the military attracts that different kind of person that is brash, strong-willed, stubborn. At the same time, it attracts – for both good and ill – those who believe the rules, in a general sense, don’t apply to them, that power begets power, and that, somehow, the federal government has a bottomless supply of money that will always be thrown their way.

And, occasionally, get sidetracked into idiotic things such as appearing on “What’s My Line,” with intellectual heavyweights like Steve Lawrence and Dorothy Killgallen.

Gen. Chuck Yeager is one of those guys. Exuding self-confidence and rightly so, because he is as good as he believes he is.

Still, after reading “Yeager,” his autobiography written with Leo Janos, I can understand why some of that self-confidence brought out enmity among those with whom he had to work. A lot of the rules didn’t apply to him – sneaking into Vietnam from Korea to visit his son while his son was fighting in that war, flouting rules that said he had to check in with the commanding general who disliked him (and Lady Morley) immensely. And they find friends who do the same thing – such as the fellow general who got a taste for golden trout in California and decided on his own (with complicit help from those who should have known better) to import the fish to New Mexico, where the general was to be reassigned. From the book:
If I say General Branch might have gone too far, you can imagine. He decided to transplant the Sierra golden trout into the mountain streams of New Mexico. And he had cooked up his scheme with pals in the New Mexico Fish and Game Department. He authorized Andy to fly up to New Mexico in a four-engine C-130 cargo airplane used to transport troops and vehicles to pick up his pals in their four-wheel drive that carried special oxygenated containers to hold the golden trout. The trip probably violated half a dozen Air Force, federal, and state regulations; but a general is a general, and we were ordered into action.
Yah. Our tax dollars at work here, folks. High military brass flouting the law. Whee.

And it gots for the small stuff, too:
His new assignment was safety director of the Air Force, which made him, in effect, the only general officer who was allowed to pilot an airplane. Of course, like all generals, he had to have a pilot along with him, but Yeager never in his life sat in the second seat. He argued with the Pentagon,” Look, how in the hell can I be in charge of Air Force safety if I can’t fly airplanes myself to see if they are safe?” So, he was the exception to the rule and loved every minute of it.
I put up with asinine rules where I work. But that’s the difference: I put up with them. I don’t look for ways to get around them.

Yes, Chuck Yeager is a hero, if flying around and breaking sound barriers and such makes one a hero. He did much service for the military apparatus of the United States. Still, there’s something that rubs me wrong with the “rules are for other people” mentality that is displayed throughout the book. And it’s likely it’s just me reading too much into this; perhaps with a second reading (and I do keep my books around for second readings) I might feel differently.

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