Staying True to a Higher Form of Loyalty

Leon Panetta served in the Obama administration first as CIA Director then as Secretary of Defense. He has a new ‘kiss and tell’ book out called ‘Worthy Fights’. Panetta Book 10-8-14 Panetta has had a long and distinguished career of public service. His criticism of President Obama’s performance is direct, sharp, and devastating.

To no one’s surprise, members of the Obama administration and others have roundly criticized Panetta (but curiously, their criticism has little or nothing to do with Panetta’s accusations and more to do with that he is speaking out against Obama and speaking out against him now, before the mid-term election).

Words like ‘loyal’ and ‘loyalty’ are a recurring theme in the criticism against Panetta, the inference being Panetta has been disloyal to Obama.

And an argument can be made to that effect. Loyalty is a key attribute executives and leaders look for and expect from their subordinates. An executive’s ability to perform his job would be diminished if he couldn’t trust his people.

Notwithstanding Panetta’s solid career in politics and governing, it is fair to question his motives; after all, he does stand to make a lot of money from his book, and before Obama was a gleam in the lusty eye of American politics, Panetta was a Bill Clinton man, and it’s no secret there’s no love lost between the Obamas and the Clintons.

All granted. But it’s also possible Panetta the American is truly concerned -even alarmed- at how the world is spinning out of control in large part because of Obama’s asleep-at-the-switch, ‘Lead from behind’ lassitude.

Panetta is the third former Obama Cabinet official to come out with a book that has been sharply critical of Obama (the first two being the man Panetta replaced as Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). Last August, Senator Dianne Feinstein publically criticized Obama, saying his approach to the totalitarian Islamist group ISIS was “too cautious“.

If the critical remarks against Obama were coming from a lone Tea Party congressman or from talk radio, the White House could deflect them by saying their critics are right-wing extremists whose opinions are outliers and therefore not to be taken seriously. But they’re not. They’re coming not only from powerful, influential Democrats, they’re coming from former Obama cabinet officials, which is precisely why they’re so devastating for Obama.

It appears Panetta is exercising a higher form of loyalty, one the puts loyalty to the country above that of his boss, and in this case it is right, good, and healthy.

Why? Richard Gabriel, author of ‘The Warrior’s Way, A Treatise on Military Ethics‘ explains the difference between two German words/ideas on loyalty, Hochverrat and Landesverrat:

“Under certain circumstances, a soldier’s ethical obligations transcend and surpass the obligations owed to his or her immediate superiors and even civilian superiors. General George C. Marshall, the epitome of the loyal soldier, was echoing MacArthur’s sentiments when he said that “An officer’s ultimate commanding loyalty at all times is to his country and not his service or his superiors.” In a crisis, the soldier must always treat loyalty as fides, that is, “keeping faith” with promises previously made to act in an ethical manner. At times, the crisis can become even more complex and the soldier may be forced to override his/her oath to the profession as well as the state in order to keep faith with his or her humanity. This is precisely what some German officers chose to do when they attempted to assassinate Hitler. German philosophers have developed a useful distinction in dealing with the question of loyalty to unethical superiors. They distinguish between Hochverrat and Landesverrat. Hochverrat is disloyalty to a superior, which has historically meant disloyalty to the monarch or other governmental officals. Landesverrat, by contrast, is disloyalty or betrayal of the nation. Within this distinction there is room for manoeuvre in making an ethical choice. In order to save a nation, a soldier may sometimes have to be “disloyal” to his governmental or military superiors and refuse to execute their orders. The distinction between the two notions of loyalty throws into relief what every member of the military profession knows to be true, that a soldier’s first and most fundamental loyalty is to act ethically and humanely, and in times of crisis he or she must be prepared to observe that higher obligation.”

So while some may argue Panetta has shown Hocheverrat (disloyalty to his superior) towards Obama, his aim is to avoid committing Landesverrat (disloyalty to his people/nation).

In this view, Panetta’s criticism of Obama is a higher form of loyalty, one that requires knowledge, experience, and wisdom. It’s a loyalty that’s much higher than simply having your boss’ back, which too many people engage in for purposes of getting power, prominence, and position.

Panetta is a politician who comes from the crooked timber of humanity. His decision to openly criticize Obama probably comes from a variety of motivations, including his sense of loyalty to his nation.

For this, Panetta is to be commended.


Preparedness: How To Get Out of a Tight Spot In One Piece

As a kid growing up I loved camping and enjoying the Great Outdoors. The thought of exploring remote areas where few had gone before with all I needed to survive on my back appealed to me.

It was fun to have and use all of the gear and equipment: Tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, camp stoves, vests, jackets, beanies, water bottles, flashlights, etc.

Some of my friends growing up were Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts; I was never one myself, but I somehow got a copy of the Boy Scout’s Handbook and drank deeply from it.

Boy Scout Handbook

Another book out at the time was ‘The Book of Survival’, by Anthony Greenbank:

Book of Survival

Of course the Boy Scout’s Motto is “Be Prepared”. Whatever activity I was involved in, whether it was snow camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains, rock-climbing in Joshua Tree, riding my crotch rocket through the Ortega Highway, or simply commuting to and from work, the thought of responding capably to situations that could cause harm to me or my loved ones through forethought and preparation has been an abiding interest of mine.

Working in the environmental field (wastewater treatment/water recycling) provided the opportunity to build on many of the lessons I learned as a kid, through continuous training on such hazards as waterborne diseases; slips, trips, and falls; high voltage electricity; numerous chemicals; and, yes, workplace violence.

At one point in my career I was a member of a water agency’s First Responder team where we trained on how to respond to emergencies of various kinds using different levels of protective gear and drilled on responses and tactics appropriate for the emergency scenario. It was great fun and I’m glad I had the opportunity to be involved in it.

A lifetime of this kind of thing has given me an appreciation of how fragile human existence is, along with recognizing how civilization is like a marvelously complex but fragile Rube Goldberg contraption where if one or more of its components fail to function as intended it can cause the whole contraption to break down. The economist and social commentator Thomas Sowell reminds us, “Civilization has been aptly called a ‘thin crust over a volcano.'”

When an emergency occurs, the first order of business is to size up and prioritize the threats and hazards. A common rule of thumb among those who think of such things is the ‘Rule of 3’s’, which stipulates that in an extreme situation you cannot live more than 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter (extreme hot or cold), 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food (of course there are exceptions based on your particular situation).

In 2010, the City of Boston experienced a sudden crack in its thin crust of civilization when a main pipe that transmitted drinking water into the city and surrounding communities ruptured. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a precious resource essential to human life that millions of people took for granted became an exceedingly scarce resource that fellow Bostonians got into fistfights with one/another to get. Ugly.

Since I live in the hot, arid Southwest (should have enough air) and own a home and ample clothing (should have enough shelter), my primary focus has been on getting through a crack-in-the-crust-of-civilization event by having enough drinking water on hand.

A rule of thumb for drinking water is 1 gallon/person/day. My water need calculation includes my family, friends, and neighbors (neighbors who stick together dramatically increase their odds of survival, besides, they’re my neighbors). I have tried cheap 1-gallon containers, rectangular-shaped 2.5-gallon containers, and 16-ounce individual bottles (all plastic) found at most grocery stores. The 1 and 2.5 gallon containers didn’t work because they were flimsy/harder to store and leaked. The 16-ounce containers didn’t work because my wife would raid the supply before shopping day. What has worked for me are the 6-packs of 1-gallon containers that Costco sells (current price is $4.09/6-pack plus small recycle charge).

These Costco 6-packs of water come in plastic containers that are beefier than most others I’ve seen and they’re packaged in a way where it’s easy to stack them to conserve storage space. I know some who store backup water in trash-can sized containers. It’s up to you to experiment and determine which water storage technique is right for you.

And you’ll be doing your neighbor a good turn by being prepared yourself. Because if you have enough of what you need to tie you through an emergency, that means more resources for the truly needy can then be allocated to them, and you can stay away from some of the nastiness associated with social upheaval caused by a scarcity of resources.

“Be Prepared.”