The Congressional 'Peter' Principle
Honor sacrificed by others upon the Altar of Political Ambition
By Steve Schippert | October 17, 2007
This picture of an index card placed at the Vietnam Memorial is worth well more than a thousand words. It is exemplary of the character of a Marine who, rather than face vociferous Congressional opposition based on political objectives grounded in little more than a domestic public relations war, was asked to and chose to spare the nation such anguish and retire before he was otherwise inclined to do so. General Peter Pace has years of capable and needed service left in him. They have, for unconscionable reasons, been sacrificed by others upon the altar of political ambition.
His leadership, for over forty years guided by his "moral compass," has always has been embraced by those who followed him. And so, upon his reluctant retirement, feeling he still had service owed to those he commanded and lost in Vietnam, he presented his stars to Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro where the fallen Marine is honored at the Vietnam Memorial.
In the picture, above the stars pinned to a simple 3×5 index card placed among other notes at the foot of the Vietnam Memorial, were the humble words, "These are yours - not mine!" He did the same for each of the six other Marines who, after Lcpl. Farinaro, also paid the ultimate price under 2nd Lt. Pace's young command. Such selflessness had guided General Pace's entire career, one which he personally dedicated to honoring the seven Marines who followed his orders in combat and died in service to their country.
In a September address to enlisted military personnel ahead of his retirement as a Marine and as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Pace described what drove him daily in his active duty service after Vietnam and the loss of seven Marines under his command.
He explained, "There was never a doubt in my mind what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life when I came out of Vietnam without even a scratch. And that was to try as best I could to serve this nation on active duty in a way that would pay proper respect to those Marines who followed me as their platoon leader and gave their lives for their country. Enlisted Marines who taught me what love on the battlefield was about. When I came home, I tried to give those in my charge what I could no longer give to those who had lost their lives."
Lance Corporal Farinaro was the first Marine killed under then 2nd Lieutenant Peter Pace's command in Vietnam. An Italian immigrant from New York, Guido Farinaro joined the Marine Corps because he felt compelled to repay his adopted nation through service to it. With his sacrifice on the battlefield, it is this nation which in turn will forever owe him.
No one tried harder or did more to attempt to repay that eternal debt than Peter Pace, United States Marine. Such is the honor and character of a good man. Such is the honor sacrificed by others upon the altar of political ambition.
2nd Lieutenant Peter Pace. Captain Peter Pace. General Peter Pace. Mr. Peter Pace. Each exudes leadership by example.
Yet a majority in Congress telegraphed their intent to oppose his renomination as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and create a national spectacle for the self-serving political purposes of staging public opposition to the President of the United States. And as displayed by many in that elected body, leadership by example is a sword that cuts both ways. The Congressional 'Peter' Principle was on clear display.
And with that came the end of the exemplary service of a good man and outstanding Marine. He now must - and will - find another avenue to serve and honor those fallen Marines whom he led.
Yet there is nary a Congressional leader who does not famously proclaim "I support the troops." But the often hollow nature of these words has the effect of reducing such phases to little more than bumper sticker slogans. For they are immediately trumpeted following a sitting Senator who compares those in the United States Military as running abusive and torturous "gulags" and their actions no different from the genocidal "Pol Pot."
"I support the troops" immediately trailed a Congressman's hasty and false accusations of Marines as murderers based on the unscrupulous and uncorroborated accounts of those who supported the enemy on the battlefield. "Supporting the troops" remains the official position of a sitting Senator who falsely testified before the Congress he now serves within that his fellow servicemen in Vietnam had "cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan."
These are the words from among those who warned that General Pace's re-nomination confirmation process would be a difficult spectacle of political opposition. They are from the same Congressional leaders who unanimously confirmed General David Petraeus as a capable commander for the Iraq theater only to later accuse him of lying to them when he reported undeniable progress on the ground there.
Is it any wonder then that so many active duty and veteran military members cry out, "Please, spare us the indignity of such support."
Character matters. It is, unfortunately, a trait lost on so many who cannot seem to wrap their minds around the concept of service before self. Peter Pace wrapped his entire adult life around it, exemplified by a simple 3×5 index card and a hand scribbled note.
For General Peter Pace (USMC, Ret.), his four stars rightly belong to Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro. But the empty collars those stars once adorned surely belong to Congress. And worse off are we all for it.