The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Milley

It has been fascinating to follow the recent career of General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an advisory body of military commanders that, by law, lies outside the chain of command. It’s not clear Milley knows that. Being a thoroughly modern major general, he seems to be more interested in blockading “white rage” than honing the fighting skills of our military. 

So I was edified to see that Milley has put down some of his thoughts in a new Art of War. It is a very different sort of book from the Chinese classic by Sun Tzu

It is not just that Sun Tzu was interested in winning wars and prevailing over the enemy. He also understood that his country had enemies and that it was important to be able to distinguish effectively between friends and enemies. “I will force the enemy to take our strength for weakness, and our weakness for strength,” he wrote in one famous passage, “and thus will turn his strength into weakness.”

Milley has turned that old-fashioned “binary” idea on its head—he deconstructed it, you might say, and implicitly showed how out of sync with our times poor old Sun Tzu is. 

Of course, Sun Tzu did not know about telephones, Twitter, Facebook, or systemic racism, so he would have been unable to comprehend the postmodern wisdom of Milley’s aperçus. “If you think you might attack an enemy,” the general writes, “pick up the phone and give ’em a heads up. It’s only fair.” Brilliant!

Another morsel: “If you surrender, you can never lose.” Why didn’t Sherman or Grant think of that? 

Some of Milley’s wisdom has a very contemporary application, to wit: “When retreating, leave most of your armaments behind so you know what you’ll be up against next time.” Good advice, right? 

And Milley, like Sun Tzu, goes beyond strictly military themes into realms sociological, psychological, and political. “You cannot betray the one to which you were never loyal.” This obviously is an insight that has wide application, as pertinent in business as in warfare proper. Ditto Milley’s postmodern revision of JFK’s famous saying: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for China.” 

Finally, General Milley’s art of war has a pragmatic commercial side, as can be seen in such observations as “He who turns on a bad orange man gets a big book deal.” Has any fortune cookie ever contained greater wisdom? 

“But that’s all satire, parody!” you object. “It’s from the Babylon Bee, not any real book written by Mark Milley.” 

You’re right about that and I apologize for the imposition. 

I also note that it is effective satire. Why? What makes it effective? Its close proximity to the truth. Mark Milley would never advise a military leader to “pick up the phone” and call one’s enemy to alert him to a forthcoming attack. No, no. General Milley is a man of action. He does not write about such things. He actually does them. He actually called his counterpart in China, twice, to assure him that, should the United States be planning an attack, he, Mark Milley, would be sure to let him know in advance. What a guy!

Effective satire exaggerates, but in exaggerating reveals something essential about the subject under discussion. The subject here is the character and behavior of Mark Milley. “You cannot betray the one to which you were never loyal.” It has the ring of authenticity, doesn’t it? After all, Milley was the person who, on the run-up to the January 6 rally in Washington, assured his aides that talk of a coup by Donald Trump was piffle. “You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns.” 

You see why Tucker Carlson called Milley a “reckless nutcase.” He apparently believes that the military answers to him.

But I don’t want to take up all your time with satire, however revealing it may be. I also have a scoop to share with you. I was in Washington recently and happened by a restaurant frequented by many of the people who run our lives. At a table next to mine, a group of military men sat huddled in serious conversation. A lot of papers were spread out for inspection and discussion. Wouldn’t you know it, a small envelope must have slipped out of someone’s pocket. I only noticed it when the group had left. I picked it up and ran to the door, hoping to return it to its rightful owner. No luck. They had vanished into their limos and were gone. I pocketed the envelope and went back into the restaurant. The unsealed envelope contained a single sheet of paper. On it was written this brief announcement: 

The Pentagon

Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President, 

In recent weeks, loud and irresponsible voices of an extremist minority have unfairly occupied the headlines with groundless, hateful, and hurtful criticism of my patriotic efforts to save America from the scourge of white rage and the machinations of a pro-Trump insurrectionary movement. I am proud that my efforts to quash a movement that is comparable to Hitler’s Brownshirts were successful but am mindful that this controversy, stirred by domestic extremists and other racists, has become a distraction. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation, effectively immediately, in order to spare the country from needless confusion. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served in your administration and look forward to spending more time with my family and on the sets of major media news shows. 

Sincerely,

Maj. Gen. Mark Milley

I haven’t seen this letter reported yet and am pleased to be able to break an important story for my readers.

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: Evelyn Hockstein-Pool/Getty Images

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