Every so often, something reminds you that good fortune has brought you in touch with a remarkable family. Friendship seems to work that way: it brings families as well as individuals together.
When my mother came to the United States from the Netherlands after World War II, she lived in Minneapolis to see if my dad would make up his mind and propose to her. Meantime, she took a summer job waiting tables at Yellowstone National Park. There she met a co-worker named Jane, a smart woman my mom’s age. They became friends.
About the time my mom and dad married in 1953, Jane married Franz Gayl in Minneapolis. The Gayls had two children: a daughter, Ilse, and a son, Franz, Jr. Today the Washington Post published an article about Franz, Jr. that begins:
Franz Gayl made a name for himself a few years ago as a Marine Corps whistleblower, a civilian scientist who helped push the Pentagon to shift its Iraqi weapons strategy. Senators called him a hero for disclosures that helped get heavily armored vehicles known as MRAPs to the battlefield.
To reward Franz for his efforts, the Marine Corps stripped his security clearance and tried to place him on administrative leave. As another article put it, what was left of his career is over.
A few years ago I visited Jane and Franz’s stepfather Arthur Pejsa in Minneapolis. Franz had recently assumed the troublemaker’s arduous role at the Pentagon. Arthur warned that Franz placed his career at risk if he didn’t keep quiet. According to the Washington Post report, Arthur was right. You try to get the government to do the right thing, and your career is over.
I told Arthur at the time that some things are more important than your career. We needed people who would speak truthfully about the war in Iraq. At the time Franz started to speak up, the Pentagon would not even provide extra armor for its Humvees, let alone buy the more expensive MRAPs.
You may remember the soldier who challenged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he met with troops in Iraq. The soldier asked Rumsfeld why his men had to go scavenging in local junkyards to find extra metal to protect their vehicles. Rumsfeld’s answer amounted to, “Suck it up. You don’t always get what you want.” Indeed. Many men and women died in Iraq because their government didn’t provide them with the proper equipment.
One person persistently prodded and pushed for better armor — appealed to the Marines’ sense of honor not to leave their soldiers unprotected. What did he get? Fired. Our government should have piled honors on him because he tried hard to make people do the right thing. He tried to lead and speak openly in an organization that prizes only good followers, and leaders who follow the rules. So the Marines dismissed him.
You have to wonder how we can win wars or defend ourselves when we treat our best people that way. I hope Franz finds a way to contribute as a scientist — talented people can usually cope with obstacles. Whatever he accomplishes, though, our armed forces won’t receive the benefit. Once people show you the door, they don’t welcome you back. To clear up uncertainty about that, the Pentagon should post a sign on its front door: FREE THINKERS AND UPSTARTS NOT WELCOME. GO AWAY.