One has trouble, I have trouble understanding General McChrystal’s agreeing to be interviewed by the reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine.
Why? Because the General is our President’s man in charge of the war in Afghanistan, now in its ninth year and without an end in sight. And the President’s man doesn’t do Rolling Stone interviews.
So given the interview one has to wonder if the General, incredible as this may seem, understood his own position and what this meant in regard to his own behavior in public.
First there was his position as the designated leader of our armed forces in Afghanistan. How could he not have understood that a free-wheeling Rolling Stone interview would be anything but detrimental to the war effort, probably reducing his own chances, as the leader of that effort, to succeed?
And then there was his subordinate position in the chain of command to the President. For in spite of his attitude and actions this wasn’t his war.
How could he not have understood, not been aware that the interview would have been seen as a flagrant disregard of not only this President’s, but any President’s authority?
Now during the time of the General’s Rolling Stone Interview Errol Morris was posting daily, five altogether, pieces in the Times, all about what he called the Anosognosic’s Dilemma, the dilemma being that although something may be terribly wrong we may not be aware of it.
The first to use the term (from the Greek meaning no knowledge of an illness, or “nosos”) was the French-Polish neurologist Joseph Babinski
who in 1914 used it to describe what he saw when patients with a complete paralysis of the left side of the body didn’t know they were paralyzed and even believed they were moving their left hand or leg when they weren’t.
Well it occurred to me while reading Morris that this was how I could make some sense of the General’s behavior. Couldn’t he also be seen as a victim, as suffering from the Anosognosic’s Dilemma?
Just as the hemiplegic would go on “moving” (not moving) his left arm and hand, so the General evidently went on believing that he was leading the war effort for his President even while in the irreverent company of his closest aids and talking simultaneously with them and with the interviewer from Rolling Stone for later publication.
I have to understand what happened as the General not being aware of what he was doing. He certainly acted as if he weren’t, as if he didn’t know that his words and the disrespectful remarks of his staff regarding the civilian authority would be seen as totally irresponsible, totally detrimental to the war effort, and ultimately undoing his own position as the leader of that effort.
In this case the nosos, or illness, was his own ignorance of the meaning of his words and action. Clearly the General had reached the very top of his profession without having learned that the positions awarded him along the way, and in most instances probably having earned them, came with their own code of responsible behavior.
Will he ever again be in a position in which he can demonstrate a new found awareness of that code? His chances in that respect may be no greater than those of the hemiplegic becoming aware of the existence of his own paralysis.