It was drummed into us in boot camp that "Marines go back for their wounded. Marines go back for their dead. We leave no one behind."
I found the same ethos in the Army Special Forces when I joined them later. During the Vietnam War, the Air Force went to extraordinary lengths to rescue downed pilots.
But on 9/11/2012, Americans at our consulate in Benghazi were left behind.
It may well be true, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed, that military help couldn't be sent because it was unavailable. But if that is true, somebody screwed the pooch, big time.
Because of al Qaida's fondness for striking on anniversaries, as the anniversary of 9/11 approached, it was routine in the Bush administration to take extra security precautions for our diplomatic installations. This should have been especially true for Libya, where terrorist threats abounded. So on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 there ought to have been at least four F/A-18s or an AC-130 Spectre gunship and a tanker on standby at the Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Sicily, and at least a platoon of Marines and transport for them on standby too.
If negligence were the reason it wouldn't be the president's fault. He can't be expected to oversee security precautions the military should undertake routinely.
But if help could have been sent, but wasn't, we have a right to know who decided not to send it, and why.
When public officials neglect their duties or abuse their authority, we must hold them accountable. This is true whether they be military or civilian, career bureaucrats or political appointees, Republicans or Democrats.
We get angrier, for good reason, at officials who abuse their offices than at those who just didn't do their jobs.
But officials should be competent as well as honest. And where national security is concerned, negligence can be as deadly as treason.
After Britain lost the Battle of Minorca in 1756, Admiral John Byng was court-martialed for "failing to do his utmost." He was executed. We don't expect officials today to meet so high a standard, or to be subjected to so harsh a penalty if they fail to meet it. But if negligence is the reason help wasn't sent to Benghazi, the negligent should be identified, and he/she/they should lose his/her/their job(s).
We have a right to know why security in Libya was so lax, and who was responsible. And also why the FBI can't seem to find terrorists journalists have had little difficulty locating for interviews.
Often during the Cold War, Soviet leaders would accuse the United States of doing whatever it was they were doing. In intelligence parlance, this is known as "mirror imaging." As scandals engulf the Obama administration, Democrats are doing a lot of it.
When Republicans seek the truth about Benghazi, or to find out how extensive were IRS actions against critics of the Obama administration and who was responsible for them, Democrats charge them with "playing politics,"
Republicans doubtless are more eager to get to the bottom of these scandals than they were those that erupted when a Republican was president, but little is more chilling to freedom and democracy than siccing the IRS on a president's political enemies, as Democrats noted when they made this an article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. And when Americans are left behind to die, it shouldn't be just Republicans who are concerned.
But when whistleblowers testified Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was told the night of the attack it was the work of terrorists affiliated with al Qaida, the response of Democrats was to smear the whistleblowers. Every Democrat on the committee cared more about preserving Ms. Clinton's viability as a presidential candidate than finding out what her words were meant to conceal.
It's appropriate for Democrats to defend the president and his appointees against accusations of wrongdoing which are unsupported by evidence. But if Democrats were less partisan and more honest, they'd acknowledge the lies administration officials have told and the efforts they've made to impede the collection of evidence suggest something is being covered up.
We expect our politicians to be partisan. But in the end, we expect them to put the national interest ahead of their party's political fortunes.
Republicans passed this test during Watergate. Democrats are failing it now.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1476. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/