Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Petraeus, cannibals and sergeants

From a recent speech by Gen. David Petraeus (USA, ret.) to the Reserve Officers Association: Speaking of reservists, up front I wanted to share with you a story from a recently declassified operation that took place in the Pacific Ocean area, an operation that, for the press, has been unreported until today. During this particular ...

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

From a recent speech by Gen. David Petraeus (USA, ret.) to the Reserve Officers Association:

Speaking of reservists, up front I wanted to share with you a story from a recently declassified operation that took place in the Pacific Ocean area, an operation that, for the press, has been unreported until today. During this particular operation, one of our best reserve units was deployed to perform a sensitive mission on a desert island where they had to hire some local inhabitants as scouts and translators. It turned out, however, that the locals were cannibals.

So the commander, who in his civilian life was an expert in foreign languages and in dealing with different cultures and…made a point of speaking to them before the contract was finalized. "You're part of our team now," he told the cannibals in their language. "We'll pay you well for your service, and we'll allow you to eat any of our rations. But please, he said -- please don't eat any of our troopers."

From a recent speech by Gen. David Petraeus (USA, ret.) to the Reserve Officers Association:

Speaking of reservists, up front I wanted to share with you a story from a recently declassified operation that took place in the Pacific Ocean area, an operation that, for the press, has been unreported until today. During this particular operation, one of our best reserve units was deployed to perform a sensitive mission on a desert island where they had to hire some local inhabitants as scouts and translators. It turned out, however, that the locals were cannibals.

So the commander, who in his civilian life was an expert in foreign languages and in dealing with different cultures and…made a point of speaking to them before the contract was finalized. "You’re part of our team now," he told the cannibals in their language. "We’ll pay you well for your service, and we’ll allow you to eat any of our rations. But please, he said — please don’t eat any of our troopers."

Well, the cannibals responded reassuringly and promised not to eat any of the unit’s soldiers, and they then shook hands with the commander and went to work.

Everything was going smoothly until about four weeks later, when the commander called the cannibals together for a meeting. "You’re all working hard," he said, "and I’m very pleased with your performance. However, one of our sergeants has disappeared. Do any of you know what happened to him?"

The cannibals all shook their heads and professed to have no idea of the missing sergeant’s whereabouts.

After the commander left, however, the leader of the cannibals turned to the others and asked sternly, "Which one of you idiots ate the sergeant?"

The cannibals all hung their heads until finally one of them meekly put his hand in the air and said, "I did."

"You fool," the head cannibal shouted. "For four weeks we’ve been eating lieutenants, captains and even majors — [laughter] — and no one noted anything – [laughter, applause] — and then you had to go and eat a sergeant." [Laughter]

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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