COMMENTARY 919.4: I’m Only a One-Star

by Michael Josephson on February 18, 2015

in Choices, Commentaries, Leadership

Post image for COMMENTARY 919.4: I’m Only a One-Star

Years ago I was talking to a group of Army generals about the way politicians often treat the defense budget as an all-purpose public works fund to help bring money into their districts. One general admitted, “Yes, if the chairman of the Appropriations Committee comes from a place that makes trucks, we’re probably going to buy those trucks. That’s the way it is, the way it always was, and the way it always will be.”

I suggested that it was a form of bribery to buy the trucks just to please the politician. The general barked, “It’s not bribery. It’s extortion!”

“Don’t sound so powerless,” I replied. “You’re a GENERAL!”

Without skipping a beat, he answered, “Yeah, but I’m only a one-star.”

“I’m only a one-star.” I hear this sort of abdication of moral responsibility a lot – from business executives who surrender to “pressures” to engage in dubious business practices, journalists who see their great calling being overcome by a growing profit obsession and others who just feel they can’t buck the system.

I understand it’s easier and often seems smarter to go along to get along, yet when systems become corrupt, irrational, or wasteful, it’s our duty to what we can do to make things better.

As Edward Everett Hale said, “It’s true I am only one, but I am one. And the fact that I can’t do everything will not prevent me from doing what I can do.”

When there’s a gap between reality and ethical ideals, people of character don’t surrender their ideals. They fight for them. They work to change the way things “are” to the way they “ought to be.” And much more often than we realize, defective systems collapse at the first sight of principled resistance.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Dustin Pour February 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

You know Mr. Josephson, thank you for this commentary. Each of us are one, & you have enough ones, you can change the world.

My philosophy on this subject is that…. you cure the world’s sickness one individual at a time. It starts with yourself. Once you cure yourself, your perception changes & know you can change the world the way you like it….for the better.


adlyhassanein February 18, 2015 at 6:27 am

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pschriever February 18, 2015 at 6:27 am

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Ed February 18, 2015 at 6:45 am

OK Michael, I’ll both heartily agree with the ethical necessity of doing what one can and also challenge you to put your work where your ethics are.

Employees, like that general, are cowered with threats against their family’s financial well being and their prestige. Been there. You’re trying to make moral courage prestigious, a laudable goal. But what about the financial threat? There’s no ignoring that one, especially when it harms innocent families.

So I challenge you to create a significant fund to support morally courageous Americans in both their living expenses and lawsuits. Something like a GoFundMe or similar crowdfunding project could work.

If such a fund develops a credible history, it will actually become a deterrant to the bad guys. They’ll both have less leverage and perceive an increased risk of public exposure.



anthony.williams February 18, 2015 at 7:18 am

Wow, what a powerful message! I’m retired Air Force Officer with experience working in the Pentagon and as a liaison to Congress. This article is SO accurate. Definitely on point, Michael. Keep it coming!
Lt Col (r) Tony Williams, USAF


Allyn February 18, 2015 at 9:33 am

Thank you for this letter and inspiration. I am a School Counselor at an elementary school in a very large school district and trying get up nerve to tell the Senators and State Representatives that there is not enough mental health agencies and service providers to support the needs of
many of our students.

I am seeing more mentally challenged, mentally ill, mentally suffering students that endure and experience poor academic successes. Why is no one listening to our (mental health professionals) strife in the schools? There is so much pressure for students to perform well on the tests and yet, poverty, emotional abuse, physical abuse, poor attendance, etc., etc., their set of circumstances make it so difficult to perform, let alone succeed.

I must go; now it is time to construct a letter to those who could make changes to have a positive impact on our students.


Thomas H. Pritchett February 18, 2015 at 9:59 am

While I agree with the concept that we should fight corruption and injustice whenever possible, the generals’ comments also remind me of the Serenity Prayer:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

So my question is – were the one star generals just copping an excuse or were they truly recognizing that they were in situation where they lacked the power to effect a change.


J.B. Hodgson February 24, 2015 at 9:00 am

You only know for sure that something can’t be changed after maximum efforts to change it have proven futile, not by just looking at a situation and capitulating to it.


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