There have recently been calls from retired senior officers for active commanders to disobey a presidential order to use federal troops to assist local law enforcement in establishing law and order in some of America’s cities should such an order be given.
The first such call came from James Mattis, Trump’s one time Secretary of Defense, who is also a retired Marine Corps General. He was followed by retired General John Kelly, former Trump Chief of Staff, and Admiral Michael Mullen, Obama Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and several others.
The Hoover Institute’s Victor Davis Hanson wrote a detailed critique of the remarks of several of the most prominent retired senior officers for the National Review (June 2020) which began with this statement:
“In a time of crisis, their synchronized chorus of complaints, falsehoods, and partisan appeals to resistance threaten the very constitutional order they claim to revere.” (ibid)
The first point Hanson makes is that these outbursts violate the Universal Code of Military Justice, “Article 88 of the UCMJ makes it a crime to voice ‘contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State.” (ibid)
Penalties are spelled out in AR 27-10 of the code: “Retired members of a regular component of the Armed Forces who are entitled to pay are subject to the UCMJ (See Art. 2(a) (4), UCMJ.) They may be tried by courts martial for offences committed while in a retired status.” (ibid)
Hanson proceeds to demonstrate conclusively – case by case – how each of the accused has convicted himself by false, contemptuous and/or treasonous public statements. Hanson’s list of violators is impressive: in addition to those mentioned above are Generals Michael Hayden, John Allen, James Clapper, Martin Dempsey, Barry McCaffrey, and Admiral William McRaven. (ibid)
What should be done about these offenders will be discussed below.
First, there are other major issues to be considered beginning with the United States Constitution, Section 2, which clearly states:
“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States. . .. “
This statement has always been interpreted literally, meaning that the authority of the President over the military forces of the country has never been challenged. All the following Presidents are among those who have called up the military to assist in the maintenance of law and order: Washington, Madison, Lincoln, Cleveland, Hoover, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and George H.W. Bush.
There is a very good reason why the Founders stipulated that the military should be under civilian control. That reasoning starts with the historical fact that “whoever has the guns controls the people”. The Founders were acutely aware of this fact. Had not the colonists been armed; they could never have prevailed against the British in their War of Independence. (The same logic applies to the 2ndAmendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms.)
Since the military has the guns, it is vitally necessary that control of those weapons reside in the civilian authority. The alternative can be seen in the many countries in Latin America and the Middle East which are in effect governed directly or with the consent of the Army. Recent examples are Egypt and Venezuela.
To argue against that fundamental organization of the American government is to promote treason. This is why the UCMJ provides for trial by a court martial of any member of the military, active or retired, who advocates the usurpation of the authority of the President over the military. “Political neutrality” means that the military follow the orders of whoever is President without regard to his or her party or policies.
I suspect there is another reason for this bias against this particular President. He is adamantly opposed to the “endless wars” which have dominated America’s foreign policy since 1948 when Truman committed us to Korean independence. These officers have grown up with that policy as a sacred dogma: “America is the policeman of the world”, the “savior of world order”, the “last hope of mankind”, the “bastion of freedom”. These men have dedicated a good portion of their lives to the upholding of that doctrine and seen comrades in arms killed or maimed in its defense.
Now, along comes this civilian who sees things very differently. He sees wars as engines of destruction – of lives, of national wealth, of families, and international commerce. He seeks radical reforms of America’s alliances and trade, and thus introduces a whole new world to these aging warriors. They seehim as the “engine of destruction”, the destroyer of all they have worked for and profited from all their lives. Internationalism gone, close allies downgraded, in some cases alienated. It is just too much. So, they resort to the pen and TV. They believe they serve a sacred cause.
But that cause is neither sacred nor worthy of their efforts. It is the age-old drama of resistance to a new day, to the arrival of a new era. One could sympathize with their plight but for one thing: they are making life more difficult for their successors.
The active senior commanders have admired these very men all their lives, and now their heroes are advocating disobedience to presidential orders, allocating to the active force the authority to decide which of the President’s orders should be obeyed and which should be refused. An agonizing dilemma: obedience or treason!
As a civilian, I am appalled at the behavior of some of our most distinguished retired officers. It is my contention that this treasonous behavior must be stopped before we end up as a banana republic. One way to stop it would be to convene a court martial against one or more of the offenders. That should reinforce the lesson that this nonsense is dangerous to the republic which they have all fought to preserve, but which they are now seeking to destroy because of their own egos.
That is a bridge too far!