Saturday, April 22, 2006

The retired generals, Charles Krauthammer and George C. Marshall

(Welcome visitors from Betsy's Page, David Boyd, and Powerline)

Yesterday Charles Krauthammer blew away the whining retired generals' complaints meant to undermine current civilian leadership of America’s military.

Krauthammer next gave the generals and their supporters a civics lesson and warning:

The civilian leadership of the Pentagon is decided on Election Day, not by the secret whispering of generals.

We've always had discontented officers in every war and in every period of our history. But they rarely coalesce into factions. That happens in places such as Saddam's Iraq, Pinochet's Chile or your run-of-the-mill banana republic. And when it does, outsiders (including United States) do their best to exploit it, seeking out the dissident factions to either stage a coup or force the government to change policy.

That kind of dissident party within the military is alien to America. …

It is precisely this kind of division that our tradition of military deference to democratically elected civilian superiors was meant to prevent.

Today it suits the anti-war left to applaud the rupture of that tradition. But it is a disturbing and very dangerous precedents that even the left will one day regret.
Since America's founding, almost all our military officers have understood and respected civilian control.

World War II Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall was one of them. According to his biographer, Forrest Pogue, Marshall believed so strongly in civilian control that he never voted while a serving officer, lest doing so influence how he carried out orders from elected leaders and their designees.

Marshall wasn't unique as regards an officer not voting. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, for instance, for much the same reasons as Marshall, never voted until after he resigned his active commission.

Today, many officers who do vote will tell you they pass on federal candidates and even state candidates who might make decisions effecting the state's national guard. The officers explain they vote mostly for local candidates, such as those running for school board seats in districts where their children attend school.

Did Marshall ever have to follow orders with which he very strongly disagreed? Yes, often.

For instance, against his advice and that of his staff, Roosevelt and Churchill repeatedly delayed the Allied attack on northwest Europe and ordered Marshall instead to direct forces and supplies to other areas.

In such circumstances, Marshall knew he had the options every Army officer has: request a transfer or resign.

Given those honorable options, it’s not expected an officer will carry out orders with which he or she strongly disagrees, remain in the Army accumulating grade and benefits, and then retire and join others in attacking former civilian superiors.

When Marshall was asked which party he favored, he usually answered something like this : My mother was a Republican. My father was a Democrat. And when I was old enough, I became an Episcopalian.

Now we have some retired generals whose mothers were women and fathers were men, and who, when they were old enough to retire, decided to team up and hammer at a foundation stone of American democracy.


Anonymous said...

I think it's fine for the military to vote - especially if they're voting absentee from a Blue state.