Military Control of the Civilian: It’s Opposite
Day in America
15, 2017 "Information
becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to
recall that civilian leaders are supposed to
command and control the military, not
vice-versa. Consider an article posted
with the title, TRUMP’S GENERALS CAN SAVE THE
WORLD FROM WAR—AND STOP THE CRAZY. The article
extols the virtues of “Trump’s generals”: James
Mattis as Secretary of Defense, John Kelly as
White House Chief of Staff, and H.R. McMaster as
National Security Adviser. The article presents
them as the adults in the room, the voices of
calm and reason, a moderating force on a
bombastic and bellicose president.
I’ve written about Trump’s generals already at
and elsewhere. The latest gushing tribute to
America’s generals at Newsweek
illustrates a couple of points that bear
repeating. First, you don’t hire generals to
rein in a civilian leader, or at least you
shouldn’t if you care to keep a semblance of
democracy in America. Second, lifelong military
officers favor military solutions to problems.
That’s precisely why you want civilians to
control them, and to counterbalance their
military advice. Only in a democracy that is
already crippled by creeping militarism can the
rise of generals to positions of power be
celebrated as a positive force for good.
Speaking of creeping militarism in the USA, I
caught another headline the other day that
referenced General Kelly’s appointment as Chief
of Staff. This
from the “liberal” New York Times:
Kelly Quickly Moves to Impose Military
Discipline on White House"
that headline. Not that Kelly was to impose
discipline, but rather military
discipline. What, exactly, is military
discipline? Well, having made my first career
in the military, I can describe its features.
Obedience. Deference to authority. Respect for
the chain of command. A climate that sometimes
degenerates to “a put up and shut up” mentality.
Such a climate may be needed in certain military
settings, but do we want it to rule the White
what I wrote back in December about Trump and
all of this, Trump represents just the next
(giant) step in an ongoing process. His
warrior-steeds, his “dream team” of generals,
highlight America’s striking
twenty-first-century embrace of militarism. At
the same time, the future of U.S. foreign policy
seems increasingly clear: more violent
interventionism against what these men see as
the existential threat of radical Islam.
Of course, now the threat of
looms with North Korea. For a moderating
influence, America places its faith in military
generals controlling the civilian
commander-in-chief, and that’s something to draw
comfort from, at least according to Newsweek.
military control of the civilian is celebrated,
you know it’s truly opposite day in America.
William J. Astore is
a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and
professor of history who’s written for
TomDispatch.com, Truthout, History News Network
(HNN), Alternet, and Huffington Post among other
views expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
opinions of Information Clearing House.