The Plague-Ground – Generals

Georges Clemenceau said that war is too important to be left to the generals.

But civil war? Or even civil unrest?

Not if General James Mattis has his way.

When Mattis resigned as Donald Trump’s hand-picked Secretary of Defense in 2017, he said nothing (and I mean nothing) beyond “I had no choice but to leave.” Perhaps he left because the President claimed, in reference to NATO, “I think I know more than he does.” Mattis was a Marine General and former supreme allied commander in charge of transforming NATO.

In the two years since then, never was heard a discouraging word from the General, until he ripped into Trump on Tuesday:

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper also broke with his boss when he called a press conference to say: “Active duty forces . . . should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

Then on Thursday, former Marine General John Allen, who led the global fight against ISIS and now heads the Brookings Institute, wrote in Foreign Affairs that “We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of American democracy, but there is still a way to stop the descent.”

Then Friday, John Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, and another former Marine General, said he agreed with Mattis: “…the partisanship has gotten out of hand, the tribal thing has gotten out of hand…”

By the weekend, 89 former defence officials had published an opinion piece in the Washington Post decrying Trump’s muddying of the military and executive branch. Or rather, in the case of his walk from The White House to St. John’s Episcopal, of church and state and military.

In a week of persistent tragedy, this is heartening news. America may be breaking, but it isn’t yet broken if the people who can really bring blood to the streets fight to stay away from them.

One of the comforting things about Donald Trump is that he has no limits. So thinking the unthinkable about what he’ll do next is easier every day.

I think he will force a confrontation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff by ordering them to do something they believe violates the Constitution. Like shooting peaceful protesters, or taking over a city’s police force.

The Generals swore an oath to uphold the US Constitution. Trump thinks they swore an oath to uphold him, their Commander-in-Chief.

So when that battle of wills is joined……well, the motto of the US Marines is “Semper Fi” – Always loyal. Their President’s motto could be “Numquam Fi” – Never loyal.

But what is it they say about the Marines?

“No better friend. No worse foe.”

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7 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Generals”

  1. This topic is on the minds and lips of all thinking people. During a zoom dinner party last night we broached this debacle. And yet couldn’t really get going on it, so upsetting that it is.
    Haven’t yet heard mention of Kent State.

  2. Great piece Bob. Loved Faheed Nakiria today. Having worked with Fil Fraser, I am really embroiled in this.

  3. Beth Horowitz

    Great column, thanks Bob.

    After pretty much rigging the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches to do his bidding, Trump is now aiming to break the military, or at least bend it to his will. It’s one of the last tasks on his authoritarian to-do list, and he wants to accomplish it before the election. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but as a dual citizen from NY, I’ve watched this all unfold in a nightmare much worse than I feared would occur when he was elected — and I knew then that it would be very bad. We have to hope that there are enough people left in power who will defend the Constitution against the President before it’s too late.

  4. Jennifer Laity

    We are observing a tsunami of sea change in America and perhaps around the world. Our millennials and younger are marching, are paddling out in formation, are holding signs and – we all pray – registering to vote. And we know how they will vote and against whom. Our generals are standing up and, one by one, sycophants are changing their tune. Perhaps it has taken this pandemic to throw us collectively off balance, to force us to take our heads out of the sand where we have been numbing ourselves from the horrors of this presidency and this president, and to rise up in a peaceful but powerful way. Trump is thankfully burying himself in his own lies and bravado. I am saddened that my chosen home has had to endure three and a half years of debasement but I see a glimmer of light on the November horizon.
    From Los Angeles on June 7, 2020

  5. Catherine Morrow

    Hi Bob – Encouraging indeed (if discouragingly late) to hear retired military officials speaking up, but I find it a bit confusing that there is no clear discussion (at least that I’ve heard) about how and when the Insurrection Law could be implemented. It’s all kind of hazy – somewhere behind all that it’s-not-teargas teargas. I think these retired generals are laying the groundwork for the current active forces to get their heads around the idea that the degenerate orange madman will almost certainly issue an illegal order and that they must NOT obey it. If that’s the strategy, hope it works. Because that order IS coming.

    1. Sadly, Catherine, I agree with you that THAT order will come, and I only hope that the utter disrespect the US military holds for their Commander-in-Chief will keep them from rolling in the tanks.

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