An officer’s duty is to speak up and suffer the consequences
WilliamRuger, who teaches political science at Texas StateUniversity, recently characterizedGen. StanleyMcChrystal as being imprudent and immoderate for entering political battles over current policy. In short, Ruger advocated a “salute and obey without question” policy for military officers.
Ruger supports a policy that stops short of protecting the Constitution. Military officers should not stop short because they take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The preamble of the Constitution states a primary mission which includes: provide for the common defense, promote the generalwelfare. If amilitary officer detects that a policy endangers this primary constitutional mission, it should be the duty of that officer to bring it to the attention of his superiors, including civilian leadership.
When national security or the common good of the nation is at risk, it should be the duty of military officers to speak up and suffer the consequencies. Disagreeing with policy when the nation is endangered by that policy should be alive and well in our military, even though the stakes may be high for doing so.
That is not to say that McChrystal’s policy complaints rose to constitutional levels. That is questionable and debatable. However, officers need to protect the Constitution, and sometimes that may require challenging current political policy. In the right situation, a military officer entering a political debate about policy should not only be condoned but encouraged.
To his credit, Ruger mentions the policy of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that allows senior military are free to offer independent advice not only to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon but also to President Barack Obama and the National Security Council.
That is an excellent policy. Gates’ policy is a reasonable interpretation of Army Field Manual 101-5: “Staffs continually identify current and future problems or issues that affect mission accomplishment. Once they identify a problem, staff members analyze the actions or coordination needed to solve it. Sometimes staff officers have the ability and authority to solve the problem without involving the commander. If not, once they analyze the problem, theymake a recommendationto the commander for decision.”
Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell is a classic example of a military officer engaging in a political battle over policy. Mitchell’s strong advocacy of air power was rejected by both his military and civilian superiors. In 1925, Mitchell was demoted to colonel and, by order of President Calvin Coolidge, was court martialed for insubordination. Mitchellwas found guilty and resigned from the Army.
Later events showed thatMitchellwas ahead of his time in backing the use of air power. Fortunately for the U.S., much of what Mitchell recommended was adopted before the beginning of World War II. Great good came from Mitchell, even if it resulted in his leaving the Army in disgrace. The Tokyo Raiders flew in B-25 “Mitchell” bombers, named for Mitchell.
Ironically, Douglas MacArthur, then a major general, was a member of Mitchell’s court martial board. MacArthur voted to acquit Mitchell, feeling that a military officer should not be silenced from expressing a viewpoint which conflictswith current policy. Obviously, in 1951 President Harry Truman did not agree with MacArthur’s opinion about entering political debates over policy, so Truman fired MacArthur.
MacArthur andMitchell were both removed by a president for challenging political policy. Both thought that what they supported would be best for the nation. As Longfellowsaid in “A Psalm of Life”: “In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!”