On Retired Flag Officers

| June 11, 2020

President Trump attends a briefing from his senior military leaders, including then-Defense Secretary James Mattis (left), in the Cabinet Room at the White House

“Like the old soldier of the ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Goodbye.” Douglas MacArthur

Would that they all did. Poetrooer sends us an article on the effects that retired Flag Officers can have on the political process, and how they far exceed the intent of Article 88 of the UCMJ. If indeed they are under any obligation to abide by it from retirement.

Not-So-Retiring Retired Military Leaders

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.

Sometimes retired generals are deified. Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower won two presidential terms in landslide elections.

At other moments, war heroes such Generals Douglas MacArthur and Curtis LeMay were vilified as near insurrectionaries for their blistering attacks on sitting presidents.

In such a climate, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which became effective law in May 1951, prohibits active generals from disparaging their commander in chief — in the way perhaps MacArthur had bitterly pilloried then-president Harry Truman over the Korean War. 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.”

But no one quite knows, and debate continues over, whether such codified prohibitions on free expression apply to retired generals receiving military pensions. Yet, given the spate of recent “contemptuous words against the President” leveled from retired generals, it seems that few worry about regulation 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 offenses committed while in a retired status.”

A Dangerous Precedent

In 2016, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs and retired general Martin Dempsey wrote an emphatic op-ed criticizing retired generals, not running for office, who politicked or by extension attacked a sitting president. Dempsey perhaps was influenced by a number of retired top officers who were then in high-profile roles in the 2016 election on both sides. He apparently wanted to immediately stop the intrusions of warring generals into the campaigns, given that Trump had won the political endorsements of 88 former officers, versus the 95 retired generals and flag officers who offered Hillary Clinton their formal support. “The American people should not wonder where their military leaders draw the line between military advice and political preference, Dempsey wrote. “And our nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines should not wonder about the political leanings and motivations of their leaders.”

The Need for Restraint

So the issue of proper military conduct versus First Amendment rights for retired generals remains nebulous. Perhaps in such a void, a confused public could at least expect four rules of general decorum and common courtesy when our top retired military leaders go on the attack against a sitting president.

One, a retired general need not under any circumstances stoop to invoke Nazi Germany, Hitler, or Fascism to criticize the current commander in chief.

Two, any disparagement should not hint at any active resistance to, much less the removal of, an elected president other than through constitutionally mandated elections.

Three, the condemnation should rest on clear factual evidence, not emotive anger or partisan disagreement.

Four, there should be no semblance of coordination among retired military officers. They should avoid even the inadvertent appearance of a sudden chorus of like-minded retired military officers acting in concert to attack the policies of their current president with whom they disagree, and whom they disparage in personal terms.

Indeed, to do otherwise, whether by intent or inference, would suggest a harmonized effort to nullify the authority of an elected president — a dangerous escalation to extra-legal efforts that would be a first in American history.

Unfortunately, in this age of dissension, a number of our most esteemed retired generals and admirals, many of them heroic combat veterans, in their fury at President Trump, have not met these modest ethical expectations. However well-meaning, they seem to have little inkling of how their advocacy and speech have only further polarized a divided country whose streets are currently in chaos.

Read the article in its entirety here: National Review

Thanks, Poe.

Category: Guest Link, Military issues, Politics

Comments (20)

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  1. Slow Joe says:

    “Generals. They are numerous, but not good for much.”

    I forgot who said that. Some ancient Greek dude. Perhaps Demosthenes.

  2. Comm Center Rat says:

    Why don’t retired flag officers work with POTUS to end US military operations in Afghanistan before election day in November?

    It might require these men of conscience to resign their multiple memberships on the board of directors of major defense contractors.

    But, hey, these old warrior-scholars really do want to make the American Republic safer and our democracy stronger, right?

    • 5th/77th FA says:

      CCR what dahell are you smoking/drinking and why dahell aren’t you sharing it with us? And isn’t it a bit early of the morning to be this wasted? Good job!

      Obviously the deep state has penetrated (see what I did there) the military as well as everything else in its attempt to screw the sitting POTUS. 95 for dasHitlerbeast and 88 for daTrumpster. And these are just the slimier, ass kissers that forgot what it meant to be men of Honor. You may have noticed that old horny toad former gnrl david betrayus (sic) weighed in on the fort name change, being in favor of it. He threw rocks at Bobby Lee while he himself resides in a single pane glass house.

      Kongress kritters becomes lobbyist, generals become board of directors members of defence contractors. The MIC is alive and well.

      • Roh-Dog says:

        Diamond Dave’s attack on Lee is inexcusable.
        The South AND North started that War, any other telling is a misbranding of history and a convenient lie.
        Shame on all of them.

  3. Old tanker says:

    While I respect what Mattis did in the service I think he should take note of something. He has been fired by two VERY different Presidents. I think there is a message there and he needs to recognize that.

  4. David says:

    I love the folks who think senior officers are apolitical. You can sell them ANYTHING.

  5. CDR_D says:

    Truman on MacArthur…

    “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was one, but that’s not against the law for generals.”

    A whole lot of recent Flags today are dumb sons of bitches, and I’d place that asshole Colin Powell right up at the top. What has that puffed up bastard ever done for the country other than help add several thousand families to Gold Star status based on a lie. I’m not even sure he did anything worthwhile as a field grade, although he did serve in VN as a company grade. But the near deification of such a useless prick makes me want to puke.

    • Prior Service says:

      I’m in violent agreement on Powell’s post-service “service.” But his army service record is pretty respectable in my book. I’m a fan of 2LT-to-GEN Powell. Not so much of Mr. Powell…

      “In mid-November 1968, Powell accompanied Gettys (DIV CDR) on an inspection of a captured North Vietnamese base camp. Gettys’ pilot attempted a difficult jungle landing, and the helicopter’s rotor blade struck a tree trunk, causing the helo to crash. Powell fractured his ankle but managed to pull Gettys from the smoking wreckage. With the help of others at the scene, he also rescued the general’s aide, his chief of staff and one of the pilots, all seriously injured. Powell earned the prestigious Soldier’s Medal for heroism.”

      • 11B-Mailclerk says:

        Stars apparently rot the brain and the moral compass.

      • CDR_D says:

        Yes, I recall that now that you mention it. And he was a major at the time. Good on him for that, Soldier’s Medal is definitely a big deal.

        I guess the rarified atmosphere of multiple stars is unhealthy for some people. He was CJCS when the put a short leash on Schwarzkopf, and issued his cute little “China Store” dictum of “you break it, you bought it.” Obviously, he had become irredeemably political by then.

  6. Bones says:

    I served with a number of guys who are General officers today, including the 4-star running the war in A-stan today. They were all good guys and good officers, but none of them have had to deal with the challenges of people in real life America.

    They’ve never had to make a payroll. Never had to worry where the next paycheck will come from. Never had to worry about making ends meet.

    Most people on this site are either retired or former military. We know that we lived in a society which took care of these things so that we could take care of the defense of the country.

    For E-persons, some of those things are real issues. Making ends meet for junior enlisted is a thing. For officers, not so much. As an O, I never worried about any of that.

    So, I see these flag officers commenting about a world they have never lived in.

    On top of that, there’s the political aspect. It was widely held that you made General through internal (Army) politics, but made 3 and 4 star through external (partisan) political means. The Army would vet you to 2 star, but the parties, through the Senate which confirms you, vet out those to 3 and 4 star. You’ve also got to get a nomination through the Executive before confirmation. Democrats are active in this process, and deep staters.

    Trump has few people in this group. Add to that Trump’s decisiveness, self-confidence and willingness to fire you if you’re not supporting/measuring up, and I can see a prideful, successful person getting butthurt over being let go.

    • Mason says:

      I can see a prideful, successful person getting butthurt over being let go.

      I think this is it right here. They don’t like that Trump fired them or ignores their phone calls. Especially because the vast majority of them likely think he dodged Vietnam due to his connections.

      There’s also the insane left wing MSM that touts anyone who speaks ill of Trump as brave and virtuous. Vainglorious bastards. The same kind of “leaders” who like to make a thousand people stand in formation for hours to hear about how great they are.

  7. OmegaPaladin says:

    Mattis was one of the few people with the gravitas and credibility to take on Trump. People on the right used to respect him. I sure as hell did – the guy was very clearly intelligent and had a solid grasp of warfare and history.

    When I read his take, I was stunned. This was something I’d expect from a standard university professor, with regurgitated lefty talking points. How could Mattis defeat an insurgency in a foreign country, and not see the insurgency here? I expected a detailed critique of the president reference the CO-IN manual and his field experience, not some vegan meatless burger of talking points from MSNBC.

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      Competence in one area is in no way a guarantor or even an indicator of competence in another.

      Arrogance in one area, however…