April 21, 2006


The Defense Department waves away the protesting generals as just a handful out of more than 8,000 now serving or retired. That seems to me too dismissive. These generals are no doubt correct in asserting that they have spoken to and speak on behalf of some retired and, even more important, some active-duty members of the military.

But that makes the generals' revolt all the more egregious. 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 Hussein's Iraq, Pinochet's Chile or your run-of-the-mill banana republic. And when it does, outsiders (including the 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. Some other retired generals have found it necessary to rise to the defense of the administration. Will the rest of the generals, retired or serving, now have to declare which camp they belong to?

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 antiwar left to applaud the rupture of that tradition. But it is a disturbing and very dangerous precedent that even the left will one day regret.

"Even?" I'd say "especially." They've been pushing the idea that generals should run things, not their civilian superiors, and (with Kerry) the idea that only a combat veteran should be President. Yes, those are opportunistic slogans of the moment. But they're still slogans. Do they really want that kind of a country?

UPDATE: Reader Rachel Walker emails:

I understand the right to dissent. Heck, it's been my side's rallying cry since it lost to Bush in the Supreme Court in 2000. But the logic of this dissent puts their train of thought far into the (dare I say it) fascist line of behavior, since they are basically calling for the military to control all things.

This is what contrarian arguing can end up doing - leading one into exactly what they did not intend to be. I had to learn the lesson that not every action equals a proper reaction.


UPDATE: Fred Schoeneman disagrees: "The precedent was already set, back when all those retired (and active duty) generals were bitching about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' And before that it was set by a General on active duty. His name was MacArthur, and he was a pro-war Republican."

MacArthur was fired. And neither he, nor the generals who bitched about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," were treated kindly by the media. Indeed, they were treated as threats to Democracy and the American Way. Why is this different?