Why must our military be polite in dealing with politicians?
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, July 1, 2010

"For heaven's sake, who are Congress? Are they not the creatures of the people, amenable to them for their conduct, and dependent on them from day to day for their breathe?"

George Washington, 1783

His "letters during the war were hot with anger and indignation" because "his troops lacked shoes, meat, gunpowder, clothing, barracks, medicines."

From Catherine Drinker Bowen's "Miracle at Philadelphia"

Cancel all Independence Day celebrations. While it was a great idea in 1776, independence didn't actually happen because Congress, upset with General Washington's disrespectful attitude toward the chain of command, asked for his resignation in 1783.

Just kidding. Congress wasn't organized enough in 1783 to fire anybody, which was Washington's point. His rightful indignation, however, got the attention of the other founding fathers and they did as he asked, creating a constitution that gave Congress the authority to oversee a national army, thereby giving the general the authority to run it properly.

Washington is credited with the ongoing concept of civilian control because he didn't try to turn his military victory into the presidency of the new nation, supporting a proper election instead.

I don't know why that insistence on elections instead of military coups wasn't good enough, why we also have to demand that military leaders be polite when dealing with politicians and bureaucrats. I wish some general had spoken up when Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara were mismanaging the Vietnam War.

Instead the military wanted more troops to be sent to their deaths in a war that hadn't been declared and had no defined mission. These draftees weren't allowed to publicly complain either and had to agreeably obey the chain of command.

Secretary of Defense McNamara gradually became skeptical about whether the war could be won, but admitted many years after it was lost that his support was given out of loyalty to administration policy. Really.

What about his loyalty to the people, mentioned by George Washington above?

Shouldn't loyalty to administration policy depend somewhat on whether that policy makes sense?

I "get" the chain of command thing, from watching it in action as a naval officer's wife during the Vietnam era. Given my intense opposition to the military draft, I'm sure my husband held his breath whenever I was having a conversation with someone up that chain from him, though his superiors seemed to find me amusing. However, military wives were generally held to the "no public dissent" standards.

Interestingly, we were living in Greece, a military dictatorship where nobody was allowed to publicly dissent. After fighting the Germans in WWII, the Greeks were caught up in an even more savage civil war. Though the Communists initially lost, in early 1967 they were sending mobs into the street to influence the coming election. The police asked for the assistance of the military, and in April there was a coup led by a group of anti-Communist Army colonels.

The Greek people, weary of war, seemed to reluctantly accept the new order, especially since the colonels announced their intention to stay in power just long enough to establish stability. The new military-backed prime minister promised to return to democracy as soon as possible, and seven years later, the promise was kept.

By then I had returned to the United States, with a new understanding that it's much harder in countries with powerful enemies on their borders, and determined communists within, to retain freedom than it may seem to Americans on their large, isolated continent. It was strange to live in a dictatorship, but valuable to learn that this particular one was better than alternatives experienced by other countries during the Cold War.

So I don't carry the "civilian control of the military is a good thing" concept in my head. Countries that didn't have a military coup can still have a military that works for evil civilians. George Washington had the only right idea: The people are in charge, Congress works for them, and, as another general/president said in his farewell address, "beware the military-industrial complex."

So, the Obama/McChrystal thing seems silly to me, in the midst of a genuine concern, which is: What are we doing in Afghanistan? Why are Americans dying there? What is the mission?

Here is my better plan. Bring our military men home. Utilize their skills by sending them to the U.S.-Mexico border to keep illegal immigrants out of our country. While they are there they can help the Mexican police and army fight the drug cartels, both by preventing the passage of drugs and guns, and with actual fighting forces if requested.

Bonus: Keep a contingent of the National Guard in Boston, to bivouac on City Hall Plaza, patrol the neighborhoods where kids can't play outside without fearing gunshots, and take down the gangs there too.

Let Afghanistan run its own county, but make it clear that if another attack on America comes from there, we will avenge and destroy. Same thing goes for Yemen, Somalia, etc.

Meanwhile, as Americans, we'll continue to set an example of freedom, and hope that someday all countries can celebrate an Independence Day like ours.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.

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