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July 08, 2006

Revolting Generals.

Commander Salamander has an interesting view of what he calls "The Revolting Generals," in response to Jed Babbin's piece at Real Clear Politics. Much to chew on - but up front, I agree with the Salamander that the Generals are playing a dangerous game with politics in the context of how we structure the Military-Civilian relationship - and are setting the stage for even more 'political vetting' of senior General Officer positions than occurs already - exactly the opposite of what they intend, I believe, or that is good for the Republic in general... to coin a phrase.

Jed opens with this:

There was a time not long ago when a general would resign rather than follow an order he could not, in good conscience, obey. A conscience is an essential part of the character we expect our officers to possess. But it is an inconvenience to a politician. Some generals who become politicians - such as Dwight Eisenhower - overcome the inconvenience by remaining faithful to their conscience. Lesser men overcome conscience by letting it fall prey to the fatal flaws of political character: ambition and the desire to take revenge.

Just how long is 'not long ago'? Smedley Butler? There was the "Revolt of the Admirals" but I didn't see any resignations - other than the ones forced upon the rebels (ya lose, ya get stood in front of the metaphorical wall). General Harold Johnson talked the Chiefs into resigning over the prosecution of Vietnam, but backed down - no resignations there, either.

Okay, there *was* the AF Chief of Staff General Fogelman who played chicken with Secretary of Defense Cohen and lost during the Clinton Administration - and he reputedly did so because of HR McMaster's book, Dereliction of Duty (Colonel McMaster is the hero of Tal Afar, most recently)

Of course, one of the strengths of the Republic is that, for the most part, outside of their areas of expertise, we ignore the Generals, don't know who they are, and don't notice when they change jobs. All in all, that's a good thing. And that's just those of us who wear uniforms - much less the bulk of the population.

I think Jed Babbin overstates the case stretching to make his point that the Revolting Generals didn't resign in protest and are only doing so now from safe ground. We frankly don't want the Generals to willy-nilly resign every time their bosses over-rule them - except in the case of illegal orders or truly, earth-shatteringly bad directives. It's the officer's job to make his professional military opinion known, and then to execute the orders given to the best of his ability, as long as they are legal.

Mitchell Lewis says it all quite nicely, here.

It's all very interesting to watch - and see the motivations unfold.