I recently got into a bit of a Facebook kerfluffle. The reason is, I re-posted the following statement from a fellow veteran:
“This is how I feel when a civilian thanks me for my service and protecting our “freedom”. I do my best not to go high and right as I kindly explain to them “You’re welcome, however no one in the military is protecting your freedom. If they were, they would have cleaned out Washington DC years ago. How many “terrorists” have limited, restricted or taken away your Constitutional rights? The military may at times temporarily provide for your safety and security, but they don’t do shit to protect your freedom… Get my point”
I realize this POV is probably more than a little unsettling to most of you, so allow me to explain why there are quite a few of vets who feel this way.
Let me start at the very beginning. Every person who enlists in any military service is required to take the following oath:
“I,<state your name>, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
The bit about defending the Constitution, and bearing true faith and allegiance to it, would certainly make it seem like the enlistee was fired up about defending our liberties and freedoms. And most are. Yes, during my tour of duty I met plenty of people who initially enlisted for a variety of reasons, and those weren’t always the most altruistic. But it becomes nearly impossible to survive basic training without believing you’re putting yourself through hell for a damned good cause.
But you’ll also notice that the enlistee also swears to take orders from the President and the officers the President appoints over the enlistee. That makes virtually every military order also a political order. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s worked out well for most of our history. After all, there are plenty of republics that devolved into military dictatorship precisely because the military was not under control of the political institutions, or became factionalized under different political elements. The Founders were well aware of the dangers a politically isolated military would pose to a republic, and ensuring the military remained subservient to the political machinery was another genius stroke they had.
But the downside to this arrangement is what we’ve experienced over the past 15 years or so. The military has always been used by US Presidents as a foreign policy political tool (what exactly do you think Teddy Roosevelt was referring to as the “Big Stick”?). Throughout our history, though, most Presidents have used military action to either (a) defend or evacuate American citizens abroad or (b) prosecute actions against declared enemies of the US, which would also make them enemies of the US Constitution. But beginning with the Presidency of George W. Bush, America’s military was tasked with a new role: prosecuting military actions against…well, they still aren’t sure, really.
The ambiguity came after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Prior to that date, terrorists were considered criminals, regardless of where they hailed from. Even those sponsored by foreign governments, such as the group that went around bombing German discos in the mid-80’s. The response was unerring, and consistent: hunt and prosecute the terrorists legally while holding the foreign government militarily responsible. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush made a tenuous argument that the government of Iraq was responsible and invaded. But rather than hunt down the remaining members of Al-Qaeda for legal prosecution, we also invaded Afghanistan, also on the tenuous precept that their lack of a stable government allowed the terrorists to establish a de facto government.
At the same, a series of civil liberty circumventing statutes were passed and signed into law: everything from the Patriot Act and “enhanced interrogations” to warrantless wiretapping and travel restrictions were enacted. These were political decisions, which have not had political consequences for the enactors. Indeed, President Obama has actually curtailed civil liberties even further and set the table for his successor to all but abolish the Bill of Rights, should he choose.
The military, being under the control of the body politic, has had virtually no choice but to snap to and salute as these abuses take place. Their only alternatives are to either raise concerns about the political situation or mutiny. The first option, historically, has never been met by the public with much sympathy. Not that there haven’t been quite a few courageous officers who’ve tried to question under what authority the President and Congress are deriving their extra-constitutional powers, but these men and women were quietly shown the door. These people understand the military is no longer defending the Constitution, but instead defending the political process that is allowing the Constitution to be shredded bit by bit.
As for a mutiny, that remains highly unlikely. The idea of armed soldiers marching on Capitol Hill and the White House remains unfathomable to not only most Americans but most of the Americans in uniform. Again, it would be bucking nearly 240 years of history and tradition. Of course, the Romans couldn’t imagine a military leader crossing the Rubicon with an armed legion – until they clamored for Julius Caesar to do just that.
I wonder: how close are we to an armored division crossing the Potomac?