Recently fired former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer says Donald Trump’s interference with military discipline is “shocking and unprecedented.”
Aside from President Abraham Lincoln’s humanitarian pardons during the Civil War, what he says is true of the United States, but for the countyless would be dictators through history, the practice of carving out a faction of the military that is loyal to them personally is standard procedure. This is usually accomplished by granting a certain faction favored treatment, like pardons, to earn their personal gratitude.
Trump has created such a debt by pardoning four military officers convicted in military courts of offenses ranging from misconduct (posing with the corpse of an enemy), to second-degree murder (killing obviously unarmed civilians). According to Lincoln’s assistant John Hay, the president never offered clemency “where meanness and cruelty were shown.”
Since Trump issued their pardons, the statements of all of them have clearly demonstrated their loyalty is not to the Navy or Army or to their fellow servicemen and women who follow the rules of engagement the military and the country expect them to follow. Their loyalty is now to Donald Trump.
With blatant contempt for the political neutrality of the military that is essential to the survival of a democracy, Trump has had two Army officers he pardoned appear on the campaign trail with him and has asked Navy Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, who he also pardoned, to do so in 2020.
There can never be a truly rational accounting for what happens in war, but if there are no rules of engagement, doesn’t that undermine the essence of our purpose for fighting and offer our foes further license to abuse and torture Americans?
This was always at the heart of the late Senator and Vietnam POW John McCain’s long and steadfast opposition to the use of torture by the United States.
At the end of World War II, U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz issued the following order to the vast American Pacific Fleet under his command.
“It is incumbent upon all officers to conduct themselves with dignity and decorum in their treatment of the Japanese and their public utterances in connection with the Japanese. The Japanese are still the same nation which initiated the war by a treacherous attack on the Pacific Fleet and which has subjected our brothers in arms who became prisoners to torture, starvation and murder. However, the use of insulting epithets in connection with the Japanese as a race or as individuals does not now become the officers of the United States Navy.”
This also reflected the view of President Harry Truman, who preserved the directive separately from his other papers.
The question now is whether present day Americans believe our values and ideals are best represented by the examples of President Lincoln, Sen. McCain, Admiral Nimitz and President Truman, who allow for the hope and possibility that tomorrow can bring a better day, or by Donald Trump’s starkly cynical, vindictive, scorched-earth view of life, the world, and the future?