Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Abraham Lincoln, Joe Hooker, Barack Obama, America's military

There is bizarre talk these days from the Far Fringes of the Far Right that America's military might find itself tempted to stage a coup against President Obama.

This is not unprecedented in American history, and other presidents have found their own ways to deal with military officers [and those who egg them on] who see themselves as the white knight on horseback ready to save the republic from the dangers of democracy.

Perhaps the most elegant response ever penned to such a potential situation was writer by President Abraham Lincoln to Major General "Fighting Joe" Hooker on January 26, 1863:

GENERAL: I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skilful soldier, which of course I like. I also believe that you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not indispensable, quality. You are ambitious, which, within reason, does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain success can be dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit you have aimed to infuse into the army, of criticising their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but, with energy and sleepless vigilance, go forward and give us victories.


Contrary to what John Perry may think--

Anyone who imagines that those thoughts are not weighing heavily on the intellect and conscience of America’s military leadership is lost in a fool’s fog.


--America's military leadership has a strong and proud tradition of subordination to civil authority. Men as diverse in outlooks and background [but holding in common the power and prestige from which to be tempted to that dictatorship] have included George Washington, George McClellan, Ulysses Grant, Smedley Butler, and Douglas MacArthur successfully met the challenge to place their own ambition behind their love of the American republic.

Any reader of this blog will know that I do not subscribe to much of the hero worship or positive spin for Admiral Mullen, General Petraeus, General Odierno, or General McChrystal. No matter. They are American officers who have sworn an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. Make no mistake: These men and those men and women who serve with an under them will stand by that oath. If one of them were to receive orders he could not, within his conscience, carry out, then he would resign.

While among hundreds of thousands of people in the military I am statistically positive the individual exception could be found, here is the reality:

The American military will not support, condone, nor participate in a coup against the legal government of the United States of America.

What is most disturbing to me today is the reaction I have not seen to Mr. Perry's lunacy.

I have read dozens of condemnations of his--I will be blunt--chickenshit call for a military coup, and dozens more posts and stories using his idiocy as a talking point in current political battles.

What I have not read are dozens of stories explaining something that is as certain as the law of gravity:

The United States military does not act against the government of the United States.




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Note: I will now be besieged with either (a) idiots who think the American Civil War contradicts this statement [it doesn't; with a single exception all Southerners in the US Army who joined the Confederacy resigned their commissions and gave up their citizenship prior to joining the Confederate Army]; or (b) idiots who want to cite vaguely referenced internet black helicopter stories about coups and potential coups, and the ever-present danger of military fascism, or whatever. So be it. You simply do not know what you are talking about.

Note 2: John Perry's words are seditious; they may be idiotic and politically dangerous, but they are covered by the First Amendment--the same amendment that gives me the right to say that anyone who implies that a military coup is either justifiable or positive is an ignorant asshole.

10 comments:

GodsModernDayMartyr said...

We The People ARE the Government. And when there's no Constitution (trampled and upserped), then there is no government.

Townie 76 said...

Steve; very interesting post, as I don't get around to the fringes very often, I have not seen this. I would take exception to one example you used, that is Douglas MacArthur, who late in his career forgot that he was subordinate to the President and was duly fired.

What I have observed, over my thirty plus years in the military is that military officers are more willing to display their political preference, and that often they are willing (generally in private) make statements regarding the political leadership of the country.

When I entered the Army in 1976 it was made clear that while Officers were free to participate by voting in elections, that our choices were not to be displayed. This began to change in the 80's under Reagan and I believe it is change that has not benefitted the nations military. The Armed Services have become stage props for various President, of both parties, to support their political agenda. This is wrong and I do wish for a day when the military was viewed as being apolitical. Times do change.

I am in complete agreement that the military is unlikely to stage a coup. First of all someone would leak it to Bob Woodward. Second given that we are fighting two wars (regardless of whether we agree with them or not) I believe our military leadership has more important matters on their plate.

MKotyk88 said...

I served in the Navy for 20 years and retired as a Chief Petty Officer. I've served with thousands of officers and enlisted men and I can say this with the most sincere definition: the US military has no plans, nor have they had any plans, to stage a 'coup' against the President or the lawful government of the United States. These stories of the military getting ready to stage a coup (which you can find spread all across the internet) are the errant fantasies of people who have watched too many TV shows such as Jericho and 24 and who have read too many Tom Clancy novels. I have more faith in loyalty of the men and women who serve and who have served in our country's military than I do the average college kid who fancies himself the next Che Guevarra or Abie Hoffman. We are more loyal to this country than those cock of the walk roosters who reside in Washington DC daring to call themselves "leaders". Despite the poor quality of our leaders, we all took an oath and we have all followed it to the "T". I dare anyone to challenge that!

Steve Newton said...

But MacArthur did accept his firing and just "fade away," rather than plotting a coup.

I don't agree completely that the willingness of some officers to discuss their political leanings is a completely bad thing. The late Reichswehr (1928-1933) is an unfortunate example of the dangers of the pure nur-Soldat.

Talk is most often ventilation rather than sedition in the US military.

Anonymous said...

Preach, brother!

Mike Munger

Hube said...

Steve: A terrific alternate history novel of a military coup is found in Resurrection Day. In it, the generals act against JFK's orders during the Cuban Missile Crisis and their actions precipitate a [very] limited nuclear war between the US and USSR. Ten years later, the US is still under a military government.

Terrific mystery and suspense. Worth a read!

Mark H said...

Dammit Hube, now I had to go buy that book at Amazon :)

Hube said...

That's where I got it, Mark! Used, too. A bargain! ;-)

Duffy said...

Yet when this was written in 1992 it caused something of a shock wave through the military to take a hard look at themselves in this very light. http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:4IT_aYEvq5gJ:www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/research_pubs/p087.pdf+origins+of+a+military+coup+2012&hl=en&gl=us&sig=AFQjCNEcCl4-8_YtScd58BE--hmHAOfD_w

or google "origins of a military coup 2012"

Delaware Watch said...

It couldn't happen here, eh? Famous last words.