Civil-military tension: Some historical insights
Even though the U.S. Constitution makes clear the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military, there have been times when generals and admirals, both active and retired, have opposed presidential policy.
In 1949, President Truman needed to make drastic cuts in military spending. The newly created U.S. Air Force demanded the defense budget be spent on atomic-bomb laden B-36 bombers. President Truman and Defense Secretary Louis A. Johnson agreed.
The infamous "Revolt of the Admirals," ensued with both active-duty and retired admirals voicing their disagreement in terms less than complimentary of Truman and Johnson, some words even contemptuous. But the Navy won the dispute when the Korean War proved only aircraft-carrier aviation could provide close-air support to our ground troops. The B-36 program crashed and burned.
In 1950, a still-annoyed President Truman struck back by having 10 U.S. Code, Chapter 47, Section 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice written to state: "Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense...shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." After 9/11, Article 88 was amended to include: the Secretary of Homeland Security and some others.
In the 1990s, several active-duty officers were disciplined under Article 88 for publicly denouncing President Clinton. Before 250 people at an awards banquet, an Air Force major general ridiculed President Clinton as a “gay-loving, pot-smoking, draft-dodging womanizer." The general was fined $7,000 and forced to retire.
Following 9/11, President G.W. Bush was condemned by several retired generals and admirals for his handling of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. An active-duty lieutenant colonel was charged under Article 88 and forced to retire.
But what about contemptuous words aimed at President Trump by military retirees? In Larabee vs. the United States (February, 2019), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled military retirees are still subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), meaning retirees can be court-martialed under Article 88 and/or: Article 81 Conspiracy, 89 Disrespect to an Officer, 91 Insubordinate Conduct, 94 Mutiny and Sedition, 104 Aiding the Enemy, and 134-12 Disloyalty.
The eight years of the Obama Administration were a troubling time for civil-military relations. In the wake of the Benghazi disaster, an Army four-star general and a Navy two-star admiral were relieved of their commands for wanting to rescue Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other Americans.
Over a five-year period, President Obama fired 197 senior officers. Mostly, for their: opposition to the dropping of physical fitness standards so that females could complete Airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces training; for their opposition to putting women into the infantry, armor, and artillery (combat arms), and for the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation with the LBGT agenda.
During the Obama Administration, the traditional morale and esprit-de-corps building customs and celebrations were derided as promoting male toxicity and, therefore, not conducive to a kinder and gentler military. The hard-nosed senior officers and NCOs were replaced by social-agenda warriors such as Admiral Michael Mullen, and General Martin Dempsey, -- both anti-Trumpers.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s commitment to stop endless, unwinnable foreign wars faces an uphill battle against the retired generals and admirals hired to lobby for the military-industrial complex.
Suggested reading: "The Rise and Fall of the U.S. Joints Chiefs of Staff." U.S. Naval War College Review, April, 1972, pp. 36-58. Reprinted in War, Strategy, and Maritime Power. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1977. The Influence of the U.S. Military on U.S. Foreign Policy, 1965-1968. University of Nebraska, 1972. Formula for Failure in Vietnam: The Folly of Limited Warfare, McFarland Publishing Co., 2019