I ‘m proud of our military. I know that in WW II, despite brilliant fighting units like the Tuskehee Airmen and 761st Tank Battallion, it was segregated. But it desegregated well before the rest of the U.S.A., leads private industry in opportunities for women, and is struggling toward fairness about sexual orientation. It’s towering virtue, however, is its solid tradition of a civilian commander-in-chief, never questioned, unless by General Douglas MacArthur who failed to salute President Harry Truman in Korea and was canned.
Ever since George Washington resigned as a general to become President, we’ve had a civilian commander-in-chief. Separation of military and civilian authorities, along with separation of church and state, are pillars of American democracy despite those trying to insert religion into public schools, plant religious symbols on government property, and legislate from religious concepts. Maybe they’ll even try to undermine civilian control of the military.
Medieval Japan had a warrior elite, the Samurai, lasting through WW II. Prime Minister and general, Hediki Tojo, planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the last century, military coups d’etat plagued countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. In Egypt today, there’s a deadly chess game between a military clinging to power, and a fledgling democracy. Syria’s military is fissioning, some sticking with murderous Assad and killing civilians while others defect into a desperate opposition.
Before WW II, the German military had strong ties to the Kaiser, often pictured in his uniform with spiked helmet. But like British and American militaries, there was a civilian leader (fuhrer). On June 30, 1934, Adolf Hitler ordered his followers in the SS and SA, to murder his rivals on “the night of long knives.” It was naked criminality and presented the army with a deadly dilemma.
German high officers are said to have despised Hitler. The failed plot to kill him, led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, has been dramatized on TV and in the movies. What motivated Von Stauffenberg? Loathing of Hitler, fear for the future of Germany, conscience, morality? Who does not wonder what history would have been had his plot succeeded?
When President Herbert Hoover ordered General Douglas MacArthur to expel WW I vets from their “Hooverville” tent city in Washington DC, he used cavalry, tanks, and nauseating adamsite gas. Fifty-five were injured. Could such a thing happen again? If a U.S. President ordered the army to make war on Americans, would it obey? Or would it violate its long honorable tradition of taking orders from a civilian commander-in-chief?
Is merely asking the question somehow disloyal, even subversive?