All military services have boot camps - the entry period of weeks or months in which unsmiling drill instructors in perfectly pressed uniforms try to blend a lot of sows’ ears into a functioning silk purse.
The D.I.’s most abiding point - made in many verbal and physical ways - is that each recruit is to become part of a team that always - ALWAYS - follows orders. Makes no difference what branch of the military you’re talking about, the absolute adherence to order-taking is the most basic element in each. From slick-sleeved private to four-star general, receiving an order comes with the expectation you’ll carry it out, is the basis of military discipline.
While military history has provided a number of instances when an order was questionable and should not have been followed, the vast majority of that same history points heavily to the responsibility of each member of a military unit to act when and as told.
In recent week, we’ve witnessed some worrisome events as some military voices have been raised in objection to following orders. Not privates or corporals. We’re talking voices from the top. Where stars and gold braid sit atop the chain of command.
First, it was members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff openly objecting to the Commander-in Chief’s announcement he wanted transgender troops out of the military. Now. While Trump’s decision - proclaimed by tweet - was widely reported as new policy, the Chiefs representing all branches of service responded with a unison voice “Not so fast.”
For them to act, they intoned, the order had to come through proper Pentagon channels and be accompanied by written policy changes detailing how removal of transgender personnel was to be accomplished. Without such channeling and documentation, the “order” would not be obeyed. There was no White House response. The Commander-in-Chief’s voice was ignored.
Within a few days, the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard said his branch of the military had no intention of identifying and removing anyone on the basis of transgender identity. Period. Again, no White House response.
Even more concerning, in these six months of Trump’s ruinous reign, there have been numerous insider reports of conversations among the most senior officers of whether to act on a presidential order to use military force. In other words, if some sort of attack is ordered from the White House, what will be the miliary’s response?
A month or so ago, that sort of discussion might have been a bit less important. But, now that Trump has threatened North Korea and Venezuela with possible military action, the subject of “will we comply or won’t we” has been moved to the front burner.
As Trump has thrown his bellicose verbal weight around with threats, there’s been no apparent eagerness of military leaders to get into a new war. Far from it. John McCain, John Kerry, former defense secretaries and other politicos with extensive military experience, have cautioned against such action and recommended diplomacy. Even our inexperienced (Exxon) Secretary of State has not endorsed his boss’s threats, preferring talk over shooting.
In about 230 days, Donald Trump has managed to break or screw up much of our national government. In ignorance and/or deliberately. We’re seeing damage inflicted in nearly all federal departments. Good, professional people cashing out and leaving. Hacks and administration spies being sent into nearly all agencies and important vacancies across the board being left unfilled which further weakens the system.
Some disagreements at the top of the Agriculture or Human Services Departments are one thing. But, dissent regarding orders from the Commander in Chief expressed in the highest echelons of the Defense Department are quite another.
Millions of lives are at stake. Nuclear bombs, creating nuclear wastelands across the globe, are launched from there. The very issue of who survives and who doesn’t is decided there.
If the American military is having discussions at the very top of the organization about what to do with a presidential war order, that issue had better be decided promptly. And publicly. Your life and mine are riding on how that seemingly gray area is resolved.