Is Silence Falling in the Mineshaft?

Military officers from two leading democracies have been viciously attacked for warning their fellow countrymen about existential threats.  The officers’ critics claim these leaders ought to remain silent denying fellow citizens of their judgment about the crises before it’s too late.

One hundred and twenty-four retired American generals and admirals published an open letter (May 12th) that begins “Our nation is in deep peril.”  Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, President Barack Obama’s former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismissed the letter alleging it “hurts the military and… the country” and contains Republican Party “talking points.” 

Retired U.S. Army Major General Joe Arbuckle agreed that “Retired generals and admirals normally do not engage in political actions.”  But he rejects the critics, claiming “the situation facing our nation today is dire and we must speak out in order to be faithful to our oath to support and defend the Constitution of the U.S. against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Across the Atlantic a cohort of French officers warned in two open letters their country was heading for “disintegration” and “civil war.”  The first of two letters by 23 retired generals (April 21) earned a rebuke from Gerald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, who called the officers’ appeal a “crude maneuver” by the far right.  The letters were endorsed by Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally, a conservative political party, and a candidate for the presidency next year.

There are at least two ways for citizens to view these rare expressions of public concern from military officers.  One is to dismiss them as political hacks as did Mullen and Darmanin, and the other is to embrace their warnings like the idiom of the canary in a coal mine. A singing canary is a good indicator of the build-up of a deadly gas in the mine. Once the bird is weakened by the gas, it stops singing and the miners know to quickly exit the shaft.

Both officers’ warnings ring true for a growing majority of French and American citizens as evidenced by recent polling.  Six in ten Americans say the United States is on the wrong track and similarly, 73 percent of Frenchmen agree their nation has lost its way. 

The American officers warn “the will of the people” and our constitutional republic are at risk because of election integrity and the fact that the Democratic Party is “welcoming socialists and Marxists” that threaten “our historic way of life.”  

Those officers indicate the Biden administration launched a “full-blown assault on our constitutional rights” and employed excessive population controls such as lockdowns and censorship.  Other issues mentioned in their letter include open borders, cooperating with our Chinese enemy, re-engaging in the flawed Iran nuclear deal, using our military as a political pawn around the U.S. Capitol building, and ignoring the rule of law in some cities.

The French officers claim their nation is heading for “civil war” at the hands of Islamists and leftists.  They demand President Emmanuel Macron stop the “Islamization” of France. 

A second letter (May 7th) endorsed by up to a couple thousand active French officers claimed France’s “survival is at stake” if more isn’t done to stop the rot.  “Some of us lost their comrades,” wrote the Frenchmen.  “They gave their lives to destroy the Islamism to which you make concessions on our soil.”

That letter called French politicians cowards for failing to address the issues with the Muslim population.  They continued, “We have seen our suburbs abandoned, accommodation to crime. We have suffered attempts to exploit us by numerous religious communities, for whom France signifies nothing – nothing but an object of sarcasm, contempt, even hatred.”

The active-duty officers denounced Macron as a traitor for collaborating with Islam much like the Vichy French collaborated with the Nazi occupation of France during World War II.  

Both the American and French officers raise legitimate concerns about their governments, which reflect majority views across their respective countries.  However, the pregnant question raised by critics is: Should military officers in a democratic state go public with their criticism? 

Critics like Professor Peter Feaver of Duke University acknowledge the officers have “relevant experience that renders their opinions especially worthy.”  However, Dr. Feaver writes that these officers lack expertise in a number of issues such as election procedures and “to pretend otherwise is to inch along the path patrolled by coup-prone officers in unstable democracies.”

The professor labels the officers’ letter a “primal scream by several scores of older Republican men who are angry” with the electorate that chose Joe Biden for president.  Then Feaver concludes: “They are entitled to believe untruths…”

The professor stretches his analysis too far.  Today’s officers are among the best educated and most experienced in political affairs of any cohort of Americans, which includes self-righteous college professors, but he’s not alone. 

The late Samuel Huntington, an esteemed American political scientist and former Harvard professor, endorsed the view that military officers ought to be silent about political issues.  Huntington wrote “Politics is beyond the scope of military competence… The military officer must remain neutral politically.”

What’s not at issue is that active-duty military personnel are public servants that provide society with a specific set of services.  However, they are also among the most experienced patriots (both active and retired) and like most citizens can look across their political landscape and see problems that don’t require special discernment, whether it be chaos associated with the Islamization of France or the assault on American civil liberties by the Biden administration.

These officers — American and French — are simply calling attention to clear failings of elected officials – Macron and Biden – who appear to abrogate their constitutional duties and reject democratic values to protect their citizens.  Uniquely, these citizen soldiers with decades of leadership under the most difficult of circumstances across the world understand better than most the cost of freedom and how this corrupted world works, and most of all they understand threats when they see them within their own countries.

Their voice warrants outsized attention and not the unwarranted criticism of those who lack experience and are subject to their own political bias.

We should listen to such warnings on both sides of the Atlantic because they are indeed like the canary in the democratic coal mine and should be heeded by citizens concerned about the direction of our respective countries.

Never forget – canaries stop singing when danger arises, but when senior military leaders — active and retired — start singing, they are warning of danger.

Image: US Army

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