General Mc Chrystal has committed a major breech in protocol when he openly criticized the President and the President’s plans for Afghanistan in an interview in the Rolling Stone.

For the sake of our democracy, such behavior cannot be tolerated.

He needs to be relieved from duty.

Why do I say this?

No, I am not a pacifist, and I know little about Afghanistan except that the war there more resembles the pacification of the Apaches than it does a typical war. Indeed, some “Milbloggers” have criticized McChrystal’s conduct of the war.

But the reporters who cheer him on, and the reporters who encouraged active military members to criticize President Bush (who the reporters openly hated) ignore how the military functions in a modern democracy.

The dirty little secret is that history is full of governments overthrown by the military, either directly in a coup or indirectly by military threats.

Here in the Philippines, for example, military coups against the president are an ongoing danger to the stability of the government. We may or may not like the President, but one simply cannot have “regieme change” by force. Allowing such a thing allows the most ambitious person to win. Sometimes an honest general might be preferable than a crooked tyrant voted in by an “election”, but too often it merely means instability until the next general decides to take over.

That is why the much criticized “School of the Americas” is pro democracy. It’s goal was to train officers from other countries on professionalism: and in their training they stress a “professional” military who will see serving the civilian government as their highest ethical calling.

The American military has traditionally been trained to obey the civilian government even when they disagree.  Because stability requires one person in charge: You can discuss problems in channels, but once the decision is made,  you obey.

Ah, but what if you disagree? You still obey, or you resign. Openly disobeying or openly disparaging the chain of command has a name: Insubordination. And it is a crime in the military.

McChrystal is probably aware that his interview will probably result in his resignation because better men than him have been removed from office for openly criticizing the President.

He wouldn’t be the first commander removed from office for disagreeing with the President: Others have been removed from command, from McClellan to Mac Arthur.

Ironically, years before his removal, Mac Arthur stated he supported an officer publically disagreeing with his superiors. He formed this opinion from his experience in presiding over the courtmarshall of another officer for insubordination: Billy Mitchell. Mitchell’s annoying insistance that air power would be crucial in the next war, and his criticism of superior officers for their failure to recognize this, is now seen as being prophetic: essentially he predicted the tactics used at Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway.

So when Mac Arthur disagreed with President Truman over how to conduct the increasingly unpopular Korean War, President Truman removed General MacArthur from his command.

MacArthur received a hero’s welcome home while Truman was widely scorned. The subsequent controversy created an enduring debate over the issue of civilian authority … The dismissal of MacArthur by Truman created a political controversy which remains today.

Time Magazine, which supported Mac Arthur’s position on the war, nevertheless pointed out:

Truman’s friends say that by firing MacArthur he settled a dispute over civilian v. military supremacy. The nation’s Founding Fathers were rightly concerned over the danger of such a conflict. As it turned out, this issue has rarely arisen in the U.S… A subordinate officer has a right and even an obligation to object to any proposed course of action that he considers unreasonable or unwise. He has no such clear right to make his objections public…

Like it or not, the military must obey the President, and this includes giving respect to the office of the President by not openly disparaging the one holding the office.

So for the good of the country, McChrystal should either resign or be removed from his command.

As a civilian, he can then criticize the President as much as he desires, or even run against him for the presidency, as McClellan and MacArthur did.

Democracy is more important than any single war, and military insubordination against the desires of a civilian government is not to be tolerated.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. She blogs at Makaipablog.

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