Small Wars Journal

Breaking Ranks?

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Breaking Ranks?

by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling

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There is no constitutional principle more important to a democracy than civilian control of the military. Unless the armed guardians of the state remain strictly subordinate to civil authority, no other liberty can long remain safe. In "Breaking Ranks: Dissent and the Military Professional," (Joint Force Quarterly) Lt. Col. Andrew Milburn challenges this vital constitutional principle, arguing that "there are circumstances under which a military officer is not only justified but also obligated to disobey a legal order."

Milburn bases this argument on three propositions. First, that a military officer's commission and professional standing "grant him moral autonomy and obligate him to disobey an order he deems immoral." Importantly, Milburn defines an immoral order as one "likely to harm the institution writ large—the Nation, military, and subordinates." Second, that "the military professional's obligation to disobey is an important check and balance in the execution of policy." Finally, that "the military officer must understand that this dilemma demands either acceptance of responsibility or wholehearted disobedience."

The first proposition elevates military officers to the status of morally autonomous actors ultimately accountable only to their own consciences. Unlike other government officials, Milburn's military professional may substitute his judgment for the will of the public as expressed in law and the lawful orders of elected or appointed leaders. The benchmark by which Milburn's morally autonomous professional makes such a judgment is the individual officer's morality. Milburn's moral criteria are particularly interesting -- the wellbeing of the Nation, the military and subordinates are co-equal priorities. Indeed, Milburn asserts that military officers have "sworn to defend the Constitution and safeguard the welfare of his subordinates."

Download the Full Article: Breaking Ranks?

Lieutenant Colonel Paul L. Yingling is an Army officer who has served three tours of duty in Iraq and is currently a professor of security studies at the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Army or Defense Department.

About the Author(s)

Paul L. Yingling is a colonel in the U.S. Army and a professor of security studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.  The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the Department of Defense, or  the U.S. Government.

Comments

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 10/10/2010 - 6:18pm

<b>Walrus:</b>

We can disagree amicably...<blockquote>"Unless I'm mistaken, it's an attempt to claim a special, and superior, status for members of the military and to establish the Pentagon and the military in general as a legitimate domestic political constituency whose wants (and those of its industrial supporters) must be catered for in advance of the rest of the citizens..."</blockquote>I doubt you're mistaken but I even more strongly doubt that the musings of one guy who represents a microscopically small segment of the vast bureaucracy that is the US DoD and its adjuncts is going to change much of anything.<blockquote>Would you agree with me that any movement in this direction must be vigorously resisted? Do I need to spell out the reasons? Do I need to spell out the consequences?"</blockquote>In reverse order; No, No and Yes. However, I have absolutely no doubt the 'moves' will be simply ignored rather than resisted, which won't be necessary. Just as similar blatheirngs have been in earlier times. I believe most persons serving in the US Armed Forces strongly disagree with the idea. I know they did when similar rants erupted occasionally over the years -- got really loud, post Korea and post Viet Nam -- when I was serving and I have no reason to believe that's changed.

Three added points. You did notice, apropos of my last sentence above, that the guy who took issue with LTC Milburn was another LTC, one far better known and more respected. Even more importantly, you should know that in the highly unlikely event that the Milburn hypothesis doesn't die a natural death internal to the services, the American public will never buy it... ;)

The <i>JFQ</i> is not 'sanctioned by senior officers.' It pursues a very independent editorial line and one of its goals is to encourage discussion by printing provocative articles. It appears to have done that.

I'm older than Pat Lang. So is that pathetic "Too lazy to work, and too scared to steal" quote. It's older than both of us, in fact -- by far -- and its also been applied to dozens of trades by hundreds if not thousands of people. It's also, I think, rather stupid.

So we have yet another case where you seem unreasonably worried about the impending doom to befall the American Republic. I, unlike Pat Lang, do not make money promulgating gloom and doom so I can safely assure you, No worries, Mate.

With respect Ken, I agree with you that there is inevitably friction between civilian and military leadership and that robust argument and a certain amount of political activity on both sides is part of the process of its resolution. By way of example, the Alanbrooke diaries paint a vivid picture of the trauma, difficulty and broken military careers associated with keeping Churchill on the straight and narrow during World War Two. I am sure there are equivalent American stories.

However what I'm talking about, what I was watching for, and what I believe has now begun, is not just "friction" that may be resolved by firing a few Generals as you put it. Unless I'm mistaken, it's an attempt to claim a special, and superior, status for members of the military and to establish the Pentagon and the military in general as a legitimate domestic political constituency whose wants (and those of its industrial supporters) must be catered for in advance of the rest of the citizens. Would you agree with me that any movement in this direction must be vigorously resisted? Do I need to spell out the reasons? Do I need to spell out the consequences?

The article in question, published in a military journal sanctioned by senior officers, is a direct attempt to loosen the fetters that can and should constrain the military. Put simply, the article claims that the military has a higher duty than obeying the commands of an elected government, a duty that the military alone can interpret for itself. It does not matter that this right might only be asserted "in exceptional circumstances". Once the military gives itself permission to think this way and a complaisant civil administration and populace accepts it, the damage is done. The aforesaid exceptional circumstances will start arriving soon after.

We have already taken several steps in this direction. Witness the entire "Warrior" schmalz and military hero worship bandwagon. It is a very short step from there to a situation where prior military service is a prerequisite for a public servant job or public office. It is also a very short step from a civilian government having to take into account the <b>wants</b> of the Pentagon rather than what they determine to be the <b>needs</b> of the Pentagon.

To put it another way, I think Col. Pat Langs quote about being "Too lazy to work, and too scared to steal" or the British "a soldier is just a citizen attired in a particular manner" are healthier memes for a democracy.

To put it yet another way, since when does one Col. Lakin get to decide if he personally accepts President Obamas orders as Commander In Chief as legitimate or not......and then gets a day in court to try and develop such an outrageous and anti democratic theory?

If a shot is not taken across the bows of the authors (civil and military) who will inevitably try to develop Col. Milburns theme, then we are in trouble.

.

Barry (not verified)

Sun, 10/10/2010 - 4:39pm

Posted by Deus Ex: "If only ya'll could see the amount of histrionics and vitriol directed towards the Commander in Chief. There has been absolutely no instruction from our ROTC cadre to remain apolitical. Many cadets will openly criticize POTUS, even while in uniform! This is not what the ideal officer is. As the astute commenter mentioned, something must be done during the pre commissioning training to rectify this dangerous line of thought that shows not signs of abating."

Were they openly criticizing their Commander in Chief when that guy went by the nickname 'Dubya'?

If some ROTC cadet had, in the hearing of his cadre officers, how many more minutes would that cadet have worn the uniform?

IMHO, having seen this before (anybody conscious during the 1990's?), it's just another case of some Republicans throwing a public temper tantrum after losing an election.

Squat (not verified)

Thu, 10/07/2010 - 1:38pm

Cow,
Appreciate your motive, but cannot agree with your rationale to publish this article in JFQ. As an official USG publication, formal publication does grant a degree of legitimacy to the argument. Civilians wholly unfamiliar with normal civil-military relations may not get the premise is wrong and the argument extreme (I'll assume military guys get it). If your purpose was to educate, then where is the counterpoint? Several people knocked out very eloquent essays in short order. Were these essays not solicited?

Ken White (not verified)

Wed, 10/06/2010 - 11:22pm

<b>Walrus:</b><blockquote>"I have been waiting for this to happen...</blockquote>Huh? Why were you waiting?

Note this quote:<blockquote>"American presidents have used the power to dismiss high-ranking officers as a means to assert policy and strategic control. Examples include Barack Obama in the War in Afghanistan, Harry Truman in the Korean War and Abraham Lincoln in the American Civil War."</blockquote>

From this <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_control_of_the_military>LINK</a&gt;. They neglected to mention Jimmy Carter who also fired a General for speaking out of turn as did George W. Bush. There have been others. Cheney as SecDef fired a couple; Gates has fired several.

In the US the squabble dates back to the Federalist Papers and even before in a sense, to the argument in the Continental Congress of Lee versus Washington...

That minor friction has always existed between the Forces and the Governments in democratic societies. John Lavarack and his (correct) arguments with Shedden and the Government are but one example. Nothing to worry about, it's a recurring phenomenon, thus my question above. Why not look at the dozens of times it's happened before around the world?

And we're all still here...

I have been waiting for this to happen, and I agree 100% with Col. Yingling. However, the Overton Window* has now been opened.

I expect to see many more similar articles in the coming years as the Pentagon emerges as an overt domestic political constituency. This is why I detest the use of the word "warrior" and the fetishisation of all things military.

Students of this subject might wish to read Sir Michael Howard's "The First World War" and Wheeler Bennetts "The Nemesis Of Power - The German Army In Politics - 1918 -1945", not to mention Robert Heinlein's science fiction novel "Starship Troopers" to see where the soldiers claim to be a special class of person ultimately leads.

A Presidential run by Gen. Petreaus or similar would be consistent with my theory. I also note Adm. Mullens recent comments on the economy that have been interpreted to imply that the defence forces are resistant to any civilian attempt to reduce the style to which they have become accustomed.

It was pointed out to us before commissioning in the Australian Army that we were spared the heavy burden of defending our Constitution precisely to avoid becoming engaged in Col. Milburns type of rhetoric, which has been the usual preamble to any number of military coups. We were to do what the Queen tells us to do through her elected Government. No more, no less.

* Overton window:

* Unthinkable
* Radical
* Acceptable
* Sensible
* Popular
* Policy

Troufion (not verified)

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 10:14pm

LtCol Milburn argues that the Military should be obligated to act as the fourth estate providing a check and balance to the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. He further argues "when the Constitution was written, the army was intended to be only a militia..." I beleive he does not understand that the reason behind not to having a standing army was the fear that a standing army would tempted to overthrow the government. The military officer has the same opportunity to voice his dissatisfaction with his government as any citizen it is called Voting. There is no need for the military officer to put himslef in the position to act as the judge of civilian competence to lead. To do so is the height of arrogance and smacks of elitism.

Dennis M. (not verified)

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 5:25pm

I apologize for using the word "leaked." That word has connotations and it was careless of me to suggest that Gen. McChrystal acted underhandedly. Nor did he use the number of troops requested in his speech. However, the speech certainly publicly advocated a particular course of action and declared that it would be harmful to wait.

My point still stands: he publicly advocated a course of action that was in the process of being deliberated by the white house. He may have been speaking the truth as he saw it, but the effect of the speech was to apply pressure on the president to adopt a particular policy. He went outside the chain of command.

Still, it was careless of me to mischaracterize the general's comments. For that, I apologize.

Greyhawk (not verified)

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 5:08pm

I've also seen the transcript of that speech and Q and A.
http://www.iiss.org/recent-key-addresses/general-stanley-mcchrystal-add…

Here's the only reference to that number in that Telegraph report: "a decision on how far to follow Gen McChrystal's recommendation to send 40,000 more US troops will not be made for several weeks."

From this you conclude that Gen. McChrystal leaked his request for 40,000 additional troops to the public?

Greyhawk (not verified)

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 2:45pm

"Likewise, officers who act to force the political leadership to accept a particular course of action as Gen. McChrystal did by leaking his request for 40,000 additional troops to the public as the debate about that very request was taking place, also demonstrate contempt for the political leadership."

I missed that somehow (and I thought I was following that story fairly closely last year). When did it happen?

I ask because I agree with you, such an action is indeed serious and non-trivial. We might, however, differ on this point: an unsupported accusation of such an action is equally reprehensible.

As is this call to arms:

"I offer a challenge to those still in uniform: a leader's responsibility is to give voice to those who can't--or don't have the opportunity to--speak. Enlisted members of the armed forces swear their oath to those appointed over them; an officer swears an oath not to a person but to the Constitution. The distinction is important."

Source <a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1181629-1,00.html">her…;.

Dennis M. (not verified)

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:30am

I have to say, this whole discussion makes me very nervous. I have just read LTC Yingling's and LTC Milburn's articles as well as the article in Politics Daily just posted here. The idea that a military officer can be a "check" on "potentially disastrous decisions" of the elected leadership, no matter how capable those leaders may be, contravenes the very idea of civilian control of the military. What types of orders can an officer refuse to disobey? Where does the line get drawn?

There is no role in our Constitution set aside for the military to act as a morally autonomous agent, nor is there any allowance for that in military law. Military officers are required to obey lawful orders from their superiors. Period. Full stop. Personal moral views do not enter into the calculus as to whether an officer is bound by an order he receives. Morality is not a part of the law (though laws may have a moral element, the Law writ large is separate from morality). In fact, one may reasonably argue that war is inherently immoral, so any order issued in the conduct combat operations could be ignored if an officer's moral views can be considered.

It is true that military officers have moral autonomy, however, just as every person has. If he receives an order that he finds truly immoral, he certainly can refuse to follow it. However, he must be prepared to face the legal consequences for that refusal. In fact, I would hope that if such an order were issued, an officer would do just that. It seems to me that the correct model is the course that LTG Newbold took when he quietly resigned instead of following an order from SECDEF Rumsfeld, and only after he resigned, spoke out against the policy. If an officer is motivated by a moral objection to a policy, then he should also have the moral courage to accept the consequences of disobeying that policy.

This argument also extends to the practice of foot-dragging or "slow-rolling." One should have the moral courage to accept the consequences of acting on his moral objection to a policy rather than trying to game the system by hiding the fact that he is ignoring a policy to which he object. By failing to execute a policy as intended by the chain of command, an officer is undermining the authority of the chain of command to the same degree as if he simply refused to follow the policy outright. In some ways, "slow-rolling" is even more dangerous than an outright refusal because it assumes that the chain of command is powerless to enforce the policy or that the military leadership will support the officer against the civilian leadership. Either way, it shows a certain contempt for civilian control of the military.

Likewise, officers who act to force the political leadership to accept a particular course of action as Gen. McChrystal did by leaking his request for 40,000 additional troops to the public as the debate about that very request was taking place, also demonstrate contempt for the political leadership. Military officers are not political actors under our Constitution. They do not make policy, they are required to follow it. A military office who attempts to apply political pressure to force a particular policy must assume that he has an equal role in shaping policy as the president or Congress. Again, this belief is contrary to the very idea of civilian control of the military.

The whole idea of civilian control of the military is that our elected officials are directly accountable to the American people. They depend directly on the approval of the American people for their jobs. Military officers are not. In addition, the military has the guns. What would happen if military officers decided that the elected government was acting in a completely immoral way? Can a military officers actively campaign for opposition candidates? Should they go on strike? Should they take over the government on moral grounds? If we accept that military officers act with moral autonomy as a check on the elected leadership, it is not too far a leap in logic to imagine a strike or a military coup. Effectively, an officer who encourages his subordinates to advocate against the repeal of don't ask, don't tell is engaging in such conduct.

Military officers are bound to support and defend the Constitution, thus they are bound by its terms. That includes civilian control of the military. They may, of course, refuse to obey orders that are unlawful -- in clear violation of the Constitution itself or laws governing the conduct of military operations (international laws, domestic laws, and military laws). However, if an order merely violates the officer's own moral views, he is still legally bound to obey the order. If his moral objection is great, then he should have the moral courage to follow his conscience by refusing to obey the order with a readiness to accept the legal consequences. If the order is truly an immoral one, then it is possible that the consequences will be minimal. And if it is shown later that the order was unlawful, then the officer will clearly be cleared of any wrongdoing. But as a matter of policy, the military cannot allow its officers to believe that they are autonomous moral agents with some duty refuse to obey immoral orders. Such a belief will undermine the whole idea of a military which is subordinate to the nation's civilian elected leadership.

chuck (not verified)

Mon, 10/04/2010 - 7:28pm

Well we have gone through all the legal and moral aspects of obeying but what of the real facts, in war soldier are asked to do things they are not normally ask to do in peacetime, sometimes we have to do them for the protection of the nation, and others. But we must never forget our place in history, and say we are only obeying orders that isn't an excuse. We do what we have to to survive, if that is so. But also remember we have to be accountable for our actions good or bad. Always remember as leaders we must be prepared to take responsible for our actions that is one thing too often not done by the leadership of the armed forces. For the good of the service is not an answer for the good of the nation is better. All who serve this nations must answer the question what we did today is it just and are we doing the right thing. If the answer is no then we must disobey the order and bear the consequences.

"Pre-commissioning, especially through ROTC, is an exercise in the FM 7-8 (hyperbole, lest I be accused of simplification). But at the same time no germs of professional identity besides "high manager" are planted in the world view of those being commissioned. So we as a Corps are left to decide what the Oath means, resulting in Officers spread across the board from "All legal orders must be obeyed regardless of obvious negative consequences I plainly see on the ground" to "we have a moral obligation as a profession" to "only the Constitution matters and the President and Congress can be wrong"."

The above is being quoted for truth.

If only ya'll could see the amount of histrionics and vitriol directed towards the Commander in Chief. There has been absolutely no instruction from our ROTC cadre to remain apolitical. Many cadets will openly criticize POTUS, even while in uniform! This is not what the ideal officer is. As the astute commenter mentioned, something must be done during the pre commissioning training to rectify this dangerous line of thought that shows not signs of abating.

Bob's World

Fri, 10/01/2010 - 11:18am

Dicey ground. Perhaps such a debate makes better sense if placed in the context of a Jump Refusal.

Every soldier on a jump has a duty to follow the orders of the jumpmaster and to exit the aircraft when ordered. However, every soldier is also a safety officer, and if they identify an unsafe condition they have an even more important duty to have the moral courage of having their physical courage called into question by refusing to jump.

Now, there are consequences. When one refuses to jump they are given the command 3 more times, and then they are removed from the door and sat in front of the aircraft and directed not to touch their equipment. There is a presumption that the soldier refused to jump for fear of his own personal safety rather than for the safety of the whole, and he must in effect, prove his innocence. (I have witnessed one such act of moral courage, and know of one other. Both saved lives. The jump I was on the pilots flew the mission at 300 feet rather than 300 meters, and with the types of chutes we were jumping there would likely have been guys getting to the ground before their canopies were fully inflated)

An officer refusing a lawful order for valid concerns that it puts the Constitution at risk faces the same challenge of moral courage, and shoud be subject to the same presumption of guilt. He would be presumed guilty and essentially have to prove the existance of such a threat to the constitution.

Now, those that even vaguly follow constitutional law cases know that more than any other area of the law "reasonable minds can differ," so it is highly unlikely that such an officer would be able to meet that burden of proof. However, if his actions sent the matter to the supreme court for review rather than to some backroom for career execution, some good may come from the act.

Orders that violate the law on its face are a different matter, but that is not what the author appears to argue for. It is bad enough that we have the Supreme Court interpreting the constitution, that last thing we need as a nation is military officers presuming that role is somehow part of their duty.

The place for the military to make its challenges to policy is in advance of orders they find questionable, or during the planning process to raise their concerns, have them addressed, and then execute what is ultimately decided. This is the primary function that design is supposed to fill. It looks not at the threat in isoation, but at the total picture and often requires the recipient of a task to go back to the tasker and make the case that what they have been asked to do the wrong thing, and why they believe that to be so. Rarely would those issues be constitutional though.

former-19Z5OC5

Fri, 10/01/2010 - 10:13am

The notion that no "legal" order could ever be immoral is quite simply ridiculous.

Equally ridiculous is the notion that every superior in the chain of command, from squad leader to the Commander in Chief is always acting in the best interests of the Nation.

Even the notion of what constitutes a "legal" order certainly has more than a little fuzziness in some circumstances. The framers of the constitution itself recognized this problem and gave us the separation of powers and the supreme court.

It is entirely possible that an order might appear "legal" (i.e. not in violation of any specific law) yet still be morally reprehensible. "Obey first, challenge later" is not always a reasonable approach.

Those who demand that every officer must immediately obey every "legal" order without regard to their own moral compass should remember that the Nuremberg Defense ("I was just following orders") has been thoroughly rejected.

In 1942, the order to imprison US Citizens of Japanese descent without even the fig leaf or due process was "legal" - would we expect the military to follow an order to round up US Citizens of a specific ethnic group or nationality today?

In fact there was no legal basis for that order in 1942 prior to Executive Order 9066 and in 1944 the Supreme Court ruled the detention unconstituional. So it turns out that the legal order issued (and obeyed) in 1942 was actually an unlawful order.

By today's legal standards, the officers who obeyed that "legal" order in 1942 could be prosecuted under both US and International law for civil rights violations and all they would have to fall back on would be the discredited Nuremberg Defense.

duck (not verified)

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 6:38pm

"only the Constitution matters and the President and Congress can be wrong".

Amongst the many things I could point out about this is one thing: those who think that
"only the Constitution matters" seem to have overlooked reading it at some point during their careers.

The Constitution does, in fact, delineate who gives the orders, who follows them, and most importantly who interprets the first two.

Here's a hint: it ain't Lcpl. Coolie, Lt. Smartypants, Col. Imincharge, or even Gen. Iwanttomakepolicy.

Sparapet

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 5:46pm

The sentiments in LTC Milburn's articles are not rare. Although I would not call them common, they are present in numbers above superficial and in my experience I do find that for whatever reason they are more often openly articulated by career enlisted Soldiers than Officers. I have my self fallen into discussions with peers downrange when discussing policy and mistakes that tread close to the conclusion "we should have done X regardless of Z because it was 'the right thing'". However, that this type of thinking even exists I would blame on the total absence of, for lack of better words, ideological indoctrination of the Officer Corps in the pre-commissioning phase that would fix in the Corps a notion of it's professional role.

Pre-commissioning, especially through ROTC, is an exercise in the FM 7-8 (hyperbole, lest I be accused of simplification). But at the same time no germs of professional identity besides "high manager" are planted in the world view of those being commissioned. So we as a Corps are left to decide what the Oath means, resulting in Officers spread across the board from "All legal orders must be obeyed regardless of obvious negative consequences I plainly see on the ground" to "we have a moral obligation as a profession" to "only the Constitution matters and the President and Congress can be wrong".

Which sentiment is right is actually a difficult question. And it strikes as a contradiction that an Officer is supposed to be predisposed to 'following orders' while at the same time being expected to have the mind set to act as a de-facto governor of his AO in an occupation without a rigorous, and I would say ideological, understanding of his role in the society who's interests he is pressing. The discussion of the total abrogation of civilian control obligations by the coalition in 2003 that led to the looting, rioting, and Iraqi confusion about who was in charge is but one consequence of this odd deficit.

I don't intend to write a whole article but merely to point out that strange and seditious as LTC Milburn's opinion may seem it does have a context that I believe goes well beyond empowering the Officer Corps to create a junta. I would also dare hypothesize that this opinion probably exists more among the Combat Arms branches. But that is just a hypothesis (although it is well to remember that most of our General's come from Infantry/Armor/Arty, so trends in thought there do matter).

My 2 pesos.

duck (not verified)

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 2:56pm

"However regrettable Milburn's arguments may be, we ought to thank him for making these views public. Many others who apparently share his views lack his candor. Anonymous military officers' bitter condemnations of civil authorities are now far too common features of public discourse. These are the officers we should truly fear - those who skulk sullenly in corners with like-minded victims of alleged civilian malfeasance, drawing their wages while condemning the society that
pays them."

I have to say that I never ran across this type of officer. Of course the collective experience of this board exceeds mine by about infinity so I have to ask the board--is this type of officer commonplace these days? How many of them have YOU met?

David H. Gurney (not verified)

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 2:47pm

Don't be disconcerted, be happy!

Because <i>JFQ</i> is the Chairman's journal, some people incorrectly infer
that essays are "thought endorsments." Hardly. During my watch, both General Pace and Admiral Mullen were extremely generous (even insistent) that their journal, published under the auspices of National Defense University, serve as a conduit for continuing joint professional military education and debate (with a growing non-DoD readership). Neither were afraid to shine a bright light on uncomfortable issues and I respect both of them deeply.

I made the decision to publish this piece (which was an essay competition finalist), against the advice of some members of the Editorial Board (including the National War College's Dr. Joe Collins). My rationale is aptly captured in an email comment expressed by Paul Yingling:

"However regrettable Milburn's arguments may be, we ought to thank him for making these views public. Many others who apparently share his views lack his candor. Anonymous military officers' bitter condemnations of civil authorities are now far too common features of public discourse. These are the officers we should truly fear - those who skulk sullenly in corners with like-minded victims of alleged civilian malfeasance, drawing their wages while condemning the society that
pays them."

I couldn't agree more. At the junior officer level, a certain number of officers begin to harbor germs of dissent in tactical applications that sometimes visibly manifest in violations of ROE/ROF (rules of engagement and rules of force in support of law enforcement authorities). I think that this friction is even greater in challenging COIN scenarios. As a career progresses, education and experience usually correct ethical misapprehensions, but sometimes it doesn't (for myriad reasons), and we invariably express surprise when it reaches full bloom among colonels and flag officers in the realm of strategy versus policy. We can all name recent episodes as well as historic ones. I truly believe that many of these events could have been preempted by more effective training, education and communication.

Reading letters to the editor confirms that Colonel Milburn's essay resonates with more than a few military professionals (and even more civilians), making his candid essay too important to ignore. This is a "teachable moment" and I suggest that military educational institutions--from Service academies to War Colleges--exploit it, not dismiss it.

I'll close by noting that I shared my rationale with Paul and he replied thusly: "I agree wholeheartedly - these ideas need to be put under the public spotlight and debated. It would be far worse to have these ideas discussed in private without that scrutiny."

Semper Fi,
Cow

Lazander (not verified)

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 2:41pm

Great response from LTC. Yingling...

Once more LTC. Yingling's ideas are used not for debate but for a misled argument. Lt. Col. Milburn, who might have posted this article simply for dialog, leaves two things to unanswered:

1)The problem with Article one of the Constitution of the United States.

2)The cornerstone of the authors thesis is the idea that individual thought (officer or not) is more important or valid than that of the society in which we are to defend. This is a dangerous proposition. Even Caesar could not rule Rome out without conversation. What makes us think a military officer today is smarter or more "innocent" than the society in which he lives in? Sounds to me like an egotistical body check.

duck (not verified)

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 2:02pm

"there are circumstances under which a military officer is not only justified but also obligated to disobey a legal order."

I'd like to go on record and state that I disagree with this statement.

Jim M (not verified)

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 1:10pm

The most disconcerting aspect of these articles is the Joint Forces Quarterly giving social validation to LTC Milburn's sedition by publishing his piece.