Bright-eyed, eager, newly-minted U.S. Army second lieutenants in the Class of 2020 of West Point got their marching orders as their commander in chief delivered the commencement address on June 13. Those orders came in an atmosphere of misguided hectoring from former military leaders targeting the president and his civilian Defense Department leaders. Liberty Nation has reported extensively on recent civil upheaval. Nonetheless, and to his credit, President Trump’s speech did not fall into the trap of talking about the domestic unrest. Instead, he projected the immense pride that he, the president, had in the graduates. He extolled the accomplishments of those graduates who had achieved incredible personal goals and team accolades on national and international levels. President Trump was gracious in his gratitude to the other services and the U.S. Army leadership in attendance.
His words were measured and built on the great history of West Point, and the virtues of those great leaders who began their military careers and heroic adventures on that spot of land. Trump said: “It was the graduates of West Point — towering figures like McArthur [sic], Patton, Eisenhower, and Bradley — who led America to victory over the sinister Nazis and imperial fascists 75 years ago.” Notably and timely, he remembered: “It was under the leadership of West Point graduates like the legendary General Matthew Ridgway that the Army was at the forefront of ending the terrible injustice of segregation.” The president referred to General Patton as a visionary, “who, as a young man in 1917, became the first soldier assigned to the Army Tank Corps.”
But overshadowing all of his references to West Point’s history was the focus on unity. “You exemplify the power of shared national purpose to transcend all differences and achieve true unity,” Trump emphasized. “Today, you graduate as one class, and you embody one noble creed: Duty, Honor, Country.”
Trump reminded the graduates that they must have unity of purpose. That purpose is to restore the “fundamental principles” of the U.S. Armed Forces. That their job as American fighting men and women is not to rebuild failed states in foreign lands, “but to defend – and defend strongly – our nation from foreign enemies.”
As the president stated, graduation day at West Point was significant because it was on the eve of the Army’s birth, 245 years ago. This graduation was a day of celebration and a time for the new officers and their families to enjoy themselves. All too soon, they will meet the harsh realities of the career they’ve chosen.
And the realities they will encounter are not far in the future. Even as the president spoke, this year’s commencement address was not without controversy. President Trump’s visit to West Point came in the middle of condemnation of the commander in chief from retired general officers, and a letter from a sanctimonious host of 700 former West Point graduates schooling the Secretary of Defense on his duties. Duties to which the vast number – if not all – of those who signed the letter may have aspired, but never attained. Though that letter was couched in the guise of advice to the graduating class, there was no fuzz on the real intent. Then there were figures like former Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Despite his truly laudatory credentials as a combat commander, Mattis was fired twice – by President Obama, from his position as commander, U.S. Central Command, and by President Trump from the position of Secretary of Defense. Whatever his leadership and management failings were, there was bipartisan recognition of them.
And what was it that piqued the ire of these grandstand-critics? Trump had the temerity to suggest that, if local, state, or national guard capability was not enough to quell the recent rioting, looting, destruction of property and killing, these activities might warrant sending active-duty troops to assist. What the self-righteous 700 failed to mention in their letter to the Class of 2020 was that President Trump was not the first to consider sending active-duty troops to put down domestic unrest. Note that the president considered it but ultimately did not send active-duty forces to quell the disturbances.
Since we’re talking about West Point graduates, consider a couple of examples. The famed, “immortal” – as Trump described him – General Douglas MacArthur, following the orders of President Herbert Hoover, led active-duty forces in forcibly removing out-of-work World War I veterans from Washington D.C. in 1932. MacArthur thought the protesters, some 15,000 strong prompted by communist agitators, represented a threat to the U.S. Government, as did President Hoover. By General MacArthur’s side was Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, and George S. Patton commanded the contingent of cavalrymen called to participate. The very same West Point graduates that are admired for their leadership in World War II. In 1932 these military giants considered it their duty to follow their commander in chief’s directions.
And let’s not forget April 7, 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson sent active-duty soldiers to Chicago, to put down rioters who were looting and destroying property. General Harold K. Johnson, a West Point graduate, was chief of staff of the Army at the time. U.S. Army General Earle Wheeler, a West Point graduate, was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Why did these four-star generals obey their commander in chief? They believed it was their duty to their country. Was a letter sent to graduates of the class of 1968, criticizing the actions of these general officers or the Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford? Not that the record reflects.
The real message to the West Point class of 2020 is that the founders of our country were a pretty smart group, personally invested in the success of the fledgling nation. They were clear-eyed when they wrote Article II, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into actual Service of the United States.” These words vest the “entirety of the ‘executive Power’ in a single person, the President of the United States,” according to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, representing the thinking of 108 constitutional scholars.
Fortifying this idea that the military is under civilian authority, 10 US Code § 113 states clearly:
“The Secretary is the principal assistant to the President in all matters relating to the Department of Defense. Subject to the direction of the President and to this title and section 2 of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 USC 3002), he has authority, direction, and control over the Department of Defense.”
The military leaders who did their duty in 1932 and again in 1968 understood these words. They did their duty. They may have had reservations about what they were being asked to do, but, still, they did their duty.
Military officers do their duty without regard to whether they agree with it, or it’s pleasant, or it’s popular, or whether it meets someone’s personal definition of “non-political.” The country invested in a West Point education for the Class of 2020 and has every expectation that those who graduate will live up to the high standards of the MacArthurs, Pattons, Ridgways, and Eisenhowers.
So, to you, Class of 2020: after you have fulfilled your service commitment, should you find it distasteful or contrary to your worldview to do your duty to the country and its elected commander in chief, then by all means resign.
Your fellow citizens hope that you will stay the course and aspire to and accomplish truly great things, while in uniform. They hope you will do so, remembering the words “Duty, Honor, Country,” and General MacArthur’s haunting words to the Corps of Cadets in 1962: “My last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps.”
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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