Robert F. Jakubowicz: Trump hasn't learned that right must be master of might

PITTSFIELD — "Make right the master of might." This is part of the preamble in the American Legion's creed. This wise and insightful statement by one of America's distinguished veterans group is worth mentioning as we honor veterans because of the nation's commander-in-chief President Donald Trump's nuclear saber-rattling that threatens to turn those words around into: making might the master of right.

Trump has been talking about a policy of using the nation's nuclear military might to resolve international problems like those presented by North Korea. Such a nuclear war would result in a horrific number of casualties on the Korean peninsula and too many future American gold star parents to honor lost sons and daughters on Veterans Day.

In September, Trump stunned the UN General Assembly with a speech in which he threatened to" totally destroy" North Korea. This past weekend, he began his Asian tour by reinforcing the message of America's military might to North Korea in a speech to American troops in Japan. He warned Kim Jong-un and his nation that America dominates " the sky sea land and space" with its mighty arsenal.

Wrong roles for generals

Trump also is in the process of giving away civilian control over the nation's armed forces to the warrior class — active and retired general officers — in our society. They are not trained to be diplomats nor national policy-makers to advise elected officials. They are trained to lead armies in wars. But Trump has appointed three to important policy-making and advisory positions in his administration.

One of the clearest intentions of the Founding Fathers, as expressed in the Constitution, was civilian control of the military forces. The president explicitly was put in charge of those forces and Congress was given control over the purse strings to fund such forces as well as the authority to declare war. Trump not only appointed James Mattis, a retired general, to be his Secretary of Defense, but he also reportedly has given him the authority to decide how many troops should be deployed to Afghanistan. That is a policy that should be set by an elected president and not a retired general.

Trump's chief of staff, John F. Kelly, another retired general, has been depicted by political pundits as one of the rational adults in the White House who can keep Trump from starting a nuclear war. Kelly's levelheadedness and knowledge are questionable. He has exhibited a completely wrong-headed understanding of the Civil War and the racism behind it. In a Fox News interview, Kelly called Robert E. Lee an "honorable man" and others on the side of the south in the Civil War, "men and women of good faith (who) made their stand where their conscience had to make (a) stand."

There are two very alarming things about Kelly's revisionist history of that war. There is absolutely nothing honorable about fighting for the side in a war that was clearly and mainly to preserve slavery (a word Kelly did not mention in the interview) Likewise there is nothing honorable in committing treason as Lee and the others did in taking up arms against the elected government of this nation.

Obedience first

One important point to be made about generals, retired or active, is that they have made a career of being in an institution based on the principle of obeying a chain of command. It is something drummed into every service member. I seriously doubt that these former generals in the White House as well as others, like Trump's national security advisor H. R. McMaster, would literally tackle their commander-in-chief on his way to the presidential football (the briefcase with the codes for nuclear missiles) to order a launch. It is very likely the generals would instinctively obey the chain of command and not interfere with their superior in that chain.

Meanwhile Trump's lack of a strategic military policy coordinated with an overall plan to deal with non-military problems around the world, according to Thomas Friedman in a recent column in this newspaper, has resulted in the sole use of the military, led by his generals, to kill terrorists. And Trump has now raised this use of the military to another level by threats to wipe out entire nations.

The nation's military men and woman, on active duty and veterans, are highly respected and deservedly so. Such respect was earned by making right the master of the use of our military might. This is a lesson Trump has not yet learned.

Robert :"Frank" Jakubowicz is an Army veteran and a regular Eagle contributor.


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