As a Civil War historian, I have studied the writings and actions of hundreds of military and naval officers who served the Union and the Confederate causes. As a former naval person, I have also devoured hundreds of books about every war in which Americans have been engaged.
My personal heroes include Confederate general Stonewall Jackson and commander Raphael Semmes of the commerce raider, CSS Alabama. I admire Union generals Grant and Sherman, and admirals Dewey and Farragut. I consider World War II generals Patton, MacArthur, Eisenhower and Marshall, and admirals Nimitz and Halsey to be outstanding.
From my Pinehurst perspective, I give highest grades to General of the Army George C. Marshall, a resident of our community who served as secretary of defense and state after the war and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I have always admired the fact that he was totally apolitical to the extent that he did not vote. He spoke truth to power without partisan bias. There is a granite monument to the general in the village.
If he was alive today, he might take exception to the fact that over 200 retired Navy and Army flag officers signed a letter recently endorsing Joe Biden for president. They are retired and no longer in uniform. The signatories include 22 retired four-star officers, including Adm. Samuel Locklear, who oversaw all U.S. forces in the Pacific from 2012 to 2015 and Adm. Harry Ulrich, who commanded U.S. naval forces in Europe during President George W. Bush’s administration. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva was vice chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Trump before he retired last August.
In addition, nearly 300 other former national security officials and diplomats signed the letter, including five former defense secretaries: William Perry, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Leon Panetta and Ash Carter.
Adm. Steve Abbot, former commander of the Sixth Fleet said, “When I heard Trump say that John McCain was a loser and that he doesn’t like people who become prisoners, I just knew I was going to have trouble going forward with somebody who held those views. I have seen clear manipulation of our military to serve his personal needs.”
In addition, over 70 former senior national security officials — most of them Republicans who worked in previous GOP administrations — issued a similar letter in August.
In normal times, they would probably never do such a thing, but these are hardly “normal times.” They are times of civil unrest, financial stress and an out-of-control deadly pandemic. In office, we have a president who has threatened not to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he is defeated at the polls. He has done so repeatedly.
The letter the officers signed cites Biden’s character and judgment to serve as commander-in-chief. They all agree that America desperately needs a principled leader, who shows empathy for fellow citizens, values alliances, makes informed decisions and takes personal responsibility. The signers are Democrats, Republicans and independents.
They write that “thanks to Trump’s disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us.” They note that “The president has ceded influence to a Russian adversary, who puts bounties on the heads of American military personnel.”
Their letter was released as the nation recently learned that President Trump has called Americans who died in war “losers” and “suckers.” He referred to more than 1,800 Marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood in World War I as “suckers” for getting killed.
On at least two occasions, Trump referred to President George H.W. Bush as a “loser” for being shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II (eight others shot down during the same mission were caught, tortured and executed by Japanese soldiers).
Trump has fixated on staging military parades. In 2018 he asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, on the grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees. “Nobody wants to see that,” he said.
Retired Marine Gen. and recent Defense Secretary James Mattis has written, “Fifty years ago I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstances to violate Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo-op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.” Mattis denounces Trump as a “threat to the Constitution. He says, “He is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not pretend to try. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Mattis stated that our troops before the D-Day invasion were reminded that the Nazi slogan for destroying us was “Divide and Conquer.” “Our American answer was “In Union there is strength.” He urges that “we must now summon that unity to surmount this crisis — confident that we are better than our politics.”
If you are in the military or have family members who are, I suggest you bring Trump’s disconcerting views on the military to their attention.
Paul R. Dunn is the author of “The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln.” Contact him at email@example.com.