Adm Stavridis Errs: The US Military’s Purpose Isn’t to Defend Our Values
Retired Admiral James Stavridis — now dean of the Fletcher School of Law — took to the Boston Globe yesterday in an opinion piece excoriating President Trump for his handling of the Charlottesville, Va, riots. In so doing, however, the normally well-spoken retired flag officer demonstrated an outstanding (or selective) ignorance of the purpose of the US military: Adm Stavridis claimed the US military exists to “defend our values” [emphasis added]:
Our military exists to protect our nation and our allies from those forces who threaten our values: democracy, liberty, freedom of speech and religion, racial and gender equality…
The current [chiefs of staff] have all squarely and unequivocally shown us they know why we have a military — to defend our values, not tear them down…[They] publish[ed] clear, decisive statements disavowing racism and reaffirming the fundamental values they are sworn to defend.
These statements are unequivocally incorrect. As the US National Military Strategy — published by the Joint Chiefs of Staff — explicitly states, the military’s purpose isn’t to defend values, it’s to defend the Nation:
The U.S. military’s purpose is to protect our Nation and win our wars.
Further, US troops are not “sworn to defend” what Adm Stavridis calls “fundamental values.” They are sworn to defend only the US Constitution — which Adm Stavridis later tried to equivocate with his chosen “values.”
There are many places in the world — and within the United States — where the values listed by Adm Stavridis may be under threat. But the US military’s purpose is not to deploy to countries around the world — nor within America’s own borders — merely to “defend our values.” Rather, US troops swear to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic” — and that Constitution includes protections for the liberties being exercised by the supremacists at Charlottesville.
In that regard, Adm Stavridis’ “heart” may be in the right place, but his rendering of the US military is not:
I know in my heart that my fellow military members would gladly stand against those neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and any others who would shatter the values that are what truly “make America great.”
(Adm Stavridis’ intuition is undermined by the fact one of the white supremacist leaders had just recently served as a US Marine Corps recruiter.)
While many US troops might “stand against” the values espoused by those groups, Adm Stavridis is wrong to say US troops would stand against those people. After all, US troops sacrifice their lives to “protect our Nation” — a Nation founded upon the very freedoms of speech and assembly being practiced by those racist marchers. Unlike the ACLU, which has now decided it will only defend the liberties of those who meet its organizational criteria, the US military’s defense of the Nation protects freedom for all — even those who use that freedom to voice hate. (See, for example, Mikey Weinstein.)
A better image of what the “purpose” of the US military should be was captured in a photo circulating the internet of an African-American police officer named Darius Nash manning a barricade — protecting the Charlottesville white supremacist demonstration. He was “defending values,” in a manner of speaking, which included the rights of the supremacists to assemble:
It is disappointing to see Adm Stavridis use his legitimacy and authority as a retired military officer in a manner that misrepresents the US military — the institution in which he was once one of the highest ranking leaders. Worse, he appears to have done it with political motives.
Last year, Adm Stavridis was reportedly “vetted” for a potential spot as Hillary Clinton’s Vice President, and his political positions have tended to lean left. For Adm Stavridis to portray the US military — the arm of the US government empowered to wage violence with authority — as having or supporting liberties for only certain viewpoints or only certain political positions is below him, but it is consistent with certain liberal ideologies that preach “tolerance” only for viewpoints with which they agree.
Adm Stavridis criticized President Trump for not “utterly condemn[ing]” white supremacists, as is his right. But Adm Stavridis went a step further and tried to use the US military as a tool to make that political point — a point he was apparently so intent on making that he misrepresented both the reason the US military exists and the character of the purpose it serves.
Freedom comes with a price, and part of that price is the presence of ideas and ideologies that are offensive. The idea — promoted by a retired Admiral — that the US military would protect or defend only certain “values” is incorrect — and potentially dangerous. After all, if the US military can be used as a tool to promote or suppress certain values, who gets to decide what the acceptable values are?
Given that activist organizations have labeled Christians as bigots and “hate” groups, is it possible someone might decide certain religions are no longer worthy of religious freedom because they don’t fit the current social “value” system? The moral opposition to “erotic liberty” in the US military — largely, but not exclusively, by religious groups — comes to mind.
As a Nation, we hope — we pray — that the US military is instilled with and represents our true core values. And, as a Nation, we pray that the actions and engagements conducted by the US military reflect our values. In so doing, the net effect of defending the Nation may, too, defend the values the Nation espouses. Despite its use as a social petri dish these past few years, the US military generally retains its role as an “honorable” profession in that regard.
But, no, Adm Stavridis, the US military does not exist to defend your specific values.
It exists to defend you.