10/05/2010 01:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Politicizing the "Managers of Violence"

I read The Huffington Post daily, and not just because they were nice enough to allow me to blog. I like the spread of news available; it gives a good balance to other news sites.

However, I keep looking for something on a serious internal debate inside the U.S. military, which has yet to be discussed outside of the cloisters of the Pentagon -- an ongoing discussion of the ability of the U.S. armed forces to disobey orders they don't like.

We aren't talking My Lai, or Dachau, or waterboarding. We aren't talking the ethical, moral, and legal requirement of military officers to disobey orders that are unconstitutional, violate U.S. or international law, or are obviously of such crass evil to be disobeyed out of hand.

No, we are talking about an underground current in the U.S. military's officer corps, in which some officers believe that their legally elected civilian leaders can be disobeyed if the individual officer believes the order to be "immoral."

In the newest edition of Joint Forces Quarterly, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Milburn openly states, "There are circumstances under which a military officer is not only justified but also obligated to disobey a legal order." While this might be music to the ears of some, thinking that Milburn is referring to "illegal" wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, that is not what is being batted around the officer corps. No, Milburn's argument is being used by the adherents of the "disobey lawful orders" school to support resistance to the ending of Don't Ask/Don't Tell.

Well, so what? This is what: The American people, since the 1970s, have depended upon an All Volunteer military. The result has been a very professional, well-trained, and highly respected force that literally can dominate nearly any adversary on the modern battlefield with ease. However, it also created a separate professional military caste, with its own language, belief structure, and living on their isolated compounds separate from many of the issues that plague non-military communities.

Moreover, due to misguided and short-sighted policies by many of our liberal universities, ROTC was banned from campuses and the armed forces banned from recruiting... ostensibly to show that the military would get no support from said institutions until gays and lesbians could serve openly. The result, however, has been somewhat different. Instead of military officers coming from a wide variety of educational, social, and religious backgrounds, we have a military caste that is predominantly white, Southern, evangelical Protestant and staunchly Republican.

If this was the Department of Agriculture or IBM, would we care? No, most likely not. The problem is that IBM or the DoA does not possess nuclear missiles, tanks, machine guns and warships. We have, basically, allowed for the politicization of the "managers of violence" (as said by Samuel Huntington in his classic work, The Soldier and the State).

The U.S. military today is not the military of the Civil Rights era -- we cannot expect, as Ike, JFK and LBJ did -- to send in the 101st Airborne to enforce laws that some officers found distasteful and "immoral," such as the right to an equal education and the end to racist terrorism.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a real problem. We can discuss a senatorial candidate's teenage witchcraft for fun and profit, but things suddenly get very real and very dangerous when we discuss the possibility of armed troops disobeying the orders of the president. When I taught military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, I would tell my students that "the first time a tank shows up on the Capitol steps and begins spraying machine gun bullets, our democracy is over."

It is my opinion, after being in three wars and serving 24 years in the armed services, from the rank of buck private to lieutenant colonel, that the role of the professional officer is to obey the "orders of the President and the officers appointed over me." It has been that way since the Roman legions -- you take the King's shilling, you obey the King's orders. Our entire civil-military structure is based upon that one truth -- that the orders of civil authorities are the highest form of authority. If an officer disagrees with a policy or order, they have the right to resign their commission and take the issue public. They do not have the moral, ethical or legal right to disobey while they still wear the uniform.

The military is not the same as the other branches of government or the civilian world. They have their own laws, rules and system of control. You can, for example, commit adultery in the civilian world, and your punishment (if any) will happen in divorce court. In the military, you go to jail. The same for a broad swath of transgressions that would see minor in civilian life -- from littering to going to an off-limit bar. Why? Because the system requires absolute obedience to authority -- and it requires it most of all from its senior officers.

I leave you with this essay, written by Major General Charles Dunlap (USAF, Retired) many years ago. For the good of our Republic, let us hope that the warning of Major General Dunlap, and others, is heeded well before we listen to the words of Lieutenant Colonel Milburn and his ilk in.

Click here to download a PDF of "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012".