These are essential checks on civilian officials who would make unlawful use of US military personnel. For example, governors, who have broad command power over our 54 National Guard organizations, may face political pressure to deploy these troops to illegally interfere in elections or other democratic processes.
To recognize these threats to our democracy, military leaders must continue to develop robust military training, mentoring and resources consistent with these safeguards, ensuring the integrity of the chain of command and effective functioning of civil-military relations.
But while such preparation is necessary, it is not sufficient.
We have all taken an oath as former military leaders to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.” We fulfilled that oath by serving as civic leaders elected by and accountable to the American people. However, this essential arrangement is not self-executing; it relies on civilian leaders who are equally committed to protecting and defending the Constitution – including, most importantly, the Commander in Chief.
The principle of civilian control over the military predates the establishment of the Republic. In 1775, George Washington was appointed as the military commander of the Continental Army under the civilian command of the Second Continental Congress. The following year, one of the grievances cited in the Declaration of Independence against King George III was that he “made the military independent of and superior to civilian power.”
The President’s dereliction of duty on January 6 challenged the integrity of this historic principle like never before, endangering American lives and our democracy.
The lesson of that day is clear. Our democracy is not a given. To keep it, Americans must demand nothing less from their leaders than an unassailable commitment to country over party — and especially to their oaths.
admin. Steve Abbot, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Gen. John Jumper, Adm. James Loy, Adm. John Nathanman, Adm. William Owens and Gen. Johnnie Wilson are retired four-star generals and admirals in the United States Armed Forces.