A group of former defense secretaries and top generals across the country have warned of an ‘unusually difficult’ relationship between the military and the general public following former President Donald Trump’s bid to stay at home. power in the 2020 elections.
In an open letter published Tuesday, eight former Pentagon secretaries and five former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairmen said they fear the military’s position will deteriorate after the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts unprecedented move by Trump to challenge the results of the race he lost to Joe. Biden.
“We are in an exceptionally difficult civil-military environment,” the group wrote. “Many factors that shape civil-military relations have come under extreme strain in recent years.”
The letter does not mention Trump by name, but the signers include two of his former Pentagon chiefs: Jim Mattis and Mark Esper. The document also makes extensive reference to the ongoing political polarization which the group says “climaxed with the first election in over a century when the peaceful transfer of political power was disrupted and thrown into doubt.”
“Military officers take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, not an oath of loyalty to any individual or office,” the letter states. “All civilians, whether sworn or not, are equally bound to uphold and defend the Constitution as their highest duty.”
Trump, who is considering another bid for the White House, has regularly tried to leverage the military for his own purposes, including sending troops to the southern border with Mexico and using them against racial justice protests. Such efforts caused tension with the nation’s top generals, and Mattis and Esper were eventually removed from their positions.
Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told The New York Times on Tuesday that while Trump was not mentioned, his comments while in office had contributed to the strained relationship mentioned by the signatories. . He specifically pointed to reports that Trump asked his chief of staff, John Kelly, why he couldn’t have loyal military aides like the “German generals in World War II.”
“[The letter] is not directed at Trump, but when you hear him talking about Hitler’s generals, well, that’s not who we are,” Mullen told the newspaper.
Mullen went on in an interview with The Washington Post to say he fears the United States is on the precepts of “losing a democracy,” pointing to the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
Signatories said things might get worse before they get better, but the group added that it was important to reflect on the past.
“Looking forward, all of these factors may well get worse before they get better,” the letter said. “In such an environment, it is helpful to revisit the fundamental principles and best practices by which civilian and military professionals have conducted sound U.S. civil-military relations in the past – and can continue to do so, if they are vigilant. and attentive.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.