The open letter from 124 retired officers alarmed current and former military members concerned about the politicization of the military.
A day after 124 retired generals and admirals released a letter spreading the lie that President Joe Biden stole the election, current and former military officers are speaking out, calling the missive a dangerous new sign of the military being dragged into the trenches of partisan warfare.
The open letter on Monday from a group calling itself Flag Officers 4 America advanced the false conspiracy theory that the presidential vote was rigged in Biden’s favor and warned that the nation is “in deep peril” from “a full-blown assault on our Constitutional rights.”
“Under a Democrat Congress and the Current Administration,” they wrote, “our Country has taken a hard left turn toward Socialism and a Marxist form of tyrannical government which must be countered now by electing congressional and presidential candidates who will always act to defend our Constitutional Republic.”
The broadside also raises questions about “the mental and physical condition of the Commander in Chief” and sounds the alarm about a host of hot-button issues, such as the border wall. It goes on to accuse congressional leaders of “using the U.S. military as political pawns with thousands of troops deployed around the U.S. Capitol Building.”
The group’s website claims that “we are in a fight for our survival as a Constitutional Republic like no other time since our founding in 1776.”
As news of the letter spread, it set off a round of recriminations among current and former military members. One serving Navy officer, who did not want to be identified publicly, called it “disturbing and reckless.”
Jim Golby, an expert in civil-military relations, called it a “shameful effort to use their rank and the military’s reputation for such a gross and blatant partisan attack,” while a retired Air Force colonel who teaches cadets at the Air Force Academy, Marybeth Ulrich, labeled it “anti-democratic.”
“I think it hurts the military and by extension it hurts the country,” said retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, describing it as replete with “right-wing Republican talking points.”
The talking points in the letter fall generally in line with die-hard loyalists in Trump’s orbit, who question the results of the election despite the fact that the courts and Trump’s own Justice Department said there was no reason to declare him the winner.
Notable signatories included retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who is running for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire; retired Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who stirred controversy for some of his anti-Muslim views and is now executive vice president of the Family Research Council; and retired Vice Adm. John Poindexter, who was the deputy national security adviser for President Ronald Reagan and was convicted in the Iran-Contra Affair.
The letter, mostly signed by ex-military leaders who have been out of uniform for decades, was organized by retired Army Maj. Gen. Joe Arbuckle, a Vietnam veteran who retired in 2000.
Arbuckle, in response to questions from POLITICO, acknowledged in an email that the partisan nature of the effort is not normal but defended it as necessary, given what’s at stake.
”Retired generals and admirals normally do not engage in political actions,” he said, “but the situation facing our nation today is dire and we must speak out in order to be faithful to our oath to support and defend the Constitution of the U.S. against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
“We are facing threats greater than at any other time since our country was founded,” Arbuckle added. “Aside from China, many of these threats flow directly from policy positions and actions of our own government. It is critical that the threats to our national security be brought to the attention of the American people and that is the main purpose of the letter. To remain silent would be a dereliction of duty.”
But the missive alarmed fellow officers in the halls of the Pentagon and far-flung bases due to its strident tone and for using the stature of the nation’s generals and admirals to spread misinformation.
It also sent shock waves through the community of experts who train military officers on the long tradition of the U.S. military staying above the political fray.
That includes while in uniform, when they are prohibited from engaging in partisan politicking, and after they retire, when they have commonly kept their political views private in deference to that tradition and to safeguard the democratic principle of civilian control of the military.
The Pentagon declined through a spokesperson to comment on the letter. But others clearly took notice.
“That was way worse than I was expecting,” said Ulrich, a retired Air Force colonel who teaches civil-military relations at the Army War College and Air Force Academy. “They are perpetuating the big lie about the election. I think it is outrageous. Some of it is very anti-democratic behavior.”
She said she plans to use the letter in her classes to demonstrate to young military officers the extent to which the military’s apolitical tradition has eroded in recent years and why that is dangerous.
“They are absolutely violating the norm to be apolitical,” she added. “They are being used for partisan purposes. They are going against their constitutional oath.”
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