Don't discriminate against vets who want to serve new administration
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Americans like to think of their country as the land of opportunity, where merit, not discrimination, will define what they might achieve.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Congress — the institution in which public confidence is at historic lows — appears to believe that.

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Even before retired Gen. Jim Mattis was formally announced as the new administration's pick for secretary of Defense, Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation builds for Mueller report Kamala Harris: Trump administration ‘targeting’ California for political purposes Harry Reid says he won’t make 2020 endorsement until after Nevada caucus MORE (D-N.Y.) announced her opposition — not for any reason related to some deficiency about Mattis personally, but solely because he served his country in uniform.

This kind of anti-veteran bias has got to stop.

According to Gillibrand, she "deeply respect[s] General Mattis' service" but will oppose a waiver to the statute that currently requires military officers to wait seven years from retirement to do what even convicted felons can do — that is, to become secretary of Defense.

Gillibrand sanctimoniously intones that "Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy" and she "will not vote for an exception to this rule."

Sure, everyone wants civilian control of the military, but Gillibrand essentially endorses a form of stereotyping of an entire minority group based not on the behavior of any individual, but rather upon a categorization of the whole group that basically says that those people can't be trusted.

Sadly, we've seen this movie before.

Indeed, this country has an ugly history about branding entire groups of people as "dangerous" to the security of the state, and barring them from lawful activities that others enjoy. In 1942 it was Japanese-Americans, but today in the minds of some it is, astonishingly, veterans.

Who will be next to be barred from public office based on stereotypes? Native Americans? Muslims? Gays? The poor? You?

The fact is that there is exactly zero evidence in the entire history of our Constitution that active or retired officers have attempted to seize control of the military from civilian leadership. To suggest that it is even possible today is to ignore not just an array of legal and institutional safeguards, but the culture and mindset of the military itself.

There is a reason that the military is the most trusted institution in our society, and it's not because the public believes the military would conspire to upend the Constitution.

Still, if anyone in Congress is concerned about civilian control of the military (or any other matter), they should conduct a truly searching inquiry of the individual prior to Senate confirmation. By all means, grill the individual; examine closely his or her record.

But let's get out of the business of labelling entire groups as "suspect," especially when the members of that group have put their lives on the line to protect the very Constitution the largely never-served are assuming they threaten.

If confirmation hearings show that Mattis is unsuitable to be secretary of Defense, the Constitution operating as it was designed will allow the Senators to vote against him. But it is just wrong to deny him or any American the chance to serve merely because he answered the call of his country and went into the military.

Furthermore, it is fundamentally at odds with American values, which call for merit-based opportunity, not group-based exclusion.

We need to make sure all Americans, and especially young people considering service in the military, understand that going in harms' way for their country does not make them in the eyes of the law untrustworthy.

Not only should Mattis not be barred from further service simply because he is a veteran —we also need to entirely remove the ban on veterans that so outrageously stereotypes all of them as potential traitors.

Only when anti-veteran bias ends can we truly tell all children that in America, what counts is the content of their character, not any assumption about the status they acquired doing what their nation asked them to do.

Charles J. Dunlap Jr. is the executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke Law School and is a retired Air Force major general.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.