Opinion | National Security

Esper and Milley should resign

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

To their great credit, several retired four-star generals and admirals, including former Secretary of Defense James Mattis have criticized the president's conduct in strutting across Lafayette Square for a photo-op at St. John's Church. Secretary Mattis expressed shock that troops would be deployed to violate the Constitution and be part of a bizarre photo op.

But Secretary Mattis had already resigned on principle from his job in the Trump administration months ago. His remarks are those of a former office-holder. That is not enough to address the current crisis in the relationship between our armed forces and the civilian world.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs chair General Mark Milley should resign for the sake of the moral stature of the U.S. military, both at home and abroad, and because the soul of the nation is now in jeopardy.

We take General Milley at his word that he was not aware that he would be included in a photo-op while wearing his combat fatigues. But the images of their presence as a threat to our constitution cannot be un-remembered. As long as our republic survives - and we believe it will withstand this president's assault - those images will stand as reminders of its fragility.

Brilliant manipulators like Donald Trump have a way of sucking those around them into their narcissistic worldview. Both Secretary Esper and General Milley were manipulated into a shameful and un-American show of authority. Any of us who have worked with sophisticated manipulators have marveled at their instincts and gifts for getting what they want when they want it. These people are in a class of their own. They cannot be controlled or even outsmarted. They need to be contained and sidelined. Those around them need to be reminded of the limits of their power over the minds of others.

What that means is that the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs need to resign. They should resign out of respect to the nation. Nothing they can do or say at this point can walk back the egregious conduct that they colluded with, even if duped by, the president. They need to draw the line and let every servicemember, on active duty or who was ever worn the uniform, that there are times to stand up and affirm their principles and oath to the Constitution.

We do not suggest that these resignations will change the president nor any of the policies and practices while he continues in office. It will signal, to all of those who serve and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, that there are times when you can no longer play the game. It is a statement of moral conviction and courage that is expected of every man and woman wearing the uniform.

These resignations would be remembered as a dignified and necessary defense of our national values. Strutting militarism that seeks to intimidate our citizens is the way of other nations, but it is not the American way. If it ever is, we are no longer America.

Stephen N. Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired Army brigadier general, serves on the executive board of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania and is an adjunct professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. Follow him on Twitter: @SteveXen

Jonathan D. Moreno is a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent book is "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven but Nobody Wants to Die". Follow him on Twitter: @pennprof

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