On June 3, former Defense Secretary James Mattis released a statement condemning Donald Trump’s response to this week’s protests against police brutality. In particular, Mattis condemned Trump’s militaristic statements which threatened to crush demonstrations by force using the “heavily armed” U.S. military. Trump’s desire to use the military, as he has used the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, to reinforce his own personal power was a step too far for Mattis. Mattis’s words reflect the thoughts and feelings of many of those in the leadership of the military. In their minds, the military is not a tool to discipline the U.S. population.
Trump may view the U.S. military and its troops as a tool to use as he wishes. But the reality is that the U.S. military, especially the army, is made up of men and women, many of whom are in the military because of the economic draft. In the military, two-thirds of active-duty soldiers are from poor and working-class communities. They know there are no jobs where they lived. Thirty percent are from minority communities. They aren’t there because they want to serve Trump.
They know what’s happening in their communities and across the country and they are talking about it. And Trump’s call for them to be sent against people demonstrating against police murder and other injustices is something that each will be considering and discussing with those close to them.
Mattis and others in the military understand this. Mattis and others who head the military have directed mass murders across the world, so killing is not a moral question. But one thing they do not want to see is a rebellion in their own ranks. And this is what could happen if they followed Trump’s dream.
It took the U.S. military decades to repair the damage it suffered during its war on Vietnam. They faced a mass revolt where troops refused follow orders, where junior officers were “fragged” (killed by men in their units with a fragmentation grenade rolled into their tent while they were sleeping), where naval ships were prevented from sailing when some of the crew mutinied, and other acts of resistance. They don’t want to see that happen again. Trump may find that he is unable to call on the military to defend his personal power. But if Trump or another elected official should call out the military against us, we need to understand that the soldiers are not our enemy, the system they are called on to defend is. If and when this happens our response has to be: “put down your weapons and join your brothers and sisters. It’s time for working people to stand for ourselves and determine our own future.”
featured image credit: Win McNamee