Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Today I heard President Trump say that he had ordered the military said that he has told the military to respond to any rock throwing by members of the migrant caravan as if it was an armed attack. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. I told them to consider it a rifle.” This was after he said that he would deploy 15,000 soldiers to the U.S. Mexican border to repel the non-existent threat of an imaginary invasion.
While I believe that his words are a political stunt to solidify his Christian, White Nationalist base in the final days of the mis-term elections, such an order would be illegal under any circumstances. It would be a criminal order which if followed would make the military members who planned or executed it complicit in crimes against humanity. If the order was transmitted through the Secretary of Defense to the commands involved it would make the Secretary as guilty as Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel who on Hitler’s direction issued what is now known as the Criminal Order or the Barbarossa Decree. In part it stated:
The exercise of martial law serves primarily to maintain military discipline.
The wide extent of operational space in the East, the form of combat that this offers, and the peculiarity of the enemy, present tasks to the courts martial…that, with their limited personnel, they can only solve, if military law restricts itself for the time being to its central task.
That is only possible if the troops themselves defend themselves against every threat from the enemy civilian population without mercy….
I . Treatment of criminal acts by enemy civilians
1. Criminal acts of enemy civilians are withdrawn until further notice from the jurisdiction of courts-martial and summary courts.
2. Guerrillas are to be dispatched without mercy by the troops either in combat or while trying to escape.
3. Furthermore, all other attacks by enemy civilians against the Wehrmacht, its members and retinue are to be repelled on the spot by the most extreme measures up to the destruction of the attacker.
4. Where measures of this kind were missed or were initially not possible, the suspicious elements are to be immediately brought before an officer. He will decide whether they are to be shot.
Collective drastic action will be taken immediately against communities from which treacherous or insidious attacks against the Wehrmacht are launched, on the orders of an officer with at least the rank of battalion commander upwards, if the circumstances do not permit a speedy apprehension of individual culprits.
If Trump’s spoken word is transmitted by the Secretary of Defense to the Commander of U.S. NORTHCOM is would be an illegal order. It would place officers in the position of having to disobey and risk their careers, and depending on the whim of the President maybe their lives, or to obey. I think that most senior officers would refuse to obey such an order. However, I am not so sure about all of our mid-grade and junior officers or NCOs, many of whom fully subscribe to much of Right Wing propaganda being spewed by the President and his submissive servants in Congress, and the unofficial propaganda ministry of Fox News. I am sure that there is a modern day Lieutenant William Calley our there somewhere who would interpret the President’s words as a license to kill.
I do not think that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, or any of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would consent to such an order, but I don’t know if others below them would fight it.
General Ludwig Beck who resigned his position as the commander of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s planned invasion of Czechoslovakia and died in the failed attempt to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime said:
“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act according to their specialist and political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility for it carrying out an order.”
We are now in uncharted waters. I believe that if Trump actually issues such an order that there will be many resignations of key DOD military leaders and civilian officials, however, that will leave the military in the hands of loyal and compliant followers or opportunistic careerists.
That is a frightening possibility. The only thing now is to see what the senior military leadership does if the President actually issues this order. Will they do what the Republican majority in Congress has done and bowed their knee to Trump, or will they take their oath to the Constitution and the American people seriously. As Beck noted:
“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”
Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:
“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”
At one time I would have believed that the post-Vietnam military might follow such orders, but I am not so sure right now.