According to the the Military Times
President Donald J. Trump has decided to restore convicted SEAL Edward Gallagher’s pay grade to chief petty officer, overriding a decision last week by the Navy’s top admiral, both Navy Times and Fox News learned.
This trial, the revelations that came from it and I suppose the eventual outcome has deeply divided the SEAL community with groups such as “The Brotherhood” and “The Real Brotherhood” both arguing to represent the real deal in terms of what occurs and how it ought to be depicted. Believe it or not this discussion all began on a forum called the “Sewing Circle” but has spread far and wide. There have been hints and innuendo that folks on either side of the issue could come to violence in some distant future as scores are settled over perceived abandonment of some unspoken code.
It has been my argument for years that the military must find again a moral foundation. I argued as much in a paper called Moral Underpinnings of the Military Profession. The events that led to this trial are related to morality. In this case, the Navy was trying to self-correct and President Trump reversed that.
There is more of course. The SEALs as an organization have certainly demonstrated more than a small problem with discipline –cocaine, murder, etc. Perhaps this is a result of the SEALs taking on jobs in the Global War on Terror that they were not really designed or trained for, traditional Army SF roles, unconventional warfare (UW) in particular. Perhaps it is the fact that the SEALS recruit younger folks than the Army for such roles – folks with less experience and a greater thirst for personal glory. Maybe again it is a result of some of the inaccurate movies and books that became part of American culture over the last decade that push them to want to live out a dream that was never real. Whatever it is, it is undeniable that as an organization they have failed to keep to the path of the moral silent warriors that most perhaps hoped. This is not a slight on all, simply an observation of where the organization’s culture has gone.
I am personally saddened by President Trump’s action in this case. To those that much is given, much is expected.
It is dangerous to tell someone they are special, misunderstood and necessary and then pay them to do violence. Violence is necessary, special people to do that violence are necessary but the danger comes when there is a separation from foundational principles and isolation of the group. Us against them is a dangerous mindset.
It is for this very same reason that I recoil in horror when I hear a cop describe himself and a “SWAT Operator”. I could write pages about how ridiculous that term is and how little his skill set actually aligns with a real operator but here I will focus on how dangerous the mindset it. I simply do not want a guy working in my city, that might inadvertently come to my home all dressed up in black that thinks of himself as an “operator”. One does not have to look too far in the news to see where that sort of attitude leads.
President Trump should not have interfered with the military justice system for Gallagher. Any time a Soldier, Sailor or Marine fails morally there must be consequences. The same goes for local cops, whether they shoot someone they should not have out of fear for “officer safety” or do something more nefarious. When you give people guns and allow them to do violence the standards have to be high.
UPDATE: 7 November 2019
The Military Times reports today that President Trump is planning to issue the pardon on or around Veteran’s Day. The Times also reports that Defense Secretary Mike Esper has had “a robust” conversation this week with Trump about the issue.
Pardoning Gallagher is not about “taking care of the troops”. Quite the opposite, pardoning him insults those that go and do arduous things with honor. The testimony of his teammates and those that saw him in action should have been enough to convict him of crimes far worse than merely posing with a dead detainee. The body of evidence is pretty strong.
I understand the optics, the narrative that America asks people to go do violence and then makes criminals of them for doing so. I understand for many this seems like something Trump ought to do. I am telling you there is a vast difference between doing violence because it is required and doing it because you can. The first we need and sanction, the second we must punish. We need to reward true sheepdogs and weed out and punish wolves that pretend to be such.
A pardon is not the action Trump wants to take if he looks at the situation from a moral perspective.