Yesterday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a memorandum to the Armed Forces calling the recent riot in Washington DC, “a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol Building, and the Constitutional process.” Copies of this “Message to the Joint Force” will be read to or distributed to every member of the Armed Forces around the world.
The message continues by restating that the U.S. Armed Forces remain “fully committed to protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic.” This is a restatement of part of the oath that both officers and enlisted personnel take when they enter military service.
This is a rare move and one that is probably intended to quell the extremist views on both the Left and Right.
On the Left, a deep fear, born of ignorance, is that President Trump will order the military to “nuke” some foreign country as a pretext to remain in office. However, under the Constitution, President Trump’s powers expire at noon on January 20. There is no asterisk after that saying “Unless a war happens or we nuke someone.” There is no provision at all for any president to retain his authority because of war or national emergency. Even in the midst of a civil war, Abraham Lincoln had to run for reelection in 1864 while almost half the country was in a state of open insurrection.
On the Right, a forlorn hope, born of equal ignorance, is that the military will suddenly intervene and save the country by proclaiming that Trump has won a second term. This simply cannot happen. The United States spans an entire continent. Unlike most smaller countries our capital is not our largest or most economically prosperous city. Our military is not concentrated around the capital, either, but spread all over the country and the world. Rogue generals at the Pentagon seizing DC would not have all the power in the country — and certainly not enough to install a president in the White House.
Neither of these fever-swamp notions by the Left and Right extremists has any basis in the Constitution that both sides claim they are protecting. Thus, on the one hand, the statement by the Joint Chiefs seems aimed at extinguishing both the hopes and fears of both major political parties’ far fringes.
A presidential inauguration is the largest military parade in the U.S. and occurs every four years. The military bands of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as special ceremonial units like the 3rd Infantry’s Fife and Drum Corp and the Marine’s Silent Drill Team, perform at the event. Active-duty personnel from all the service branches will line the streets of the capital saluting the president as he proceeds up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. About 15,000 active-duty troops will be involved. National Guard contingents from at least 30 states, will assist the Washington DC and Capitol Police in crowd and traffic control, and other law enforcement functions.
Yet, combat units with tanks and artillery will be conspicuously absent from the event. I mention this because there is a tendency for the general public to believe that an Army Band member with a piccolo in his hand has the same training and mindset as an Army Ranger. They do not. National Guard troops typically don’t have ammunition or even arms, except for their officers wearing sidearms.
The presence of the U.S. Armed Forces at inaugural events began with George Washington. The event is a very carefully planned, ceremonial affair — not a combat operation. The units involved train for months on marching routes, performance routines, and timing. None are running room-clearing drills in preparation for taking down the Dirksen Senate Office building.
Furthermore, in covering this message by the Joint Chiefs, several news outlets have taken a line out of context to suggest that the Joint Chiefs telling the troops to “Stay Ready” is an order to be ready for potential trouble Trump supporters might cause at the inauguration.
But the full sentence actually says something quite different:
“To our men and women deployed and at home, safeguarding our country — stay ready, keep your eyes on the horizon, and remain focused on the mission.”
“Keep your eyes on the horizon” is telling our men and women in uniform to remain alert to threats external to the United States, not those within our own country. Internal threats are something for law enforcement to handle, not the military. That is also what the Joint Chiefs are saying to the troops in this message: Beyond the military’s tradition and ceremonial role in presidential transfers of power, and its mission to protect the country from outside threats, it will play no role in any trouble that might occur from either side during the inauguration.
As is to be expected.