Military Clothing for Presidents? No, Sir!

HELP ENLIGHTEN YOUR FELLOWS. BE SURE TO PASS THIS ON. SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON IT.
By W.J. Astore, BRACING VIEWS


A reader reminded me yesterday of an article I wrote a decade ago about U.S. presidents donning military flight jackets.  And he sent along this image of President Trump dressed up for his recent visit to the troops in Iraq:

(TGP screengrab— CLICK ON ALL IMAGES FOR BEST RESOLUTION)

Here’s my article from 2010 on this subject.  You can see how much U.S. presidents listen to me.

This past weekend, President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan, during which he doffed his civilian coat and tie and donned a “Commander-in-chief” leather flight jacket provided to him by the Air Force. I suppose the president believed he could better connect with the troops by wearing “less formal” garb; I suppose as well he thought he was honoring the military by wearing the flight jacket associated with Air Force One. But as snazzy as the president may have looked in his flight jacket (and I liked my jacket when I was in the Air Force), his decision to don it was a blunder.

No, I’m not saying the president is a military wannabe; I’m not saying the president is a poseur. What I’m saying is that the president, whether he knows it or not, is blurring the vitally important distinction between a democratically-elected, thoroughly civilian, commander-in-chief and the military members the president commands in our — the people’s — name.

Though the president commands our military, he is not, strictly speaking, a member of it. Rather, as our highest ranking public servant, he stands above it, exercising the authority granted to him by the Constitution to command the military in the people’s name.

Whenever the president addresses our troops, he should, indeed he must, appear in civilian clothing, because that’s precisely what he is: a civilian, a very special one, to be sure, but that’s what he is — and what he always must be.

We must wean ourselves from Hollywood illusions that our president should parade around like the ultimate fighter pilot (even if, once upon a time, he flew fighters, like George W. Bush did). This is not the set of “Independence Day.” Neither is it a photo op.

President Obama admires Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln visited General George McClellan during our Civil War, he didn’t don a military greatcoat; instead, with army tents and uniformed men all around him, Lincoln dared to look incongruous in his dress civilian clothes, complete with top hat.

Incongruous? Perhaps. But look closely at the photo: Never was Lincoln’s authority clearer.


lincoln-mcclellan

And that’s the point: Lincoln knew he was a civilian commander-in-chief. Precisely by not donning military clothing, he asserted his ultimate civilian authority over McClellan and the army.

Please, President Obama (and all future presidents): Put away the flight jackets and other militaria when you address our troops. Appear as the civilian commander-in-chief that you are. By doing so, you remind our troops that they are citizens first, and soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen second.

As our wars grow ever longer, that’s a reminder that should loom ever larger.

Addendum (12/18): Besides taking multiple draft deferments during the Vietnam War, it appears Donald Trump had the help of two podiatrists who rented space from his father.  Those doctors appear to have done Young Trump a favor by diagnosing him with heel spurs, which disqualified him from being drafted.  And yet Trump the draft dodger is now proud to wear military clothing and to boast that “nobody does military better than me.”  What a country we live in!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. He has taught at the Air Force Academy, the Naval Postgraduate School, and the Pennsylvania College of Technology. His personal blog is BracingViews.com. He can be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.

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ALL CAPTIONS AND PULL QUOTES BY THE EDITORS NOT THE AUTHORS

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Revolutionary wisdom

Words from an Irish patriot—

 

“There are three kinds of violence. The first, the mother of all the others, is the institutional violence, the one that legalizes and perpetuates the dominations, the oppressions and the exploitations, the one that crushes and flattens millions of men in its silent and well oiled wheels. The second is revolutionary violence, which arises from the desire to abolish the first. The third is repressive violence, the object of which is to stifle the second by making itself the auxiliary and the accomplice of the first violence, the one that engenders all the others. There is no worse hypocrisy to call violence only the second, by pretending to forget the first, which gives birth to it, and the third which kills it. ”

Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian Archbishop and liberation theologian

 

 

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