A slippery slope in choice for Defense
volume 38
issue 1
February 2017

Trump’s dangerous choice of General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense goes against a fundamental principle of U.S. democracy, limited as it is: civilian control of the military.

The 1947 National Security Act requires Defense Secretaries to have been in civilian life for a significant number of years (formerly 10, now seven) if they have served in the military. Mattis, who retired three years ago, ordinarily would not be eligible.

But Congress can waive the stipulation, which it has for Mattis (and only once before). This is risky business.

The U.S. has never suffered a military coup at home, although it has caused or abetted many abroad. For all the hazards, hardships, and inequalities of life under a civilian capitalist regime, life after an army violently seizes the government can be expected to be incomparably worse. Death and injury during the coup itself; the torture and disappearance of critics and dissidents; the near-total loss of civil liberties — these are the hallmarks of military rule.

It’s unlikely that Mattis’ appointment will lead to such a grim scenario. But in the chaos and reaction of a Trump administration, any strengthening of the military role in government is one more cause for apprehension. Needed: a revitalized anti-war movement!

To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.