Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Do we mean what Art. 88, UCMJ says?

If the U.S. Congress does not want former military officers wading into the political fray unless they formally declare their candidacy for elected office, then current Article 88 UCMJ provisions concerning criticism of the president should be enforced, rather than be dead letter law for retirees. Otherwise, active-duty military members will feel empowered to denounce political leadership due to the norm-erosion of recently retired military leaders criticizing American leaders. If rule of law and its credibility matter in modern society, retired military officers should be legally required to resign their commissions before entering into influential political conversations either through elected office or serving as political appointees, much like Dwight Eisenhower did prior to running for president in 1952 (Smith, 2012). Absent their formal departure from military affiliation, military retirees should keep their politics personal; not public and remain above the political fray. Whereas the president is bucking norms but applying the law, the generals are applying presidential norms but bucking apolitical military norms and military law. This distinction may be uncomfortable, but again, abiding to the written laws and rules is what keeps the “soul” of an apolitical military protected, helping keep partisanship out of civil–military relations.

Excerpt from Ryan Burke and Jahara Matisek, Trump(ing) Tradition: Old Laws, New Norms and the Danger to Civil-Military Relations, Armed Forces & Society (2024) (H/T to Cdr. Phil Cave)


  1. Donald G Rehkopf, Jr.March 14, 2024 at 12:56 PM

    Here's a link: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/epub/10.1177/0095327X241234253

  2. Burke & Matisek stop short of suggesting ways and means of enforcing Article 88 against "retired military leaders." I'd be interested in hearing what others might suggest.


Comments are subject to moderation and must be submitted under your real name. Anonymous comments will not be posted (even though the form seems to permit them).