Military members have to walk a line between their own political beliefs and what the State asks of them as members of the profession of arms.   In principle, it is fairly simple:  do nothing to bring disrepute on the government that you serve, but be ready to disobey an unlawful order and/or resign if your ethics and moral values make it impossible to continue to serve.

Military members owe the same loyalty to the government of the day that civil servants do, but with the extra burden of realizing that unlike workers in, say,  Finance or Vital Statistics, they have the unique capability and organization to take power and replace a government that is not to their liking.

Times of social and political polarization make it especially tempting for the military to see itself as a political actor, in the long Bonapartian tradition of the Man on the White Horse.   In the especially fraught politics of the US, the number of recently retired senior officers endorsing political candidates rises each year, lending their influence and example to serving members who may feel similarly tempted.  In this excellent essay, LCol Cavanaugh, an American Army officer, proposes a Code of Conduct to keep the military apolitical.

While Canada’s military is a sliver of the size of its US counterpart, and has always stayed out of active politics, I have personally seen Canadian Armed Forces members, identifiable online as such, criticize policies of the Government of Canada on social media.  Non-commissioned members have associated with racist and extremist groups, thus violating the CAF’s commitment to diversity and to mirroring the face of Canadian society.   I would suggest that LCol Cavanaugh’s proposed Code of Conduct works just as well for us, if the words “Canada” and “Canadian” are substituted for United States and American.

There are dark days ahead.   Military members have a duty and a responsibility not to make them any darker.

0 Responses

  1. Thanks Michael. I always appreciate your clear and balanced writing. This article is very helpful in these present days, and I also appreciate the link to the article by LCol Cavanaugh