The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wants service members and veterans to consider what using the uniform for partisan politics does to the trust Americans have in their military.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey has maintained throughout his 38-year career that the American military, as a whole, must remain apolitical — meaning being neutral in political matters.
“I have sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution and one of the principles of the Constitution is freedom of speech,” he said during an interview on his way to Ankara, Turkey. “Anyone who claims that I am in any way trying to deny someone freedom of speech, I just can’t accept that.”
Dempsey has been outspoken that service members have truly earned their right to vote, and that all Americans are entitled to private and personal opinions. But he also is worried that using the uniform for partisan purposes could damage the trust Americans have in their military.
Survey after survey reveals the American military is one of the most trusted and most respected institutions in the land, and maintaining that trust is key to the success of the United States, Dempsey said. In his studies of civil-military relations, he added, the cornerstone of the profession of arms is that “we remain apolitical — that we are not a special-interest group.”
And he applies that across the board. “I don’t care what side of the aisle someone happens to sit on or happens to support,” he said.
The chairman said he wants service members and those who have served and who may still use the title “just to think about what impact their actions will have on our standing as a profession with the American people if they engage in partisan political activity.”
“I just want them to think about it,” he said.
Retired general and flag officers must be extra careful when engaging in partisan political activities, the chairman said. They are held to a higher standard and probably should be, he explained, because many Americans do not make the distinction between an active duty and retired status. “And most (retired general and flag officers) understand that standard and meet it,” he added.