If there's one thing retired Gen. Martin Dempsey knows, it's leadership. The West Pointer and career Army officer offers an insight into good leadership almost every day via his Twitter account. From Aristotle to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tweets a constant workshop on the subject.
With an account so full of leadership quotes interpreted by the wisdom of a man with more than 40 years leading the United States Military, it's rare — and odd — to see a comment on a news story sweeping across the military and political landscape.
Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us. #Leadership— GEN(R) Marty Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey) May 21, 2019
It's highly unlikely Dempsey meant to throw his opinion into the political arena. A career officer of Dempsey's stature doesn't often comment on those things publicly. It's more likely he was speaking to the leadership of the United States as a country, the moral beacon that enforces the rule of law around the world, rather than breaking it. In a tweet on May 9, 2019, Dempsey wrote:
"It is easier to exemplify values than teach them"(Theodore Hesburgh). And much more effective. Leaders create an atmosphere by modeling behavior. They include or exclude, encourage or discourage, collaborate or confront. In the end, they reap what they sow. #Leadership
Dempsey's tweets only ever single out an individual when quoting them and then giving his interpretation of the meaning of that quote, as it pertains to leadership in general. Sometimes, it's just sound advice.
“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Happens sometimes of course but shouldn’t happen often. Especially in leaders. Big decisions require a quiet mind and so should never be made in anger. #Leadership— GEN(R) Marty Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey) March 29, 2019
As 2019 starts to turn to spring and summer, it's difficult to escape election coverage and early issues for the next year. One of the early talking points is about presidential pardons for U.S. troops serving time for war crimes. President Trump is considering a blanket pardon for military personnel and contractors who had been convicted of, or were facing charges for, committing war crimes. The announcement was set to come on Memorial Day. But the military's top brass is pushing the president not to do that.
Other former officers were much less kind than Dempsey, but Dempsey's tact and framing of the issue gives his response the most weight. Dempsey's response considers the fact that the President thinks he's doing the right thing to protect American service members, but his generals are reminding him that there is more at stake than a few prison sentences being waived away. As former Commandant of the Marine Corps Charle Krulak put it, a pardon for these offenses "relinquishes the United States' moral high ground and undermines the good order and discipline critical to winning on the battlefield."
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