Military officers from two leading democracies have been viciously attacked for warning their fellow countrymen about existential threats. The officers’ critics claim these leaders ought to remain silent denying fellow citizens of their judgment about the crises before it’s too late. One hundred and twenty-four retired American generals and admirals published an open letter (May 12th) that begins “Our nation is in deep peril.” Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, President Barack Obama’s former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismissed the letter alleging it “hurts the military and… the country” and contains Republican Party “talking points.” Retired U.S. Army Major General Joe Arbuckle agreed that “Retired generals and admirals normally do not engage in political actions.” But he rejects the critics, claiming “the situation facing our nation today is dire and we must speak out in order to be faithful to our oath to support and defend the Constitution of the U.S. against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Across the Atlantic, a cohort of French officers warned in two open letters their country was heading for “disintegration” and “civil war.” The first of two letters by 23 retired generals (April 21) earned a rebuke from Gerald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, who called the officers’ appeal a “crude maneuver” by the far right. The letters were endorsed by Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally, a conservative political party, and a candidate for the presidency next year. There are at least two ways for citizens to view these rare expressions of public concern from military officers. One is to dismiss them as political hacks as did Mullen and Darmanin, and the other is to embrace their warnings like the idiom of the canary in a coal mine. A singing canary is a good indicator of the build-up of a deadly gas in the mine. Once the bird is weakened by the gas, it stops singing and the miners know to quickly exit the shaft.
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