The combination of these elements has elicited a concerned reaction to current events from many commentators.
Most notably, it has stirred up a wave of criticism from former high-ranking military officers: two former Chairmen of the Joint chiefs of Staff in Admiral Michael Mullen (2007-2011) and General Martin Dempsey (2011-2015), former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller, General John Allen, former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, Admiral James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and even General John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff from 2017 to 2019. On June 6, the Washington Post even published a letter from 89 former Defense officials – including several former Secretaries of Defense, such as Ashton Carter and Leon Panetta – expressing their concern.
Finally, Jim Mattis, a legend of the Marine Corps and Trump’s own former Secretary of Defense, broke his silence on June 3. This is a critical event because, following his resignation in December 2018, he had indicated that he would only open up regarding the current administration if circumstances made it necessary. While condemning the divisions created and exacerbated by Donald Trump, he also emphasized the risk that a militarized response would widen the gap between American society and its military ("Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civil society.")
Apart from the response by former Pentagon members, within the military institution itself there appears to be a certain degree of discomfort with – or even resistance to – the political exploitation of the current situation.
Units of the 82nd Airborne Division were deployed near Washington, D.C. before being ordered home on June 3, redeployed around Washington the same day and then ordered back on June 4. More significantly, Mark Esper, at his press conference on June 3, clearly stated that he was not in favor of invoking the Insurrection Act. Senator Tom Cotton, once tipped as a possible candidate for Secretary of Defense, replied unequivocally in a New York Times op-ed: "Send In the Troops."
In turn, both CJCS Milley and the various Services – the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps and even the newly established Space Force – have stressed their sensitivity to the issues of racial discrimination. At the same time, they have implicitly shown their disapproval with the President regarding the militarization of law enforcement. The Air Force has stood out in particular through the creation of a dialogue between its Chief of Staff and the Chief Master Sergeant, the representative of the enlisted corps, who is himself African-American.
These internal and external reactions, along with media statements made by D.C.’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, are likely connected to Donald Trump’s decision, announced on June 7, to withdraw the National Guard from Washington, while the protests continue without violence.
Political relations with the military in the United States
Such intense reactions, particularly from the institutions of the military themselves, can be explained by the unique place that civil-military relations occupy in the political culture of the United States
While the Founding Fathers feared empowerment of the military (one of the grievances that the Declaration of Independence addresses to the British sovereign is that "[he] has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power"), they were also concerned about the power that the executive branch of government might derive from control of the armed forces (for example, see Federalist Paper No. 8).