“The Role of the Military in Presidential Politics” by Steve Corbett and Michael J. Davidson, in Parameters, Winter 2009–10.
The American military has a proud and long-standing tradition of political neutrality, but in recent presidential elections a “disturbing trend” has emerged: Retired generals have taken to endorsing candidates, write retired Army officers Steve Corbett and Michael J. Davidson. If this continues, the military risks “legitimizing the spread of partisan politics within the active-duty force.”
The culture of a politically neutral military took hold in the years following Reconstruction. After the presidential election of 1880, no professional military officer was nominated for the presidency until 1952. By custom, most officers did not even vote. General George C. Marshall epitomized the ethos of the era—he never voted, avoided all political participation, and upon becoming secretary of state in 1947, foreswore ever running for office. He discouraged General Dwight D. Eisenhower from pursuing the presidency, but, of course, Eisenhower did not heed his advice. Eisenhower’s election was “a watershed event,” marking the start of an era of increased military involvement in politics.
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