Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who served in the Trump administration for almost two years, unequivocally denounced President Trump in a statement accusing him of failing to unite the country amidst the unrest over the past week.
“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand – one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values – our values as people and our values as a nation,” Mattis said in a statement obtained by The Atlantic.
“When I joined the military some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens – much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside,” he said.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, U.S. Park Police have rejected claims that tear gas was deployed at demonstrators, but acknowledged that they deployed smoke canisters and pepper balls after “violent protesters” purportedly became “combative.” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Wednesday that the visit was important for its symbolic significance.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has distanced himself from the church visit, claiming that he thought he would be looking at damage and talking to troops, according to Business Insider.
“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate,’” said Mattis, seemingly a reference to a call between Trump and state governors in which Esper urged the states to put an end to civil unrest, reports ABC News.
The relevant audio segment of the call is excerpted below (excerpt via The Washington Post):
Here’s the audio of the US secretary of defense referring to American streets as the “battle space” pic.twitter.com/SmqynReHTC
— John Hudson (@John_Hudson) June 1, 2020
The Washington Post reports that Esper has also distanced himself from the phrase “battlespace,” noting that he should have used a different term: “In retrospect, I would use different wording so as not to distract from the more important matters at hand or allow some to suggest that we are militarizing the issue.”
“At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors,” continued Mattis in his statement. “Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.”
“James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that ‘America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.’ We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law,” he said.
“Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics,” said Mattis.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us,” said Mattis. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”
“We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Park. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s ‘better angels,’ and listen to them, as we work to unite,” said Mattis.
“Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad,” he concluded.
The former secretary of defense resigned in late 2018 — after Trump made the decision to withdraw troops from Syria — and told the president that he had the “right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects,” according to a copy of the resignation letter obtained by The New York Times.