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Joint Chiefs Chairman Apologizes for Marching with Trump Across Lafayette Square

Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley apologized for his own abuse of his military authority yesterday, telling graduates at the National Defense University’s online commencement that he should not have walked in battle uniform across the forcibly cleared Lafayette Square with Donald Trump for Il Duce’s infamous Bible photo opp. Interestingly, he cited his own error as an example of the importance of following his own closing advice, to maintain situational awareness:

Let me conclude with two simple pieces of advice, based on 40 years in uniform, that you may find useful as many of you will surely go on to be flag officers. First, always maintain a keen sense of situational awareness. As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched, and I am not immune. As many of you saw the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week, that sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society. I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I’ve learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.

We who were the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation. And we must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic. And this is not easy. It takes time and work and effort, but it may be the most important thing each and every one of us does every single day [General Mark Milley, commencement address online, National Defense University, as transcribed by, 2020.06.11].

In his second bit of closing advice, General Milley spoke of embracing the Constitution as the core of military service and leadership:

And my second piece of advice is very simple. Embrace the Constitution, keep it close to your heart. It is our North Star. It’s our map to a better future. Though we are not a perfect union, believe in the United States, believe in our country, believe in your troops. And believe in our purpose. Few other nations have been able to change for the greater good. And that is because of the rights and values embedded in our Constitution.

The freedoms guaranteed to us in the Constitution allow people to demand change just as the peaceful protesters are doing all across the country. That is why we serve in the military. On day one, you and I, we all, we all swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And it’s essential American principle that all men and women are born free and equal. That is the foundation of our military ethos, who we are as service members and as an institution. All of us in uniform are willing to die for that idea, the idea that is America. And so we must also be willing to live for that idea, for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peacefully assemble. And freedom to vote and freedom to believe as you wish in your religion.

These are essential freedoms that are the cornerstone of our country. Americans have spilled their blood to protect them in the past and they continue to be worth fighting for. This we will defend. As you graduate today, you are entering an increasingly dynamic complex world that needs your leadership. Reflect on the past year and what you’ve learned about the current security environment. Great power competition and our global responsibilities, but also reflect on what you have witnessed over the past two and a half weeks. What it means to all of us as Americans, what it means to you and I as leaders [Milley, 2020.06.11].

General Milley did say some nice things about the National Guard and cops doing a good job of keeping the military out of the streets by “quelling the violence and deescalating very, very tense situations” in some of the protests that have taken place over the last couple weeks. But he said much more about the righteousness of protest over the murder of George Floyd:

We have also seen over the last two and a half weeks an especially intense and trying time for America. I am outraged by the senseless and brutal killing of George Floyd. His death amplified the pain, the frustration, and the fear that so many of our fellow Americans live with day in and day out. The protests that have ensued, not only speak to his killing, but also to the centuries of injustice towards African Americans. What we are seeing is the long shadow of original sin in Jamestown, 401 years ago. Liberated by the Civil War, but not equal in the eyes of the law until a 100 years later in 1965. We are still struggling with racism and we have much work to do. Racism and discrimination, structural preferences, patterns of mistreatment, unspoken and unconscious bias have no place in America. And they have no place in our armed forces [Milley, 2020.06.11].

General Milley appears to understand the proper role of leaders in our Constitutional Republic, and he is willing to admit when he has violated the trust invested in his office.



  1. Loren 2020-06-12

    While I appreciate the apology, I think it should have been accompanied by his resignation. It is one thing s for a 4-star general to say, “Oops,” but if that had been a Lt., Capt., Maj., etc, it would have certainly been a career ender. What is the worst that could happen to him, retirement as a 4-star? Present day military personnel are considered heroes. If the GOP wants to take us back in time to when “Merika was great,” like say, the Viet Nam era, they may be on their way with displays like this.

  2. jerry 2020-06-12

    No resignation for General Milley, he needs to stay as he has had the backbone to acknowledge he got used and was able to tell that to us all. We will need him to control the military so we can remove trump when he gets his arse handed to him in November.

  3. Eve Fisher 2020-06-12

    I agree, Jerry – we need Milley more than ever now.

  4. W R Old Guy 2020-06-12

    I am a retired military member and I agree with jerry 100%. We need leadership for the military that will stand up for the Constitution and established law. I would not be surprised to see Trump remove the Secretary of Defense and General Milley because they “dared” to express their concerns rather than kiss his butt.

  5. Debbo 2020-06-13

    My cousin is a major in the US Army and she has opinions but she will not speak on any political matters.

    Not. One. Word.

    I have a lot of respect for her.

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