On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 1: A Military Declaration of Political Neutrality


After a heated, bitterly contested election season, now that the peaceful transfer of power is complete and temperatures have subsided a bit—it’s important for the Profession of Arms to reflect on its critical role in this democratic society.

In the spirit of this important reflection, recently, I made the case that, while they should always maintain the right to vote—military officers should choose not to vote—to fulfill their professional duty to prevent politics from dividing our troops and separating us from society, as well as to uphold the long, star-studded tradition of uniformed non-voting (i.e. Grant, Marshall, Patton, Eisenhower, etc.).

In swift response, retired Gen. Carter Ham, announced in the Army Times he “could not disagree more strongly” with this position, and countered it was inadvisable “to suggest officers recuse themselves from one of the most fundamental rights and obligations of citizenry.” He concluded by reminding readers of then-Gen. George Washington’s words, “When we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen.” Continue reading “On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 1: A Military Declaration of Political Neutrality”

On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 2: Military Officers Can Choose Professional Values Over Their Personal Vote


Retired Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap has written, perhaps unintentionally, a truly ironic essay for The Hill publication.

While he may have meant to disagree with my earlier-written opinion that military officers should not vote to maintain their professional obligation to reduce cancerous political partisanship in the ranks, his response’s immense irony is noteworthy. Continue reading “On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 2: Military Officers Can Choose Professional Values Over Their Personal Vote”

Why Officers Shouldn’t Vote

*Note: This essay was published in the New York Times print edition on October 19, 2016 and is available online here (and PDF).

Tonight, like millions of Americans, I will be glued to my television, watching the third and last presidential debate. But unlike them, and millions of others, whatever I hear tonight, I won’t be taking it with me into the ballot booth. I am a major in the United States Army, and I believe it is my professional duty — and that of my fellow officers, in all branches — not to vote.

To be clear, I strongly believe that officers, like all citizens, should have the right to vote. But because military officers have a special responsibility to prevent politics from dividing our troops and separating us from society, it is all the more important for us to choose not to exercise that right (this is my belief, of course, and not necessarily that of the Department of Defense or the American government).

Read the rest at the New York Times.

Professional Obligation

The Professional Obligations of Military Officership
Having graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point on 1 June 2002, receiving my diploma from President George W. Bush moments after he gave his “doctrine of preemption” speech, the image at left (which I came across this past week) evoked a response from me. Not, however, negative, as one might expect. I just sort of looked at it and thought about what it “spoke” to me as a professional military officer. Of course, I thought about the friends and classmates that have died in Iraq (and Afghanistan), and how many of them had passed earlier than they deserved. I think the cartoonist is trying to, perhaps, comment on the fears each cadet feels when the time for college is done and the war effort calls. It is a fairly shocking image to one with personal connections to West Point (I can only imagine that my Mom wouldn’t have appreciated seeing it in 2002). Continue reading “Professional Obligation”

Lessons from Karremans at Srebrenica and Puller in China

This past week, a court in the Netherlands found that Dutch military peacekeepers were responsible for three of the 8,000+ massacred at Srebrenica in 1995. The BBC reported it this way:

The Dutch were in charge of the UN “safe area” when Bosnian Serb forces overran it in 1995 and killed 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.
The court in The Hague ruled that the Dutch troops should not have handed the three men over to Bosnian Serb forces.
The ruling was unexpected, and may open the way for other compensation claims.
The case centred on three Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) who were working for the Dutch force, Dutchbat, during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and were among thousands who took shelter in the UN compound as Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Gen Ratko Mladic overran Srebrenica on 11 July 1995.
Two days later, Dutch peacekeepers forced the Bosniaks out of the compound.

The BBC 10 year anniversary coverage included this excellent timeline.


Thomas Karremans

Now that the necessary background is out of the way it is time to move on to the important analysis: the individual decision level. The Dutchbat (Dutch Battalion) was commanded by LTC Thomas Karremans, lightly armed and totaling roughly 300-450 soldiers. *The figures cited at left are different than others that I’ve come across.

Dutchbat’s mission was to protect the civilian populace in a particular “secure area” or “safe haven,” as designated by the UN. Their rules of engagement were generally for self-defense, and they counted on NATO air support to provide greater punch.

Continue reading “Lessons from Karremans at Srebrenica and Puller in China”