A Fort Sumter Replay Has Already Happened. So, Is This Now Civil War, Act II?
Active and former U.S. military members have already defied & attacked the government. What now?
Southern secessionists’ firing on the federal government-held Fort Sumter in 1861 sparked the U.S. Civil War, ultimately costing some 700,000 lives. A replay of Fort Sumter occurred in 2021 in three actions. One can argue that America’s Second Civil War has already begun — spearheaded, as in 1861, by active duty and former members of the military. Can gunfire be far behind — perhaps by the fall mid-term elections?
Pardon me if I sound a mite alarmist, but, in case you weren’t paying attention, active duty and former members of the U.S. military defied the United States government on three separate occasions last year. First, was January 6, when more than 1 out of 10 of those charged with participating in the assault on the Capitol were current or former members of the U.S. armed forces. According to CBS News,
While an overwhelming majority of those with military ties were veterans when they were charged, at least five were currently in the military when they participated in the attack. One was an active-duty Marine, and four were part-time troops, either in the Army Reserve or National Guard.
Court documents assert another alleged rioter was “attending basic training for the United States Air Force” at the time of an August 2021 interview with the FBI following his alleged participation in the January 6 attack.
In all, at least 36 have served in the Marine Corps, 28 in the Army, three in the Navy, and five in the Air Force.
The second incident happened in May when 124 retired generals and admirals signed an open letter calling into question the validity of the 2020 election outcome:
Aside from the election, the Current Administration has launched a full-blown assault on our Constitutional rights in a dictatorial manner.
We are in a fight for our survival as a Constitutional Republic like no other time since our founding in 1776. The conflict is between supporters of Socialism and Marxism vs. supporters of Constitutional freedom and liberty.
Can’t get much more strangelovean than that.
Twenty-five of the signees were three-star generals and admirals, one was a four-star admiral, essentially the highest rank attainable in peacetime.
The third installment of Fort Sumter redux was perhaps the most ominous.
Last November, Brigadier General Thomas Mancino, commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, rejected an order from President Biden requiring all National Guard members be vaccinated against COVID. Mancino asserted that his commander in chief was Republican governor Kevin Stitt, not the president, as long as the Guard was not federally mobilized. Stitt had slam-dunked Mancino into the position after abruptly removing his noncompliant predecessor.
A federal judge ruled against Oklahoma and Stitt and Mancino backed down, for now anyway. But this act of gross insubordination from an active duty one-star Army general is astounding. And he remains in office.
The legal publication Lawfare, commenting on Stitt’s and Mancino’s actions, notes:
[T]hey are not advancing a good-faith legal position on which they have any reasonable prospect of prevailing in court. Rather, they are advocating a kind of civil disobedience within the ranks. [emphasis added]
There is no good authority for this muscular conception of a state governor’s commander-in-chief power over the National Guard, under which a governor retains—in effect—the power to nullify federal regulations.
Nullification, i.e., a state asserting its right to overrule federal authority, was a key catalyst behind southern secession. Only President Andrew Jackson’s threat to intervene militarily caused South Carolina to back down from nullifying federal laws on tariffs in the 1830s. This action did not resolve the issue of states’ rights; it only put a damper on it. So, Stitt’s and Mancino’s extraordinary action to openly nullify a presidential order fits a strain in American history, one that has never quite been put to bed.
Three retired Army generals recently sounded the alarm concerning a potential breakup in the military’s ranks should the United States enter into another civil war. Last month, Major Generals Paul D. Eaton and Antonio M. Taguba, and Brigadier General Steven M. Anderson — with a combined service time of nearly a century — published a letter in the Washington Post warning of “the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk,” adding, “We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”
Note carefully these generals’ chilling prognostication:
The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines — from the top of the chain to squad level — is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the “rightful” commander in chief cannot be dismissed.
Imagine competing commanders in chief — a newly re-elected Biden giving orders, versus Trump (or another Trumpian figure) issuing orders as the head of a shadow government. Worse, imagine politicians at the state and federal levels illegally installing a losing candidate as president.
All service members take an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution. But in a contested election, with loyalties split, some might follow orders from the rightful commander in chief, while others might follow the Trumpian loser. Arms might not be secured depending on who was overseeing them. Under such a scenario, it is not outlandish to say a military breakdown could lead to civil war.
They call on the Pentagon to ferret out and ban recruitment of service members involved with extremist activities, conduct civics education of current members and war game how another insurrection likely would play out and how to defeat it.
See a pattern here harking back a century and a half? Retired flag officers (active duty officers may not make political statements) split in their loyalties, some calling into question the legitimacy of the incumbent president and denouncing him as “dictatorial”; others professing loyalty to the administration and urging action to counter incipient insurrection.
When the Civil War broke out, of the West Point graduates still living and eligible for military service, 259 (26 percent) joined the Confederacy and 638 (65 percent) fought for the Union. Of these, 217 attained the rank of brigadier general or higher in the Union army while around 146 served as general officers in the Confederate army.
During the 1/6 insurrection, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley reportedly told aides, “We’re going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in.”
Will he and other loyalists to the Constitution and the rule of law be able to deliver on such a commitment in the event of another putsch attempt? Or, should we recognize that a second slow motion putsch effort is already well underway, and that civil war has already begun, in a slow-roiling pattern that is gradually surfacing and could give rise to armed conflict involving contending factions of the U.S. military? All that is needed to spark such a conflict would be for a governor and an active duty military commander to reject the ruling of a federal court after first defying the president.
Read your history. You be the judge.