Our Man in Little Rock – Why Following The President’s Orders Is So Important


In 1954 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that separate schools for whites and blacks were unconstitutional and inherently unequal. The slow, painful process of making that ruling a reality then began.

By 1957 Arkansas had already integrated a number of state universities and smaller schools, but when nine black students enrolled to attend class at all-white Central High School in Little Rock, threats of violence exploded. Just days before the school year started, the governor of Arkansas Orval Faubus, announced he would deploy the state’s National Guard around Central High School. On September 4. 1957 when the nine black students attempted to enter the school to begin class, they were denied entry by the Arkansas National Guard.

After a standoff that lasted several weeks, President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10730, nationalizing the Arkansas National Guard and dispatching 1000 troops from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to maintain order and enforce the desegregation of Central High. It would ultimately take two years to accomplish the task, but the 101st Airborne’s 327th Airborne Battle Group under the command of Major General Edwin A. Walker was instrumental in achieving the ultimate success and in guaranteeing the safety and security of the black students breaking the color barrier in Little Rock.

Walker himself had deep personal reservations about the wisdom of Eisenhower’s decision, reservations that he would express later in life. Nonetheless, he did as he was directed to do and took U.S. combat troops onto the streets of a major American city and into a public school to enforce the orders of the President.

Sixty-three years later, General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, found a direction to cross the street and stand in front of a church with President Trump to be too much for his conscience to bear. Referring to his accompaniment of the President when he walked through Lafayette Square and was photographed in front of the historic St. John’s Church, which had been targeted by looters and vandals, Milley had this to say.

“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,” Milley continued. “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.”

General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, June 2020

Milley added:

“As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”

General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, June 2020

Perhaps it is time we review with General Milley and other senior officers the position and authority of the President of the United States.

The President is the commander and chief of the military. General Milley can pin as many stars as he wants on his shoulder boards, he can restyle himself Field-Marshal or Generalissimo. It does not matter.

Milley does not “assist” the President. He does not “coordinate” with the President. He works for him, in the direct literal sense that applies within a military command structure. When he is given an order, unless and until he determines that order to be illegal or unconstitutional, Milley’s job is to say “yes, sir” and follow that order.

The President’s job is multi-faceted. It includes direct administrative functions as well as a broad range of what is perhaps best described as leadership responsibilities. A President leaving the safety of the White House in the midst of nationwide riots, walking onto the streets of our nation’s capital, and standing in broad daylight with his key subordinates in front of a national landmark is making a powerful, and much-needed statement. He is saying that he will not surrender the streets to anarchy. He is providing reassurance. He is doing his job.

There is, in short, no justification for Milley’s discontent or unease. There is also no justification for making his discontent and unease publicly known.

A battalion commander given orders by his brigade commander with which he disagrees does not call a press conference to discuss those concerns. If he does so, he is not just acting improperly. He is, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), quite literally committing a criminal offense.

It’s been a little while since I tried cases under the UCMJ as an Army JAG officer, but I would think any competent Army prosecutor could fill a charge sheet with the offenses just committed by General Milley. Here are some for starters.

  • Article 88 – contempt toward the President
  • Article 91 – insubordination
  • Article 133 – conduct unbecoming an officer
  • Article 134 – conduct injurious to good order and discipline

If General Milley were really concerned about the message he was sending to the nation, he should have followed his commander in chief’s orders, done his job and stayed out of the political limelight. In not doing so, he was not simply acting improperly, he was acting outside the scope of his authority, contrary to good order and discipline and suggesting that going forward he would likely pick and choose which orders from this President he would decide to follow and which he would not. In a democratic nation, built on the principle of civilian control over the military, there could hardly be anything more dangerous.

Take a moment for self-reflection, General. Review if you must the Constitution, particularly Article II Section 2.

I for one am glad you were not our man in Little Rock.