Mark Milley On Democracy, The Constitution, & Wannabe Dictators

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After 40 years of service to the America as a member of the US Army, Mark Milley retired at the end of September and handed over his position as the head of the Joint  Chiefs of Staff to Air Force general CQ Brown. The much decorated general used the opportunity to address his colleagues and the nation on a broad range of topics, including the duty of a soldier to the Constitution and only the Constitution. Here’s what Milley had to say (lightly edited):

“Today is not about anyone up here on this stage. It’s about something much larger than all of us. It’s about our democracy. It’s about our republic. It’s about the ideas and values that make up this great experiment in liberty. Those values and ideas are contained within the Constitution of the United States of America, which is the moral North Star for all of us who have the privilege of wearing the cloth of our nation.

“It is that document that gives purpose to our service. It is that document that gives purpose to our lives. It is that document that all of us in uniform swear to protect and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

“That has been true across generations, and we in uniform are willing to die to pass that document off to the next generation. So it is that document that gives ultimate purpose to our death. The motto of our country is E Pluribus Unum, from the many, come one. We are one nation under God. We are indivisible, with liberty for all. And the motto of our army, for over 200 years has been “This We’ll Defend,” and the “this” refers to the Constitution.

“We in uniform are unique among the world’s armies. We are unique among the world’s militaries. We don’t take an oath to a country. We don’t take an oath to a tribe. We don’t take an oath to a religion. We don’t take an oath to a king or a queen or to a tyrant or a dictator. And we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator. We don’t take an oath to an individual. We take an oath to the Constitution, and we take an oath to the idea that is America, and we’re willing to die to protect it.

“Those who sacrificed themselves on the altar of freedom in the last two and a half centuries of this country must not have done so in vain. The millions wounded in our nation’s wars did not sacrifice their limbs and shed their blood to see this great experiment in democracy perish from this earth. No. We the United States military will always be true to those that came before us. We will never, under any circumstances, turn our back on our duty.

“From the earliest days, before we were even a nation, our military stood in the breach, has suffered the crucible of combat, and has stood the watch and defended liberty for all Americans. Each of us signs a blank check to this country to protect our freedom. The blood we spill pays for our freedom of speech. Our blood pays for the right to assemble, our due process, our freedom of the press, our right to vote, and all the other rights and privileges that come with being an American.

“We the American people, we the American military, must never turn our back on those that came before us. And we will never turn our back on the Constitution. That is our North Star, that is who we are, and that is why we fight.”

Powerful stuff. Just prior to his speech, Milley gave a heartfelt tribute to President Biden for his “unwavering leadership. I’ve seen you in the breach, I’ve seen you on the watch,” he told the president, “and I know firsthand that you’re a man of incredible integrity and character.”

This is the same man who is vilified by reactionaries all across America with the slogan, “Fuck Biden.” It never occurs to them that there are those who disagree with them. If those dissenters paraded around with “Fuck Trump” flags, they might be subject to physical harm and maybe death. The troglodytes do not have the mental capacity to appreciate their hypocrisy, which encourages some to say hateful things while denying the same privilege to others.

Maya Angelou once said, “We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.” Mohandas Ghandi expressed the same sentiment when he said, “Civilization is the encouragement of differences.”


Almost 50 years ago, I was enrolled in a masters program at the University of Rhode Island. One day, the professor introduced us to a game called StarPower, which is described by its authors as the “Use & Abuse of Power, Leadership & Diversity.” The game was first invented in 1969 and is curated today by Simulation Training Systems.

StarPower is “a real time, face to face, non-computer based simulation game of an organization or system in which leaders are given unlimited powers to make and change the rules of the simulation.

“Participants have a chance to progress from one level of society to another by acquiring wealth through trading with other participants. Once the society is established, the group with the most wealth is given the right to make the rules for the game. The power group generally makes rules which maintain or increase its power and which those being governed consider to be unfair. This generally results in some sort of rebellion by the other members of the society.

“It can be used with any students from 8th grade and older. There are three general types of groups within educational institutions and charities that use StarPower:

    • Groups concerned about the ethical use of power. This generally includes peace groups, classes on racism, diversity, ethics, and almost any other course or activity concerned with making the world a better place to live.
    • Teachers of business, sociology, psychology, political science, economics, or history, who believe that it is important for their students to experience and understand power as a concept.
    • Those who are interested in teaching people who have power how to use their power in an appropriate manner.”

“The most unique feature of StarPower is the strength of the impression it makes on the participants. It sneaks up on them. During the first two rounds, the atmosphere is very social. People are laughing, talking, exchanging chips, and having a good time. When the announcement is made that, because the squares have worked so hard, they now have the right to make the rules for the game, participants begin to sense that more is going on than the exchange of a few chips.

“Then, when the Squares pull their chairs in a tight circle and begin whispering conspiratorially about the rules they want to make, the social atmosphere evaporates and the players become very earnest about the game. Without really being aware of it, ‘winning’ the game has become very important. And because it is important, the actions, decisions and behaviors are important.

StarPower teaches that each of us may be more vulnerable to the temptation to abuse power than we realize. Power can be amazingly seductive. To change behavior, it may be necessary to change the system in which that behavior occurs.

“Few people are likely to participate in an endeavor if they feel powerless. If rules do not have legitimacy, they will not be obeyed. What seems fair to those in power is not likely to seem fair to those who are out of power. Persons who are promoted rarely remember those they leave behind. Power is like fire, it can be used to help make the world a better place to live or it can be terribly destructive.

“In any system, there needs to be checks on power. If there are no checks, power will almost certainly be abused.”

StarPower And Wannabe Dictators

I often have conversations with family, friends, and neighbors who are at a loss to explain the slavish obedience to the Menace of Mar-A-Lago. In my opinion, that person has found a way — social media is a big part of it — to channel the anger and frustration of people who feel powerless and who choose not to obey rules they feel are illegitimate.

If you have difficulty understanding why Americans are so divided today, StarPower offers a possible explanation. Compensation for “stars” has skyrocketed in the past 30 years while ordinary people have seen their earning power eroded. Corporations and their leaders game the system to make rules that benefit themselves at the expense of the rest of us. Perhaps the most powerful motivator for people’s anger is how the hoi polloi were backhanded by the federal government in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown that began in 2007.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their homes and their life savings while the big banks and insurance companies (and the automakers) were propped up and given massive financial support. Since then, the number of billionaires has exploded while many Americans have been impoverished. You don’t need to be a hillbilly to be pissed off by the way ordinary people have been sold down the river by their government.

As Mother Jones once explained it, “I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.” That’s StarPower reduced to its essence.

The Takeaway

The ability of the Earth to sustain life as we know it is under assault, primarily by the overheating attributable to the burning of fossil fuels which has added the heat of 25 billion atomic bombs to the environment in the past 50 years. And yet, the “stars” are perfectly content with things as they are because they are making money hand over fist.

StarPower teaches that at some point, the abuse of the have-nots becomes intolerable and a revolution ensues. That doesn’t mean change needs to be violent. It does mean that adjustments need to be made to the way America is governed to equalize the needs of the “squares” and “triangles” with the privileges of the “stars.”

A more equal of distribution of power in the Senate would help as would moving away from the Electoral Collage, which is as undemocratic a device as one could possible imagine. Instant runoff elections instead of first past the post rules would encourage more people to participate in the political process. Age limits for members of Congress, presidents, and federal judges would be a big step forward.

But the key, number one reform needed is to legislation that supersedes the dreadfully undemocratic Citizens United decision that allows the wealthiest Americans to spend unlimited amounts of money to game the system to their advantage. If ever there was proof needed of the principles taught by StarPower, that one decision by the US Supreme Court is it. It set up a “heads we win, tails you lose” situation in America that gets more diabolical and pernicious with each election cycle.

Mark Milley is right. We all are bound by the covenants incorporated into the Constitution, not the ravings of a sociopath who would make himself king. America was founded to throw off the shackles imposed by one tyrant, but seems intent on embracing new shackles being readied by a new tyrant — one who suggests publicly that men like Mark Milley should be executed because they refuse to kowtow to him.

In the words of George Lorimer, “It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.” Democracy is one of those things that no amount of money can buy,

[Note: This article was inspired by Heather Cox Richardson, who writes about life in the United States. If you found this story useful, you may wish to subscribe to her daily newsletter. The featured image is a photograph by Peter Ralston and is used with his express written permission. Reuse, reproduction, or republishing of the image is prohibited. For more information, contact the Ralston Gallery. And please tell them you heard about them on CleanTechnica.]

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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