Being no different from or better than our enemies has not been the aspiration of previous presidents, nor of our military. The United States has accrued numerous advantages by being better, more principled, and more trustworthy than its enemies. Among those advantages are allies willing to have American bases on their territory and to participate in the wars we fight. Being a principled and disciplined military that operates with clear ethical norms also serves the crucial purpose of helping veterans to reintegrate into civilian society and make their individual peace with the violence they have committed on America’s behalf.
Perhaps the president was seeking to shore up military support, or remind civilians of his popularity with the military at a trying political moment. Except that both the civilian and military leadership of the Department of Defense opposed the pardons. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, and senior military leaders advised against the pardons, worrying they would “damage the integrity of the military judicial system, the ability of military leaders to ensure good order and discipline, and the confidence of U.S. allies and partners who host U.S. troops.” The secretary of defense described “a robust discussion” with the president, wanting to clearly convey the department’s and his own personal disapproval of the pardons.