The arguments against putting a general in as secretary of defense remain overpoweringly correct: The legislation requiring a minimum of seven years’ separation (10 would be better) is sound. The Department of Defense is the biggest element in the United States government. It has immense resources of people, money, and machines, and overpowering amounts of violence at its disposal. It is a vital principle of free government that such power not be put in the hands of members of a military elite, no matter how honorable and trustworthy they may be as individuals.
For secretary of defense, Americans should want someone of broad experience and perspective in civilian life, not the product of an all-absorbing institution as total in its way as the priesthood in the Catholic Church. The military way is a noble way. It is also a narrow way. There are practical issues as well: Would a soldier favor his own service in intramural budget battles, or bend over backwards not to? Would he concentrate on policy rather than the kind of tactical management generals feel most comfortable with?
The biggest argument is more fundamental. The secretary of defense represents the armed forces to society at large, and far more important, represents society to the armed forces. Selecting a civilian ensures that civilian perspectives dominate, as they should.