- President Donald Trump used the phrase “my generals” on Monday.
- Some people in the military community took objection to the possessive language, with one critic calling it “extremely offensive.”
- It’s not the first time Trump has referred to the military in possessive terms.
On Monday, when President Donald Trump was doubling down on his false claim that President Barack Obama didn’t call families of slain soldiers, he said a line that caught the attention of the military community.
“President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t, that’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals,” Trump said.
At issue was the phrase “my generals,” the wording of which some critics said suggested a misguided sense of ownership over the military.
“The US military belongs to the nation, not the president. We’re not his,” former US Army Officer Mark Hertling told Business Insider.
Hertling called Trump’s comments “extremely offensive.”
US Naval College professor Tom Nichols said the line was “contrary to the American spirit” and not “in the tradition of modern American civil-military relations.”
“Generals in a democracy serve the elected leader, whoever it is at any given time. They are not connected to a particular president,” Nichols told Business Insider.
“It’s contrary to the American spirit, because those generals are actually confirmed by the Senate. They’re not picked at will by the president,” he added. “I think that’s something people forget, including the president sometimes.”
Monday was not the first time Trump referred to the military in possessive terms. In June, when Trump tweeted that he decided to ban transgender people from the military “after consultation with my generals and military experts.” The president used similar language in April, when a reporter asked him if he had personally authorized the deployment of a bomb dropped on an ISIS tunnel complex.
“Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do is I authorize my military,” Trump said. “We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job as usual. So we have given them total authorization.”
Among those who bristled at the president’s wording in that instance was Leon Panetta, a former defense secretary and CIA director who served under President Barack Obama.
“When it comes to the military, the military belongs to the country. Our defense system belongs to the country. And it’s not the president’s military, it’s the military of the United States of America,” Panetta said in an interview with MSNBC.
“He has responsibility obviously, as commander in chief, to be able to make decisions with regards to our military,” he added. “But I think if you ask the men and women in uniform who they are responsible to, I think their answer would be, ‘We’re responsible to the United States of America.'”
So why does Trump continue to refer to the military in possessive terms? Nichols said it may be a holdover from Trump’s days as a business executive, when he exerted complete control over the Trump Organization.
“He says ‘my generals’ the same way he says ‘my managers,’ ‘my marketing guys,’ ‘my finance guys,’ Nichols said. “He’s a businessman, so he assumes everybody subordinate to him is his.”
“Some of it is being a novice, but I think some of it is that he just doesn’t think through what it is to be an elected president rather than the head of a company,” he added.