Trenchant questions

Some time ago, I had the temerity to write that Gen. Generoso Senga did right in imposing discipline on Marine general Francisco Gudani and Marine colonel Alexander Balutan. Even though I thought that Gudani and Balutan had done the right thing, in testifying under oath before the Senate convened as a Committee of the Whole, and violating a direct order of their immediate superior in the process, I reasoned that Senga had no other choice but to repair the damage to the chain of command.

Two Sundays ago, lawyer and must-read blogger Edwin Lacierda raised a specific question, this time about the "failed attempt of Col. Klaus von Stauffenberg" to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Had it succeeded, would you still hold that the chain of command must be inviolably maintained and therefore, condemn the act or would you admit of an exception and condone his act on the premise that in the hierarchy of moral virtues, his assassination Hitler is far more superior than maintaining the command structure?

(It’s taken me eight days to eke out a possible answer, but, Your Honor, I plead a heavy caseload, in a manner of speaking.)

The short answer is: Yes, it was a moral act, and deeply professional, worthy of the highest ideals of the traditional (Prussian-based)  German army. Regardless of its success, it was the right thing to do (and many of the best generals of the German military thought so too).

The long answer begins with a quick detour. I think I understand where Dawin is coming from; he is thinking like a lawyer. As I understand it, legal reasoning is based on the fundamental principle of "facts and the law." Essentially, it is applied metaphorical thinking. It deals with one case by searching other (already decided) cases for a convincing parallel, or analogy. But the parallel is not simply a matter of comparing laws in question; the (key) facts of each case must also be essentially the same.

His question about the plot to assassinate Hitler (I think Stauffenberg left a bomb under the conference table in Hitler’s mountain retreat in July 1944; when it exploded, Hitler happened to be some distance away from the table; he sustained injuries, none mortal, except perhaps to his dictator’s sense of invincibility) is thus an attempt to look for parallels between the Gudani episode and other acts of soldier’s conscience in history.

But I think the parallel, in this particular instance, does not hold. 

Germany in 1944 was laboring under a dictatorship. The Gudani episode took place under a democracy — imperfect, but still real. I think that difference, right there, would invalidate the analogy. After the July 1944 plot, the German high command (which we should distinguish from the Nazi elements of the military, such as the SS) should have turned against Hitler. (It is interesting to note that as early as 1938, before the invasion of Poland was even launched,  German generals who saw themselves as following the noblest traditions of Prussian arms were already plotting against Hitler.) That they didn’t is history’s burden on them.

Perhaps the better parallel is with Edsa I. After the RAM plot was discovered, the AFP chain of command should have turned against Marcos. It didn’t, at least not right away. But through the telephone diplomacy of Fidel Ramos (he really earned his Steady Eddie nickname in those four days, as photos taken then show; while Defense Minister looked tense even in the most flattering black and white photos, Ramos looked like Robert Duvall did in Apocalypse Now, walking nonchalantly on the field of battle), and under pressure from millions of people gathered in Edsa, military units broke the chain of command one by one.

The parallel with Colonel Stauffenberg’s time: the military was under a dictatorship.

Everything I’ve written on the vexing role of the military in our political crisis is based on the assumption that, in a democracy, the military must secure the public square, but not enter it. (And in order to provide security, discipline through the chain of command must obtain.) But in 1944 Germany, and in 1986 Philippines, the military was right in the middle of the public square;  the army needed to break and then re-forge the chain of command in order to vacate the square.

Another assiduous lawyer-blogger who is already familiar to many of us, Abe Margallo, raised the question whether self-preservation could in fact be used to justify Senga’s decision.

I’m of the same frame of mind for where there is no war or sudden attack involved, how can the testimony before the Senate of Gen. Gudani and Col. Balutan be enjoined upon the pretext of self-defense? What if the testimony is about knowledge of “killing fields” perpetrated upon orders of superior officers? Would such a case go beyond the “personal” and the “moral”? Is it preferable to breach the “discipline” to preserve the integrity of the military as an institution?

It is to Abe’s first question that I address myself. The court martial that will try Gudani and Balutan will center on their act of insubordination; it is in this context that a reassertion of the chain of command can be understood as an act of self-preservation. It is immaterial whether the Marine officers testified to election fraud or the lack of it, or to something else altogether. (Immaterial, that is, to the military justice system. It is certainly most material to all of us who take the one man, one vote guarantee seriously — a multitude, of course, that includes fellow citizens who happen to serve in the Armed Forces.)

As for the "killing fields" hypothesis, I think the situation Abe contemplates is of a completely different order, a difference not of degree but of kind.

I hope I can set aside my "caseload" for an hour or so this week to test his hypothesis.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Trenchant questions

  1. John,

    If we persist in carrying on this correspondence, you will soon be called out of your job and offered a new one in the Defense Department as resident philosopher. Something I think the government is in serious need of.

    Alas, one trenchant question leads to another.This time, I am quite intrigued with your statement that in a democracy, the military must secure the public square and not enter it.

    What exactly do you mean by the military securing the public square? In a working democracy, my understanding is that the military must stay in the barracks and let the civilian police force maintain the peace.

    And unless I am reading you incorrectly, do I sense that you are entertaining the possibility that in a democratic setting, the military may intervene in civilian affairs while anarchy persists but once it subsides, hands power back to civilian control? Something you previously mentioned was quite difficult to push back into the lamp.

    My other observation is in respect of the court martial as an act of self-preservation.

    You mentioned that in the military justice system, the substance of the testimony is immaterial. Doesn’t that portray military justice as more form than substance?

    If to court martial Gudani et al is an act of self-perservation, how does it really endanger the well being of the organization when the testimony he gave to the Senate was the same testimony he has previously given to the military directorate tasked with investigating the generals named in the Garci tapes.

    If truth will be subservient to the formal rules of military justice or their system, then I am afraid that they have not shed off their image as a kangaroo court made famous in the Military Commission trying Ninoy Aquino during the martial law years.

    A conviction against Gudani may not augur well with the public or within the military itself especially if the crime he committed was done in compliance with a Senate subpoena in aid of legislation. This Gudani episode may yet be one ironic instance in which the military can preserve itself better by absolving him of wrongdoing. It maybe a slap on GMA. Presidents may come and go but the union must be preserved. They ought to have learned that from lessons past.

    As always, a learning pleasure to await your answers.

  2. Abe

    John, good try, very impressive and maybe you have succeeded. But let me clarify my angst. My point was actually Lincolnian (although perhaps expressed quite obliquely or ambiguously). Lincoln’s dilemma was: Was it possible to lose the nation and yet preserve the constitution?

    The parallelism implicit in my question is between military discipline and constitutional limitations on the one hand and between the institution of the military and the state on the other. The dilemma, put differently, sounds somewhat like this: Was it possible to destroy the military institutionally and yet preserve military discipline? And the corollary is: How can discipline be instilled and then preserved among the men in uniform if the military is perceived as a compliant tool and/or a willing accessory after the fact in the subversion of the sovereign will?

    The example of the “killing field” was thought of as a sure bet, I guess. “Cheating field” would have engendered less objection, it being both precise in degree and certainly of exactly the same genus. But don’t you think the analogue, although hyperbolic, would have remained tenable? Consider this: The physical existence of the state is threatened if enough of the population is subjected to extermination. So is the very being of the state if the sovereign will is subverted by the same symbol of statehood sworn to uphold it.

    Lincoln, a lawyer himself, should be thinking in practical (hence, outside of moral, personal and even legal) terms when he decided to defy the constitution (calling the militia without authorization) to preserve the nation.

    . . . and leading to one more: Isn’t “Obey first before you complain” a dictatorship?

  3. renmin

    What, then, do you make of the military’s “withdrawal of support” from Estrada in 2001? That was a mutiny at the highest level, against a president with a greater claim to a democratic mandate than the current one. Going by your arguments, the officers and men at the lower levels of the chain should have thrown Gen. Angie Reyes, et al. in the stockade instead of allowing the commander-in-chief to take that slow boat ride on the Pasig?

    The irony is that the current crop of generals at the highest levels of the AFP are all (in one way or another, some more than others) beneficiaries of Angie’s “insubordination.”

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