Memorial Day has never been a major event in my family because we’re fortunate not to have lost anyone in our nation’s wars. One of my grandfathers was a doctor in the Army during World War II, but he served in Kansas looking after the wounded when they returned home. My father was conscripted into the army in the 1950s, but he served in peacetime Germany. My older brothers were a little too young to serve in Vietnam. I never had to worry about being drafted. But we still know how to honor the people who gave their lives in the line of duty. We know how to recognize their families’ grief. I can’t say the same thing for Donald Trump.
Aides to President Trump have been examining high-profile war crimes cases from Iraq and Afghanistan, preparing paperwork so Trump could issue pardons during Memorial Day commemorations next week, according to two senior U.S. officials.
I don’t understand how anyone would think it is a good idea to use Memorial Day as the occasion to pardon high-profile war criminals. These war criminals aren’t lying in Arlington National Cemetery. They’re still alive. They may be veterans, even if many of them committed their atrocities while serving as private contractors, but that doesn’t mean we honor them on Memorial Day. Why would the administration want to dishonor the fallen by connecting their memory to people who disgraced the uniform?
Even within the confines of this twisted moral logic, the time to pardon these people is Veterans Day. If you think there are veterans who have been punished enough for their crimes, then maybe I could see the connection. I’d never in a million years recommend connecting a war crime amnesty to Veterans Day because it dishonors veterans, but it would at least make some kind of sense. A Memorial Day amnesty makes no sense at all.
The military is understandably pissed off about this, but for more reasons than I’ve already mentioned.
But the possibility that Trump could issue pardons has brought a flood of opposition from current and former high-ranking officers, who say it would encourage misconduct by showing that violations of laws prohibiting attacks on civilians and prisoners of war will be treated with leniency.
“Absent evidence of innocence or injustice, the wholesale pardon of U.S. service members accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the law of armed conflict seriously,” retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a tweet Tuesday. He added: “Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.”
What Trump wants to do here will affect how America is perceived in the world because it will change the character of the country. He’s not just defiling our good name, he’s actually turning us into the kind of nation we used to condemn. If we suffer negative consequences, it will be because we have earned them.
Our military will no longer have a reputation for high standards and professionalism. We won’t have credibility when we train other militaries and ask them to abide by the law of armed conflict. Soldiers who are in captivity will face harsher treatment on the presumption that we treat our captives with brutality.
Even worse, the military will have a harder time maintaining discipline in our own ranks.
“If President Trump issues indiscriminate pardons of individuals accused — or convicted by their fellow service members — of war crimes, he relinquishes the United States’ moral high ground and undermines the good order and discipline critical to winning on the battlefield,” said retired Gen. Charles Krulak, a former commandant of the Marine Corps.
On Memorial Day, we honor people who made the ultimate sacrifice while conducting themselves with bravery and honor, not living people who massacred innocents. What Trump is contemplating here is absolutely contemptible.