The Personal Litmus Test of Military Force: A Letter to Washington's Decision Makers

Maurice “Chipp” Naylon is a former Marine Corps infantry officer, combat veteran, and the author of The New Ministry of Truth: Combat Advisors in Afghanistan and America’s Great Betrayal.  

Arlington National Cemetery, shown May 17, 2013. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)

Dear Washington decision makers,  

There have been rumblings from within the Beltway of late regarding further commitment of US military forces around the world. From Iran to Venezuela to the South China Sea, cavalier calls of “send in the troops” have emanated from the halls of power. Despite the fact that we remain bogged down in Afghanistan, blindly churning ahead in our nation’s longest war, there’s no shortage of pressure to continue committing our troops in far off lands. Having said that, I propose the following personal litmus test, something that each of our nation’s decision makers ought to conduct prior to making any argument for the use of force abroad. 

First, close your eyes. Next, put yourself in the shoes of the Casualty Assistance Officer walking up the front steps of a home, shouldering the burden of delivering the news that this family’s loved one has been killed overseas. Lastly, imagine that after telling this mother, father, husband, or wife this tragic news, you need to further explain that it was your decision to send their loved one overseas in the first place.

Could you do it? Could you sit down in a living room, look those family members in the eyes, and tell them that your decision to use military force is why their loved one isn’t coming home? 

This is a tremendously high threshold for committing our troops – as it ought to be. While it may be easy to argue for this or that within the safe confines of our borders, there is a real human cost to the use of military force, a cost that our nation’s decision makers cannot ignore. The magnitude of your decisions – and their consequences – cannot be overstated. Please, remember these human costs, and think long and hard before you support sending our sons and daughters, husbands and wives to war.  

As we reflect upon Memorial Day this message assumes even more importance. A failure to adopt this test dishonors the legacy of the American men and women – and their families – who have given the last full measure of devotion in serving our great nation. 

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