• U.S.

Armed Forces: I Must Be Free . . .

4 minute read

For seven stormy months Major General Edwin A. (“Ted”) Walker, 51, has stood in the center of a controversy about the role that military leaders may properly play in commenting on public affairs. Last week Walker resigned from the U.S. Army—and added to the argument.

The fuss began last April, when Walker was the commanding officer of the 24th Infantry Division in West Germany. Walker was accused by the Overseas Weekly, an independent, American-owned newspaper, of indoctrinating his troops with the far-right tenets of the John Birch Society. In addition, the paper charged that Walker had once publicly stated that former President Harry Truman was “definitely pink,” and had pinned the leftist label on Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson and U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson.

Lost Services. In the furor that followed the Overseas Weekly article, the Army relieved Walker of his command. An Army investigation found that Walker had violated regulations by trying to influence the votes of his men, had taken part in “controversial activities which were beyond the prerogatives of a senior military commander.” Thus the Army lost the services of a rugged, experienced fighting man in a critical cold-war spot. During World War II, Walker led the eliteist Special Service Force through Italy, France and Germany. In Korea, he commanded the artillery at Heartbreak Hill. When he resigned from the Army last week, Walker was under orders to report to Hawaii as assistant chief of staff for training and operations in the Pacific—a responsible job, which proved that the Army still wanted to make use of his talents.

Since Walker’s case flared into the headlines, the question of whether or not military officers should be allowed to make political speeches has become one of the hottest potatoes in Washington. On one side are Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Arkansas’ Senator J. W. Fulbright, who argue that military leaders should only take nonpartisan stands in public. On the other side are South Carolina’s Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond and Arizona’s Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, who accuse McNamara and Fulbright of trying to gag officers of the armed forces, especially any who are to the right of the Administration. Later this month, a Senate subcommittee under Mississippi’s John Stennis will investigate the subject.

Red Tide. Walker’s resignation was made in the form of an advance statement to the Stennis subcommittee. Walker said that he would not accept his retirement pay of some $1,000 a month: “To do so would be a compromise with my principles.” Explaining his reasons for quitting the Army, Walker said: “My career has been destroyed. I must find other means of serving my country in the time of her great need. To do this, I must be free from the power of the little men who, in the name of my country, punish loyal service to it.”

Walker argued that new men who joined his command had no knowledge or understanding of Communism. “They literally didn’t know why they were wearing the uniform of the U.S. It has been suggested that discussion and consideration of domestic civilian matters are not within the province of the military. I disagree.* Make no mistake—it is not possible to make a soldier of a man who has not first become a dedicated American.”

Concluded Edwin Walker: “It will be my purpose now, as a civilian, to attempt to do what I have found it no longer possible to do in uniform.”

* As one justification for the right of the military to speak its mind, Walker quoted a statement by George Washington: “If Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.” In fact, Washington was exhorting his ragged men not to mutiny against the Government in disgust because they had not been paid.

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