September 17, 2013

So retired general No. 1 wrote about misgivings in military circles about the president’s proposed retaliation against Syria for the recent poison gas atrocity [“A war the Pentagon doesn’t want,” Washington Forum, Sept. 6]. That prompted retired general No. 2 to write about the importance of the American tradition of civilian control of the military [“Who decides when we go to war,” Washington Forum, Sept. 13].

As an ex-enlisted guy, I would like to curry favor with both generals by saying that I agree with general No. 2 about the importance of civilian control of the military but do not think that general No. 1 was out of line in writing his commentary. He was exercising another great American tradition: freedom of speech. That freedom is somewhat restricted when a person pursues a military career. But this restriction must surely be loosened considerably, if not cast aside altogether, when the military career is completed and the person retires.

It seems likely that most high-ranking military officers have vast knowledge and experience in a field that I (and probably many others) know little about. As important as the great American tradition of military subservience to the civilian government is, that tradition should not prevent an officer from sharing his expertise and opinions with the rest of us after the officer retires.

Allen Wood, Arlington