Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks to the press during a meeting with Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert at the Pentagon on Tuesday. (Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Regarding the Aug. 11 news article “Little to stop Trump if he orders nuclear attack”:

The missing question is whether the military would act or decline to act. An order to launch a nuclear attack would pass from the president to the defense secretary to the appropriate combatant commander(s) in the field (presumably through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) to the individuals who actually control the designated weapons. Anyone in this chain could halt execution. So, uniformed personnel have three options. They could obediently carry out the order; refuse the order (and decline to step aside, thus forcing their firing), either privately or publicly; or tender their resignation on principle (rather than refuse per se), either privately or publicly.

In line with the tacit contract that binds the military to its civilian political overseers, and both in turn to society, the military agrees to muzzle itself and be obedient. It does so, however, in return for the implicit expectation that its civilian masters will demonstrate strategic competence.

Where civilian authorities demonstrate strategic incompetence, the contract is broken and all bets are off. We live in a new era of civil-military relations, in which those in uniform must ask themselves anew whether their principal obligation is to be silent or to speak, to obey or desist; and in which society must ask what it expects of the military: one that dutifully, unquestioningly and silently executes, regardless of circumstance, or one that courageously stands up to resist in the face of politically motivated strategic catastrophe.

Gregory D. Foster, Vienna

The writer is a professor at the
National Defense University.

The enlightening Aug. 12 Religion articleTrump’s threat of ‘fire and fury’ ” showed how Americans who believe in an authoritarian God tend to prefer an authoritarian political leader. This explains a lot about our current politics.

The article failed to mention one fact that reinforces its point, however. For most of human history, church and state were the same thing. Following the  leader was not only patriotic but also pious. Opposition was not only treasonous but also heretical. This is why the separation of church and state, while fundamental to our democratic culture, is still vital and still contested. 

The authoritarian style of leadership the article described brings to mind the priest-kings of the past. It is contrary to the founding principles of the United States, but it is a sad fact that many people still love it.

That’s a real problem for our democracy. 

Mark Weaver, Catonsville, Md.