Is Donald Trump right to order U.S. troops to commit war crimes?

Donald Trump and his friends, the Clintons
Donald Trump and his friends, the Clintons

David French, who served in the military with distinction, takes a look at Trump’s statements for National Review.

He writes:

Donald Trump fundamentally misunderstands the American military. He sees it as an instrument of savage brutality, restrained only by political correctness. There is no honor. There is no law. If only the military were free to torture, murder, and blaspheme, then America would win its wars. By believing that American soldiers would follow those orders — or would want to follow those orders — he slanders the character of the American military.

For months, he has promised that he would order the military to commit war crimes, torturing militants and targeting their families for execution. He was just as emphatic in promising that those orders would be followed.

He was wrong. There is no scenario under which the military would ever follow directives so offensive to its honor and so blatantly illegal. No man I served with in Iraq would comply with an order to intentionally kill an innocent woman or child, and no officer with a shred of decency or honor would give such an order. The Pentagon has many flaws, but truly bad soldiers are few and far between, and the military is institutionally hard-wired to resist exactly this kind of corruption. Trump would instantly sever the relationship between America’s armed forces and their commander-in-chief just by asking them to do such things.

As Lieutenant General James Mattis put it in a 2005 memorandum to the United States Marine Corps, “Marines fight only enemy combatants.” It should go without saying that the same principle applies to soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Our men and women in uniform do not fight innocent civilians and they do not assault prisoners in their custody. Both the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the Uniform Code of Military Justice bind American soldiers to the laws of war, which prohibit such actions.

Donald Trump promised that American soldiers — at the very least — violate Articles 93, 118, and 128 of the UCMJ. Article 93 prohibits “cruelty and maltreatment,” while Articles 118 and 128 prohibit murder and assault.

Here he is explaining his views:

I’m not sure what Donald Trump is thinking by making these sorts of claims about what he can and cannot make the military do. I know people in the military, and they are the opposite of “hired muscle”. Many of them hold to Judeo-Christian values, and they go into the military in order to serve their country honorably. They see their service as a matter of honor and devotion to the country that has allowed them to live free and be prosperous. Character is at the center of their service, in short. They are trained to think not about themselves, but to think of others first. Acts of self-sacrificial heroism are celebrated in the military. Acts of cruelty and barbarism are shamed.

All you have to do to see this is to read the citations for people who win the Medal of Honor… it shows you what the U.S. Military holds in the highest regard.


The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that may be awarded by the United States government. It is presented by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, and is conferred only upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty:

  • While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States;

  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or

  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

That’s what serving in the military is about. It’s not about obeying orders, it’s about moral virtues – courage, bravery, selflessness – tested under the most extreme conditions. Military people are who are trained to do the moral thing when their lives are endangered.

If our men and women in uniform were ordered to besmirch their honor in order to serve, they would almost universally disobey orders. The intentional targeting of civilians is something that we do not do. The other side (radical Islamists) targets civilians, but we do not. If Trump were elected, and ordered our fighting men and women to commit war crimes, you could expect a mass exodus of our most patriotic Americans from the armed forces.

5 thoughts on “Is Donald Trump right to order U.S. troops to commit war crimes?”

  1. First, I’m a fan of Wintery Knight. Secondly, I voted for Cruz in the Texas primary, as well as in his Senate primary when he first ran. I am one of the few people I know who like Ted Cruz.

    However, to set the record straight, Trump said he would follow the law. His initial comments expressed the thinking of a lot of Americans that it seems unfair our soldiers have very, very restrictive rules of engagement. I have worked with former soldiers who told me they were sitting ducks in Iraq, because they could only “patrol” and only return fire, not initiate attacks on the enemy. Many Americans agree with Trump that it’s ridiculous to make a big deal out of water boarding, considering the scum we are interrogating. Many Americans agree with Trump when he says we need the approach of Generals Pershing, Patton and MacArthur, not Obama’s weak approach.

      1. Maybe his version of Pershing is a little bit distorted, but they didn’t call him Black Jack Pershing for nothing. He was feared. Was Pershing, or Churchill for that matter, worried about offending Muslim sensibilities? No. The question is, Was the USA tougher on terrorists in the old days? That’s the point. Great Britain was ruthless, too. Have you seen the Pro-American anti-German WWI and WWII propaganda posters? There’s a sense around the country that today we tolerate terrorists a lot more than we would have. Most of our elites try to understand terrorist motivations and make excuses for them, instead of painting them as evil scum who should be wiped off the face of the earth.

  2. I have served in the US marines and I want to correct something said. The military is about following orders as anyone who has served knows, Yes there are moral lines which some of us will not cross but war is not nice and is the result of sin. Even God is involved in war and there are many examples in both the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation. God is loving but fear comes to all who oppose him in the end. Donald Trump was not clear but he clarified his view. This article does not represent the entire picture and distorts his position. It also distorts the Christian position on war.

    1. Thank you for your service.

      Here’s something you may recognize:

      From the Halls of Montezuma
      To the shores of Tripoli
      We fight our country’s battles
      In the air, on land, and sea;
      First to fight for right and freedom
      And to keep our honor clean;
      We are proud to claim the title
      Of United States Marine

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