Analysis & Opinions - War on the Rocks

What Can Military and Civilian Leaders Do to Prevent the Military’s Politicization?

| Apr. 27, 2020

When Capt. Brett Crozier’s memo detailing the spread of COVID-19 on the USS Roosevelt leaked to the press on March 31, it painted a picture starkly at odds with the Trump administration’s claim that it was firmly in control of the pandemic. Crozier described a dire situation and called for the Navy to get the sailors off the ship. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly — a civilian political appointee — questioned Crozier’s judgment, accused him (inaccurately) of recklessly copying his email to “20 or 30” recipients, and relieved him of command before an investigation by the military was complete.

According to his own account, Modly was worried about President Donald Trump’s reaction if he didn’t act quickly. The president “wants him [Crozier] fired,” Modly reportedly told a colleague. The acting secretary also feared for his job. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, Modly’s predecessor, had “lost his job because the Navy Department got crossways with the president,” and he “didn’t want that to happen again.” Modly lost his job anyway — he was forced to resign after telling sailors assembled on the Roosevelt’s flight deck that Crozier was “too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this.” Crozier, however, might yet get his command back. Navy leaders have recommended he be reinstated as the Roosevelt’s captain, although the Pentagon appears divided on this. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Brooks, Risa.“What Can Military and Civilian Leaders Do to Prevent the Military’s Politicization?.” War on the Rocks, April 27, 2020.

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