Trump praises US military for standing against ‘passions and prejudices of the moment’ weeks after threatening to deploy soldiers to quell protests

President's comments come amid a row with US military leaders over politicisation of the country's armed forces

Richard Hall
Saturday 13 June 2020 15:42
Trump delivers West Point commencement speech

Donald Trump praised the US military for standing against the “passions and prejudices of the moment” in a commencement speech to graduates of the West Point military academy.

The president delivered his speech on Saturday to a socially distanced class of more than 1,000 graduates, who spent the last two weeks in Covid-19 quarantine in order to attend the speech.

“What has historically made America unique is the durability of its institutions against the passions and prejudices of the moment. When times are turbulent, when the road is rough, what matters most is that which is permanent, timeless, enduring and eternal,” Mr Trump said.

The comments come nearly two weeks after the president threatened to deploy the US military to American streets to quell nationwide protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.

That threat sparked a row between the White House and the nation’s military leaders over the involvement of the US military in politics.

General Mark Milley, America's top general, apologised on Thursday for appearing in a photo-op with Mr Trump following the forceful dispersal of peaceful protesters outside the White House last week. Gen Milley was pictured in uniform as he accompanied Mr Trump on a walk to nearby St. John's Church, which had been vandalised by protesters.

"I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it," he said.

The events of the past two weeks also prompted an open letter to this year's class from more than 500 West Point graduates from classes spanning six decades.

"Sadly, the government has threatened to use the Army in which you serve as a weapon against fellow Americans engaging in these legitimate protests," they wrote. "Worse, military leaders, who took the same oath you take today, have participated in politically charged events. The principle of civilian control is central to the military profession. But that principle does not imply blind obedience."

Mr Trump’s decision to give the commencement speech in person has drawn criticism for risking the further spread of the coronavirus. The class was placed under strict measures and testing to ensure the ceremony did not cause infections.

In the run-up to the speech, 15 of the class tested positive for the virus, but did not pass it on to anyone else, according to a West Point spokesman.

Mr Trump referenced the pandemic in his address, promising He referenced the pandemic, calling it the "invisible enemy" and vowing to "extinguish this plague."

He went on to pay tribute to the diversity of the graduates in his address.

"The members of this class have come from every state in our union. You have come from the farms and the cities, from states big and small, and from every race, religion, colour, and creed. But when you entered these grounds, you became part of one team, and one family, proudly serving one American nation," he said.

He added that the class "exemplify the power of shared national purpose to transcend all differences and achieve true unity. Today, you graduate as one class, and you embody one noble creed: duty, honour, country".

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