President Donald Trump walks from the gates of the White House to visit St. John s Church across Lafayette Park Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
WASHINGTON — Army Gen. Mark Milley, the nation's top military officer, said Thursday he was wrong to have accompanied President Donald Trump on a walk to a church through Lafayette Square, where he was photographed in his combat uniform with the presidential entourage.
"My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics," Milley said. "As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it."
The statement by the Joint Chiefs chairman risked the wrath of a president sensitive to anything hinting of criticism of events he has staged. Trump's June 1 walk through the park to pose with a Bible at a church came after authorities used pepper spray and flash bangs to clear the park and streets of largely peaceful protesters.
Milley said his presence and the photographs compromised his commitment to a military divorced from politics.
"I should not have been there," Milley said in remarks to a National Defense University commencement ceremony.
Milley's public expression of regret comes as Pentagon leaders' relations with the White House are still tense after a disagreement last week over Trump's threat to use federal troops to quell civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.
After protesters were cleared from the Lafayette Square area, Trump led an entourage that included Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to St. John's Episcopal Church, where he held up a Bible for photographers and then returned to the White House.
FILE – In this June 1, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump departs the White House to visit outside St. John s Church, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Esper had not said publicly that he erred by being with Trump at that moment. He told a news conference last week that when they left the White House he thought they were going to inspect damage in the Square and at the church and to mingle with National Guard troops in the area.
Milley's comments at the National Defense University were his first public statements about the Lafayette Square event on June 1, which the White House has hailed as a "leadership moment" for Trump akin to Winston Churchill inspecting damage from German bombs in London during World War II.
The public uproar following Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police has created multiple layers of extraordinary tension between Trump and senior Pentagon officials. When Esper told reporters on June 3 that he had opposed Trump bringing active-duty troops on the streets of the nation's capital to confront protesters and potential looters, Trump castigated him in a face-to-face meeting.
Just this week, Esper and Milley let it be known through their spokesmen that they were open to a "bipartisan discussion" of whether the 10 Army bases named for Confederate Army officers should be renamed as a gesture aiming to disassociating the military from the racist legacy of the Civil War. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he would never allow the names to be changed, catching some in the Pentagon by surprise.
The Marine Corps last week moved ahead with a ban on public displays of the Confederate Army battle flag on its bases, and the Navy this week said plans a similar ban applied to its bases, ships and planes. Trump has not commented publicly on those moves, which do not require White House or congressional approval.
Milley used his commencement address, which was pre-recorded and presented as a video message in line with social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic, to raise the matter of his presence with Trump in Lafayette Square. He introduced the subject to his audience of military officers and civilian officials in the context of advice from an Army officer and combat veteran who has spent 40 years in uniform.
He said all senior military leaders must be aware that their words and actions will be closely watched.
"And I am not immune," he said, noting the photograph of him at Lafayette Square. "That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society." He expressed regret at having been there and said the lesson to be taken from that moment is that all in uniform are not just soldiers but also citizens.
FILE – In this May 15, 2020 file photo, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley speaks during the presentation of the Space Force Flag in the Oval Office of the White House with President Donald Trump, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
"We must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic," he said. "It takes time and work and effort, but it may be the most important thing each and every of us does every single day."
Milley also expressed his outrage at the Floyd killing and urged military officers to recognize as a reflection of centuries of injustice toward African Americans.
"What we are seeing is the long shadow of our original sin in Jamestown 401 years ago," he said, referring to the year in which the first enslaved Africans arrived on the shores of colonial Virginia.
Milley said the military has made important progress on race issues but has much yet to do, including creating the conditions for a larger proportion of African American officers to rise to the military's senior ranks. He noted that his service, the Army, has just one African American four-star general, and mentioned that the Air Force is about to swear in the first-ever African American service chief.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden strongly affirmed Thursday that he will nominate the first Black woman to the US Supreme Court, declaring such historic representation is "long overdue" and promising to announce his choice by the end of February.
ASTORIA – The Pancyprian Choir of NY held its first meeting of 2022 and shared best wishes for the New Year with their annual cutting of the traditional vasilopita at Dionysos Taverna in Astoria on January 24.
BRONX, NY – In a festive atmosphere, the traditional cutting of the vasilopita was held by the Northern Chios Society of Pelineon Agia Markella in the community hall of Zoodohos Peghe Greek Orthodox Church in the Bronx on January 23.
ATHENS – A major snow storm that had been predicted for days still caught residents in Greece offguard and the New Democracy government scrambling for answers as to why motorists were stuck for hours on major roads.
PITTSBURGH — A 50-year-old bridge spanning a ravine collapsed in Pittsburgh early Friday, requiring rescuers to rappel nearly 150 feet (46 meters) while others formed a human chain to reach occupants of a dangling bus.
Sign up for a subscription
Want to save this article? Get a subscription to access this feature and more!
Have an idea for a story, or know of an event we should cover? We want to hear about it!
The National Herald is the paper of record of the Greek Diaspora community. Through independent journalism, we bring news to generations of Greek-Americans, with stories on the individual, community and international level. Visit and support our 106 year-old sister publication Εθνικός Κήρυξ.
You’re reading 1 of 3 free articles this month. Get unlimited access to The National Herald. or Log In