Recent comments in our local media by Head of the Presidential Secretariat have introduced the question of whether military veterans should occupy space within the political hierarchy of the nation. Even though he did not explicitly deny the constitutional rights of the military veterans, Dr. Luncheon seems bent oncasting suspicion and doubt on their activities during this election season.
Despite the constitutional guarantees afforded to all Guyanese without distinction of class or profession, many in Government still seem to be pondering whether it is acceptable for former “apolitical” military men and women to choose a political side once they are out of uniform.
Guyana like the other countries in the English speaking Caribbean has inherited a great deal of its military traditions from the United Kingdom including the often touted civil-military relationship which requires serving members to swear allegiance to the Government of the day.
Based upon recent uttering, there seems to be a degree of ambivalence among some Government pundits, as to whether military veterans should be allowed to challenge their erstwhile masters in the political arena. As far as I am aware nothing in the written or unwritten military code of conduct or traditions prevents veterans from enjoying the same political rights as other citizens, namely the right to political expression and association. To support this position I will highlight two examples from countries with which we share strong ties and military traditions.
The world’s richest country and sole superpower, the United States of America, has had 26 out of her 44 presidents entering office as military veterans. In the 2013-2014 US Congress 20% of the combined membership were veterans. Membership of military veterans in the US Congress was at its highest in 1971-1972 when it attained 73%.
In recent memory at least four British Prime Ministers (Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan) were military veterans. As most of us know, the British Monarch is Head of State for the United Kingdom and many CARICOM territories.
Traditionally, male heirs to the British Throne are expected to do military service before they take up full time royal duties. In keeping with this tradition, the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, served in the Royal Navy, his brother Prince Andrew also a Navy Officer was a helicopter pilot during the Falklands war, whilst the Queen’s youngest son had a stint in the Royal Marines. The younger crop of male royal heirs, William and Harry, both served in the armed forces, with Harry seeing combat in the Middle East.
If the United States and the United Kingdom (ranked number 1 and number 6 respectively on the World Bank’s global economic index) find it beneficial to embrace military veterans within their elected political hierarchy, why should Guyana (ranked 161 of 192) be worried about having its retired military Officers participate in politics.
Lieutenant Commander (Ret’d)