We criticized the Chief of the UK General Staff, General, Sir Richard Dannatt, for speaking publicly against government policy in Iraq in this column on 30 April 2007. We said this was against constitutional convention, and any such views should be put to the ministry, and not the press. We drew parallels with the case of General MacArthur, who had an open public disagreement as to policy with President Truman. (The General is shown in the accompanying picture in the Australian Parliament. The picture is in the Australian War Museum)
A reader, Philip Sutherland, wrote this comment, which other readers will find interesting:
“I read today's ACM opinion with interest as usual. I agree Sir Richard Dannatt's intervention was extraordinary but I think he acted on advice in exceptional circumstances.
As I understand it, he was totally frustrated with the way the Government had failed the armed forces in terms of providing the Army with less than the best available equipment, a lack of expenditure which puts lives at risk even as I type this email. His protest was a way of sticking up for his soldiers.
Conditions for the British squaddy are not good. Pay is low. At the outset of the Iraq adventure (I put it that way because this may have changed), soldiers paid out of their pocket council tax on their beds in a barrack room even while chasing Taliban in Afghanistan. The tax was deducted from their pay.
Sir Richard's attempts to influence things behind the scenes in the usual way failed and the Government did not consult the generals as it should have done. Add to that the Government misled the general public in Britain about the reason for invading Iraq in the first place. These are extraordinary times in that respect.
He was also about to retire and took the opportunity to make a point directly to the British public because its elected representatives in government were not listening.
Yes, "extraordinary" but I think the constitution is strong enough – and sufficiently flexible – to cope.”