THE top military official in the US has apologized for walking with President Donald Trump through Lafayette Square last week after authorities tear-gassed peaceful protesters.
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Thursday: "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," he said in a video commencement address to National Defense University.
On June 1, nonviolent, peaceful protesters were gathered in Lafayette Square around 6.30pm, an area between the White House and the church — which had been burned in violent demonstrations the night before.
Law enforcement officers aggressively forced the protesters back, fired tear gas, and deployed flash bangs into the crowd to disperse them from the park for seemingly no reason.
The scene was aired live on television — including in Australia.
A short time later, Trump was seen walking from the White House through the area to the 200-year-old church, alongside his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Attorney General William Barr, and other officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Milley.
When Trump arrived at the church, he stood in front of it with a Bible, posing for photographers, before returning to the White House.
On Thursday, Milley said he shouldn't have been there, telling graduates: "As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”
Esper, who was part of the entourage, said he wasn't told they were going as they walked through the plaza to the church.
"I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops," Esper told NBC News. "I didn't know where I was going. I wanted to see how much damage actually happened."
The White House has hailed Trump's walk to the church a “leadership moment” for similar to Winston Churchill inspecting damage from German bombs in London during World War II.
The public uproar following George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police has created tension between Trump and senior Pentagon officials.
When Esper told reporters on June 3 that he had opposed Trump bringing active-duty troops to the streets of Washington, DC, to confront protesters and potential looters, Trump reprimanded him in a face-to-face meeting.
Milley said during the video that played on Thursday that 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 said, expressing regret at having been there and said the lesson to be learned from that moment is that all people in uniform are not just soldiers — but also citizens.
“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 Floyd's murder 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 when the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia.
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