Mr. Mattis, as a student of the rise and fall of civilizations, added: “We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battle space’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate.’ At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors.” His critique, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said on Thursday, was “true and honest and necessary and overdue,” a rare Republican break with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump dismissed Mr. Mattis in a tweet on Wednesday as “the world’s most overrated General” and said that “his primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations.”
Mr. Trump seems to view the military as an extension of domestic law enforcement as much as overseas combat.
But it was not until this week that the consequences of those differing views about the purposes of the American military became evident to many Americans. Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the country had reached “an inflection point” and denounced the use of the military to support the political acts of a president who had “laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country.”
“The United States has a long and, to be fair, sometimes troubled history of using the armed forces to enforce domestic laws,” Admiral Mullen wrote in The Atlantic. “The issue for us today is not whether this authority exists, but whether it will be wisely administered.”
For many of these officers, the question was whether Mr. Trump was aware of that history. The Declaration of Independence, several noted, dwelled on the complaints that the King of England “kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislatures,” and tried to “render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.”
That is pretty close to what Mr. Trump did on Monday night when he declared that General Milley was “in charge” of what was happening in the streets. It is not a role, it turns out, that most in his military want.