Military-diplomatic interaction and chain of command

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On page 704 Lieutenant Lucien Young, of the U.S.S. Boston, is testifying:

"Senator Butler. I believe it is true that a naval officer is not bound to obey an illegal order. Is not that so under your regulations? Mr. Young. No; on the contrary, an officer is supposed to obey all orders emanating from an immediate military superior. Yet in doing so he has to exercise discretion and is held personally responsible for his own acts as to the results following the execution of the order. Admiral Worden in giving an interpretation of that at the Naval Academy told us that "whenever you receive an order, before executing it determine whether you will receive more punishment for obeying that order than you would by disobeying it. If you find that you will receive less punishment by obeying it, do so." I think the admiral was right."

The portion of Lt. Young's testimony from pages 706-709 is of interest. He undergoes withering cross-examination regarding the chain of command and liability for results; and he provides clear, crisp answers. Here are a few excerpts to show the topics under discussion:

"Senator Frye. I do not know but that I misunderstood your language. You said in your testimony—I understood you to say—that Mr. Blount ordered Admiral Skerrett to haul down the flag? Mr. Young. And to return the troops on board the ship. Senator Frye. Did you mean that Mr. Blount gave an order to an Admiral of the United States Navy to do that? Mr. Young. He gave a written order to that effect. Senator Frye. Signed by himself? Mr. Young. Signed by himself, and Admiral Skerrett's order to the Boston was in obedience to the orders of Commissioner Blount— "You will return troops on board ship by 11 o'clock." Senator Frye. In your experience did you ever know a minister of the United States with or without the authority of the Secretary of the Navy or officer of the Navy giving orders to an admiral? Mr. Young. No; I never heard of it before. A minister has no authority to give orders to an admiral while a ship is in any port.

"Senator Frye. Under the regulations of the Navy, if a ship is in Honolulu, the disposition of the ship and the landing of the troops is entirely with the discretion of the officer in command? Mr. Young. He is absolutely responsible for his own acts. Senator Frye. And he cannot be compelled to land troops by any one except a superior officer? Mr. Young. A military superior.

"Senator Gray. I suppose if you got an order from the President of the United States. ... The Chairman. Suppose that that order emanate from the minister plenipotentiary at a foreign port? ... Senator Gray. Suppose he receive instructions from the Secretary of the Navy in a given emergency, given time, to conform his action to the order, if you please, of a person holding diplomatic relations with the Government, would that relieve him of responsibility? ... Senator Gray. If he receive instructions from the Secretary of the Navy that he must act under the order, advice, whatever you might call it—of the diplomatic person on shore when that request, order, or advice come? ... Senator Gray. When you receive an order by the Secretary of the Navy through the minister, do you not understand that the order is from the President of the United States? ... Senator Gray. And yet you say receiving such order, direction, or instructions from the Secretary of the Navy in a given contingency, you are not bound to obey? ... Senator Frye. Suppose the Secretary of the Navy should order Capt. Wiltse under any contingencies to follow the discretion and obey the orders of William P. Frye, who was then resident in the island of Hawaii, would Capt. Wiltse be bound by that order at all? ... Senator Butler. I understand you to make this distinction—which, of course, any military man understands at once—that an order emanating from civil officers, whether diplomatic or any other civil branch of the Government, to a military or naval officer, that military or naval officer is not bound to obey it; and if he do, it would be on his own responsibility? ... Senator Butler. On the other hand, if the Secretary of the Navy, who is the military head of the Navy, transmits an order to a naval officer, if he be on the ship, he would be bound to obey? ... Senator Butler. If you should receive an order from the Secretary of the Navy to fire on a town? ... Mr. Young. Of course, if the President should give me an order to organize a body guard for his protection or move a ship, etc., I would undoubtedly obey it; yet should he order me to shoot an inoffensive citizen, I would disobey, for the reason that disobeying would involve dismissal only, whereas, if I shot the man, the civil courts would try me for murder, and being adjudged guilty I might be hanged, unless the President were in office to pardon me. ... Senator Gray. About this instruction from Mr. Gresham to Mr. Blount: "To enable you to fulfill this charge." This is the language of the Secretary of State in his letter of instructions to Mr. Blount. ... The Chairman. What we are discussing here is a question of law, as to how far the President can delegate his authority to a private citizen to take command of troops on ships in the strict military sense, and to use them for the purpose of hostility. ... Senator Gray. I understood you to say that the protectorate was established by a proclamation made by Mr. Stevens and approved by Captain Wiltse? ... Mr. Young. Captain Wiltse approved and carried it out. The law requires a naval officer, immediately after arriving in a foreign port, to put himself in communication with the diplomatic representative in that port, and by intercourse, conversation, requests, or otherwise find out the absolute state of affairs and to act according to his own responsibility. ..."


On pages 794-798, immediately following the testimony of Commander Jewell, Senator Frye provided a collection of some of the regulations of the Navy in 1893, and also some of the consular regulations of 1888 in effect in 1893. For comparison against those military and consular regulations, Senator Frye also provided some of the instructions from Secretary of State Gresham to Minister Blount, and from the Secretary of the Navy to Admiral Skerrett, and from Minister Stevens to Captain Wiltse, and from Blount to Skerrett, and from Skerrett to both Wiltse (Captain commanding the U.S.S. Boston) and Swinburne (Lieutenant Commander and Executive officer of the Boston).


W.T. Swinburne, age 46, was Lieutenant-Commander of the Boston and executive officer in January 1893. Swinburne gives eyewitness testimony in great detail about the dates, times, places, and people involved in the events of January 14-18, and also some events up to March 20.

In several portions of testimony, especially pp. 834-839 he states that he understood his duty was to protect life and property of innocent residents of any ethnicity (including specifically at the request of the Chinese consul) under orders from his military superiors at the request of whatever government was in power. Swinburne testified that until Minister Stevens recognized the Provisional Government, Swinburne understood that he could have been called upon by the Queen to protect life and property. Swinburne says specifically, in answer to a direct question, that if the Queen's (native) forces had fired upon the Provisional Government's (white American-descendant) troops, Swinburne would not have felt the slightest obligation to intervene, because his job was to protect the lives and property of peaceful non-combatants. [Other testimony had said that members of the committee of safety had expressed disappointment that the Boston had returned to Honolulu before the monarchy was overthrown, because the committee members were concerned the presence of the Boston to protect life and property would help entrench the monarchy in power and might interfere with the revolution.] The order to deploy from Capt. Wiltse to Lieut. Swinburne is provided, and also the February 1 order from Wiltse to Swinburne to deploy men to the government building to establish a limited U.S. protectorate. There is also discussion of a letter from Willis to Gresham regarding Blount's mission to restore the Queen; and also discussion of the refusal of the Provisional Government to allow the Japanese consul to land Japanese troops following the later arrival of the Japanese ironclad warship Naniwa. [Testimony elsewhere, from Minister Stevens, indicated that there was probably a conspiracy between the Queen and the Japanese consul to use 800 plantation workers with former Japanese Army experience to help stage a counter-revolution in return for the Queen giving Japanese the right to vote]


pp. 1070-1085 ---- George Belknap is a rear-admiral in the U.S. Navy, retired. A large part of Belknap's testimony deals with the 1874 riot at the time of Kalakaua's election, and the very interesting low-key conflict between the British and the Americans regarding which nation would have greater influence in Hawaii depending whether Emma or Kalakaua would win. In 1874 Belknap landed a force in Honolulu that stopped rioting following the election of Kalakaua. The British also landed troops from their own ship, but were late due to the negligence of the British commander. The fact that the Americans were first to land peacekeepers may have been responsible for Kalakaua keeping control of the throne despite the fact that the pro-Emma rioters probably could have toppled him; and as a result the Americans got the upper hand over the British diplomatically and commercially. The British commander was relieved of duty because of his negligence and was never given another command. The only purpose for landing peacekeepers in 1874 was to protect life and property, but the unintended consequences were that Kalakaua kept his crown and Americans gained influence. A major part of Belknap's testimony is devoted to exploring in great detail how the civilian and military chains of command interact; who has authority to order whom to do what. Belknap and the Senators explored what is the relation between landing troops to protect American life and property, vs. interfering in local political turmoil. Specific documents were introduced into evidence containing the orders given to Blount by President Cleveland, and orders given by Blount to U.S. military personnel. Belknap says that Blount's orders to military personnel were highly irregular and unlawful. American and British military interventions in Hawaii are compared against American interventions that occurred in Asia and South America -- the comparisons focused on the relations between American diplomats and U.S. military personnel, and also focused on how U.S. intervention affected local political struggles.