Speaking Out: Why Retired Flag Officers Participate in Political Discourse  (Winter 2023/2024)




Brooks, Risa A.
Robinson, Michael A.
Urben, Heidi

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Texas National Security Review



Recent years have seen retired general and flag officers make a variety of political statements and campaign endorsements, sparking enormous controversy and debate among scholars about the fate of the military’s norm of nonpartisanship. Despite this, we have relatively little information about how they actually view those actions and norms more broadly — whether and when they view it as appropriate to speak out on domestic political matters. This article helps to fill that gap, through a unique survey of retired flag officers. The study reveals that, while there is broad agreement on the existence and necessity of a norm against retired officers engaging in partisan speech, there are considerable differences in views about the applicability of the norm and justifications for violating it. In addition, we find that a variety of personal, normative, and ethical factors weigh heavily on whether retired military members engage in activism. We evaluate these findings in the context of a novel framework for assessing norm robustness, concluding that norms against retiree political activism are heavily contested.

LCSH Subject Headings