Just a quick Sunday note on the latest fake outrage on salutes but only because retired General Zinni decided to say some very foolish things on Bill Maher on Friday. As a retired military professional I have a different perspective.
Any career military officer knows (and if they don’t they need to find alternative employment) that the Armed Forces of the United States are under civilian control. The President by virtue of his or her election as head of the Executive Branch of government is the Commander-in-Chief of those Armed Forces.
The Armed Forces serves the Office of the President. Allegiance is sworn to the Constitution. So regardless of your preference of political party, if you are in the military you salute the President. (And there is as much diversity of political preference in the Armed Forces as in society as a whole than some polemicists would have you believe). The President need not return the salute.
Until 1981 Presidents did not return salutes. President Reagan began the practice and was criticized within his own administration for establishing the precedent.
Despite this criticism, Presidents since that time have chosen to return salutes, sometimes casually. So the President returning a salute cannot, by definition, be considered disrespectful, especially since the President, at his or her whim, decides whether to return it and the manner (or not) of acknowledgement.
Personally, I would prefer that the practice end. It’s unnecessary and institutionalizes military practices outside of the Armed Forces.
As to coffee, I prefer an extra dry cappuccino in the morning to get my ticker started.
Note: Edits made from the original to remove a side note that said that President Reagan did not serve in the military. Reagan was on active duty in Hollywood during World War Two. Thanks to Dave Gordon for catching the error.