Donald Trump
US President Donald TrumpReuters

Just a few hours after he was criticized for referring to the fallen World War 1 soldiers as "losers" and "suckers", US President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon on Friday to pull funding from 'Stars and Stripes', a newspaper that has been serving the American troops since the Civil War era, for no good reason.

In a memo, the Pentagon ordered the publisher of the news organization, which now publishes online as well as in print, to present a plan that "dissolves the Stars and Stripes" by Sept. 15  including "specific timeline for vacating government owned/leased space worldwide."

"The last newspaper publication (in all forms) will be September 30, 2020," writes Col. Paul Haverstick Jr., the memo's author.

Stars and Stripes was first published by Union soldiers during the Civil War and has for decades served as a source of coverage for military news around the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. The newspaper reportedly distributed 7 million copies of its U.S. weekly print edition in 2019.

It's also arguably been one of the most powerful weapons for the American soldiers who have carried the newspaper into battle with them. As a publication that's underwritten by the US military but not answerable to the top brass, Stars and Stripes truly embodied the values of right to speak the truth to power.

As if an attack on the free press were not enough, the Trump administration's rush to shutter Stars and Stripes also raised constitutional questions.

The memo ordering the publication's dissolution claims the administration has the authority to make this move under the president's fiscal year 2021 defense department budget request. It zeroed out the USD15.5 million annual subsidy for Stars and Stripes. But the Congress, which under the Constitution has the power to make decisions about how the public's money is spent, has not yet approved the president's request.

In fact, the House approved earlier this summer explicitly overruled the decision to pull the plug on Stars and Stripes, restoring funding for the paper.

American soldier
A U.S. military instructor (L) leads during a NATO exercise named "Cooperative Lancer 09" at Vaziani military base outside Tbilisi May 25, 2009.REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

The eagerness to kill Stars and Stripes is hard to fathom. As the senators note in their letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the USD15.5 million saved by eliminating the newspaper's subsidy would have a "negligible impact" on the Pentagon's USD700 billion budget.

However, on the other hand, the move would definitely have an enormously negative impact on the paper's which has more than 1.3 million readers at present. It would eliminate a symbol of the US commitment to press freedom, flout the judgment of generations of military leaders and usurp the authority that the Constitution gives Congress to make decisions about how the government spends money.

Born in the midst of a war to decide what America stood for, it now looks like another such battle will decide the newspaper's fate.