Thank you for your service, now start respecting the Constitution
Last week, the U.S. military learned what happens when you fail to exercise Twitter discipline.
The military’s social media outburst was a response to Fox News host Tucker Carlson who declared “the U.S. military exists to fight and win wars” but that the commander-in-chief’s priority is “identity politics.” Carlson sounded dubious about “maternity flight suits” and Pentagon-funded sex-change operations, and that’s all it took…
The pile-on was an all-hands effort, from the flacks in the II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) public affairs office, to Gen. Paul Funk II, the four-star commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman. In the mix was a gaggle of senior NCOs and officers scandalized that a civilian who “never served” had criticized the military, and ready to remind us “diversity is our strength.”
Given the military’s record in Iraq and Afghanistan, the commanders aren’t anxious to explain why diversity couldn’t save the U.S. from the $6.4 trillion cost of the “post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere” at the hands of some non-diverse opponents.
Civilians counterattacked, and the military surrendered: Apologies were rendered, tweets were deleted, and the II MEF flacks lamented “We’ve strayed away from our brand.” Sen. Ted Cruz requested a meeting with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and hopefully the Marines can explain to him why they need any brand other than a fearsome combat reputation.
How did the U.S. military get here?
When the U.S. implemented an all-volunteer military force (AVF) in 1973, the deal was the country would ensure quality troops were well paid, and in a national emergency the force would be supplemented with a draft. No one probably imagined America would entangle itself in 20 years of combat against foes who for the most part were no threat to the homeland. But it happened — and, due to the AVF, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population is in the military, and that 1 percent has cycled from stateside post to overseas combat for a generation.
After 9/11, the American public responded and actively supported the troops, but the military and civilian worlds rarely intersect, a concern of the Department of Defense, which notes American youth have “declining positive associations about military service.”
We have a military that fought for 20 years without the satisfaction of clear victory. That has fed a sense of grievance against those who “haven’t served” and who appear oblivious to the grievance, maybe because those civilians feel the military receives excellent pay and benefits for a job they volunteered to do. Who else has gotten a pay raise every year since 2001?
But a Twitter-inclined military didn’t arise spontaneously. The rank and file is following the example of retired generals and admirals who made speeches at political conventions, publicly criticized the president, and in one case called for President Trump’s removal from office “the sooner, the better.” If that’s how the most successful officers act, it’s only a matter of time before their juniors pattern that behavior towards other institutions like the media, or any civilian exercising his First Amendment rights.
To highlight this military attitude, this week members of Guam’s National Guard participated in a political stunt when they marched to the office of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Why? She sinned against geography by referring to Guam, a U.S. territory, as a “foreign land.”
This behavior may be the surface manifestation of a deeper problem.
The Texas National Security Review polled midgrade to senior officers and West Point cadets between 2017 and 2020 regarding their political views, their sacrifices, and their pride in service. It confirmed that “servicemembers are increasingly isolated and have a growing sense of exceptionalism.” Alarmingly, it found that junior officers and military academy cadets — the future of the military — are more likely than their seniors to feel that those without military experience should not criticize the services.
And the public may be onto it. A recent poll by the Ronald Reagan Institute found public confidence in the military has dropped precipitously in the last two years. The institute’s February 2021 poll found about 56 percent of Americans surveyed said they have “a great deal of trust and confidence” in the military, down from 70 percent in 2018.
The public is likely reacting to many issues: the “forever wars,” politicized officers, procurement debacles like the F-35 fighter aircraft, the chronic violence at Fort Hood, the Navy’s Fat Leonard scandal, and the presence of twice as many troops on Capitol Hill as in Afghanistan. But the Pentagon can start to turn the tide with the public if it stops complaining about “systemic racism” and focuses on the military’s obligations under the Constitution, such as civilian control of the military, respect for freedom of speech, and not interfering with civilian institutions, like the media.
Here’s a peek at the future: Recently, a U.S. Navy task force recommended all sailors pledge to “acknowledge all lived experiences and intersectional identities.” Last year, Russia opened the Cathedral of the Armed Forces, which has floors made from melted down Nazi tanks.
Which side do you think is getting ready to fight?
James Durso (@james_durso) is the Managing Director of Corsair LLC, a supply chain consultancy. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Durso served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years and specialized in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served afloat as Supply Officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).
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