When A Great Democracy Politicized The Military

When A Great Democracy Politicized The Military. By James Corum, a military historian, author, co-author of 14 books, and retired lieutenant colonel in the US Army Reserve.

President Joe Biden has embarked on a revolutionary program to replace constitutional freedoms with a new social justice agenda. Supporting the radical agenda is his defense secretary Lloyd Austin, whose top priority is to politicize the military to eliminate “extremists.”

So, what happens when the hard left takes control of the government of a great democracy and decides that the desired social revolution requires the destruction of conservative institutions and leaders, and then institutes aggressive policies to expel conservatives from the military? We have a good answer when we look at France from 1899 to 1914 when hard-left governments were in power. …

Top leftist political leaders wanted to use their power to utterly break the power of the conservative half of France, which meant going after two key institutions: The Catholic Church and the military officer corps.

The Church was the main target. Inspired by fanatically anti-clerical Émile Combes, French premier 1902-1905, the government passed new laws regulating the Church in 1901 that required all education to be secular. Ten thousand Catholic schools were shut down. Many churches were closed, and convents were closed on the order of the government. …

The government announced in 1901 that promotions in the army would no longer be an internal matter of the military promotion boards but would be under the purview of the War Department, run by the political ministers. … The War Ministry initiated a secret system of surveillance and informants to collect information on the political, social, and religious background of officers. A network of Freemasons, leftist government officials, and leftist officers sent information on French officers directly to the War Ministry. A vast system of secret files was amassed, eventually amounting to files on 19,000 of the 25,000 regular officers. The War Ministry used the files to push the careers of officers known to favor the left, while adherence to Catholic practices or familial and social contacts with the old aristocracy, were enough to dead-end even the most competent officer’s career. …

Morale plummeted when it was obvious the promotion system was rigged. …

The politicization of the army in the decade prior to World War I had an enormous effect. Many good officers left the French army as politically correct mediocrities were promoted. The officer education standards fell dramatically as applications to the elite military academies of France, which mostly consisted mainly of officer cadets from conservative and religious families, fell dramatically. … The professional NCO Corps also abandoned the military. …

Merit matters. Now we know why the French Army was so mediocre in WWI, and why the Germans so outperformed them man-for-man, especially early in the war.

While the Left Bloc governments before World War I focused on the internal politics of the military and ensuring a politically loyal force, they forgot that France had a serious threat in the form of the German Empire.

While French officer education standards dropped precipitously, the German states dramatically raised their education standards for joining the officer corps. German officer pay at all ranks was 50% higher than the French. …

More than a decade of politicization of the military resulted in a French army that went to war in August 1914 with appallingly poor leadership and training. The great social experiment of the Left Bloc was a bloodbath. In the first month of the war, the French army lost 250,000 casualties — 20% of the field army. Faced with an existential crisis, the French government announced a truce between the left and the conservatives. For the duration of the war, with France’s survival at stake, meritocracy would be the only standard in the French army.

By 6 September 1914, General Joffre, French Commander-in-Chief, had relieved two army commanders, ten corps commanders, and thirty-three division commanders (half of the French Army divisional commanders) for incompetence. Some officers slated for retirement in 1914 and denied promotion for political and religious views, became full generals and army commanders within a year. France barely survived in 1914 thanks to the British Expeditionary Force and Russia’s invasion of East Prussia. …

See 21:20 for effect of politics on the Army.

Lesson for the USA in 2021, which has a serious threat in the form of the Chinese Empire:

You can have armed forces that are completely loyal to the political leadership and rigidly follows its political ideology. Or you can have a military based on meritocracy and competence. You cannot have both.

hat-tip David Archibald