The military paradox, and why a woke military is a disaster

The military paradox, and why a woke military is a disaster. By Shaun Rieley.

Carlson’s comments, which criticized a policy prioritizing the development of “maternity flight suits” among other things, were widely labeled “sexist” and “misogynistic” and were said to have been “mocking pregnant service members.” Some were more blunt: Illinois’s Senator Tammy Duckworth tweeted “F—k Tucker Carlson.”

Everyone has a right to this honorable job.

(Hark, is that Chinese sniggering we hear?)

Even more striking, however, was the fact that the Pentagon itself joined the chorus …

Leave aside the implication that a category of person traditionally considered off-limits for targeting in acts of war — pregnant women — will be put forth as front-line combat troops by an ostensibly civilized country. It is utterly shocking that the Department of Defense would target a private citizen for voicing an opinion, and then celebrate its attack using words that would ordinarily be reserved for enemies of the country. This portends a shift away from the care that the military has always taken to retain its nonpartisan, nonpolitical disposition vis à vis American citizens.

This traditional position had been carefully maintained for good reason. Standing militaries always sit uneasily, even paradoxically, within a liberal democracy: They are essentially authoritarian institutions, but they are established and maintained by liberal democratic governments charged with the task of defending political and individual liberty.

While liberal democracies emphasize individual rights, inclusivity, and equality, military effectiveness requires exclusivity, group identity, and hierarchy. To reinforce the collective and hierarchical nature of military institutions, and to facilitate the formation of group identity, the armed forces make use of thick symbolism: uniforms, rank insignia, unit insignia, customs and courtesies, personal grooming standards, and the like. Meanwhile, liberal democracies tend toward a suspicion of tradition and the thick social symbolism it requires.

Until recently, this paradox went mostly unremarked in American society. …

Liberal democracies, like all political communities, need effective — exclusive, cohesive, hierarchical — militaries to defend them against aggressors, regardless of the tension with the broader society. The question is of ancient pedigree: In the Republic, Plato discusses the difficulty of creating a warrior class that is effective at repelling enemies and yet is gentle toward friends and fellow citizens. And the question caused much debate during the framing of the American Constitution as well. …

Equity in the military doesn’t make sense, unless you’re woke:

As conditions have become more equal in American society, even inequalities previously thought of as natural, and therefore intractable, have become offensive to Americans who are insistent on leveling all distinctions. …

In recent years, the idea of military service as an obligation of citizens — and specifically male citizens — to contribute to the common defense has become obscured. Instead, it is increasingly seen as just another job that one might choose, or not. …

Warfighting has therefore fallen on a small percentage of the overall population. This has resulted in a growing divide between those who serve or have served and society at large. In many cases, this divide has become a kind of hero worship: Military service is revered precisely because it is the kind of thing that most people do not, and would not, choose to do.

Viewed this way, it follows that excluding anyone from any aspect of service — such as, for example, limiting combat arms roles to males — amounts to denying them the opportunity to earn distinction. …

This seems to be the rationale, for example, behind the Pentagon’s official press release responding to Carlson, which asserts that “the American military works best when it represents all the American people.” On this account, the military is, first and foremost, an egalitarian and representative body, rather than an exclusive and hierarchical one. …

Could viewing the military as a representative body, and members of the military as representatives of their respective identity group, make for a more effective service? The short answer is: No. An effective military is not identical with a representative one, and neither does the military exist to be a representative institution. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth.

Carlson’s comments effectively highlight the tension between the social requirements of an effective military and the democratic social ideals of inclusion and equality. He was attacked for comments drawing attention back to the military’s purpose for existing: to defend the country and its citizens from existential threats. …

This is serious:

At its most benign this trend may yield public policy that is inadvisable or even immoral, such as expecting that pregnant women will fight in our wars. But an ideologically partisan military poses a unique threat to a free society, in ways that ideological capture of other institutions (detrimental as it may be) does not.

Not only does it potentially undermine its ability to defend the country from external dangers, but it also poses a direct threat to American citizens it views as ideological foes.

hat-tip Stephen Neil