When Tucker Carlson and top military brass clashed last week over what Carlson argued was the feminization of the US military, two things happened. The first was a public condemnation of an individual citizen’s political beliefs by Pentagon staff acting in their official capacity. The second was widespread accusations of woke culture run amok in the military.
But is the military actually woke? This question bears better explicating.
Carlson’s comments were delivered in a hyperbolic manner, as comments usually are on such talk shows. But what is said on any program in America should never warrant any sort of official response from the military.
Thus, the first mark indicating the possibility of a politically left leaning military is the fact that both civilian and uniformed military leadership under the current administration are perfectly happy to use their positions to promote and enforce ideological orthodoxy.
For what the facts are worth, Carlson’s reasons for saying what he did were likely founded in the data. It is well established that all-male military units perform better than mixed-sex units, and that 84 percent of women fail the Army combat fitness test, compared to 30 percent of men. That’s not misogyny, that’s reality.
The offhanded comments of a few officers and press staffers are not necessarily indicative of a woke culture in the military, however. More evidence is certainly needed to flesh out any belief that there is a broad political bias in the military.
Among top brass, unfortunately, such evidence is bountiful.
One such example is Admiral Michael Gilday’s release of an updated Navy Professional Reading Program. The updated program, originally intended to help naval officers develop into well-rounded leaders and warfighters, included Ibram Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist, a book that champions the conspiracy theory that whites use the AIDS virus to control the black population and which promotes the view that capitalism is an inherently racist construct.
The reading list is well-aligned with a broader effort in the Navy to “enhance diversity and inclusion in the service.” Similarly, the task force charged with developing such enhancements also recommended that naval officers be required to take a pledge to “advocate for and acknowledge all lived experiences and intersectional identities of every sailor in the Navy.”
With each such instance, the idea that military leadership is becoming an enforcement tool of the Biden administration’s ideals becomes more difficult to refute. Similarly, trepidation over a cadre of general officers that appears to reflect the current ethos of the American ruling class, a belief that their role as elites is one of “social engineers,” becomes harder to squash.
But should the beliefs and actions of these politicos be taken to be illustrative of the military as such?
In all likelihood, no.
Rather, the recent adoption of progressive conspiracies among Washington-based defense personnel is better understood when considered as being merely the latest incarnation of the ancient blood feud between the officer and enlisted classes.
To best demonstrate this point, one need do no more than compare the fawning media coverage of the Pentagon’s attacks on Carlson with their coverage of everyday soldiers’ participation in pro-Trump activities.
Nearly one-in-five people of those arrested for participated in the January 6 storming of the Capitol Building were veterans. That fact has been widely used to promote a fear of racists and extremists infiltrating the military’s enlisted ranks, and Democratic lawmakers have demanded the wholesale stripping of veterans’ benefits from all those who participated, regardless of the extent or type of their participation.
So popular are these ideas that mainstream media outlets have touted the idea that the common soldiery is at grave risk from extremist elements. Biden’s pick for secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin III, declared that the military needed to root out “enemies” within its ranks. And it is likely that domestic terrorism will be front and center in negotiations over the Pentagon’s 2022 budget in May.
So which is it? Is the military a woke social experiment? Or is it a breeding ground for racist terrorists?
Moreover, how did such a chasm of belief erupt between the officer and enlisted classes?
In the Middle Ages, military officers were nobles who took a commission from their king to raise troops from among the tenants who lived on their land. With industrialization, the commission system evolved into a more purely economic affair, with officers buying and selling the rights and responsibilities of their commands to other wealthy members of the gentry. By the late 19th century, however, most of these barriers had been removed, and the ability to become a military officer was rendered mostly meritocratic.
Mostly meritocratic. There yet remains some few hurdles that potential officers must generally leap over to check all the boxes they need to receive their commission. Chief among them: A four-year university degree.
There is no doubt that the largely high school and technical college background of the enlisted ranks results in a far different political and social makeup than that of the formally instructed officer ranks. In fact, the difference can be predicted by looking no further than the ideas promoted by the university system that most all officers go through.
In American universities, those self-identifying as conservative or far right in their politics account for less than 12 percent of all professors. At liberal arts colleges, conservatives account for less than four percent of all faculty. Conversely, those identifying as liberal or far left in their politics account for more than 60 percent.
Military officers are thus far more exposed to far-left ideas and far more insulated from conservative ideas than most of the soldiers they command. Moreover, the fact that each new presidential cabinet selects civilian military leadership that it believes will reinforce its own political values serves to reinforce the prevalence of left-leaning ideology among the officer class during left-leaning administrations.
The current danger to the military, and thus to America, is not a loss of civilian control then. Rather, it is a matter of which civilians are in control.
The growing divide between activist generals and their soldiers is not indicative of an eroding civilian command of the military, but of the age-old class struggle between grunts and HQ. That struggle is being inflamed by current policies aimed at overstating identitarian differences and objectives.
Put simply, the military isn’t woke, but it isn’t sleeping either. If Americans want to keep it that way, they’ll need to reform a broken educational system and prevent their elected officials from demanding ideological congruity with military brass.
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