Over the course of this year, conservatives have expressed a number of grievances they have with the US military. Tucker Carlson delivered a monologue questioning Joe Biden’s emphasis on the issuance of flight suits designed for pregnant women. (Noteworthy is that Tucker is not against women in combat roles per se, since he states, “If the Pentagon can show that pregnant pilots are the best, we will be the first to demand an entire Air Force of pregnant pilots.” I don’t believe anyone has accused Tucker of thinking carefully about tradeoffs.) Other conservatives, however, do express disagreement with filling combat roles with women. A recurring demand in pursuit of egalitarianism is extending mandated registration for the Selective Service to young women, opposition to which is typically due to the prospect of drafting women to fight, rather than the morally correct position of opposing involuntary servitude for anyone.
A further gripe is the trend of the military’s embrace of wokeness, as evidenced by statements made by General Mark Milley defending the teaching of critical race theory at West Point and the need to “understand white rage,” as well as the approach taken in recent recruitment ads. While Chinese and Russian military recruitment campaigns appeal to a sense of patriotism, one US Army ad features a woman inspired by the activism of her two moms and who feels the need to compete with her sorority sisters in doing something meaningful with her life. How she does this through operating Raytheon and Lockheed Martin’s Patriot Missile Defense Systems is left unexplained.
One of the latest controversies involving the military is Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate, which leaves service members potentially facing a dishonorable discharge if they refuse to be vaccinated. Hundreds of thousands of US troops have not yet complied with this mandate. While it is unlikely that all of them would continue to refuse if the alternative were a dishonorable discharge, a significant percentage will. Hundreds of Navy SEALs who have refused the vaccine are currently considered undeployable.
Many believe that some or all of these issues hurt troop morale and render the US military a less capable fighting force. This is unambiguously the case when discharging or not deploying personnel who are otherwise qualified and on whom millions of dollars have been spent to train. It serves as an illustration of something those of us skeptical of US military adventurism already knew: Americans in the continental US are incredibly geopolitically blessed in terms of being able to live at peace with the rest of the world, if only those with political authority allowed it. We have mostly friendly neighbors to the north and south, no one who poses a threat close by, and thousands of miles of ocean between us and everyone else. And because of this the US military has the luxury of engaging in terrible, wasteful decision-making that undermines effectiveness without much cost in terms of domestic civilian lives lost from foreign aggression (with the exception, of course, of blowback caused by US foreign policy).
So why would the US military embrace wokeness and other policies if they could possibly come at the slightest cost of effectiveness or morale? The military is a bureaucracy (or rather a set of bureaucracies) and the primary institutional goals of bureaucracies are to preserve their own existence and increase their budgets. Fully embracing the cultural concerns of establishment leftism certainly doesn’t hurt in terms of encouraging the mainstream Left to forget their former opposition to Bush’s wars. Congressional Republicans will present no serious opposition to wokeness in the military, certainly not in terms of reducing their budgets. The CIA seems to be employing a similar strategy. Promoting the fact that they hire gay people covers a multitude of sins, such as assassinations, torture, and regime change. Furthermore, vaccine mandates help purge the military of personnel willing to question certain types of orders.
Indeed, pursuing this strategy seems to come with little downside risk. If it does, in fact, reduce the ability of the military or intelligence agencies to protect Americans (to the extent that that is still considered part of their purpose) and results in civilian deaths, their budgets are far more likely to be increased rather than decreased. Their failure to prevent the deaths of thousands of Americans on 9/11 led to unprecedented increases in their powers and resources. We are now told that their failure to prevent whatever you want to call what happened on January 6 (setting aside their role in facilitating it) justifies further increases in their powers. For them, failure is success.
Thankfully, the veil is being lifted and those with previously promilitary sensibilities are seeing that the military is not unambiguously their friend. This is a necessary step to achieve the ends of peace and a noninterventionist foreign policy. Questioning the military is increasingly considered within the realm of reasonable discourse for those who consider themselves patriots. Polls have traditionally found that the military enjoys among the highest levels of trust among the general public. This is changing and that’s a good thing.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.