The Widening Gap Between Military and Society

U.S. military personnel of all ranks are feeling increasingly alienated from their own country, and are becoming both more conservative and more politically active than ever before. Do they see America clearly?

Reeves called for major alterations of U.S. law to enable the Marines to execute these new domestic missions just as they execute missions abroad—changes that could carry long-term consequences for U.S. civilian-military relations. "Experience from the Los Angeles riots," he said in his paper, "demonstrated the need to grant U.S. Marine forces the legal right to detain vehicles and suspects, conduct arrests, searches, and seizures in order to accomplish the peacekeeping mission." (The Los Angeles mission also demonstrated a need for the Marines to coordinate terminology with the police: when police officers asked some Marines to cover them while they confronted an armed suspect barricaded in his residence, Reeves reported, the Marines shot approximately thirty rounds of what they call "covering fire" into the building before the police stopped them.)

In a December, 1994, article in the Marine Corps Gazette, William S. Lind, a military analyst who has been influential in the doctrinal thinking of the post-Cold War Marines, wrote with two Marine reservists that American culture is "collapsing."

Little is remarkable about that paragraph, which reads like standard right-wing American rhetoric of the nineties—not all that different from Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan. Its significance lies in the conclusion that Lind and his co-authors drew: "The next real war we fight is likely to be on American soil."

As a coda, retired Colonel Michael Wyly wrote a few months later in another Gazette article, "We must be willing to realize that our real enemy is as likely to appear within our own borders as without." He then took swipes at the two fundamental principles of U.S. military professionalism: unwavering subordination to civilian control and nonparticipation in politics. "If our laws and self-image of our role as military professionals do not allow for [the recognition that the real enemy may be within] we need to change them." Wyly raised the possibility that the Marines would refuse to enforce certain laws. Specifically, if Congress were to restrict gun ownership, then Marines would need to understand that "enforcing such a restriction could quickly make us the enemy of constitutional freedom." (To its credit, the Gazette carried in the same issue a commonsense response to the Lind article from Major Mark Bean, who wrote, "America is made of tougher stuff than the authors would have us believe.")

When the military is politically active, when it believes it is uniquely aware of certain dangers, when it discusses responding to domestic threats to cherished values, then it edges toward becoming an independent actor in domestic politics. "A classic example of this situation happened in Chile," Major Robert Newton warned at the conclusion of his report "The Politicization of the Officer Corps." "The Chilean military was a very professional organization. The majority of the officer corps came from the middle class. When the society elected a communist President, the military broke from society. The officer corps believed this change threatened the basic principles upon which the society rested."

Starting in the mid-1960s, we have thrown away the values, morals, and standards that define traditional Western culture. In part, this has been driven by cultural radicals, people who hate our Judeo-Christian culture. Dominant in the elite, especially in the universities, the media, and the entertainment industry (now the most powerful force in our culture and a source of endless degradation), the cultural radicals have successfully pushed an agenda of moral relativism, militant secularism, and sexual and social "liberation." This agenda has slowly codified into a new ideology, usually known as "multiculturalism" or "political correctness," that is in essence Marxism translated from economic into social and cultural terms.

A U.S. military coup remains extremely unlikely. Samuel Huntington seems closer to the mark when he attributes the civilian-military turbulence of the Clinton Administration to the process of seeking out a new post-Cold War equilibrium in the civilian-military relationship.

But not all equilibriums are equal. The United States may be in danger of drifting into a situation in which the military is neither well understood nor well used and yet—as was not true in previous eras of military estrangement—is big, politically active, and frequently employed on a large scale to execute American foreign policy. The development of the semi-autonomous military described by the Harvard political scientist Michael Desch isn't healthy in a democracy. In addition, it isn't clear that the U.S. military, for all its political-military expertise, is best placed to decide how it should be used, either at home or abroad. However ignorant of military affairs the Clinton Administration may be, its estimate of the human costs of invading Haiti appears to have been far more accurate than the Pentagon's. Similarly, sixteen months into the Bosnian deployment none of the military's grim warnings that the U.S. military would suffer widespread casualties as it became entangled in a guerrilla war had been realized. This is a testament in part to the professionalism of today's soldiers. But it should also suggest that future Pentagon estimates of the human costs of possible operations deserve to be viewed with great skepticism.

Mutual distrust between the nation's political elites and military leaders could ultimately undercut U.S. foreign policy, making it more difficult to use force effectively. Indeed, this unease may in part explain why the Army was reluctant to take a more activist stance in the Haiti and Bosnia missions, and instead fretted publicly about "mission creep." To begin to repair the relationship, several steps could be taken.

First, consideration should be given to reinstating some form of a draft. Along the lines of the current German system, youths could be given the choice of performing, say, eighteen months of military service or two years of public service.

But the resumption of conscription appears unlikely for the foreseeable future, so several other steps should be considered in order to engage the military with civilian society. ROTC programs should be vastly expanded, especially at elite institutions. The service requirement attached to attending one of the three military academies might be shortened, in order to encourage more military officers to pursue careers in civilian society. Among other things, this might eventually lead to the presence in Congress of more people with military experience. Whenever possible, military officers pursuing higher degrees should be sent to civilian universities, whether or not this means closing some military schools. As Eliot Cohen, a military strategist at Johns Hopkins who is one of the most thoughtful commentators on U.S. civilian-military relations, has suggested, there may even be ways of bringing people into the military later in their lives—possibly at ranks as high as lieutenant colonel. And the military could use the skills of reservists far more imaginatively, especially in an era when civilian technologies are outpacing military ones. To help recruiters draw from the other end of the socio-economic scale, retired Admiral Stanley Arthur suggests that the military establish special preparatory programs that would enable more inner-city youths to enlist.

But the most important change that should be made involves the military only secondarily. This concerns the isolation of professional Americans, or the upper middle class, from the broad concerns of society. Ignorance of the military is, I think, just one manifestation of that larger problem. We live in an era when a Democratic President sends his child to private school and few eyebrows are raised. America's military problem is not unlike that facing parts of the former Soviet Union. In reviewing the depredations of semi-autonomous or fully autonomous militias in thirty-one new states and "ministates" in the old Eastern bloc and the former Yugoslavia, Charles H. Fairbanks Jr., an expert on post-Communist transitions, recommended that in order to assert public control over those forces, "it is particularly important to involve the new middle class ... in military service." America would do well to take the same advice.

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