While public approval and support for Congress, the media and other American institutions is low and trending lower, respect for the U. S. military has been a notable exception. A 2019 poll showed that 83% of respondents said they had confidence in the military and Gallup’s annual measurement of public confidence in institutions consistently ranks the military as the top-rated institution among Americans. This ranking exceeds that of organized religion, the U. S. Supreme Court, the presidency, law enforcement and, not surprisingly, the media and Congress, whose latest approval rating is 18%.
It’s a matter of no little concern, then, to those of us who devoted most of our adult working lives to military service that there seems to be a widespread perception in the liberal media and among some young liberal politicians that extremism is rampant throughout the armed forces. Much of this may be based on press reports and an analysis by CNN and National Public Radio finding that 14% and just under 20%, respectively, of those charged with crimes in the January assault on the Capitol Building were either past or current members of the military and the only rioter who was killed happened to be a veteran of 14 years of service in the Air Force.
The San Diego Union-Tribune, in a recent editorial, characterized this as an “Outsize(d) role by military members in the insurrection” and opined that it was not surprising. I, on the other hand, found the comment quite surprising and other parts of the editorial as well, even coming from the increasingly-liberal newspaper serving a region that hosts the world’s largest Navy-Marine base complex and a large number of active duty and retired members and their families. That any active or retired members of the military were involved in the rioting is indeed a cause for concern but to say that there was an outsize(d) role by military members is without justification. Past members of the military are private citizens and veterans, no longer members of the military. Those careerists who completed sufficient service to qualify for retirement retain certain obligations, but those who were discharged without staying long enough to qualify for retirement cannot be counted as military members.
Newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Retired Army General Lloyd Austin’s military stand down order requires military leaders at all levels to select a day to lead discussions focusing on the oath of office, impermissible behavior and procedures for reporting extremist behavior. This will, hopefully, make it clear that acts of extremism by members of the military will not be tolerated. Meanwhile, the Navy reportedly has announced a comprehensive effort by a task force to address bias in its ranks. It will reportedly consider proposals to rename ships, increase diversity in promotion and eliminate hate speech, among other things. These actions may be needed but the danger of overreaching is very real.
The Union-Tribune editorial, for example, stated that “It is unacceptable that a Navy task force found Black members were far less likely to be officers than White members based on (their respective) numbers in enlisted ranks. Officer promotions in the Navy are based on fitness as measured by fitness reports (performance appraisals), potential, experience in demanding assignments and the needs of the service for specific skills and experience, not on race or any other accident of birth. There are no racial quotas in the Navy. It’s all about demonstrated performance and the needs of the service, not diversity. If that should result in more Black officers at a given time than White officers, then so be it.
In the same newspaper, an article appeared describing a discussion between Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-San Diego) and Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) which took place just after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. “It was pretty scary,” Jacobs said, recalling that she “immediately went back to my office once we were all clear and had a glass of whiskey with Jason, who’s my neighbor, and then decided it was important that we call for impeachment.” Nothing like whiskey to help with a tough decision.
Crow, an Army veteran, reportedly said, without evidence, as the media is fond of adding, extremism is a growing problem in the military. “We are developing,” he was quoted as saying, “a military culture, a military class in our country. That’s not good for our democracy, to have a military/civilian divide.” He added that there should be more diversity in recruitment.
Whose democracy is he talking about? There is plenty of diversity in our military. How could he not have noticed? And what’s wrong with having a strong military culture. It’s fundamentally a unifying warrior culture among a band of brothers and sisters and thank God for it. It doesn’t divide the military from the civilian community. The military, in fact, exists to defend civilians. The sole purpose for having a military is to win wars and keep the nation and its people safe. It’s not just a job. It’s a calling and where diversity is concerned, the military is probably the most colorblind institution left in America. Reformers will mess with it at the nation’s peril.