Saturday, August 20, 2005

Pavlovs Dogs of War (Continued)

Don't let me give you the impression that all military officers come from the same cookie cutter mold. An Air Force fighter pilot and a Navy supply officer, for example, are two different breeds of the beast--almost like the difference between a pit bull and a poodle. But at the end of the day, they both belong to the same species.
I can't find a reference for this, but a few years ago, the Army Chief of Staff (the service's senior general) was asked on a radio interview why and how the Army had become so dominated with soldiers who identified themselves as evangelical Christians and conservative Republicans.

The old general cleared his throat and replied that he didn't see any evidence of those religious and political leanings in the Army at all, and that the makeup of Army personnel reflected "everyday America." The general's remarks suggested to me that:

-- He was bullshitting the interviewer for reasons we can only guess at or...

-- He was so senior and so long immersed in the Washington culture that he'd completely lost touch with the Army's rank and file reality or...

-- He considered his service's extreme religious and political leanings to reflect "everyday" America because he'd lived in his cloistered society for so long that that he didn't know any better or...

-- He was on heavy medication or in the early stages of Alzheimer's or...

-- Some combination of any or all of the above.


Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post correspondent Thomas E. Rick--author of Making the Corps and A Soldier's Duty--has done significant research and writing on how America's military has become a society separate from American society at large.

In 1996, while working as a fellow at Harvard University's John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Ricks wrote a monograph titled "On American Soil: The Widening Gap between the U.S. Military and U.S. Society." He quotes Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who is executive director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University who describes what Tom calls the "Vietnam Hangover":

"There is a deep-seated suspicion in the U.S. military of society. It is part of the Vietnam hangover--`You guys betrayed us once, and you could do it again,'" This suspicion, [Bacevich] added, "isn't going away, it's being transmitted" to a new generation of officers.

Transmitted by the old generation of officers like Bacevich, who are still trying to come to terms with the sacrifices they made in a bad war started and run badly by bad men. The Bacevich's of this world don't want to blame the bad men they were sworn to obey--the politicians and the generals who kowtowed to them--so they direct their anger at the "pussy public."

A retired pal of mine who served two tours in Vietnam, if you get enough beers in him, subscribes to this philosophy. "We only needed another eighteen months," he says, "but the population left us high and dry."

And I'll ask him, "After ten years, you only needed another eighteen months?"

He'll mumble and change the subject.

Ricks also quotes William S. Lind, a military analyst who thinks the "American culture is collapsing."
Starting in the mid-1960's, 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 industries (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.

In other words, "tolerance" equals "communism."

Ricks sites several surveys taken in the mid-90s that indicate a majority of officers identified themselves as "conservative," and considered that a gap existed between the military and civilian cultures.


Keep in mind that Ricks' research was done during the Clinton White House years, a time in which the administration was not considered "military friendly." Nonetheless, the controversy over the influence of the religious right at the US Air Force Academy illustrates that the conservative trend continues in contemporary times.


Don't walk away with the idea that military officers, as a "subclass," are a grim bunch of ultra-conservative bastards. I genuinely enjoyed working with most of my comrades in arms.

Still, looking back, I can see a conservative slant I didn't realize existed at the time. I considered myself a centrist. I was actually a moderate conservative. But I seemed like a centrist relative to my peer group.


  1. Jeff, how do people like Eric Shinseki and Wesley Clark sneak into 4-star general status? I know they're Democrats so they (especially Shinseki) must have run counter to the prevailing military culture.

  2. Tell me about, it if I try to get a time off for a Jewish holiday most of my leadership throws a fit at the very idea of a soldier wanting to observe something other than the traditionally recognized Christian holidays. My favorite gripe is “why can’t you people be everyone else” Or why do you Jews have to have a separate Christmas”…there are many more but those are some of my favorite quips slung in my direction by NCOs and an occasional officer. But to their credit they I catch only a mild amount of flack for wearing A Kippah while in uniform, though AR 670-1 says I may as long as I follows certain guidelines..

  3. T-Lady:

    An excellent question that's probably going to be better than my answer.

    Both of those guys graduated from the academy sometime in the 60s, (while Kennedy was in office maybe), and served under him, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton. In fact, both of them got into their four star commands under Clinton.

    They also "grew up" in the apolitical age, when officers seldom discussed party affiliations and often didn't vote. (Some considered that they shouldn't vote because that would conflict their loyalties.) In any case, I doubt whether either Clarke of Shinseki were avid Democrats. In fact, there's a good argument that Clarke wasn't a "democrat" until he decided to run for president.

    Thomas, Phil Roth wrote a pretty good short story about that. I'll see if I can dig up the name of it--it's in the same collection with "Goodbye Columbus."


  4. The name of the story is "Defender of the Faith."

  5. I've had "Goodbye Columbus" on my shelf for quite some time now. Thanks for inticing me to take it down and at least read the "Defender of the Faith" story.

    Just found your blog today and will be chacking in a few times a week to see how it's going. Thanks for sharing your views Jeff!

  6. Terrible,

    I can't honestly say Roth is my very favorite writer, but he always pulls me in, and always leaves me thinking about what he writes days, months, and years later.

    Thanks for stopping by and posting. Don't be a stranger.