What is the New ‘Woke’ Military Really Preparing Us For?
As a U.S. Army medic in the early 1970s, my father worked with wounded veterans who were suffering from what we would now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the time, so my dad told me, many of these PTSD victims were heavily medicated, their rational and physical capacities greatly impaired. The result was both depressing and comical. My father recounted to me stories of trying to play basketball with these wounded warriors, passing the ball to vets so drugged up that it would slam into their faces to little effect. On other occasions, the men would sit in a circle to talk about their feelings. Battle-hardened vets would announce, slowly and articulately, with smiles on their faces, “I feel like shit.”
These anecdotes recently came to mind when reading James Hasson’s Stand Down: How Social Justice Warriors are Sabotaging America’s Military. As Hasson’s account make startling clear, progressive activists, especially during the Obama administration, have sought to radically remake the U.S. armed forces, “even over the explicit objections of the most seasoned military leaders.” And as I learned from my father, the United States military has been the object of social experimentation for generations. All the same, as with most progressive projects, data suggests that whenever social engineers are given a long leash, they’ll pull as far as they can. That’s all the more reason to express concern and outrage over Hasson’s reporting.
Every organization, be it a corporation, publication, or even a sports team, needs a clear, easily perceptible mission statement. The United States military, since the founding of our nation, has had a pretty obvious one. Its objective, as Hasson notes, is to be prepared for wars, and when necessary to win them. As my World War II veteran grandfather liked to jokingly observe, the military during America’s more isolationist days was once subject to the Department of War. As Washington has become embroiled in decades-long conflicts far from home, it was renamed, in an Orwellian twist, the Department of Defense. Yet however we term it, the military is charged with maximizing combat readiness for future conflicts.
As Hasson explains, social experimentation is directly undermining this readiness. This comes at a time when the military is already understaffed and overstretched, with fewer squadrons and active soldiers than defense experts—both inside and outside the government—recommend. The fitness of Navy ships and Navy readiness are also on the decline, as evidenced by the 2017 collision off the coast of Japan between a U.S. destroyer and a container ship. Presidents have deployed the military for all manner of objectives, which can only with great imagination be justified as defending national security, such as the 2012 hunt for Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony in the jungles of Uganda.
Hasson is at his best when decrying the inanity of social justice initiatives imposed upon the armed forces. Our military academies, like secular academia writ-large, offer courses that attack America’s history and identity as backwards and corrupt, while promoting identity politics, the transgender agenda, and anti-religious sentiments. It fosters living arrangements that put people of all sexes and sexual identities together, a recipe for trouble. Hasson rightly argues:
The credo of intersectionality is entirely incompatible with traditional military culture, with its hierarchy of command, its focus on duties rather than rights, and its emphasis on the merit, disciplined conduct, and professional competence of its members rather than their assumed victimhood.
The military cannot afford to be a “safe space,” because it will never execute its mission in safe spaces. It cannot endure complaints about micro-aggressions, because the very nature of combat necessitates enduring acts of aggression. It cannot cater to all the unique variations of individual soldiers, because it is, in Hasson’s words, a “great equalizer” of men and women, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, or economic status.
The military now accepts transgender soldiers and even allows soldiers to “change” genders while in military service; it pays the bill for these treatments and accepts that those who undergo them will be unavailable for months. Not to mention that those who identify as transgender have much higher rates of psychological problems, including depression and suicide, than others. What is the military supposed to do when soldiers have these issues while deployed to places where they are consistently in combat? “These intensive medical procedures are simply incompatible with wartime service,” says Hasson. Unsurprisingly, a 2016 Military Times poll found that only 12 percent of active-duty troops thought the new Obama administration’s policy would improve readiness.
Apart from this, according to Hasson’s documentation, there is also the lowering of standards in U.S. Army Ranger school, one of the most elite programs in the entire military. This allowed underperforming women to graduate. Women have also been allowed into combat units, despite mounting evidence compiled by the Marine Corps that co-ed units perform less well than their all-male counterparts. The harsh reality that men and women are physiologically different must be ignored to meet the demands of identity politics.
Alternatively, Hasson is at his worst when censuring the Obama administration and other liberals and Democrats for not listening to the military’s advice. The real problem is that the armed forces have the same negative tendencies as other parts of the federal government. The military will always ask for more money and resources. It will always want to show off its prowess and capabilities, even if their execution has little connection to its mission and may actually undermine American security. It will always be susceptible to groupthink and inertia over against innovation. Students of U.S. military history will remember that Lincoln, a civilian, clashed with numerous incompetent generals until he finally found one whose winning strategy aligned with his own. Often one needs to get outside the system—and certainly one as large as the military—to understand and effectively change it.
This weakness aside, Hasson’s book has raised the alarm regarding this crisis, one that is slated only to get worse. Terrifyingly, 71 percent of Millennials are not even eligible for the military because they are obese, have criminal records, or lack high school diplomas or GEDs. The military is already granting waivers to many applicants to make up for their shortfalls. Meanwhile, our soldiers are being told that evangelical Christianity and Catholicism are forms of “religious extremism.” There needs to be a course correction, and it needs to happen soon, lest we find out, the hard way, that we are sorely unprepared for conflict.
Casey Chalk covers religion and other issues for The American Conservative and is a senior writer for Crisis Magazine. He has degrees in history and teaching from the University of Virginia, and a masters in theology from Christendom College.