Until recently, decades of failed senior officer leadership in a series of disastrous American military interventions, from Vietnam to Afghanistan—operations that compromised basic principles of military leadership and produced a stable of morally bankrupt sycophants in the senior ranks of the armed forces—awakened surprisingly little concern in Washington, D.C. Cold War triumphalism had run its course everywhere in the world, but not inside the Washington Beltway.
Then, “wokeness,” along with a senior officer’s defense of teaching critical race theory (CRT) at West Point, suddenly became topical for many Republican members of the House and Senate. One concluded that Congress should defend patriotic service members against the services’ woke leadership.
Is it true? Are America’s four stars (44 of them) becoming the military equivalent of Davos Men; denationalized cosmopolitans who view national identities and boundaries as antiquated obstacles to the liberating force of globalism? Or is “wokeness” really just a matter of civilian control of the military?
It would be wrong to suggest that today’s senior officers (three and four stars) are gold collar globalists. It would be more accurate to suggest that steadily rising defense spending combined with the absence of accountability for performance has devalued the importance of character, competence, and intelligence in the selection of senior officers.
In addition, Washington has lots of revolving doors. Just as political appointees move from the defense industries or think tanks to and from the Pentagon, retired senior officers work or consult for defense contractors and sit on the boards of defense conglomerates. For appointees and retired senior military officers, the opportunity for self-enrichment is substantial.
Most of the time, the revolving door reinforces a static military mindset that thrives on bureaucratic routine and preserves existing money flows to satisfy congressional, private sector, and service interests. Officers who question the status quo are sidelined, ensuring that generations of senior military officers are very homogenous. Sometimes, the outcome is ethically shady behavior.
The result is a class of senior officers ready to adopt whatever politically mandated social policy their civilian superiors demand, provided they are left to run the service bureaucracies, control promotions, and structure the forces as they like. Thus, punishing midshipmen who criticize Black Lives Matter and compelling soldiers to march in high heels or to embrace identity politics even in the face of evidence that such policies might weaken, if not subvert, American fighting power is carried out with surprisingly little fanfare.
All discipline is a form of habit and the habit of conforming in the senior ranks is quite strong. Young officers learn that in battle, hesitation, indecision, or the refusal to obey orders under fire can cost the lives of American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.
Unfortunately, this learned behavior also persists in matters of national military strategy, which produce policies affecting the morale, discipline, and fighting power of the nation’s armed forces. When confronted with tough issues from the Gulf of Tonkin to disbanding the Iraqi military, senior military leaders are inclined to acquiesce to bad strategic policy decisions on the grounds that it is their military duty to comply or because they fear exclusion from access to greater income in retired life. In any case, it’s ill-advised, even immoral.
Why is it wrong for senior officers to simply go along to get along? National military leaders must fuse the body and soul of the nation into one united fighting force. Decisions that commit forces to vague objectives based more on wishful thinking than reality, as was the case in Vietnam and Iraq, or policies that nurture hatred against all or some of the nation’s service members put the very survival of the force at risk.
Today, Americans in uniform confront an extremist ideology that is unapologetic in its hatred of all things Western, white, and Christian in America. Many serving in the ranks think this extremism takes the form of de-nationalization and believe that it is being institutionalized by the Biden administration.
Perhaps the poster child for anti-Western and anti-white extremism is Bishop Garrison, the man tasked by the Biden administration to fight alleged extremism in the military. Garrison subscribes to the “1619 Project,” a twisted, hate-filled Marxist interpretation of American history that vilifies Western culture, Western civilization, and the Europeans who created it. The project rests on the belief that Americans of color, especially black Americans, are “marginalized” and oppressed inside American society.
Predictably, the 1619 Project divides American society along racial lines to condemn white Americans as the privileged class. It inspires policies that classify soldiers, by forcing them to wear badges identifying them by race and socio-economic status during “diversity and inclusion training.”
Much like the members of Antifa and Black Lives Matter, the advocates in uniform for CRT and the 1619 Project seem unable to conceive or admit of anything good or positive in America’s past. To many Americans serving inside the armed forces, those in uniform who proselytize for CRT seem determined to purge the ranks of anyone who might question whether “systemic racism” really is the defining feature of 21st century American society. Put another way by a serving sailor, “if you are straight, white, and male, especially if you are a Christian, the military does not want you.”
“History,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, “is a picture gallery containing a host of copies and very few originals.” It is not the first time mankind has witnessed a radical reordering of politics that rejects compromise and destroys a nation in pursuit of an allegedly more just society.
In 1917, Lenin argued for a democratically elected assembly to govern Russia. In January 1918, when the Assembly met and Lenin discovered the vast majority of Russian delegates elected to Russia’s Constituent Assembly opposed his policies, he told his followers, “To wait for the [Russian] constituent assembly which will clearly not be with us is senseless.” Lenin dissolved the assembly and turned his attention to control of the state organs of power: the military and the police.
Extremists are never concerned with the truth or compromise, but extremists do understand power. Lenin organized his supporters into Red Guards—a volunteer paramilitary force that could terrorize Lenin’s opponents. Lenin and his successors built an internal police force (the NKVD) with political watchdogs to transform the military into an instrument of the Communist Party.
A political force or idea taken to its extreme always produces its opposite. If the senior leaders of the armed forces do not halt the radical attempt to de-nationalize the American military and weaponize it for the use of the American Left, the U.S. armed forces will be compromised. Americans will reject appeals to conservatism and moderation, and turn instead to the power of American nationalism, the force diametrically opposed to the radical left.
Senators and congressmen should be worried, and so should the American people.
Douglas Macgregor, colonel (ret.) U.S. Army and the former senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense, is a Ph.D., the author of five books, and a senior fellow at The American Conservative.