Trust In Military Collapsing
Is the U.S. military’s reputation in free fall? It sure looks that way.
The Ronald Reagan Institute just announced that public confidence in the military has continued its precipitous drop. The institute’s November 2021 poll found that only 45 percent of those polled report “a great deal of trust and confidence in the military” — down 25 points in three years. The institute adds “Increasing numbers of Americans say they have little or not much confidence in the military, which is up 15 points in the last three years.”
The military isn’t the only public institution suffering a bad reputation, but it is used to basking in public esteem. As a result, it may not know how to recover.
It would be interesting to poll the public to ask why people are losing confidence in the military. Absent those data, hazarding a guess would probably be projecting one’s own gripes onto the situation. My sense is that it has a lot to do with the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, because I am not sure how aware people are of the Afghanistan Papers, and what they revealed about how much the US military brass lied for years about the situation there. If more people did know about the Afghanistan Papers, then that would definitely suppress confidence. You can’t blame what’s there on Joe Biden, Donald Trump, or any president, not really. That’s all on the senior US military leadership.
You can blame Obama and Biden, as well as the senior US military leadership, for the institutionalization of wokeness in the armed forces — and you can blame Trump for not doing enough to stop the madness. Word is getting around about what they have done, and are doing, to military culture. The brass is making enemies of the core people who serve. Look at this graphic from the Council on Foreign Relations. Red states generally provide a disproportionate number of recruits:
The men and women who sign up overwhelmingly come from counties in the South and a scattering of communities at the gates of military bases like Colorado Springs, which sits next to Fort Carson and several Air Force installations, and where the tradition of military service is deeply ingrained.
More and more, new recruits are the children of old recruits. In 2019, 79 percent of Army recruits reported having a family member who served. For nearly 30 percent, it was a parent — a striking point in a nation where less than 1 percent of the population serves in the military.
For years, military leaders have been sounding the alarm over the growing gulf between communities that serve and those that do not, warning that relying on a small number of counties that reliably produce soldiers is unsustainable, particularly now amid escalating tensions with Iran.
To be sure, the idea of joining the military has lost much of its luster in nearly two decades of grinding war. The patriotic rush to enlist after the terrorist attacks of 2001 has faded. For a generation, enlisting has produced reliable hardship for troops and families, but nothing that resembles victory. But the military families who have borne nearly all of the burden, and are the most cleareyed about the risks of war, are still the Americans who are most likely to encourage their sons and daughters to join.
The South, where the culture of military service runs deep and military installations are plentiful, produces 20 percent more recruits than would be expected, based on its youth population. The states in the Northeast, which have very few military bases and a lower percentage of veterans, produce 20 percent fewer.
See this map from the Times:
The main predictors are not based on class or race. Army data show service spread mostly evenly through middle-class and “downscale” groups. Youth unemployment turns out not to be the prime factor. And the racial makeup of the force is more or less in line with that of young Americans as a whole, though African-Americans are slightly more likely to serve. Instead, the best predictor is a person’s familiarity with the military.
“Those who understand military life are more likely to consider it as a career option than those who do not,” said Kelli Bland, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Recruiting Command.
In Los Angeles, a region defined by liberal politics where many families are suspicious of the military, the Army has struggled to even gain access to high schools. By law, schools have to allow recruiters on campus once a semester, but administrators tightly control when and how recruiters can interact with students. Access is “very minimal,” said Lt. Col. Tameka Wilson, the commander of the Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion.
Predictably, enlistment rates are low.
In 2019 the Army made a push to increase recruiting efforts in 22 liberal-leaning cities like Los Angeles. As part of that, Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy visited officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District in December to push for greater access.
“He was doing a sort of listening tour,” said Patricia Heideman, who is in charge of high school instruction for the school district and said there was a perception the military preys on disadvantaged students. “I told him from the educator perspective, we sometimes feel they are targeting our black and brown students and students of poverty,” she said. And therefore they are less likely to push enlistment.
So many military people — active duty, or recently retired — I’ve met this year in my travels in the US, or who have written to me privately, tell me that they warn folks to stay away from the woke military. Obviously this is anecdotal, but I hear it so often that I believe it reflects a genuine larger trend. If you are conservative, or white, or religious, or some combination thereof, why would you want to put your life on the line to serve an institution whose leadership and whose policies hold you in contempt, or at least consider you to be a culturally backward heathen in need of conversion to wokeness? When my middle son, now 17, was enthusiastic last year about the military, I told him that service is honorable, and that I would support him whatever he decided, but that I did not want him to be in a position in which he had to disobey his conscience or disobey his commanding officer. He got it. He no longer plans on going into the military.
He would have made a good soldier. This is a boy who was educated in the Greek classics, and in Christian faith. I asked him why he wanted to serve. He said, “To do right by my country, to gain honor, to find brotherhood, and to have adventures.” Seriously, that’s what he said. This kid is alone in our family in having almost no sense of irony. He is all heart, and he is always the first to volunteer to help people in need, especially if there is hard physical labor involved. And yet, because he is a white male of generally conservative disposition, and because he is a devout Christian, I am increasingly convinced, by what I read and by what armed forces members, and recently retired armed forces members, tell me, that the US military would see a kid like him not as an asset, but as a problem.
I could be wrong. But you hear this over and over from people who are in a position to know, and it’s hard to conclude otherwise. I recently heard from a fairly prominent public person, a conservative Christian who said military service goes back generations in his family, on both sides. He served, but has strongly counseled his children not to serve. I can tell this both breaks his heart and infuriates him, because a tradition of military service was something he wanted to pass along. But he can’t do it, because he has lost confidence in our military, because of the poison of wokeness — ideological indoctrination — coming down from on high, and forced on the ranks. The Pentagon is politicizing our military, and he wants nothing to do with it for his children.
According to the Times story, a disproportionate number of recruits come from families like his. I have no idea how widespread this phenomenon is — I mean, patriarchs (and matriarchs?) of these families warning their children off the military — but if it is a real issue, or becomes one, we have a national security crisis created by the civilian and military leadership. This is a version of a foolish war of choice: a destructive thing that was not forced on us, but that our leaders chose to do.
In light of the Afghanistan Papers and our humiliating withdrawal, nobody in the Pentagon leadership has paid a price. Nobody in civilian leadership has made them. We are decadent. We may well be the late Ottoman Empire. Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy is going to look utterly deluded if within two years both Taiwan and Ukraine are lost to the current world order and there is an increasingly ascendant and resilient competition to the West that doesn’t give a damn about our rhetoric or principles. The Ottoman Empire made great noise about being the absolute and total sovereign of the entire Ummah throughout its decline, but none of it mattered as Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, and Southeast Asia were all conquered and colonized by the European powers. The oligarchic technocratic progressivism has all the self-righteousness in the world but none of the actual willingness to fight. And it is demonizing and demoralizing the main population in this country that is willing to fight.
Even if the military were non-woke, I wouldn’t want my sons joining, because I do not trust the judgment of either the civilian or military leadership. We know from the Afghanistan Papers that the generals lie. Look at how the entire national security class in Washington, both liberal and conservative, are rushing towards conflict in Ukraine. Are they insane? This is the same leadership class that is presiding over the woke transformation of our armed forces.
Back in 2016, a reader of this blog was a Fulbright scholar, and sent to me photos of the handouts the State Department (which administers the program) gave his Fulbright class in their training session explaining how their task was to be cultural ambassadors for America. I wrote about it here. Excerpts:
The Fulbright scholarships are prestigious awards, funded by Congress, to hundreds of US academics and others to provide opportunities for study abroad. It is administered by the US State Department. A reader recently underwent a short course preparing incoming Fulbright scholars for their overseas deployment. He is going to study in a developing country. He tells me he was shocked by the instruction in gender ideology his group was put through as part of their briefing. They were instructed, he said to think about how they can be “an ally” to sexual minorities abroad.
He reports that his group sat through a speech about how backwards most foreign cultures are on sex and gender, and how they would all be ambassadors for cultural change in those benighted societies. Said the reader, “Any sensitivity toward differing cultural norms was couched entirely in pragmatic terms, relating, for example, to personal safety.”
He is a scholar with extensive experience living in the developing world, and this offended him. “The truly insane part, as I see it, is that this is a cultural exchange program. Ostensibly we are supposed to be fostering mutual understanding. [But] the message was clear: we are the tip of the spear of American cultural imperialism, and we are going to change these backwards traditional cultures whether they like it or not.”
Take a look at that post to see the two handouts. As I wrote back then (quoting a 2012 interview with an Obama administration official), this is all a deliberate decision the Obama State Department made to compel our diplomats — even at the level of Fulbright scholars — to become advocates of gay rights and gender ideology. Now the Pentagon is training our soldiers to be Social Justice Warriors, even to make war on themselves and their convictions if they don’t align with wokeness.
You have to ask: why exactly should non-woke veterans encourage their sons and daughters to put their lives on the line to serve an institution that will train them to hold their family traditions and moral and religious convictions in contempt? Moreover, why should these veterans encourage their children to serve a regime (= the ruling class) led by people who believe America’s role in the world is to spread values that demonize traditional Christians, and those who don’t share woke beliefs about race? These elites, including in the Pentagon, are making culture war on people like them at home, and simultaneously want them to send their kids to potentially make actual war on foreign people who are so backward that they don’t accept gender ideology and the rest of our decadent ideological package.
So, to recap: trust in the US military is collapsing. We don’t yet know why, but we need to find out. My supposition is that it has to do with some combination of the loss in Afghanistan, the lying that the senior leadership did for years about the situation in Afghanistan, and reaction to the senior leadership imposing wokeness on the armed forces. The military draws a disproportionate number of recruits from military families — and I have anecdotal evidence that some of these families are discouraging their kids from joining, because they believe from experience that, as one active-duty service member told me this fall, “this is not the same military that it was even two years ago” — this, a reference to the ideological program being shoved down their throats.
This is part of a broader culture war American elites are waging on segments of their own people. These are the same elites who are eager to wage culture war on foreign countries they consider to be insufficiently progressive on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. Could it be that conservative American families are wondering why their sons and daughters should fight these foreigners on behalf of the same elite class that is waging culture war on them at home?
As J.D. Vance has said, once you realize the culture war is class war by other means, a lot becomes clear.
UPDATE: I want to be clear that I do believe that soldiers, sailors, and airmen should be expected to treat LGBT colleagues with respect. Whether it’s a good or a bad idea, the fact is that those men and women are in the military, and deserve respect. What I object to is the compulsory celebration, and the indoctrination with gender ideology. It is one thing to be taught respect for sexual minorities, but it is very much another to be forced to sign on to policies that compel religious and social conservatives in the ranks to not only respect their LGBT colleagues (a fair and sensible approach), but also to doubt and reject their religious and moral beliefs.