The U.S. Military Went Woke. Time To Make Some Changes at the Top

COMMENTARY Defense

The U.S. Military Went Woke. Time To Make Some Changes at the Top

Dec 6, 2023 4 min read

Commentary By

Ryan Williams

President, The Claremont Review of Books and the American Mind

Terry Schilling @Schilling1776

President of the American Principles Project

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) meeting at the Pentagon on November 22, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Heightened tensions come as the window of American leadership, and accompanying global stability, appears at risk of closing.

The military should not be in the business of accommodating social ideology if it means accepting non-deployability.

If the nation is to reclaim the military as an institution built for victory in war, conservatives must have the courage and audacity to reform the institution.

The war in Ukraine and Israel's response to the October 7 terrorist attack signal a worldwide turn away from U.S. leadership. While direct involvement in either conflict seems unlikely, U.S. troop deployments to the Middle East continue, and two U.S. carrier strike groups have formed a “naval bubble” around Israel. The Marine Corps Central Command even canceled its heralded Marine Corps Ball due to “operational commitments.”

Heightened tensions come as the window of American leadership, and accompanying global stability, appears at risk of closing. Domestic instability among our European allies has compromised their ability to contribute to wars in their own backyard. Wise or not, every significant rival of America judges now to be a good time to test American leadership. Russian aggression in Ukraine, Chinese posturing towards Taiwan, and Iranian attacks on Americans signal the deterrent power of the American military is not what it once was. As the Biden administration fumbles, the rest of the world is turning against, or away from, America.

Conservatives must lead a “refounding” of the American military to embrace the possibility that war may be on the horizon. Too often, Americans hear a bipartisan chorus declaring the military a “melting pot” or “mirror” of civilian society. In this vein of rhetoric, the military's purpose is to reflect the country's demographic trends and be hospitable to the de rigueur conception of civil rights.

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This reflects what Samuel Huntington, in The Soldier and the State, described as the tension between the “functional imperative” of the military to fight and win our nation's wars, and the “social imperative” to embrace the politics and ideologies of civil society. Huntington argued, rightly, that the military's adherence to its “functional imperative” demands an absolute adherence to merit and to the people, policies, and programs that make the military more lethal and effective.

In 1870-71, for example, the Germans defeated a French Army that had an excellent reputation and tremendous resources. But decades of politicized French high command officials left the army without competent leadership, and the nation suffered a humiliating defeat. This crisis of merit spurred a century-long cycle of French military losses.

Today's American military has fully embraced the social imperatives of the Left and the most progressive aspects of American society.

The U.S. Air Force selects officers based on a race- and sex-based quota system for officer applicants—an affirmative action program that would make the Ivy League blush.

In August, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command released a report on “Women in Combat”—not to analyze the effectiveness of Army Special Operations Forces, but to excoriate itself for supposed persistent bigotry.

Earlier this year, Army officials released a memo making soldiers undergoing “gender transition” non-deployable for almost one year. At a time of severe readiness concerns, such a concession to ideology is absurd. The military should not be in the business of accommodating social ideology if it means accepting non-deployability.

Each of these examples, and countless others, embody the faulty assumption that the military must reflect the society it is built to protect.

This assumption is pernicious because the 20th-century armed forces that won two world wars was built on a theory of separation from society. William T. Sherman, Jack Pershing, and George Marshall formed a tradition of military leadership built on ruthless standards of military competence, and near-indifference to political pressures and social concerns. These leaders built and led armies with global success, and we should recall their approach to civil-military relations in policymaking and oversight.

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Such scrutiny is appropriate, even for senior officers serving in uniform. By law, the U.S. Senate has the responsibility and authority to review every general and flag officer in the military up for promotion. This authority is entrusted to our elected leaders to ensure the very best officers lead aircraft carriers, infantry divisions, and Marine Expeditionary Forces.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville's (R-Alabama) holds on military promotions over the Pentagon's unjust decision to fund abortion tourism is a righteous manifestation of the Senate's responsibility to scrutinize military leadership. Analysis from the Center for Renewing America indicates over 40 percent of the officers whose promotion Tuberville has held up have publicly supported “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” policies, and dozens of them have egregiously politicized their service through social media comments, speeches, or policy decisions.

If the nation is to reclaim the military as an institution built for victory in war, conservatives must have the courage and audacity to reform the institution, starting at the top, with uniformed leadership.

In his farewell address, President George Washington himself warned of the rise of “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” who would “usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterward the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” Nor was this concern confined to the early days of our republic—President Dwight Eisenhower warned “against the acquisition of unwarranted influence” and its “potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power.”

It is not disrespectful to question the suitability of a general or admiral for promotion. Such oversight is foundational to restoring the unitary place of merit at the center of military decisionmaking. As the risk of war seems to rise, there is no time to waste.

This piece originally appeared in Newsweek

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