Man, this decline-and-fall business isn’t turning out to be nearly as amusing as it looks like being in all those old movies about the Roman Empire in its final days.
Our Disunity Is a National Security Threat
The military now reflects the selfishness and fragmentation of our culture. Welcome to the looting-the-treasury phase of imperial decline.
In the lawsuit challenging Harvard’s affirmative action practices, a group of senior retired military officers filed an amicus brief, which argued that maintaining affirmative action was a “national security imperative.” Those signing off include four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, six former superintendents of the service academies, and 17 retired four-star generals, including Wesley Clark and William McRaven.
A ““national security imperative”? SERIOUSLY? Sorry, fellas, but I’m gonna need you to explain to me, in detail, exactly how you arrived at THAT bizarre conclusion.
Recruiting an adequate number of troops and increasing their quality also seems pretty important. But we know that recent efforts at recruiting have been a disaster, amplified by the mass expulsion of troops who refused the COVID vaccine.
While things carried on for a while out of habit, eventually the patriotic, mostly white, rural Americans who formed the backbone of the military started doing an about face. Polls show that fewer veterans now want their kids to follow in their footsteps. Conservative Republicans, once the most stalwart supporters of the military, have lately become more critical and less trusting.
No real mystery about that. Hell, I’ve wondered for a while now what the hell any new enlistee might think he’s signing up to defend with his very life, literally, and what the hell might be keeping career soldiers in the ranks nowadays.
Declining interest in service by conservative and white Americans is not irrational. Why fight for a governing class that hates you, deems you the central political problem, seeks to humiliate you, and disrespects your ancestors at every opportunity? Why serve an American empire that pursues foreign wars like those in Iraq and Ukraine that have almost no relationship to actual national security and explicitly serve a left-wing ideology?
One might respond that military service is good even under these conditions in order to get useful training and make a living. But even under such a self-serving standard, the incentive to do so is declining, as white men within the military are subject to a rigged game, where it is harder to get ahead, and the old standards of excellence no longer matter. This will only get worse without a dramatic reset in the culture of our military and political leaders.
During the War on Terror, lavish praise for military service flowed from a widespread feeling of guilt. After the 9/11 attacks, the country wanted safety and revenge—but, other than service members and their families, very few Americans carried the burdens of war. The civilian-military gap was amplified by the increasing self-perception of servicemembers as “warriors,” rather than mere soldiers. From this romantic view of military service as a superior way of life undertaken by superior people, we see the first seedlings of a warrior aristocracy.
A constitutional republic and a warrior aristocracy are polar opposites. The European aristocracy found its origins in rewards for battlefield merit, where particular acts of bravery led to a title bestowed on the hero and his heirs, as well as land, the right to income from taxes for land-bound peasants, and exemption from taxes otherwise owed to the king.
Since every national military establishment must necessarily be representative of the broader society it both serves and is drawn from, how could anybody find any of this at all shocking? As corruption, venality, and self-absorption have gradually become endemic in American society, its military has declined right along with it, in direct proportion. How could any reasonable, rational person possibly expect otherwise? Thus:
In exchange for the prestige and perquisites of military service, one thing is absolutely essential: loyalty to the country, the Constitution, and the American people. Without patriotism, the military becomes a very sophisticated gang, one that easily can be turned against the American people. Some will scoff that such a prospect is unthinkable, but one would have thought General Mark Milley undermining the commander-in-chief or a Marine selling his services to the Chinese were impossible too.
Again: shocking? Unexpected? Hardly. “Loyalty to the country, the Constitution, and the American people” have all become mighty thin on the ground amongst the general populace, over many decades. In effect, the military amounts to a mirror held up to American faces, no more nor less. If Americans don’t like what they see there, the only people who can change that is…well, guess who.