The Democrats' War on the Military
Disfranchising soldiers is only part of the problem.
BY MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS
Saturday, November 25, 2000 12:01 a.m. EST
As the postelection impasse continues in
Florida, military e-mail circuits are aflame with denunciations of Al Gore
and the Democratic Party. Members of the U.S. military at all ranks are
enraged at what appears to be a systematic attempt on the part of the
Democrats to exclude as many military absentee votes as possible.
Gore operatives in Florida have managed to get more than 1,500 ballots disqualified. Service members are appalled at the hypocrisy of Mr. Gore's call to make sure that "every vote counts" while absentee military ballots are being thrown out, often for errors that are not the voter's fault but the result of problems with the military mail system.
But angry as they may be at what appears to be an effort on the part of Democrats to disenfranchise them, most are not surprised. They see this episode as just one more battle in the ongoing culture war between the core of the Democratic Party and the U.S. military.
Yes, a culture war. Democrats may deny it, but there is a perception on the part of the U.S. officer corps that the Democratic Party is engaged in an unprecedented campaign against the military. While officers recognize that there are many pro-defense Democrats, they believe that the core of the party is hostile to military culture.
This culture war transcends Mr. Gore personally, although he became a participant by virtue of his decision to run a campaign oriented toward the Democrats' antimilitary core, what Andrew Sullivan in The New Republic called the "twitching carcass" of the party's left--"teachers' unions, feminist activists, gay victimologists, black churches, faculty clubs."
For most of the military, Mr. Gore revealed
his true colors when he stated during the Democratic primaries that if
elected president, he would not hesitate to impose a social "litmus
test" on officers in order to please a major constituency--the
homosexual lobby. "I would insist before appointing anybody to the
Joint Chiefs of Staff that the individual fully support my policy [on
homosexuals in the military], and, yes, I would make that a
What is at stake in this culture war is
nothing less than the future effectiveness of the military as an
institution. To maximize the chances of battlefield success, military
organizations must overcome two major obstacles. The first is
"friction," which Carl von Clausewitz called "the only
concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real
war from war on paper." The second, which operates synergistically
with friction, is the paralyzing effect of fear on the individual soldier.
What is at stake in this culture war is nothing less than the future effectiveness of the military as an institution. To maximize the chances of battlefield success, military organizations must overcome two major obstacles. The first is "friction," which Carl von Clausewitz called "the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper." The second, which operates synergistically with friction, is the paralyzing effect of fear on the individual soldier.
Accordingly, the military places a premium on unit cohesion and morale. It stresses such martial virtues as courage, both physical and moral, a sense of honor and duty, discipline, a professional code of conduct, and loyalty. These characteristics are dictated by the requirements of a workplace foreign to most civilians.
Many officers believe that all too often, the core of the Democratic Party has treated military culture not as something that contributes to military effectiveness, but as a problem to be eradicated in the name of multiculturalism, feminism and the politics of "sexual orientation." At a minimum, this means that the military is obligated to adapt to contemporary liberal values, patterns of behavior, and social mores no matter how adversely they might affect the military's ability to carry out its functional imperative. Thus members of the military decry the lowering of standards and the softening of training.
Some feminists make an even more radical
assault on the military. A former adviser to the secretary of the Army,
Madeline Morris of Duke Law School, criticized the military ethos as
"masculinist" and called for the military to embrace an
"ungendered vision" in which unit cohesion is achieved by
compassion and idealism rather than by "macho posturing." That
this approach seeks the destruction of the culture, not its reform, was
made clear by former Rep. Pat Schroeder during the Navy's Tailhook trauma,
when she claimed that the service's problems represented "the sound
of a culture cracking."
This culture war lies behind the controversial endorsement of George W. Bush in September by several recently retired generals and admirals. While there are no legal restrictions on the participation of retired officers in partisan politics, many serious observers of American civil-military relations and many officers professed concern about the endorsement as a further example of the politicization of what should be an apolitical professional body.
The military should be apolitical. The U.S. places special trust and confidence in an officer to carry out an assigned mission no matter who is in charge. The favorable opinion of the military expressed by most Americans might be endangered by the perception that the military is merely another interest group.
Mr. Gore has it in his power to take the first steps in effecting a truce in this culture war. He should personally repudiate the actions of his operatives in Florida designed to reject military absentee ballots. He should direct his representatives in Florida to grant as much leeway in determining the intent of military voters as is being demanded in the hand recount of Democratic senior citizens along Florida's Gold Coast.
These small steps would not end the culture war between the Democrats and the military, but they would establish a basis for trust should Mr. Gore win the election and a basis for discourse if he doesn't. At the least it would remove the perception that a man who wishes to be commander in chief is party to an unseemly scheme to deny service members their votes.
Mr. Owens is professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He is a United State Marine Corp Infantry veteran of Vietnam.
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