Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Military and the Left

I wish more liberals have the view of Rosa Brooks of the LA Times – or at least listen to her. She may have identified the one of the problem why the Left is viewed as weak on National Security. That is why independent voters distrust the Left when it comes to the security of the United States.

That's why I've started urging all the bright young liberals I meet to join the military.

Sure, U.S. military policy is flawed in many respects. But that's not a reason for progressives to shun the military. On the contrary, it's one of the main reasons that liberals need to reexamine their long-standing aversion to military service.

There is a significant and growing gap between military and civilian cultures. While about a third of the general public identifies themselves as Democrats and another third as Republicans, a January 2005 Military Times poll found that 60% of military respondents were Republicans, 17% were independents and only 13% were Democrats.

A generation ago, the military was far less partisan in its composition: A plurality (46%) called themselves independents, while only 33% were Republicans. On numerous key social and religious issues, military personnel today are far more conservative than the typical American.

In today's polarized political atmosphere, anyone who finds this troubling needs to be willing to work for change from inside the military, not just from the outside. Otherwise, the cultural and political gap between the military and civilian society will only widen.

The Left can scream “chickenhawk” all they want. The fact remain is that overwhelming number of men and women in uniforms are Republican. More pathetic is the second largest bloc of voters in the military is independent, with self-identified Democrats trailing last. This is also a well known fact among all voters. It is no surprise that Post September 11th, swing voters decide that the political choice most warriors make is the right choice.

If the Democrats are smart (but they are not), they would try to peel away this bloc of military voters hence significant weaken the Republican Party. A similar strategy works for the Republican Party concerning minority votes. By winning a very small percentile of Black voters (a gain of merely two percents), Republicans weaken the Democrats in the 2000 and 2004 election. To repeat this strategy for the Democrats requires the Left to treat the military with more respect.
The military bloc is not difficult to peel away from. Most members of the military are Republican because of national security issue (the very same reason they join the armed services). The other conservative issues are far less important to them. Many of those Republicans (including me) are not social conservatives. But many think the Democrats are a bunch of candy-assed sissies. Of course, there are muscular Democrats who are friendly toward the military (Joe Lieberman comes to mind). But they are a small and marginalized bloc of the party. The Democratic Party is most representative by the Moveon.org and Howard Dean, not Sam Nunn. And of course my point is immediately proven. A self identified liberal wrote a responding letter to the LA Times.

An unwillingness to participate in the killing of innocent civilians, known in military parlance as "collateral damage," is a key reason for low enlistment rates among those who consider themselves liberal. Conspicuously absent from Rosa Brooks' recruitment broadside is any mention of such killing in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Having a different sense of compassion and a stronger belief in diplomacy, liberals share with revolutionary patriot Thomas Paine distaste for what he called "offensive war" but would doubtlessly sign up if the American homeland is imminently threatened. President Bush joins Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon as a leader who has failed to make the case.

RALPH GOLDSTEIN
Altadena

Ralph Goldstein is a typical Democrat not Rosa Brooks. Ralph probably opposed the war in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Somalia as well. It exposes another thing about the Left. It is a blatant lie when Leftists anti-war groups claim that they oppose only the War in Iraq. They opposed all wars, even the one which the US saved millions from genocides (Bosnia and Kosovo) or when the US was directly attacked (Afghanistan). And I have no doubt they will oppose any military action in Darfur.

Of course, I am not gloating about the number of Republicans in the military despite being one myself. It is an expression of great concern. If it is unhealthy for the Black community to vote overwhelmingly Democratic; then it is equally unhealthy for the military when most of them vote Republican. It is also unhealthy for the Republican Party when the party has no strong opposition. The country needs a strong opposition Party that is not on crack. But I am very pessimistic about the state of the Democratic Party and the prospect of them supporting the military.

Another issue in reverse is former and current military joining entity associate with liberal leftwing cause – such as the Peace Corp. Colman McCarthy wrote an op-ed on the Washington Post arguing that the Peace Corp should encourage former soldiers to join the Corp instead of opposing it (as they are currently doing). And not to neglect academia, I also propose a closer interaction between the military and college campus. Thucydides said that "The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools." This is why we produce such dismal academics such as Juan Cole or Ward Churchill. It is essential that Ivy League institutions bring back ROTC programs and encourage their student to serve in the military after graduation. And the Pentagon is not entirely blameless either. For years, the Pentagon has created an anti-intellectual culture. This is why General Abizaid ascendancy was noticed by many Pentagon observers as unique and exceptional, not because the General was of Middle East descent, but that he was a scholar. The Pentagon should take step to recruit more officers from Ivy League institutions and in the process bring an end to the separation between academia and the military. It would benefit the country greatly when a scholar and a warrior is the same man.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Mixed Humor said...

Well said Minh...alot of valid points in there that I agree with.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous E.M.H. said...

May I pick one tiny little nit in an otherwise excellent post?

"For years, the Pentagon has created an anti-intellectual culture."

Actually, according to the late Col. David Hackworth (yes, I admit, I'm single sourcing here), in his book "About Face", he describes a hard push starting right before the Vietnam war to increase the level of intellectualism in the military (or at least the army). Hackworth -- self-described as an ill fit in anything academic or mental -- himself mentions that due to continual reinforcement from the army, he and other officers were pushed to obtain degrees and achieve other academic accolades in order to advance himself through the commissioned officer ranks (I don't think he ever got beyond his bachelors, if even that; I need to re-read that book). And he clearly indicates that the desire for degrees was a widespread phenomenon very much encouraged by not just individual commanders, but by the army as an organization.

The problem, he says, ended up being the superficial way the army went about reaching this goal: They looked on the mere collection of degrees and diplomas as accomplishment and didn't rigorously cultivate a true intellectual environment of critical thinking. He charges they also promoted based on education and academic accomplishment rather than proven leadership ability. His criticisms of that attitude were many and unambiguous, as was his severe disdain for the "egghead" culture he ascribes to Robert McNamara, but it's very, very clear that he sees the military as doing the exact opposite of creating an anti-intellectual culture. His charge was that they were doing it in a poor and superficial way while ignoring the values and attributes that truly matter, but the furthest thing from the army's collective mind was to encourage anti-intellectualism.

Aside from that, Mihn, very good post.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous E.M.H. said...

(Sorry to hog column-inches here, but this second post is unrelated to the first and would've made it so long as to be unreadable.)

"(B)ut would doubtlessly sign up if the American homeland fis imminently threatened"

That's a ridiculous statement. It presumes a clarity of circumstance that simply does not exist in real life. Remember, in his time Hitler (the modern example of the obvious case in which a country should go to war) wasn't seen as a threat until his depredations reached a point where they couldn't be ignored, and even then many found it easier to accommodate rather than fight; I'm not certain the Vichy government in France was in agreement with Nazi goals and philosophies as much as they simply found it easier to suppress their own worldviews in order to capitulate to them. The falsely enlightened attitude that led Chamberlain to declare "Peace in our time!" led to the most destructive war that continent had ever experienced, and that can be directly attributed to the fact that they purposely chose to see Hitler’s Germany as something other than "imminently threatening".

Waiting for an imminent threat is the proper and moral thing to do if you do not preclude or disparage your own right to fight and exist. But this "liberal" (I’m not certain he earns the term; he seems more reactionary to me) you quoted seems to be hiding behind the words "imminently threatening" rather than respecting them for the value they truly represent: Restraint and honest appraisal of the hostile party. And I mean honest, not the ridiculous "I doubt every value of my own in the face of your hostility, you must be justified" stance that too many nowadays take. Honest appraisal means that you recognize the deadliness of the threat, and do not downgrade it simply because of guilt, or "understanding" of the other, or whether you think you deserve what you're going to get. Honest appraisal means you recognize the other guy's out to get you, whether you've done something to earn the hostility or not. And, it means that, even if you think you did something to earn the enmity, you don't have to give up your own right to self defense or survival simply because you want to allow extra latitude to someone who’s suffered injustice. There are many ways to attempt to correct or compensate for injustice, but lying down and absorbing a potentially dangerous or deadly action is not one of them. It won’t correct the injustice, nor will it slack the assaultant's newly acquired taste for violence.

Also, you can understand that "imminent threat" can be displayed by mere stance, attitude, or verbal threat and must be honestly evaluated as such, even in the absence of open action. Or, you can uselessly redefine it to the point where the bullet's left the barrel on its way to your head. Metaphorically, imminent threat may not be the mere purchase or possession of a gun, but striding at you across the lawn holding it comes pretty damn close. Striding at you across the lawn brandishing it while shouting threats pretty much clears the bar. Do you really want to wait until you get shot before admitting the threat existed? Imminent threat means recognizing that something is immediately threatening i.e. promising harm in the extreme short term. It does not mean that something’s already taking a shot, swig, or stab at you; that’s no longer imminent threat, that's hostile action. And if you wait until imminent threat becomes hostile action, you’ve not only put yourself at a disadvantage, you’ve created a situation where extreme action is the only response. So now you have the fight on your hands you were trying to avoid, and you’re far from guaranteed to win it because you waited to long instead of taking action when minimal action would've been sufficient.

*Sigh*... if only the left would realize that "imminently threatening" should not be impossibly defined. Cases where military violence (there's no other word for what the military does to an enemy; justified violence and destruction, but it's violence nonetheless) would do more long term good than short term harm wouldn't be so controversial, and would be undertaken to save lives. Rwanda is a case in point.

Sorry, Mihn. Two posts, and they’re only barely and tenuously related to your topic. I'd love to write something about the left and their attitude towards the military, but you said it so well already that all I can say is "here, here!"

12:40 AM  
Blogger Pedro said...

I think you should go into the academic world, Minh-Duc. We could use a good shot of your intelligence and common sense.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous hk said...

A couple of points regarding your post:

Actually, during the Balkan crisis, the opposition to the intervention came largely from the Republican ranks, not Democrats--in fact, a lot of Democrats today are splitting hairs on why the Balkans interventions were good and why the Middle Eastern interventions are not.

You are buying into the commonly held--but rather mistaken--notion that Democrats are generally weak on defense. Historically speaking, Democrats had always featured more pro- and often former military politicians--the fraction of Democratic elected politicians with military or active combat records always exceeded their Republican counterparts. The sharp trend towards anti-militarism among Democratic voters is a very recent phenomenon and it's not yet clear whether it's driven by partisan politics--since so many were in fact happy to see intervention in the Balkans.

You are also falling into a common historical trap about Chamberlain in British political history. A little known historical tidbit is that Chamberlain became PM because he was a hawk, although not quite so militantly hawkish as Churchill. While he spoke of "peace in our time" after Munich, he prepared for war away from the public eye--Britain and France in 1938 began massive military buildup which led to their combined military strengths exceeding that of Germany by considerable margin in nearly every area when the war actually broke out. The defeats they suffered in 1940 came not so much due to the lack of material preparation as much as poor leadership and outdated tactics--even though Chamberlain made for a convenient scapegoat.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Joe Katzman said...

Republicans were somewhat divided over Bosnia - as were Democrats.

The Moveon.org types backed Slobodan Milosevic, of course. Many Republicans wanted the USA to stay out, believing the Europeans should handle their own backyard.

But as Hitchens has noted since, the beginning of his changed view re: American conservatives came when he started seeing petitions for intervention in Bosnia signed by all these people he once thought were on the other side. Most of those folks would be identified today as prominent "neoconservatives."

9:37 AM  
Blogger rosignol said...

You are buying into the commonly held--but rather mistaken--notion that Democrats are generally weak on defense. Historically speaking, Democrats had always featured more pro- and often former military politicians-

The problem with the Democrats is that you have to refer to history to make this assertion true, instead of contemporary examples.

The shift seems to have begun after the Viet Nam war, has accellerated since then. I see no signs of it changing anytime soon.

-the fraction of Democratic elected politicians with military or active combat records always exceeded their Republican counterparts

What is your source for this?

4:42 AM  
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1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a fine blog in which you display your extensive background knowledge (the Thucydides quote), thoughtful analysis, and occasional humor (the 2 Hayeks). Nevertheless:
1) The Clinton administration’s military action in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia could scarcely be called “going to war.” I don’t remember an outcry on the left in opposition to it; more Republicans were against it than Democrats. I don’t think many on the left would oppose an action in Darfur, if and when the current administration ends its semantic gymnastics over the word “genocide.”

2) EMH’s metaphorical lawn-crossing gun brandisher provides insight into the neocon mind. They hallucinate threats and have so far been able to convince others of their sight. They see the face of Hitler on Hussein, and they expect a post-war Iraq to resemble post-war Germany. Polls currently indicate an erosion of support for this vision. At this historical moment, the tide seems to be turning toward the moral guidance of leaders like John Murtha, who has more military experience than Bush, Cheney, Rove, Perle, Wolfowitz, and their underling fresh-out-of-grad-school wonks giddy to send troops to Tehran and Damascus.

3) Nobody wants to die for a mistake. But now even the right’s gray eminence, W.F. Buckley, has deemed the invasion and occupation of Iraq just that. The spending of American blood and treasure on this misguided adventure should cease.

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