OK let's have some fun w/ Mother Jones, its Navy vet correspondent Adam Weinstein and his awesome theory that the military has a cunning plan to force America to be a conservative society. Seriously, near as I can tell he actually is trying to make that point. Here is a chunk of his dog's breakfast of a thesis. Oh and Adam is copy editor for MoJo, reading my stuff should make his head explode on so many levels.
Of course, political conservatives have a vested interest in keeping this myth going. If the military is perceived as no place for dissent, for entrepreneurship, for innovative thought, then the majority of people who are likely to volunteer for military service will be politically conservative, agreeable, uninnovative thinkers. And since they're all heroes© for signing up, we nasty civilians will customarily defer to them in all matters, and our society will remain fundamentally conservative.
I didn't believe it myself, but he lobbed it out there and I am fundamentally incapable of not stomping a mudhole in such an incandescently stupid idea. Now how did we get here? Well, Adam seized on the Atlantic story about a military brain drain and then my piece explaining that this is an evergreen piece written occasionally to lament the same problem, which is systemic and not gonna change. How's that for a run on nightmare sentence? Anyhow Adam quotes the Atlantic piece and says this, including a quote from my piece.
Why is this important? Because it totally pisses off conservative rah-rah types by attacking their carefully assembled myths about America and its armed forces. One of the leading right-wing milblogs, Blackfive, neatly captures those myths:
I was unaware that cultivating entrepreneurs in uniform was an ability we would even want to vaunt...The military is a top-down hierarchy that will stifle creativity and free thinking by design...You cannot have a cohesive military command structure if everyone is following their own idea of what a standard operating procedure should be. Will this chafe the cones of some highly talented people who if left to their own devices would do some awesome things? Of course it does, tough shite. At some point the highly talented maverick becomes a drag on the over all effectiveness.
This is a patently circular argument: Military discipline is fundamentally conservative, because that's what military discipline is.
Really? Now I may not have your Naval Academy education and the benefit of writing for a string of America's most left wing pubs, but I think I can wrap my melon around circular reasoning, can you? I didn't argue that "Military discipline is fundamentally conservative, because that's what military discipline is." I argued that military discipline is conservative because otherwise it wouldn't work, because allowing free thinkers to run rampant would lead to chaos on the battlefield, because the machine doesn't function if the components are exercising their entrepreneurial spirit. That seems to be a fairly linear argument to me. But let's get back to your crackpot idea, that's always a hoot.
When we argue about most contemporary security issues—rules of engagement, strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, PTSD, veterans' care at Walter Reed, DADT, ROTC, women on submarines, et cetera—the right-wing viewpoint of the military as an unthinking, unfeeling, lockstep bloc always holds: You can't rock the boat, because conformity is what the military's all about.
It's always nice to have someone with a fundamentally pissy view of a culture to characterize it for you eh? Or even better to note that the culture is a false construct engineered by shadowy conservatives bent on using the pliant, mindless troops to further their goal of a Christo-Fascist state
No wonder military equality for gays and women, and expanded GI Bill benefits, are so worrisome to right-wing politicians: If the ranks start looking more like American society at large, we might have a more circumspect military and we might end up forced to respect some liberal war heroes and freethinkers. Yipe!
We already do, you can feel free to join us. But the point is those people and other mavericks, cowboys, loose cannons and other non-conformists will always be fighting the system. Do you really think we could have a Brigade Combat Team where all the Battalion Commanders have their own ideas about interlocking fires or resupply? But again back to the conspiracy to conservatize America using the military.
What's interesting is that so many progressives grant the right-wing myth of the monolithic, unthinking military. Certainly, there aren't many liberals who uncritically swallow the notion of all soldiers as "heroes." But perhaps you also think of most soldiers as unreflective rightist aggressors (the "knuckledragging babykillers" meme) or put-upon pawns in a rightist aggrssive political scheme (the "victims" meme). Either way, you're basically agreeing with the toxic right-wing point of view: that soldiers do not (and ought not) exercise free thought or free will, that they are automatic subjects rather than fully choosing human agents.
The fun thing is that I can't tell whether Adam thinks the military is or ain't conservative automatons. I kinda lean toward he thinks yeah, but his incoherent meanderings are far from conclusive. But hey even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while and here is the one ray of non-foolishness.
Not only is the conservative military myth pure bunk, it's also dangerous to national security. In the history of the United States, virtually every positive military innovation has been the product of free thought, improvisation, entrepreneurship, even dissent and insubordination. The entire history of the Marine Corps confirms this (see Chapter 3 of this PDF), as does my own military training. In my days as a Naval Academy midshipman, we were issued a tiny book of advice to memorize and a larger tome on leadership to reflect upon, and both texts included the retirement speech of Vice Admiral William Mack, which is known nowadays as "The Tradition of the Dissenter"
Bravo and yes many innovations have happened because brave military free spirits have fought the system and prevailed. And while the Academy may praise the dissenter, the officer corps and the military as an institution hates him. But that is the point, the system has to be fought and does not easily suffer renegades. The brilliant and motivated folks who join our military often overcome the bureaucratic inertia and systemic homogeny. But if we want any chance to fight wars and win, we must have interoperability and standardization, and yes of men and machines.
Maybe I should get started on a new book that busts the conservative lockstep-military myth. It would relate our rich history of armed-forces maverickism to progress—not only on strategic or foreign policy matters, but on economic and social justice issues, as well. I'd call it A People's History of the United States Military.
I couldn't invent this guy, and again I can't tell if he's serious. My gut says he is, but my mind says no one is that big a nuttah. Hey Adam, spare us the book and just volunteer to copy edit my deranged scribblings. That would be an actual service to the community.