Reflections on the Military and Society

Monday, July 27, 2015

The question, “Are there new dangers of the military bifurcating along ideological grounds, between traditionalists and those who wish to update military protocols to accommodate social and political agendas?” interests me because I have spent much of my life as a member of the military establishment—and also as a student, writer and biographer, professor and critic, of its members past and present. The great cadre of uniformed leaders, naval and military who led our forces during the Second World War, men born between 1880 and 1900, did not, as a rule, vote. They knew not an active political ideology beyond (I suppose) a quiet Main Street Republicanism. They prided themselves on wholeheartedness acceptance, as practitioners, of the orders of constituted civil authority. They were mainly sons of the American heartland. The military academies were their way out of Dodge. They remained remote from political controversy just as their great grandchildren; now training and being educated to serve their country in uniform are remote from its most intense contention and controversy.

The service academies attract bright and promising youngsters: but from somewhat different sources than those who seek admission to our elite, mainly coastal universities. A distressingly large number of graduates of the academies are leaving uniformed services after their initial commitments. The higher reaches of the officer corps strike me as firmly traditionalists; and whatever “bifurcation” exists along “ideological grounds” between traditionalists and others, they have little purchase on the formation and implementation of national policy. In brief, I see very little active membership in the ranks “of those who wish to update military protocols to accommodate social and political agendas.” However deep the ideological chasm that separates followers of Fox and Rush from those of MSNBC and the editorial pages of The Washington Post, the consequences for the characters of service offered by senior officers strike me as inconsequential.

My own concern has to do with the Army’s rigid insistence on an officer’s adherence to rigid career patterns as pre-requisite to selection for flag rank; and the intolerance of eccentricity, the occasional “failure,” and outspokenness. For comparison’s sake consider the prosopography* of the uniformed cohort who led the services from 1940 to 1950.


* *The study of groups allied in a common purpose by means of a detailed study of the individual members of those groups.