Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Some scary soldiers

There's been a lot of noise over the last week about whether the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, had violated the rules and traditions of civilian control of the military and breached political neutrality during the last days of the Trump administration. Milley apparently did assure the Chinese that his Commander in Chief was not about to launch an attack; dozens of officials were aware of this call and, except for Trump loyalists, consider Milley to have been doing his duty.

I'll take the judgment on this subject of former Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman. the officer who blew the whistle on Trump's Ukraine shenanigans and lost his career, over a bunch of Republican hacks. He thinks Milley did right, mostly.

But as a leftish-inclined observer of the U.S. military, there are some soldiers who are scaring the shit out of me. In a moment when the white supremacist right is openly plotting with "the former guy" to overthrow American democracy (such as it is), these are the guys who give me the willies. They have been been broadcasting their grievances. Jeff Schogol has the story:

Click to enlarge.
Since May, a Space Force lieutenant colonel has claimed that the military’s diversity and anti-extremism training are rooted in Marxism; a Marine lieutenant colonel became a lightning rod for openly critiquing military leadership over the Afghanistan withdrawal while in uniform; an Army lieutenant colonel has tried to resign just short of retirement because he believes that requiring troops to be vaccinated for COVID-19 is an “unlawful, unethical, immoral, and tyrannical order”; and a Navy commander has gone on Fox News to promote conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines.

It's not so much disaffected generals who might decide to go full fascist that worry me. It's mid-career officers like these. Many a fascist coup has counted on junior officers.

These soldiers have spent nearly twenty years fighting wars for which their civilian political leadership has never been able to define an attainable mission. They have watched people they know die -- for what? Then the pols have pulled them back -- and sometimes sent them right back into the crucible again. And when they come home, they are not treated as heroes. The country is oblivious to their efforts and wants to forget their wars. No wonder they are pissed -- and from the point of view of their superiors they present a discipline problem.

Schogol adds: 

Officers at that rank are above the company commander level, but not at the point where they have a star on their collar. Getting there is no small feat either, but it’s also an odd position in that field-grade officers aren’t quite “high ranking” but they have just enough rank so that people notice when they act out in public.

... The unanswered question remains: Why is the Defense Department facing an epidemic of O-5s who are embracing the “YOLO” philosophy in their careers.

One reason could be that officers at that paygrade are at a point in their careers where they may have “buyer’s remorse” about some of the decisions they’ve made along the way, said retired Army Col. Bob Wilson, who served on the National Security Council in 2016 and 2017.

“You’re at 17, 18 years; you’ve kind of chosen your lot in life, and you may not be super happy with it – a kind of middle-age kind of thing, mid-life thing,” said Wilson, a fellow with the New America think tank’s International Security program.

... However, one of the things that makes these recent incidents significant is that so many senior(ish) officers have so publicly ignored the military’s sacred commitment to maintain good order and discipline. 

“You just have to ask yourself: What is going on?” Wilson said. “Are we picking the right people for leadership positions? Are we educating people enough? That’s my concern. We have to be adaptive as a force. We have to be able to absorb information and uncertainty and make the best decisions possible for the mission and the people we’re responsible for. And you’re watching arguably senior people with a lot of training and experience invested in them, and they’re just being idiots on social media, on old school media...."

The U.S. military is Schogol's beat. He's not looking for it to go rogue. 

But I almost wonder whether Joe Biden took the out-of-the-ordinary step of putting a retired general, Lloyd Austin, in charge of the Defense (War) Department because such a leader might have a better handle on reining in this sort of politicized insubordination. Civilians need that.

I do think among the symptoms of a gathering right wing storm, military indiscipline is one of the more ominous ones.

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