by Victor Davis Hanson
Traditionalist and conservative America once was the U.S. military’s greatest defender.
Bipartisan conservatives in Congress ensured generous Pentagon budgets. Statistics of those killed in action, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, reveal that white males, especially those of the rural and middle classes, were demographically “overrepresented” in offering the ultimate sacrifice to their country.
When generals, active and retired, have become controversial, usually conservative America could be counted on to stick with them.
Flyover country supported marquee officers such as Gen. Michael Hayden, Gen. James Mattis, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Gen. David Petraeus, and a host of others, whether on active duty or in retirement, when the media went after them for alleged unethical conduct, or financial improprieties, or spats with the Obama Administration that prompted resignations, or left-wing accusations of using undue force or even hiding “torture.”
When the Left railed in Congress about the “revolving door” of generals and admirals leaving the Pentagon to use their past expertise to land lucrative board memberships with corporate defense contractors, Middle America, rightly or wrongly, mostly yawned.
Yet traditional America also assumed their military leaders were largely apolitical and stayed out of hardball politics. Brilliant World War II commanders—Curtis LeMay, Douglas MacArthur, and George S. Patton—did not fare well when they clumsily waded through the minefields of partisan national politics.
No longer. The Pentagon’s current and past top echelon is seen as politically weaponized—and both careerist and opportunist. Currently, generals and admirals are scanning enlistments for mythical white supremacists, in terror of left-wing pressures following the January 6 Capitol riot. They have no commensurate concern whether there are Antifa and BLM personnel with records of past violence in the military.
We are learning that much of what was reported about that unfortunate Capitol riot was untrue. There were no “armed” insurrectionists with firearms led by conspiracist kingpins.
Capitol Officer Brian Sicknick was not “murdered.” He died of natural causes—as did three other Trump supporters. The only violent death was that of an unarmed, female military veteran, shot while entering through a window in the Capitol by a mysteriously unnamed law enforcement officer.
The current tenure of highly decorated General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has proved a veritable train wreck. Under pressure from the Left, last summer he renounced a photo appearance with then-President Donald Trump as unduly politicizing his service.
OK—but every recent chairman of the Joint Chiefs has appeared routinely with their presidents in photo ops, if sometimes reluctantly.
Milley was timidly reacting to the media hoax that Trump had sicced federal law enforcement on disruptive protesters with tear gas to ensure calm for his photo op. The inspector general of the U.S. Department of the Interior recently exposed that media fable as a complete lie.
Equally untrue were complaints from Milley and a host of retired top-ranking officers about Trump tyrannically using federal troops in extremis to maintain civic order. Such action has happened repeatedly in our history. Former head of the Joints Chiefs, General Colin Powell, for example, in 1992 was eager to send in the Marines to Los Angeles at the bequest of George H. W. Bush.
Stranger still, neither Milley nor many of the previously vocal retired top brass objected to the Biden Administration’s militarization of Washington, D.C. after January 6: not a word about miles of barbed wire and fencing; utter silence about the omnipresence of thousands of armed U.S. troops throughout the city. Such mobilization was the very scenario they had earlier claimed posed existential threats to democracy.
Critical race theory training—the idea that to discriminate on the basis of race is excusable, and indeed necessary, to combat past, present, and future racism—is now becoming institutionalized in the military.
Milley proved again incoherent and paradoxical when pressed about critical race theory in congressional testimony. He bragged that he had read insurrectionary texts such as those of Karl Marx and Mao Zedong to acquaint his open mind with supposed enemies—as if his own inquisitive approach to these subversive authors was analogous to the Pentagon’s favorable recommendations of inflammatory books on critical race theory.
Our top officers, active and retired, reveal inconsistent views on recommended readings, ideological indoctrination, and the use of federal troops during domestic crises. They are similarly selective and partisan in shrill criticism of particular presidents. Some blast political opponents with inflammatory comparisons to the Nazis and fascists.
Deliberately alienating Middle America could not arrive at a worse time. China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea watch in glee at our self-created discord that now threatens to tear apart the most lethal military in the world.
The military is not yet a revolutionary people’s army overseen by commissars. But it is getting there with politicized agendas that split the country in half—and abandon its traditional role of healing and unity in common purpose to defend America.
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Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won and The Case for Trump.