Can the U.S Military Hold the Line in the Gathering Political Storm?

By | 2017-09-12T13:07:36+00:00 September 8th, 2017|
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Defense Secretary James Mattis’s words last month to U.S troops in the Middle East came from his patriotic heart: “And you just hold the line, my fine young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines. You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, of being friendly toward one another . . . We are so doggone lucky to be Americans.”

Had he tried to tell them that their sacrifices on behalf of current U.S policy in the region are of transcendent importance, he would have used words that neither he nor they believed. Instead, in front of a few, he let slip what must weigh on this thoughtful Marine’s mind: what role can the armed forces play in the socio-political revolution which is gathering force among Americans? What role should they play?

“Hold the line,” he said, meaning: be a rock of stability in the midst of partisan strife, a beacon from which all may gratefully recall America’s true meaning. But what, in practice, can “holding the line” mean? Is it even possible?

One reason it may not be is that Mattis’s noble sentiments seem to be based on the factually incorrect premise that two sets of Americans are aggressing against one another. If it were so, the mutual infliction of damage might exhaust both sides’ ardor, eventually. But in fact, our troubles are consequent to a ruling class that defines itself by the contempt that it pours on the rest of the country—and to the rest of the country’s resistance thereto.

What could possibly induce a class that defines itself as superior to redefine itself as equal to those it deplores and despises? Moreover, these troubles are happening in conjunction with a collapse of standards—professional, educational, and moral, and of respect for the rule of law—at all levels of society. In short, what is happening in America is not the sort of thing that abates with time.

A viral video of Secretary of Defense James Mattis addressing the troops has made news.

Addicted as Mattis is to reading history, the possibility will not have escaped him that our troubles may escalate to violence and that the armed forces are civil strife’s final arbiter. He also knows that, even in our cold civil war, the armed forces cannot be neutral. Yes, the armed forces are America’s most respected institution. But the ruling class uses them to wage wars of which most Americans disapprove as well as to prototype the engineering it wishes to enforce on society in general. With military rigor, the armed forces enforce political correctness to advance or hold back (commissioned officers especially) in responsibility and rank. Officers trained not to dream of transgressing any of the countless directives concerning “diversity” and “sensitivity” have been presenting the American people with images of ships running aground and into each other as well as of prisoners taken without firing a shot and bowing to Iranians. What does “holding the line” mean? To what are the military, and we, to hold?

We can count on the ruling class making this question ever more problematic. That is because there is literally no end to the impositions political correctness will put on the military and on society at large. Not so long ago, because the military believed that enforcers of oaths must be held to their own word, it punished officers for marital infidelity. The courts found this a violation of basic rights. More recently, courts have discovered a basic right to declare one’s own gender, regardless of personal plumbing. Because the ruling class conditions acceptance into society on acceptance of its impositions of P.C. fads, the military bowed and obeyed. What will officers have to swear or forswear tomorrow? No one can guess what the next imposition will be, or the one after that, because each imposition is less about the item being imposed than it is about the imposition itself. Thus the ruling class reiterates its power over its subjects by inflicting acceptance of ever new humiliations.

We can be sure only that the ruling class, persons schooled at college to despise their fellow Americans—the people who run the administrative state, the professoriate, the media, much of the judiciary, government-dependent big business, and finance—have neither the intention nor the capacity to stop shoving. The next time they gain the presidency, it will be “Katie bar the door!” What is the U.S military in all of this?

Today, the military’s political character is divided. While generals and admirals tend to be liberal Democrats whose beatific vision is a McMansion on a golf course paid for by a consultancy with a defense contractor, the lower ranks are overwhelmingly conservative. As push comes to shove, who will hold, who can hold, what “line” is by no mean clear.

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About the Author:

Angelo Codevilla
Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).