For the vast majority of Americans, the military is a source of pride. And because of the uncompromising nature of war, and the naturally masculine virtues of the military—courage, discipline, and duty—it tends to attract and foster people committed to a more culturally conservative approach to life. Demographics also are a factor; service members more often hail from “red states” and rural areas. And they tend to vote like the red states from which they hail.
The military has been an open target of the anti-establishment left since the 1960s. At that time, elite universities that formerly acted as finishing schools for a patriotic and austere WASP elite, buckled under pressure from rioting students and kicked their ROTC units off campus.
In spite of the anti-establishment language of the hippie movement, it is no surprise that the “big government” streak of the far Left has come to dominante leftist politics. The Left, in the end, is about power, because its goals are revolutionary, ambitious, and contrary to the organically developed society of yesteryear. A big and intrusive government gives control over the whole society to those at the center of power—control that can change businesses, change family life, change education, change the elite, and change the population.
So the military, the most powerful tool of state, has become in recent years a target for leftist takeover. The anti-military rhetoric having served its purpose in securing them power, they’d now like to reclaim this tremendous tool and put it to work for themselves.
The Service Academies Have Become Schools of Leftist Indoctrination
After years of anti-war protests and worries about the poor terrorists of Guantanamo Bay, the Left became significantly more pro-military and pro-government after Barack Obama entered the White House. The same turnabout has also occurred with their newfound high regard for the FBI and CIA, which the Left spent the better part of the last 40 years condemning as illiberal and authoritarian.
While the Right has focused on policy and elections, the Left has engaged in real politics for a long time. That is, the Left has engaged in and achieved far more enduring changes to the culture and the population. After Richard Nixon’s devastating victory in 1972 over the unabashed liberal George McGovern, the Left responded in ways similar to their reaction to the election of Trump. They sought (successfully) to bring down the president through a partisan coordination of the media and the intelligence services, and they also directed their energies at harnessing the organs of culture, particularly entertainment, journalism, the law, and higher education.
As George Orwell observed in 1984, the control of information and memory is central to the control of a society. Readers of American Greatness understand that America’s public education system is entirely lost to the Left. From kindergarten to high school, critical pedagogy saturates what our kids hear. As Jordan Peterson says, kids “are not being educated, they are being indoctrinated.”
But my investigation has determined that this destructive ideology is not only descriptive of the fare on offer in America’s public school system, it is also being taught to future officers of our republic at the service academies.
The highest-profile evidence is the infamous “red cadet,” ex-lieutenant Spencer Rapone, West Point Class of 2016. Rapone somehow passed a security clearance investigation as an avowed Communist. The embarrassed Academy described him as a rare radical that slipped through the cracks. Really? He was known at the academy for his radical beliefs, but still received a commission.
That same graduating class had a scandal involving a large group of black female cadets who posed for a photo with the “black power” salute. Academy brass claimed the women were not being political but were just displaying their “unity and pride.” Sure—insofar as they were displaying their unity and pride as black nationalists. But isn’t this kind of political expression, arguably one of radical, separatist hostility to the nation as a whole, more important than any mere partisan attachment?
Last year, Cadet First Captain Simone Askew, lauded as the first black woman to be the highest ranking cadet, posed with the partisan political opposition to the president under the banner “Nevertheless, We Resist” (the photo has since been altered by the publication in the online version).
More recently, a young cadet named Koi Kizzie wrote a couple of nearly incoherent opinion pieces on the website Medium. The rants are so poorly written that their form is disconcerting by itself, but the substance is even worse, typical cracker barrel Marxism: America is a racist country, and straight white men are the problem.
The Naval Academy has problems of its own, from cheating scandals and selective applications of rules, to a more general lack of standards due to sports mania and a recent push for diversity at all costs. As with West Point, numerous ethnic affinity organizations exist on campus, seemingly at odds with the “uniform” aspect of a national military.
Leftist Academies Run Counter to the Intrinsic Values of the U.S. Military
To people on the Right, this is all a bitter pill to swallow. The loss of the public schools makes some sense, not least because of the impact of teachers’ unions. But the military academies? It’s almost unbelievable.
The blind spot here has at least two causes. Conservatives sometimes imagine things haven’t changed much from their own youth given that human nature is permanent. They pretend, contrary to all evidence, that kids in school (or college) have experiences similar to their own, even though every other area society has been changing at an accelerating pace. In addition, despite a healthy distrust of government, conservatives have permitted themselves a blind admiration of the military, as if it were incorruptible.
But the service academies in particular are more subject to the forces at work in the broader society, not least because they employ professors from other sectors of academia, and the military’s highest leadership has been carefully cultivated post-Tailhook to toe the line on women in combat, diversity, gays in the ranks, and other “social justice” goals that have little to do with winning wars and much to do with making the environment uncomfortable for those of a rightish bent.
The officer class has always been more refined—more liberal even—than the ranks. This is appropriate. Liberal education, after all, is supposed to be the education of free men, and officers, as decision makers, should have broad, diverse, and informed views. The goals of a university education are not supposed to be merely academic but should also include character formation. West Point’s mission statement emphasizes “Duty, Honor, and Country” and “service to the nation.” The Naval Academy aspires to “to develop Midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically and imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of Naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship, and government.” Nice words.
But just as the mission statements of other universities that have lost their way, these aspirations are relics from another time, when education presupposed certain values and purposes. These overlapping purposes arose from the universities being embedded in a particular nation and people, which had a shared ideal of human excellence. This ideal gave the institutions a built-in ideal of their own, which included transmitting what is best in Western Civilization to their carefully selected students.
The consensus on a human ideal that created Harvard, Yale, West Point, and the Naval Academy has broken down; we are a fractured society, with divergent ideas of who is and isn’t to be admired, what our core ideals and aspirations should be, and what it means to be properly educated.
New regimes require new morality. After Tailhook, the Navy official dropped “Tradition” as one of its core values. The Soviet Army did away with Tsarist epaulettes for a time. The Cromwellian regicides of England created a New Model Army, complete with a different, more meritocratic mode of training and selecting officers. The New Model Army fought for and exemplified a revolt of the bourgeois and the modern against the royalist and medieval. Unsurprisingly, one of its factions was called the Levellers.
The American Revolution similarly cultivated ideals of merit and enterprise. After the Civil War, racial inclusion was an extension of this broader American ideal of merit; the goal was not diversity, but rather to seek out men of talent without regard to their race. This worked well for a time. The social revolution of the last 50 years, including its new morality of “inclusion” and “diversity,” has made substantial inroads at the service academies. But unlike the earlier ethos, it fits poorly with the naturally selective aspects of military service.
West Point’s Behavioral Science and Leadership Department recently unveiled its “Diversity and Inclusion Studies Minor,” in which a cadet can take courses titled “Social Inequality,” “Power and Difference,” and “The Politics of Race, Gender, and Sexuality.” Students in the mandatory English composition course will be required to read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, author of the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” This kind of lowbrow “diverse” literature is, of course, par for the course in many universities, and that’s why highly educated people have little shared knowledge. That substitution of low propaganda for high art is not a bug but a feature of this kind of education. The point is to render students pliable and rudderless, with a go-along-and-get-along character, well adapted to the ever changing rules and sensitivities of the modern, ever-advancing progressive system. While this type of education makes for a good bureaucrat, only a deep knowledge of history, logic, geography, science, and mathematics serves the military officer in his strategic function.
The service academies now engage in much talk about diversity, that is, the omnipresent and slightly ominous head-counting that functions as a practical matter to reduce opportunities and respect for the legacy majority of officers, i.e., white males. These efforts are exemplified by West Point’s privately endowed “diversity and inclusion initiatives,” which come complete with diversity officers and an Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity.
Privately endowed? West Point, I have learned, has a private stream of funds from rich donors (some might say oligarchs) who influence the curriculum for America’s future Army officers. Thanks to them, West Point has diversity clubs such as Spectrum, “to educate the Academy Community and Corps of Cadets on matters pertaining to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning (LGBQ) community.” The Naval Academy has a similar “diversity officer” whose presentations read like they came hot off the presses from Google’s human resources department.
Leftists have made it clear that anything that is too white or too male or too traditional will simply not be allowed to stand. Harvard recently jettisoned all-male clubs. Princeton made its dining clubs go co-ed in the 1990s. But the military will always, necessarily, be far less than 50/50 male and female, because it is a physical endeavor and, unlike the Olympics, the battlefield is not segregated by sex.
This is a persistent obstacle for feminist goals of female empowerment (and male disempowerment). After Tailhook, combat specialties have been increasingly open to women, even when studies supported the effectiveness of the legacy approach, and failure rates for women have been abysmal under the existing standards. The standards will likely give way without a renaissance of common sense.
The point of all this activity and “education,” of course, is not combat effectiveness; the point is humiliation and pour encourager les autres. Like a small scale version of Stalin’s purges, when a mere accusation can end a career, everyone makes sure not to notice the manifest negatives and to get with the program.
The West Point superintendent’s stated goal is to “leverage diversity and foster inclusivity.” Somewhat reasonably, the document notes that if West Point does not reflect “the population of the Army and the Nation,” it “risks becoming illegitimate in the eyes of some Americans.” This seems innocent enough, but it ignores that the needs of the military are different. The physically disabled are excluded. Foreigners are excluded. Communists are excluded—or at least they used to be.
Worse, like most such diversity agitprop, the message implicitly tarnishes all of America’s past as somehow lesser than the present, when it fact it was an age of heroic men. Diversity was not a goal when America put a man on the moon or conducted the D-Day landing. The goal was getting the job done. NASA and Operation Overlord, of course, included men of many backgrounds, but their diversity was secondary to the fact that they were united Americans serving their country. Their diversity was a byproduct of America’s traditional prioritization of merit and excellence over high birth and pedigree.
The Leftist Culture War is Total
Reading about campus follies, conservatives sometimes like to console themselves that all this nonsense stops “in the real world.” But that really isn’t true anymore. Every large corporation makes a cult of diversity, complete with highly paid diversity officers. Draconian HR managers now police social media, to the point of intrusively asking job applicants to disclose passwords during interviews. A wayward post, joke, or opinion—even a chart—is enough to destroy an otherwise punctilious life. This is the real world, and the military has proven itself as pliable as corporate America.
Spencer Rapone, of Che Guevara fame, was recently kicked out of the Army with an other-than-honorable discharge. This is only mildly encouraging. After all, the discharge occurred after he graduated from West Point, where his views apparently did not concern the apparently like-minded members of the professoriate. He was simply dumb enough—or vainglorious enough—to cultivate his 15 minutes of fame by unveiling his Che Guevara t-shirt. And even with that, he has his defenders.
The culture war is inescapable. The fault lines intersect every institution in society, whether church or business or military or club. Nothing is allowed to be apolitical. In a healthier time, the military and its officer corps could remain aloof from politics and nonpartisan. That time came to an end sometime around 1970. People, especially on the Right, need to wake up and realize this. It would behoove the historically nonpartisan military to take stock of the situation.
Once upon a time, educated men, especially West Point graduates, read Thucydides. From him, they learned of a similar turn of events in Ancient Athens. “When troubles had once begun in the cities, those who followed carried the revolutionary spirit further and further, and determined to outdo the report of all who had preceded them by the ingenuity of their enterprises and the atrocity of their revenges. The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper.” Today, patriotism and democracy apparently mean secret intelligence agency plots against a major political party, and communist revolutionaries being groomed to lead our nation’s volunteer military. Something is amiss, and the institutions must either pick a side and resist this fragmentation or they will be torn apart.
Restoring the Academies’ Moral and Educational Compass
Military theorist William Lind wrote something nearly 25 years ago that struck me as eccentric and unbelievable at the time: “As we have seen in Lebanon, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere, when the nation fragments so do its military forces. We could end up with two, three, many Marine Corps: white Marine Corps, black Marine Corps, Christian Marine Corps, possibly even a gay Marine Corps. These fragments would compete with other organizations to provide the security that counts: security for the individual person, family, home, and neighborhood.” Sadly, in the age of Malcolm X salutes, Commie cadets, and homicidal Army jihadist officers, his dystopian vision is no mere fiction.
Donald Trump’s nationalism is inclusive. He seeks to preserve the existing, historical American people in a way that allows for the flourishing of individuals from all the various groups through America’s traditional and inclusive culture. Civic nationalism is the only hope for preserving the nation and its core institutions in a recognizable form. Such a nationalism must make it a priority—and Trump and his lieutenants must make it a priority—to reorder the nation’s institutions from one of “social engineering” and being the “vanguard of social change” to being unifying institutions devoted to the nation and its historical ideals, heroes, institutions, and people.
A good place to start would be the military, which by the numbers supports this program and has a natural tendency towards unifying principles. More than any other part of the government, it is the president’s natural domain. Its leftward drift has been somewhat unnatural, arising from relentless pressure from lawyers, outsiders, and activists who have no particular concern for its ethos or effectiveness. It now appears there is some momentum to this revolutionary trend from the politicized and ambitious leadership promoted under President Obama, but even now that view remains a minority one in the ranks.
While there are a great many bureaucrats and senior officers with something at stake in continuing business as usual, as well as a price to pay for being out of step, here the natural ambition of a senior officer could also serve the national interest. Such an officer or group of officers could distinguish themselves by exposing the substantial harm done to our nation’s military by its embrace of explicitly leftist politics masquerading as feel-good diversity initiatives. If we are to have careerism and ambition—an unavoidable and mostly productive trait of military professionals—it should “counteract the ambition” of those who aim to destroy national unity from within under the seductive rubric of diversity.
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