Maternity Flight Suits and Other Admonitions

Just about the first thing Lloyd Austin did after being confirmed as Joe Biden’s Secretary of Defense was to issue a service-wide order mandating a one-day “stand down” within sixty days to “address extremism within the nation’s armed forces.” “What extremism?” you might be asking, and you would be right to ask. 

No matter what Lloyd Austin or the media tells you, the trouble with the U.S. Armed Forces is not political extremism but the enervating rust of political correctness. As Victor Davis Hanson has shown, the upper echelons of the U.S. military were purged by Barack Obama. If they are politicized today, it is firmly in the direction of the woke ideology of identity politics.

Thus we have the commander-in-chief, Joe Biden, speak about the “intensity of purpose” that will be devoted to “designing body armor that fits women properly, tailoring combat uniforms for women, creating maternity flight suits, updating requirements for their hairstyles.” This was not a joke—or, rather, it was not said in jest. 

Perhaps the Biden means to prepare the distaff side for a different sort of Battle of the Bulge. True, he would be modestly more reassuring about the U.S. military if he could remember the name of his defense secretary or the name of the building where he works. “I want to thank the—former general . . . the guy who runs that outfit over there.” Oh, dear. 

Meanwhile, the Army is about to revise its standards for physical performance downwards so that women will be able to compete more effectively with men. Once upon a time, the Army’s slogan was “Be All That You Can Be.” Today, it might as well read “Be Whatever You Want.” Among the avalanche of executive diktats signed by Joe Biden in his first weeks in office is a directive approving sex reassignment surgery for active duty personnel. 

Who pays for this madness? Why you, the taxpayer, natch, and at $100,000 a pop to turn Donna into someone you can call Dan you can bet it is going to add up to a pretty penny. 

The metastasis of the preposterous ideology of wokeness from academia into the corporate world is alarming. Do we really need to be lectured by Coca-Cola about the evils of “whiteness”? Or Gillette about “toxic masculinity”? But the sudden spread of wokeness from the corporate world to the military is more than alarming, it is an existential threat. 

Why, after all, do we have a military? It is not to provide a level playing field for social justice warriors or a point d’appui for people experiencing “gender dysphoria.” It is to protect the United States from hostile foreign powers that mean us harm. Period. End of discussion. 

With his usual acuity, Tucker Carlson cut to the chase in a monologue devoted to this question. “How,” he asked, “do sex changes in the military make this country safer?”

That’s not a trick question. It’s not another volley in the culture war. It’s the only question that matters, literally the only question that matters. But no one bothered to ask it, probably because no one can remember why the U.S. military exists. Here’s a reminder, the U.S. military exists to fight and win wars. That’s its only purpose. The U.S. military is not an NGO, it is not a vehicle for achieving equity, it’s not a social experiment, it’s definitely not an employment agency. . . . Making people feel valued and included is a good thing, it is not the point of the U.S. military. It cannot be the point of the U.S. military or else we’re done.

Alas, yes. But what are we to conclude about the military that Joe Biden is fashioning? Biden can’t remember his name, but Defense Secretary Austin appears to be a perfect representative of the woke ideology that Carlson anatomizes. “Biden,” Carlson noted, “plucked Austin from the cynical world of private equity, but you’re not supposed to notice that, you’re supposed to notice only that Lloyd Austin is black.”

The real headline, however, is that Lloyd Austin is the second defense secretary in a row to have been on the payroll of Raytheon, the massive defense contractor. If you saw something like that happen in a Central American country, you would call it corruption and you would be right. For centuries our military has been self-consciously nonpartisan, in a democracy it has to be that way, the military has to be nonpartisan. No country can survive if its armed forces become a tool of a specific political party. We know that because it happens all the time all over the world and the consequences are always horrifying. It has never happened here. But Lloyd Austin is openly political.

Which leaves us where? I think it leaves us back with Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings.” The wisdom of these gods is perennial, but it is also regularly neglected. “We were living in trees when they met us,” says Kipling.

. . . They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind. 

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome. 

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things. 

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: Stick to the Devil you know.”

The beautiful people who rule us are way beyond such wisdom. They laugh at the warnings of the Gods of the Copybook Headings. (And there’s more: “On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life/ (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)/ Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,/ And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”) 

But the sobering thing is that such wisdom is supremely indifferent to the twitterings of our narcissistic self-absorption. Kipling saw it all: “And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins/When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,/ As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,/ The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!” 

Maternity flight suits will not be part of the drama. 

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

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