Ignoring Even One Shattered Norm Endangers the Civilian-Military Relationship

It took New York City ten long years to welcome home Vietnam War veterans officially, gratitude they were denied in 1975 primarily because of the deep fracture in trust between civilians and the U.S. military during and after that war.

The ticker tape parade held in 1985 had over one million people turn out for the emotional event. At the time, it had the most significant number of marchers on record for a parade in the city’s history during a two-day celebration to thank the service members a decade after the last U.S. soldiers left Saigon in 1975.

As a young mother in 1991, I took my children to a massive parade in downtown Pittsburgh honoring the returning Gulf War veterans. For the first time, I saw an outpouring of support for the Vietnam War veterans who also marched in the parade.

For those of us of a certain age, the mere recognition of their service rarely existed, nor did a thank you, let alone a parade to honor them for fighting in that war.

The civilian-military relationship had never been so perilous in our history.

The Vietnam War era marked the moment when the public began to distrust its government, military and larger institutions; we found out presidents lie, corporations don’t have our best interest at heart, the bias of the media, and the idea that our military is not invincible.

Since then, our faith in all of those powerful entities has never recovered from those pre-Vietnam War comfort levels except for the one: the military. Last year, according to the Gallup survey, the U.S. military earned 72 percent of the public’s trust.

In comparison, television news organizations only receive 18 percent of our trust and confidence, Congress 13 percent, and big corporations an abysmal 19 percent.

Confidence in small businesses, which is at 75 percent, is the only entity other than our military in our daily lives that the public trusts.

One of those reasons we do have this faith, or had this faith—a recent Reagan Foundation national defense survey done in February showed a steep decline since January—is that we have always respected that the soldier is apolitical and the institution, while political, is nonpartisan.

In short, while we understood that politics always affected the military, we respected and expected that our military leaders never got in the mud with their partisan points of view.

Last week, that all changed—not for the country’s good and indeed not for the good of the civilian-military relationship. It is a relationship that should be cherished and guarded against senior military officers getting into childish Twitter spats with civilians, no matter how tempting it may be.

And yet, that is just what Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Stalker, the commander of the U.S. Space Force, did when he went after a conservative civilian talk show host on Twitter with a video attacking his commentary.

It matters little who was involved. It was wrong. Military Twitter accounts, whether the account is an official one held by a uniformed leader or a soldier, reflect on the military in the public mind, mainly because it is often the only contact civilians have with a military member.

When only one-half of 1 percent of people serve in the military, a whole lot of the public doesn’t have daily interaction with anyone serving. So, if Twitter is your only interaction and you are on there and watch the leader of the U.S. Space Force go after a civilian, you might be inclined to wonder what the hell is going on in our military ranks.

And this part is vital: Stalker quips, “Let’s remember that those opinions were made by an individual who has never served a day in his life,” and that is the most chilling part because that sentiment can be aimed at most of the country. Why? Because most of the county hasn’t served in the military a day in their lives.

Is that how the elite military leadership really views its civilians? Do they now believe they can use their positions to become the arbiters of free speech for civilians? Is there a culture of political wokeness now held by these men and women in uniform that will now be used against people who don’t share their politics?

If so, that is concerning because there is an entire other half of the country that now fears your power rather than respects it. We have trusted you to keep partisanship out of how you view your citizens and your citizens’ liberties.

For the past couple of years, the public has been concerned that its free speech, which the cultural curators have already marginalized in Big Tech, big business, and big institutions, is now under the scrutiny of our military.

That concern may be a leap, however, when any singular civilian-military standard is shattered. While that one incident is not a crisis if it is ignored or dismissed by the press as a one-off—we all know how swiftly one-offs accumulate and start to become accepted as the new norm.


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