McChrystal Scandal Shows Us the Military No Longer Protects America -- It Guards Empire
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The Obama/McChrystal debacle is symptomatic of a wider divide -- the widening estrangement between our civilian elites and our military. McChrystal deserved to be fired and has been. But this event is a symptom of a bigger problem.
General McChrystal's disdain for President Obama did not arise in a vacuum. The context is: 1) the disconnect between our "all-volunteer military" -- that is now really a professional mercenary force by another name -- and the civilian political leadership with less and less personal military service experience. And 2) the fact that the Republican Party has wrapped itself in the flag while the Democrats have had a harder time distancing themselves from some voices that have been perceived as offensively anti-military within their big tent.
The real reason that Rolling Stone was able to quote so many highly placed military people's disdain for members of the Obama administration is because the military sees itself as more moral and better -- and certainly more conservative -- than the types who serve in civilian roles today, especially within a Democratic administration.
Disclosure: I'm someone who has experienced this "disconnect" first hand. When my son volunteered for the Marines it was a shock to me. As a typical member of the white upper middle classes, as a writer living in Boston and as someone who never served, I was shocked by his choice.
My son John and I wrote a book describing our journey together to a place where I came to value the military and he came to understand my post-Vietnam parental anxiety: Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps. What we both discovered is that class warfare is part of the equation. Our "kind" just don't volunteer much these days. I then co-authored another book (this time with former Clinton appointee Kathy Roth-Douquet) on this problem, AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country.
The political polarization between the so-called red and blue states has spilled over and helps reinforce the sense that from an upper middle class and often Democrat view point those who serve are the "other." And from the military point of view, the fact that most officers define themselves as Republicans these days means that they see the non-serving upper classes "the Hollywood Democrats" as alien politically as well as in other ways.
In 1976, most of the military identified as Independent, while 33 percent identified as Republican (still a larger proportion than the general public). But the armed services have abandoned this neutrality. Now 60 percent considered themselves Republican, and only seventeen percent considered themselves Independent. (The first figure is from data in the Foreign Policy Leadership Project conducted by Prof. Ole Holsti. The last year of the Holsti study was 1996. In that year, about 67 percent of military identified as Republican.)
Partly, the preference for Republican over Democrat results from the actions of the parties. The military felt betrayed by the Democrats in Vietnam. The Democratic Party in fact sent them in to Vietnam in the first place. Meanwhile, the Republican Party systematically reached out to and courted the military.
Perhaps more importantly, the evangelical Christians -- now a force for reactionary Far Right politics -- created an alliance between themselves, the Republican party, and the military beginning in the 1970s -- something that's been well documented by political scientist Andrew Bacevich -- and this strategy has borne "fruit" in the current era, where the ties among the three groups -- weak a generation ago -- are now very strong.