A politicized US military should horrify all Americans

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During the last administration it was hard to go a week or even a day without someone decrying a supposedly appalling “attack” on members of the press by President Donald Trump. These assaults largely consisted of Trump objecting to loaded questions and other gasbaggery from members of the fourth estate.

We expect politicians with partisan agendas to spar with journalists. Not so much members of the armed forces speaking in their official capacity, which is what happened last week after Tucker Carlson of Fox News dared to comment about the role of women in the military. The Second Marine Expeditionary Force responded with a snotty, childish tweet, telling Carlson: “Come back when you’ve served and been pregnant.” Generals, other currently serving officers and the Pentagon’s press secretary joined in the ensuing sortie.

The implication was clear: Civilians who dare to criticize military policy should expect to be harshly rebuked, not by their fellow citizens or even by elected politicians, but by members of the armed forces in their official capacity.

Even those less skeptical of US military adventurism than this columnist would agree, I hope, that our boys — excuse me, our brave men and women — should not be intervening in journalism of all places. Boots on the ground in Ethiopia? Maybe, maybe not. In a cable news studio? Phew.

The behavior of these “woke generals,” as Carlson called them, should horrify Americans, regardless of their views on, say, women in combat. The fact that the II Marine Expeditionary Force later issued an apology doesn’t change the reality that dressing down a journalist undermines the basic principle of civilian control of the military.

The armed forces serve at the direction of a civilian commander in chief and secretary of defense for a reason. The American people, not professional soldiers, ultimately decide military policy through their elected leaders. The role of the armed forces should be to obey civilian orders, not to lash out at anyone who dares to participate in the national conversation about what that policy should be.

Poll after poll suggest the armed forces are one of the only institutions still trusted and revered by a majority of Americans. There are good reasons for this: Unlike politicians at all levels of government, the judges they appoint, the federal bureaucracy, the liberal media establishment, Hollywood, universities and Big Business, the military is broadly understood as apolitical.

Long before the Carlson incident, we had evidence that this perception is becoming outdated: In January, the Joint Chiefs of Staff fired off a passive-aggressive letter all but accusing Trump of sedition.

For many, including some in uniform themselves, the armed forces are now simply another part of our woke professional class. And they will use the full weight of their authority in exactly the same manner that progressive scolds do whenever they find their priorities challenged, even when it means violating the apparently sacred norms they claim to defend.

The defense establishment’s aggressive actions on behalf of Biden-administration policy comes after nearly two months in which downtown Washington, DC, has resembled a military camp. Four times as many troops were deployed for Biden’s inauguration as there are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. The sealed-off ceremony in January was like a scene from Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” in which the praetorian guard install a senile patrician as emperor. Sinister-looking fences still surround the Capitol.

Which brings us to the real lesson of Gibbon. For every grandee raised to the imperial purple by the troops against the wishes of the people, another was deposed. When the military answers to no one, least of all its critics, it becomes the real source of power. This has been true throughout history. Every politician who has relied upon the military to police his domestic enemies has lived to regret it.

While it would be an exaggeration to say that huffy social-media comments are comparable to the perfidy of Roman generals, we should acknowledge the danger posed by a military establishment that attacks those it exists to defend. No American should have the impression that we are here to serve the military, rather than the other way around.

Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp magazine.

Twitter: @MatthewWalther

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