- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Capt. Brad Hardy, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest rower
The desk next to me is vacant, the end result of the current government shutdown. My counterpart, a government civilian, is furloughed until further notice. This is the second time this year he has been sent home without pay.
I wonder why him and not me. I am an active-duty servicemember. Congress and the president have made a special allowance in the absence of a continuing resolution so that I may be paid regularly. I absolutely feel fortunate and my wife is breathing a little easier. And I’m sure that the spouses of those deployed now have one fewer worry on their minds.
But again, what makes me special while my civilian colleague draws the short stick? Where do we draw the line and force the military, as a piece of the federal government team, to shoulder at least some of the shutdown burden?
The reason may be that the military, for a number of theories, is a beatified, protected sect among American society. As such, not funding military pay checks is bad politics. Few in Washington want to be considered as anti-military, non-flag waving, unpatriotic, or overly inquisitive of how the military conducts its business. In general terms, supporting the military, at least financially, is the undeniable solution even if one finds the policy objectives murky or the actual conduct of war unnecessary or ham-fisted. And again, I’m not complaining about my continued compensation. Money is good. So are groceries. But by holding our place in society to a higher order than those who serve with commensurate dedication and vigor we may damage the very nature of what American uniformed service means. Furlough equity should be considered a part of professional military service.
We should dust off our copies of The Soldier and the State and consider that familiar phrase “profession of arms.” A professional military, which we consider ourselves almost by dictum, must be under the objective control of civilian authority. In the American system, we subordinate ourselves to the civilian government in order to protect it (from us). However, by placing the military’s pay at a higher priority than that of our civilians, we degrade this image of professionalism, selfless service, or any other tortured application of the Army Values we evoke to self-separate from society. The military is lionized and segregated as something monolithically special, elite, almost mystical and deified. So long as any narrative fits this ideal, most objective examinations to the contrary are rebuffed.
Consider the example of the WWII veteran “invasion” of their memorial in Washington, D.C. These vets and their occupation of an otherwise closed national park was largely applauded in the media despite being threatened with arrest. I wouldn’t besmirch these veterans, just as so many wouldn’t either. For many, their “Honor Flight” and trip to the capital may be the first and last time to witness the amazing memorial constructed to honor them. However, this act demonstrates, across generations and wars, just how high the pedestal the military is placed on. An unlikely but possibly criminal act can be glossed over as a stand against congressional gridlock and show of red-blooded patriotism. It’s a dangerous, slippery slope. Just as no one wants to see an elderly man in a wheelchair blocked from his memorial or handcuffed, no one wants to see today’s troops go unpaid.
There may not be an easy solution and one may not be necessary if the government is turned back on. But the pay caveat to the shutdown episode tells me that the profession of arms may be a myth, while the warrior class is alive, well, and paid off before others.
Captain Brad Hardy is a U.S. Army strategist. The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Army.
Got a tale of life in the trenches of the federal shutdown that you’d like to share? Send it along to Best Defense by email. The address is over on the right near the postage stamp-sized photo of Tom where it says “About This Blog.”
Life during the government shutdown (I): Empty classrooms and a busy football team show what the USNA is really aboutThomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. | Best Defense |
Hagel on Operation Shutdown; 400k civilians to get furloughed; Amos sacks Gurganus, Sturdevant over Bastion; 363 problems for the JSF; What Terminal Lance thinks about #shutdown; and a bit more.Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |