Best Defense

Some quiet thoughts on Kelly’s militarism

The gap widens between the military and American society.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks during a White House briefing Oct. 19 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks during a White House briefing Oct. 19 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Over the weekend I got several concerned emails from friends about the tone of General John Kelly’s comments last week. Isn’t it dangerous, one asked, for a general to talk about those who serve as somehow better than the society they protect? And if it is put on a pedestal, asked another, is it still “service”? Are we right to question the acts and statements of generals?

Several people were especially alarmed by this piece in the the New Yorker.

What I think actually goes back more than two decades, to an article I wrote for The Atlantic. Here is what I wrote then:

— It now appears not only possible but likely that over the next twenty years the U.S. military will revert to a kind of garrison status, largely self-contained and increasingly distinct as a society and subculture.

— Retired Adm. Stanley Arthur: “More and more, enlisted [men and women] as well as officers are beginning to feel that they are special, better than the society they serve. This is not healthy in an armed force serving a democracy.”

 — The closing of bases has so far hit especially hard in the Far West and the Northeast — areas that are both more liberal and more expensive to live in and operate in than the rest of the nation.

— A study by a former Army officer “concluded that to today’s West Point cadets, being a Republican is becoming part of the definition of being a military officer.”

— Half the new officers studying at the Basic School at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, identified themselves as conservatives.

— In a December, 1994, article in the Marine Corps Gazette, William S. Lind, a military analyst, wrote with two Marine reservists that American culture is “collapsing.” Lind and his co-authors concluded: “The next real war we fight is likely to be on American soil.”

Tom again, present day: I think what we are seeing now is all these trends coming to fruition.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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