Political leadership within the US military, and those to whom the military reports – namely the civilian political leadership in the United States – has taken a left turn that appears to place excuses, mutual recrimination, victimhood, and a culture of complaints over readiness. Social niceties have replaced the iron law of deterring and winning wars – preparing for no-excuses combat. We need to get on that.
While the evidence of this dangerous swerve is everywhere – new social mandates, excuses for underperformance, cultivating sensitivity over discipline, lower expectations, eagerness to accuse, plummeting recruitment – no one will say what all know: This is not what wins wars.
Across the military, we have seen a decade-long slide toward less readiness from ships to personnel, a retreat from soul, mind, and body-hardening required to win wars. In place of proven practices and no-exceptions rules, Democrats default to softer civilian norms, tolerating everything, and punishing nothing.
What has happened, in the name of a “kinder, gentler” military, is the norming of excuse-making, insubordination, and self-absorption. The idea is – apparently – to punish those who subscribe to old school training, raised voices, and submersion of self. Sliding is a priority on willingness to take risks, simulate real war-fighting. Which has no safe spaces or timeouts.
Instead, the military has decided to bow to new social norms and political pressure, suspending proven standards for everything from drug use to mental health, physical and designator requirements to creative sexual redefinition, going so far as to fund gender dystopia surgery.
While much has been written on this and the debate over replacing readiness with “diversity, equity, and inclusiveness” rages – really no diversity, group identity, ending values like faith, the bigger question is what impact this will have in the long run.
The only way to definitively know is to fight a war and lose, which is like measuring a cliff’s height by jumping, not advisable. But we can do comparative analysis, look at what fails.
For starters, China’s army – reserve and active duty – are twice the size of ours, so recruiting, retention, training, and being better warfighters – man for man – than the Chinese now matters.
Second, Chinese military law, while not a carbon copy of ours, does not tolerate wayward, self-satisfied, non-cohesive, untrained, or self-pitying soldiers. Unlike in the US, exceptions are not pervasive, nor excuses permitted. Offenders are promptly booted.
Yes, much of what China does in the civilian sector is indefensible, ruthless, intolerable, inhumane, and unconscionable – which is why any war we fight with them we must win, but basic discipline, uniformly enforced, prioritizing competence, readiness, and a logical division of labor hold there – and should hold here.
Third, while one could – and should – argue persuasively for an all-volunteer military force, which is motivated by willingness to take life-and-death risks for freedom, family, and nation with courage, honor, and personal commitment, the fact is that China has no recruiting shortfalls.
This is not an argument for conscription, but the reverse – making our armed forces a place where people go with heart, determination to do “the hard thing” for the right reasons, taking risks to preserve liberty and contain, confront, and as necessary prevail over aggressors who do not respect those values.
The only way we do this is to have a military that does not make excuses, lower standards, bow to social norms, or otherwise minimize readiness, competence, and the hard acts of training. Instead, we want a military proud of its hardness, mental, physical, and spiritual toughness – which attracts the same.
Here is the real test. Go read any of 1000 excellent memoirs of those who trained and fought in WWII, an existential war that we won – only barely, pushed back in places like Dieppe, Sicily, much of the Italian, French, and Pacific campaigns, almost overtaken in the Battle of the Bulge.
Here is what you will find. No one got soft training, sensitivity lessons, or gave a damn about them. They all credited their hard training with saving their lives, lives of their fellow soldiers, the war and freedom.
The motivation to win, to join a military dedicated to winning, to be on the winning team, fighting for freedom – is what will boost recruiting, make us ready, deter China – if necessary halt their aggression.
In short, we do not need sensitive, soft, delicate, fragile, timeout, and “please give me a safe space” servicemembers. That is not how we reverse dangerously low recruiting numbers. It is with pride in the nation, knowledge of history, commitments to freedom, getting hard, stronger mentally, physically, emotionally, even intellectually – not the reverse.
Bottom line: Winning wars counts, which is why being ready counts, which is why real warfighting, not service tempered by selfish or socially popular attitudes, counts. Freedom is better than communism, and free armies outperform those who operate from fear – but getting hard also counts.
A thousand quotes make this point, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to Henry V, Washington and John Paul Jones, to Lincoln, Grant, Lee, and Mead, America’s WWI leaders to Marshall, McArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, right up through Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell. If we want to win, we have to get on it.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.
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