Albion Monitor /News

Extremist Influence Growing in U.S. Military

by Jim Lobe

Rise in contempt for the presidency and civilian leadership in general
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- While U.S. military advisors in foreign lands are involved more than ever before in teaching armed forces about the benefits of democratic government. Back home, however, the military is becoming increasingly politicized, say analysts.

New studies show that the percentage of senior military officers who describe themselves as "conservatives" or "Republicans" has doubled over the past 20 years, and the gap between military and civilian society has widened significantly.

The trend is blamed in large part on the elimination of the draft in 1973 and the rise of a professional military for the first time since the 1930s, according to most analysts.

"When you go with an all-volunteer force, you're dealing with people who are a little further right than 20 or 30 years ago," says retired Air Force Col. Alan Gropman, who teaches at the National Defense University. "When people self-select for this, you get a more right-wing cast than you did under the draft."

Others believe that U.S. President Bill Clinton, who avoided the draft during the Vietnam War, has compounded the problem by deferring to the military on almost every controversial issue in which he was opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Examples range from Clinton's reversal on his campaign pledge to integrate homosexuals into the military, to his refusal to sign a global treaty banning anti-personnel landmines.

"Except for his decision to go into Haiti, Clinton simply has not stood up to the military," says one retired senior Army officer. "The result is a palpable rise in contempt for the presidency, and civilian leadership in general, particularly in the officer corps."

Hostility toward Clinton by elite military gatherings and maneuverings by Colin Powell to expand influence in policy-making seen as evidence of a growing military-civilian gap
Much of the current debate was spurred by an article which appeared last summer in the Atlantic Monthly by journalist Tom Ricks.

Ricks, author of a book about the Marines, "Making the Corps," warned it was likely that "during the next 20 years the U.S. military will revert to a kind of garrison status, largely self-contained and increasingly distinct as a society and subculture." He wrote that both recruits and officers see U.S. civilian society more and more as disorderly, undisciplined, and decadent.

He cited several studies to support his thesis, including one by Harvard professor Michael Desch who concluded that civilian leaders today apparently are less able "to get the military to do what they want them to do" than during the Cold War.

This resistance stems from the military's reluctance to adapt to new, post-Cold War missions such as peacekeeping and humanitarian aid, as well as its disrespect for a civilian leadership that lacks military experience and an ability to articulate a new strategic vision.

Ricks' thesis was anticipated earlier in the decade. In the wake of the successful Gulf War campaign, for example, the U.S. War College gave its top essay award to an air force officer, Lt. Colonel Charles Dunlap, who wrote in 1983 about a fictional military coup d'etat.

The essay, "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012," suggested that, between 1993 and 2012, the armed forces came to be seen by itself and the public as the only competent institution in a decadent country. As civilian leaders forfeited their role in dealing with difficult social problems, the military stepped into the vacuum, so that when it finally took formal power there was no resistance.

In 1994, Richard Kohn, the Air Force's Chief of History from 1981 to 1991, cited openly-expressed hostility toward Clinton by elite military gatherings and maneuverings by former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell to expand the Chiefs' influence in policy-making as evidence of a growing military-civilian gap.

"The military is more alienated from its civilian leadership than at any time in American history -- and more vocal about it," Kohn wrote in a newspaper article.

Subsequently, the involvement of two discharged Army veterans in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building and the murder of an African-American couple by Army recruits near an elite army base raised questions about the rise of right-wing extremism in the ranks.

More recently, a study by Duke University professor Ole Holsti found today's officers to be significantly more conservative than their forbears.

Strong shift to the right at the service academies and in the junior and middle ranks
Based on a survey of 4,000 prominent citizens, including a significant number of senior officers, Holsti concluded that, "Members of the American military are becoming increasingly partisan, and...also are significantly more Republican and conservative than civilians holding comparable leadership positions."

The study found that two-thirds of all the officers interviewed described themselves as Republican. That was twice the percentage of 1976, when more than half the officers interviewed said they were either independent or non-political.

In the new survey, only three percent of the officers said they were "somewhat liberal." That compared with almost 30 percent of their civilian counterparts who placed themselves in that category.

If senior officers are more conservative, the situation is even more dramatic at the service academies and in the junior and middle ranks, according to Ricks, where surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest a strong shift to the right.

The National Defense University's Gropman says he is not surprised by these findings but cautions that they do not mean that the officer corps rejects civilian leadership. "I don't think this military is out of control at all," he says.

Still, the more-conservative cast of the officers corps has become evident. Last month, the Army's senior personnel official was forced to resign after she described the Marines at an academic forum as "extremists" who were at risk of a "total disconnection with society."

Despite issuing an apology to the Marine Corps and gaining the support of Defense Secretary William Cohen, Sara Lister came under heavy fire from top military officers and Republican lawmakers, including the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who demanded her resignation.

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Albion Monitor December 8, 1997 (

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