DIE Means the Death of Military Professionalism

Recent studies and reporting have highlighted the military's recruiting challenges for fiscal year 2022 with dire projections of future shortfalls in coming years.  The reasons for recruiting deficits are many and complex, but one major factor is regressing civilian trust and confidence in the military.  Since 2018, from record highs at the end of last century and into the post-9/11 era, positive civilian impressions of the military plummeted.  This decreased trust is, in no small measure, due to bipartisan public perceptions of a politicized military from both the left and right.

A 2022 Ronald Reagan Institute survey noted that half of respondents attributed military politicization to a "woke" agenda.  It is a sentiment certainly shared by some in civilian leadership and many current military members and veterans.

The Reagan Institute polling does not define "woke."  Ipsos polling, however, suggests that the meaning of "woke" can be fluid.  Although "woke" may have different definitions, for many, it is associated prominently with Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE).

These DIE initiatives have penetrated most major American institutions and are now openly and aggressively being implemented across the military services, from the highest echelons down to the unit level.  The introduction of DIE into the military is a significant factor in the public's perception of an increasingly politicized armed forces.  Interestingly, DIE is now being unmasked as inherently intolerant despite nostrums of diversity and inclusion, most notably when someone's speech and ideas conflict with what those in the DIE apparatus deem appropriate thinking and behavior.

DIE's proliferation in and increasing hostility to academia serve as a useful proxy to understand the public's concerns about a "woke" military.  Stanford faculty members recently voiced concern about the stifling of speech and academic freedom via an anonymous bias-reporting system.  And a student mob at Stanford University's law school, enabled by a DIE administrator, recently shouted down an invited guest speaker, a federal judge, hurling invectives inappropriate for any setting, let alone an elite law school.  Because of DIE's threat, Harvard faculty felt compelled to create a Council for Academic Freedom "devoted to free inquiry, intellectual diversity, and civil discourse."  As Harvard's Professors Steven Pinker and Bertha Madras explained, there is "an exploding bureaucracy for policing harassment and discrimination [that] has professional interests that are not necessarily aligned with the production and transmission of knowledge."

It is no surprise that the public is skeptical of DIE in general and specifically its appropriateness for the military.  DIE in the military will likely produce similar outcomes.  The most effective way to counter this is to ensure our military members, especially the officer corps, are being educated and trained to maintain and sustain professionalism consistent with historical civil-military norms.

The restoration of public trust requires the military to "examine how we educate servicemembers in the professional norms related to military service in a democracy[.]"  At the Air Force Academy, thirteen cadets recently pressed for greater education in civics and civil-military relations to ensure they could "comprehend the professional norms required to support the constitutional principles inherent in their military oaths."  This is crucial for developing and maintaining a professional and apolitical officer corps, a prerequisite for healthy civil-military relations.  A focus on DIE detracts from this and corrupts professionalism through an overtly progressive political agenda.

There are few in and out of uniform who question the pre-eminence of civilian control, but this control does not require the military to become a facsimile of civil society, nor to import its programs, ideologies, and structures in part or wholesale.  Samuel P. Huntington, author of The Soldier and the State, astutely observed in later work that "the dilemma of military institutions in a liberal society can only be resolved satisfactorily by a military establishment that is different from but not distant from the society it serves."  This uniquely American civil-military dynamic will evolve, and each component will influence the other in search of equilibrium and institutional comity, but neither should disadvantage the other.

For the military to remain in balance with civilian institutions and provide security, it must maintain its uniqueness while simultaneously respond to societal imperatives of civilian control. Without this balance, said Huntington, "military institutions which reflect only social values may be incapable of performing effectively their military function."  DIE, primarily a civilian importation, is an example of precisely how a social value supported by few is inimical to military professionalism, unity, cohesion, and esprit de corps.  The public recognizes this and is rightly aghast at the politicization of our military institutions by the introduction of DIE programs and offices across our military.

Appropriate civilian control is also at odds with DIE.  Again, Huntington's analysis of civil-military relations offers some useful insights, notably on the types of civilian control over the military and the natural tensions therein.  "Subjective" civilian control, he argues, maximizes civilian power and is necessary when a professional military is absent.  "Objective" civilian control "is that distribution of political power between military and civilian groups which is most conducive to the emergence of professional attitudes and behavior among the members of the officer corps."  DIE, because of its obsessive focus on taxonomic sorting by race and identity, is at odds with the idea of professionalism and contrary to the notion of objective civilian control so fundamental to our system of civil-military relations.

Perhaps one of Huntington's more prescient observations is this: "Subjective civilian control achieves its end by civilianizing the military, making them the mirror of the state.  Objective civilian control achieves its end by militarizing the military, making them the tool of the state. ... The antithesis of objective civilian control is military participation in politics: civilian control decreases as the military become progressively involved in institutional, class, and constitutional politics."  In other words, optimal civilian control (objective control) exits when military professionalism is maximized.  DIE hews more to the subjective vice objective archetype of civilian control.  It is no surprise the public views DIE with wariness and military politicization as an aberration.

Strangely, recent commentators argue that this politicization is attributable only to the right.  One former naval officer, writer, and editor claimed that critics of "wokeness" and DIE are, in fact, agents bent on politicizing the military.  A political science professor makes a similar argument, claiming that anti-woke resistance is "a rallying cry of the American right," and those questioning its merits are actually endangering national security.  Apparently, progressives and their works are simply noble pursuits devoid of politics, and the right is the true threat.

Recent examples of DIE run amok in academia and business simply do not support these assertions.  To contend otherwise is either naïve or willful blindness.  DIE, conceived, birthed, and nurtured in a cloistered civilian academic environment, has no place in the military.

Taking note of the damage DIE has done to academia and lack of value provided to businesses, the public is right to be wary of DIE taking root in the military.  DIE is political, and its programs, wherever they exist, seek to accrue and expand power through division rather than unity.

Nothing about DIE is sympathetic to actual notions of diversity of inclusion.  By embracing patently divisive DIE policies and programs, civilian and military leaders unnecessarily violate the public trust in the military's ability to remain an apolitical professional body devoted to national security.  It is no surprise, then, why the public views DIE as an instrument to enact social change and press the prevailing political agenda of the day rather than fulfil the promise of diversity and inclusion.

Military professionalism and culture are unique.  These attributes are also crucial for the health of civil-military relations.  "To despise the military" said political scientist Herbert Garfinkel, "is to open the way for an oppressive form of civilian supremacy that would ultimately endanger our democratic values by leaving the nation effectively defenseless."  We would do well to ponder this quote as we debate the wisdom of policies and programs like DIE in the military, the education of its personnel, and the development of a professional officer corps so critical to our national security.

John Cauthen, a retired naval officer, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2002 and taught in the History Department from 2007 to 2010.

Image via Max Pixel.

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