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We are hollowing out our military again, placing Americans in danger, both those in uniform and the civilian population. In the 1970s, the military was wracked by equipment, training, and personnel problems. After two decades of not-so-small wars, the American military again faces equipment, training and personnel problems, with a new twist. The latest United States Service Academy (West Point) cheating scandal is one manifestation of a 21st Century personnel problem, created by senior leaders embracing critical race theory, a leftist assault on our Constitution and institutions. This leftist assault, embraced by elites, civilian and military, weakens the foundations of integrity and trust in our military at every level.
From January 2021 onward, the American military has shown very troubling signs of accelerated politicization, with attendant concerns about weakness in the face of a resurgent threat environment. This is more than a single post, so I will start with the “so what,” with why it really matters if our military becomes like a socialist military, with political commissars enforcing party doctrine as national interest. I will then briefly outline how training and practice of the military-styled “Equal Opportunity” changed over the decades. Finally, we will take a look at the case of critical corrosion at West Point, the United States Military Academy.
POLITICAL MILITARIES UNDERPERFORM
What we now face is the prospect of a force that is rendered dishonest, distrustful, and deficient in tactical, operational, and strategic competence. We may still brandish a handful of exquisitely crafted and extraordinarily expensive ships, planes, and mechanized arms. We may field the very best AI, networks, and drones. And. We will be disastrously over-matched if we allow a leftist revolution in military personnel affairs to unilaterally disarm our greatest weapons: our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.
To illustrate the problem America now faces, consider two vignettes, one from West Germany in the late 1980s and the other from South Korea in 1991. In both cases, we see U.S. Army forces at the peak of their competency, thanks to a training and fighting doctrine that channeled and rewarded risk-taking in the pursuit of victory. At the same time, we see allied forces with the most modern equipment, wealthy, educated societies, and decades of observing the way we train and fight. Yet, in both cases, there were severe mismatches in tactical performance.
As NATO partners, US and West German forces periodically trained together, from observing each others’ gunnery exercises to map board exercises of war plans. Fellow officers came back from inside a very large simulated campaign with disturbing reports. Our doctrine, training, and equipment assumed that we would overcome vastly superior enemy numbers with a kind of nimble maneuver that allows a smaller force to concentrate at particular times and places to overmatch the enemy then and there. Yet, as the game played out and the West German forces needed to give up German soil to set up conditions for counterattack, our counter-parts suddenly became upset and insisted that the game must be stopped.
Why? Because, they asserted, the West German Army plans beyond that point were classified above a level that they could share with us. The not-so-secret big secret, we surmised, was that the Germans would seek a negotiated surrender rather than expose their population to modern ground combat. To put it plainly, the Germans were determined that they defend every inch of West German soil to the last American GI. Die in place defending the first few kilometers and win or…. Our German peers could not bring themselves to play out the possibilities, even as an intellectual exercise.
In 1991, as CNN offered a massive video game war, with color commentary, from the Kuwaiti desert, US and South Korean (ROK) forces headed into their big annual maneuver exercise, tanks and infantry formations doing the elaborate dance they did every year. Referees made rulings at each meeting point as to which force must retreat or advance, with casualties assessed. This was the Korean’s home soil, on which their Army officers had trained their entire adult lives. And yet, we were overwhelming them with our ability, at the lowest level, to grab opportunities to advance. Then it got ugly.
Reports came in to headquarters of our tank crews’ eyes being dazzled by ROK tank crews firing their range-finding lasers into our vision blocks, armored periscopes that let crews inside “buttoned-up” tanks see where they are going. Their leaders were insisting that the game was supposed to be on a schedule and that we were playing ahead of the script. Yet, they had decades of officers attending our doctrinal schools and our maneuvers, they should have been able to recognize how we would fight and plan accordingly. The ROK leadership, top to bottom, were focused on not losing face before their public and the Korean political leadership. Domestic politics and face mattered most.
Both of these vignettes occurred at the absolute peaks of military preparedness. The West German and ROK armies were being the best they could be, and yet were hamstrung by domestic politics and culture. So, how do you think U.S. forces will do if domestic politics and cultural imperatives outweigh a system of training to fight focused on mutual trust and risk-taking underwritten by leaders?
PERSONNEL POLICY FROM HOLLOW FORCE TO PEERLESS POWER (AND BACK?)
In the 1970s, after we withdrew from Vietnam, and again in the 1990s, when our elected leaders rushed to spend more on domestic programs in the name of cashing the [Cold War] “peace dividend,” our military was said to be a “hollow force.”
The term “hollow force” was initially used in the late 1970s and subsequently in the 1990s to characterize military forces that appeared mission-ready but upon examination, suffered from shortages of personnel, equipment, and maintenance or from deficiencies in training.
In the 1970s, the American military transitioned from a draft force to the All Volunteer Force. The Army, naturally faced the largest challenges to readiness on the manning and training sides, as it has the most manpower relative to expensive equipment. Vietnam War-era policy had career officers punching their tickets in Vietnam, while sergeants, the backbone of the force, were chewed up in repeated tours. This meant that the soldiers who entered under the new professional volunteer system lacked the firm, experienced guidance of a solid non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps. It took over a decade to fix this, to regrow the backbone of the Army.
I will write separately about the reforms in strategy, driving new training, and new equipment. The human element, the people expected to operate together, compounded the issues of worn, short, or outdated equipment, as well as the ability to effectively train. At the same time, an army mostly in garrison starts degenerating into a force focused on inspections and risk adverse behavior. Add to this the poison of racial tension.
Senior leadership had only grudgingly responded to that mere National Guard artillery captain, that accidental president, Harry Truman, when he ordered desegregation of the military. As a result, when the civil rights movement shifted from peaceful to militant and violent protest, in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, the military was still struggling through treating black service members as peers of their white counterparts. With the end of the draft, the force was going to have to create an environment in which people of every ethnicity could work and live together.
The first attempt went poorly, with Race Relations training that degenerated into blame and racial group reinforcement. This was due to the design of the Defense Race Relations Institute framework, focused on a “critique of whiteness as a nexus of racialized power.” Combine this with a hollowed-out middle, from first-line supervisors through senior enlisted advisers, and you had a recipe for readiness disaster.
The DRRI based large sections of its curriculum around the teachings of White “anti-racist” educator Robert Terry. Terry, whose 1970 book “For Whites Only” was assigned by the DRRI, taught militant Black separatist ideas to White audiences.
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Terry’s philosophy of “New White Consciousness,” explicitly advocated by DRRI, included the notion that “None of us [White people] escapes being racist in American society.” To Terry and his intellectual followers, all White people were racist by this idiosyncratic definition and the best a White person could be was an “anti-racist racist.”
The addition of women to the regular force, no longer segregated in all-female units or severely limited in assignments, created the need to rethink Equal Opportunity and the opportunity to eliminate the separate Race Relations program. Lessons learned from the mistakes of the Defense Race Relations Institute were incorporated in a better Defense Equal Opportunity system, intended to get away from divisive training sessions and blame assignment by focusing on behavior rather than attitudes. This new program, across all services, was promulgated by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, starting in the 1980s.
The DEOMI model focused on outward behavior, rather than what you might be thinking or what you were raised to believe. Instead of assigning villain and victim status, or assigning guilt, the new program purported to improve people’s ability to function together with people from many different backgrounds. No, this did not fundamentally transform military members, but that was not the goal. Every commander at the brigade level and above was required to have a DEOMI school trained Equal Opportunity Advisor to advise leaders on “command climate,” to track the commander’s EO program, and to properly support informal and formal EO complaint investigations.
In 2003, we engaged in a massive mobilization of forces to invade and remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. As the Battle for Baghdad ended and forces started settling into bases and outposts, provost martial (law enforcement) military police showed up. Why? As the MP lieutenant colonel brief our group commander “10,000 is a small town, and small towns have crime.” A certain percentage of any population is going to be inclined to criminal behavior. Increase your population enough and you guarantee criminal conduct will at least be attempted. So, we should hardly be surprised, with over 100,000 troops in a region for a year and more, there would be those inclined to rape. If rape outside “the wire” was too scary a proposition, the targets would shift from civilians to other military members.
So, there was a real level of sexual assault, as well as piggish behavior (sexual harassment). AND. After September 11, 2001 there was almost immediate leftist political opposition to a Republican president and the United States military being treated as good and noble. Think of Hollywood’s immediate response, generating anti-American military screeds rather than rallying around the troops. So, how better to take Bush, the brass, and the troops down a notch than to brand them enablers of the rape of noble servicewomen who were the victims of servicemen.
The bipartisan response of Congress, following sexual assault hearings in 2004 was to demand an annual accounting of the conduct of the Department of Defense on preventing and prosecuting sexual assault. The military leadership saluted smartly, following the Constitutional requirement to comply with Congress’s directions on the training and regulation of the military. Their answer was, unsurprisingly, a formal program: Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program (SHARP). This program generated its own data, its own training and staffing requirements, and so carved out a piece of the EO human relations pie.
With fewer deployments, and no immediate existential military threat, the Army falls back into garrison mode, with “zero defect” attitudes and risk avoidance. This time, the left finally made real inroads on the last institutions that were supposedly resistant and sources of opposition in our society. Formerly faithful Christian churches fell to the spirit of the age, and senior military leaders supported the same agenda as the big business and cultural elites, cramming this down on a force disproportionately made up of “deplorable” “bitter clingers,” men and women of every ethnicity. AND they had the excuse of needing to recruit and retain Millennial and Gen Y troops, just like the corporate suits were claiming.
Long before, in the 1990s, a serious scholar of military culture rebuked her feminist academic colleagues as uninformed, when they wrote about changing the military and then society through infiltration. She asserted that military culture both resisted change and efficiently converted those who joined and wished to advance through the ranks. At the same time, likely unknown to her, there were already senior general officers warring on the “bitter clingers,” the strong cadre of observant Christian service members. They sought to marginalize and eliminate the influence of the Chaplain corps.
I personally witnessed one such battle at a major post with a corps headquarters. The Chief of Chaplains had to sent a bureaucratic warrior chaplain to defend the chaplaincy and gradually defeat the corps commander’s attacks. This happened under a Republican Commander in Chief. This was a sign of a senior leader getting a bit too far out on the edge of the business and cultural elite, but we saw the fight between the Chamber of Commerce wing of the GOP and the “Religious Right” all the way back to the 1970s. Rush Limbaugh, in the George W. Bush era, was telling his audience about business leaders sidling up to him on the golf course and complaining “we need to get rid of those religious nuts.”
In the context of changing American elite attitudes and beliefs, American military elites could be expected to incorporate those attitudes and beliefs in personnel policy and practice. If our military is actually subordinate to civilian leadership, under the Constitution, then we should expect ideas supported by Congress to be embraced by the military. After all, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provides that:
Congress shall have the power . . . To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
At the same time, the President has constitutional leadership over the military services. The president exercises discretion within law and the Constitution, especially as laws are loosely written, purporting to grant discretion to agencies. So, when the Department of Justice, with its civil rights division, pursues policies shaped by critical theory, senior civilians and uniformed senior personnel are going to shift their personnel policies as well.
In addition, US military leaders all come up through the American education system, and realize they are going to need the real approval of the Senate if they want to rise to flag rank (general and admiral ranks). So, we should hardly be surprised to find senior military leaders lining up and mouthing all the politically correct lines. Indeed, we should be shocked if generals and admirals claimed to stand apart from American society. Yes, there are great divisions in American society, but how do you imagine a federal military leadership would not track attitudes and beliefs of their larger institutional environment?
EO training took on a critical theory flavor. Through the Obama administration, you would think there was an epidemic of sexual assault in the military, from the way it was emphasized in the media, Congress, and the military hierarchy. The Supreme Court’s declaration of same-sex marriage provided pretext for direct assault on any chaplain and service member who did not acknowledge Caesar as Lord. Diversity training shifted back into focus on fragmented identities. The false narratives of a campus rape epidemic was fed into the military community.
Critical race theory became so accepted in senior leadership that the top non-commissioned officer in the Air Force felt perfectly safe in June of 2020, when he used his Facebook page to spew a BLM screed, complete with accepted lies about false martyrs of supposed racist killer cops.
This top airman not only acted, but then was not corrected by the top uniformed leader, let alone the two layers of supposed civilian leadership between him and President Trump. The incoming Chief of the Air Force, the first black officer to hold that office, offered a more measured response, yet he supported creating a double standard, a more lenient set of disciplinary rules for black airmen. This more lenient set of rules, cloaked in talk of fairness and cultural understanding, puts every leader in jeopardy if they dare apply the Uniform Code of Military Justice as written, as approved by Congress. In short, justice and so the entirety of “integrity,” is perverted on orders from the top Department of Defense ranks. See “Our Unreliable Senior Military Leaders.”
“SOCIAL JUSTICE” UNDERMINES INTEGRITY
So, it should be no surprise that West Point sank deeper into the swamp after the 2020 election. They were already in the muck, if you consider the 2013 assault on the opponents of the Obama regime in “Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right.”* West Point leaders were back at it in 2019, reinforcing the Democrats and RepubliCan’t lies about President Trump and Ukraine in “The Nexus Between Far-Right Extremists in the United States and Ukraine.” There is not one publication from West Point that tells the truth: that the left is the center of violence in this country, as it was in the 1960s-1970s. Here is how they pretend objectivity in “Terrorism and Counterterrorism Challenges for the Biden Administration:”
Fifty years ago, at a similarly profoundly unsettled time in U.S. history, the country was indeed worse. Throughout 1970, for instance, politically motivated bombings, arson, and other attacks were in fact a daily occurrence. Moreover, in contrast to the mostly disorganized and uncoordinated violence that has occurred over the past months in Portland, Seattle, Chicago, New York, and other cities, the 1970s variant was planned and premeditated—orchestrated by a bewildering array of actual, identifiable domestic terrorist organizations. The nearly 500 terrorist incidents collected by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database for 1970 alone were perpetrated primarily by left-wing terrorists in groups like the Weather Underground, the Jonathan Jackson Brigade, and the Revolutionary Armed Task Force; militant black nationalists in organizations like the Black Liberation Army and Black Panthers; Latinx extremists belonging to the Chicano Liberation Front; anti-Castro Cuban exiles such as Cuban Action; Puerto Rican Independistas in groups like the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacíon Nacional; and longstanding white supremacist movements such as the Ku Klux Klan.65 With the exception of the Cuban groups and Ku Klux Klan, however, radical, left-wing revolutionary terrorism predominated. Today, the situation is reversed with violent, far-right extremism posing the greatest terrorist threat in the United States.
This is not to imply that there have not been highly disturbing incidents of violence committed by persons associated or affiliated with or claiming allegiance to a variety of causes that have been championed by self-described antifa members or anarchists or Black Lives Matter activists. The torching of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct building in May 2020 is one especially disquieting example. As were the fires set in downtown Washington, D.C., near the White House, at the AFL-CIO headquarters and in the basement of the historic St John’s Episcopal Church that same month.66 But, to date, incidents that might be defined as bona fide acts of domestic terrorism perpetrated by far-left extremists have been few. Most notably, there was the murder of a pro-Trump demonstrator in Portland by a gunman claiming self-defense, but whom then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr described as an “admitted antifa member” (who was then killed by law enforcement officers while trying to arrest him).67
The evidence of any kind of coordinated, much less concerted, campaign of domestic terrorism from antifa, anarchists, or Black Lives Matter, either in this case or indeed others, however, are scant.
It may be even worse. It appears that the West Point Command Sergeant Major, the senior enlisted advisor, used Twitter and possibly Facebook to attack two sitting members of Congress and the Commander in Chief, President Trump, before the Biden-Harris inauguration. He will most certainly not face any negative consequences, assuming it was his account. It is also worth noting that this is an infantryman who made it to the top politically and with the assignments you have been led to believe signify conservatism. Command Sergeant Major Coffey’s biography reads in part:
His previous assignments include the 75th Ranger Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry, and 4th Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.
His most recent assignments include CSM 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, CSM 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, CSM Operations Group, National Training Center and CSM 3rd Infantry Division.
CSM Coffey has deployments in support of Operation Uphold Democracy, Operation Safe Haven, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
[. . .]
His awards and decorations include the . . . Bronze Star Medal . . . Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal . . . .
When the leaders at the U.S. Military Academy are shading the truth what would you expect of the students, the cadets?
West Point code falls to “social justice:”
Aspire, The West Point Admission Blog, has a page laying out the Cadet Honor Code and its purpose. So, it is no surprise for cadets and parents.
The Cadet Honor Code states, “A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” Abiding by the Honor Code develops Cadets’ character by focusing their attention on the ethical aspects of every situation. This attuned focus equips Cadets to recognize and then to “choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong” whenever faced with a difficult decision.
Most people are honest most of the time. The Honor Code helps Cadets develop into people who are honest all of the time. Over their years at West Point, Cadets’ daily adherence to the Honor Code—on decisions big and small—forges strong habits of trustworthy character.
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The Cadet Honor Code has been a part of West Point for centuries. It emerged in the 1800’s from grass-roots efforts by Cadets to establish and enforce a code of honesty in their ranks. It was formalized in the 1920’s with the creation of the Cadet Honor Committee.
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Cadets who are found to have violated their Honor Code may be separated from the Academy, may have their graduation postponed for up to a year, or may be permitted to graduate on time with their classmates, depending on the circumstances of their action. The Cadets who are retained are enrolled in a special leader development program that helps them identify and correct their character shortcoming.
Despite its demands, living under the Cadet Honor Code is very rewarding for Cadets. Others take Cadets at their word, and they enjoy a trustworthy barracks environment, an honorable reputation, and the internal satisfaction of living with integrity.
An academic paper by a cadet captain explored all the service academies’ honor codes, focusing on the non-tolerance clause. He concluded with the larger stakes, stakes which the senior leaders who are fully retirement eligible, who have stars on their shoulders already, should not have such a hard time fully internalizing:
If individual cadets and midshipman leave their academies without a commitment to the principle of professional responsibility, then they are leaving unprepared to assume their commission and responsibilities for military service. Maintaining, promoting and enforcing ethical standards is one of the key components that makes our service a profession. The American people expect a military to defend the nation according to the democratic principles of our founding. They expect the profession of arms to regulate itself. To train an officer corps committed to professional responsibility, service academies must develop an Honor System that inculcates the value of non-toleration.
Every USMA cadet learns the United States Military Academy mission statement, as every leader in the Army is expected to know and understand the unit mission
“The mission of the United States Military Academy is to produce leaders of character. The Cadet Honor Code provides the foundation for character development at West Point. The ideals affirmed in the Honor Code attract to West Point young men and women who aspire “to live above the common level of life.” The unyielding requirements of the Code instruct, motivate, and ultimately shape Cadets during their years at the Academy. Most importantly, effects of the Code continue to guide and inspire graduates during their years of military service and beyond. More than any other aspect of West Point, the Honor Code unites the “Long Gray Line” of Cadets and graduates by expressing their shared commitments to personal integrity and professional responsibility.” (Paragraph 1-1 in USCC PAM 15-1)
Cheating will happen. West Point expelled or accepted the resignations of 90 cadets, including 30 members of the football team in 1951. In 1976, 153 cadets at West Point resigned or were expelled following massive cheating on a tough engineering test. So, there is a history of occasional large-scale cheating and of large-scale expulsion. This places the 2020 West Point cheating scandal in an institutional context. Football players were again involved. Seventy cadets were implicated this time.
AND. This time the Academy and Army leadership, barely concealing their contempt for the Commander in Chief and his voters, brought critical race theory to West Point, asserting that the existing rules and procedures were having a disproportionate impact on certain cadets, carefully unspecified, apparently among the 24 West Point football players caught cheating.
Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, the superintendent, in an Oct. 23 memo, wrote to the faculty that the policy “has resulted in an inequitable application of consequences and developmental opportunities for select groups of cadets.” USA TODAY obtained a copy of the memo.
Under the suspended policy, most of the cadets would not have been eligible to play after Nov. 30, the date they were found in violation of the honor code, Ophardt said. The academy is not naming the cadets. Their punishment will be finalized in January.
So, despite the Superintendent’s later letter about the cheating scandal, these cheaters were treated quite differently than in the past, to the advantage of the football team’s playoff plans and in accordance with a very different sense of “honor.” The lesson taught and approved by the beribboned constellation of Army stars above these officers in training, all the way up to the Secretary of Defense, is that integrity is secondary to equity. Bluntly, if you are a white football player or soccer player, make sure you have a black teammate as your cheating buddy. Further, expectation of integrity is situational:
The global pandemic disrupted our developmental process. In an instant, our tried and tested leadership model was interrupted and for a short time the Corps was dispersed to 4400 locations around the world. In this environment our Cadets were void of those critical developmental engagements in the barracks, in the classrooms, and on the athletic fields that help them understand themselves and increase their commitment to the West Point and Army values. Our plebes are the most vulnerable to the effects of losing the inspiration and accountability of an in person cohesive team.
Think back to the cadet captain’s explanation of why zero tolerance for honor code violations matters in the real world of military service. These calculus cheaters are going to have daily, weekly, monthly, and annual opportunities to shade the truth or outright lie in their own favor. Sometimes they will be almost entirely unobserved, perhaps at a keyboard entering official readiness data. The pressure will be to look good for their boss and to not report bad news.
What has the entire Army just been taught, as this scandal played out nationally? Trust depends on honor and integrity. The American military’s ability to prevail even when outnumbered requires trustworthy initiative exercised at every level of the force.
More later on the critical corrosion, military elite attitudes, and past successful reform in the Army.