DeM Banter: interesting article from a former State Dept member and Ambassador. I would offer State has many similarities in benefits, lifestyle, and generational employment, that Robert seems to ignore. The current state of “affairs” will, no doubt, bring the military and the civ-mil gap into focus and that is indeed healthy in a Republic…we should welcome it…and know we can do better. Thoughts?
November 22, 2012
The unfolding tale of a spy chief, bickering socialites, flirtatious emails and possessive paramours seems to be more soap opera than Sophocles. This is especially true if, as appears to be the case at the moment, the actors in the tragicomedy have not compromised national security.
But there is an element of Greek drama at play and it is called hubris, or a pride so excessive that the afflicted lose touch with reality.
Although only retired Gen. David Petraeus can tell us what led him into an adulterous affair, which in itself is neither uncommon nor a sign of hubris, I have observed enough of our military officers to know that too often they inhabit a reality that scarcely resembles ours. It is disconcerting and, in the longer term, far more consequential for the republic than any number of personal peccadilloes or indiscreet dalliances.
In the first instance, military officers dwell in a tidy and disciplined world. There, among their fellow officers, everyone has a college education and, if competent and well-behaved, job security. Everyone follows orders and respects hierarchy. In return for their willingness to serve their country, often at great personal peril, they are rewarded. They receive a good salary, generous allowances, excellent medical attention and, after 20 years of service, a pension. Many, after retirement, find lucrative employment in the multibillion-dollar defense industry.
No one should begrudge them these compensations. Their work is dangerous. They must compete fiercely for promotions. Duty assignments can keep them away from their families for months at a time. They move frequently, which places a social burden on their spouses and children. It is a demanding life, one that requires sacrifice, courage and dedication.
But it is also in many ways an insular life spent among like-minded professionals. They have their own code, their own jargon, their own ethos. They work together and play together. In concert with their institution’s attempts to imbue them with an esprit de corps, with an identity that marks them as special, they tend to reinforce one another’s views and find comfort in one another’s company. In its turn, this insularity often breeds a suspicion of their civilian counterparts. It is, in a word, a fraternity, exclusive to those who wear the uniform.
And not just exclusive. Their fraternity is also increasingly hereditary. When I was teaching 10 years ago at the National War College, I was astounded by the number of officers who were sons and grandsons of military men and whose own sons and daughters planned to make the military their career. It was also commonplace for them to wed the daughters or sisters of other officers. David Petraeus himself courted the superintendent’s daughter while at West Point and married her two weeks after graduation.
Imagine, then, someone born into a military family who attends a military academy, marries the daughter of a military family and makes the military his career. Is it any wonder that he is inculcated with a love of the service and unfamiliar with the mores and customs of the broader society? His reality is different from ours.
During the Clinton administration, some career military officers grumbled so openly about the president and his policies that even fellow officers began to question whether this constituted insubordination. It annoyed them, of course, that one of the president’s junior aides had insulted a general in the White House and that the president had cut the defense budget as part of the “peace dividend,” but the president is the commander in chief and deserves the respect and loyalty of all military personnel.
Although military officers invariably pay homage to constitutional mandates, such as civilian control of the military, they are often at odds with its strictures. They regard themselves as the true, perhaps only, guarantors of America’s freedom. At the War College, colonels and Navy captains would say of us diplomats, “You talk and we do.” Never mind that we are paid to persuade and negotiate, these officers clearly considered our work to be of a lesser order than theirs.
And then there is money. When I was serving as the embassy spokesman in Baghdad in 2004-05, the military’s vast resources never failed to amaze me. Generals could summon planes and helicopters at a whim. They had staffs to churn out reports, run errands, find information and drive their cars.
Those with a star are military nobility, no doubt, and those with four are royalty. Flying in luxurious private jets, surrounded by a phalanx of fawning aides who do everything from preparing their meals to pressing their uniform trousers, they are among America’s most pampered professionals. Their orders are executed without challenge, their word is fiat. They live in a reality different from the rest of us.
Given the complexity of current warfare and the sophistication of modern weaponry, it would be naive to think that we could still make do with a citizen army. We need professional soldiers and career officers. We need confident generals who have the wherewithal to protect the country.
But we must ensure that they do not become a tribe apart, a military caste, insulated from the rest of society. To allow this to happen would be a disservice to American values and, ultimately, to the military itself.
Robert J. Callahan, a retired diplomat and former Chicagoan, served as U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua.