Royalty In Militaryland By Robert J. Callahan


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?

Chicago Tribune
November 22, 2012
Pg. 33

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.

4 Replies to “Royalty In Militaryland By Robert J. Callahan”

  1. “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.”

    Why, and where is the line between appropriate and inappropriate separation?

    1. Wrote a less than good paper on this at ACSC. Should there be a separation? Much of this is a 4th order effect from the loss of the draft and BRAC closing bases in major metro areas.

      An organization like ROTC should be tackling this in a proactive manner as well… And we try, but as you know… We can do WAY better…there is also a price tag associated with this, as scholarships are a very enticing way to bring new, young talent into the force.

      Does congress see value in this? If so…we need dialog between DoD and Congress on funding scholarships at a higher level…well, that might be more of an AF issue as the other branches offer more scholarships. That is only a small piece of a greater issue, but the article seems to be focused on officers.

      There are standards the military must demand from its members, but other than that…where is the separation?

      1. Hi Bill,

        Hmmm — I think this is a retread of an old saw. Janowitz talked about that subset of the American culture that produced The Professional Soldier of his day. This forum has also seen discussion on the modern day version of this same topic. I find it interesting that a professional statesman, one that comes from the same group of people that gave us the Dulles’s, would discuss the generational aspect of military service as if it were an alien concept. This country, like many others, has traditions where the family business sometimes stays in the family. Politics is no different in that regard. The Adams’s, Kennedy’s, Bush’s and others are examples at the top level of our government just as Levis Blue Jeans, and Ford Motors also have a family heritage. Your local police and fire departments likely have similar examples as well.

        From my perspective, the military is about as close to a true meritocracy as
        it gets. A name will only get you so far. I know of several that fit Callahan’s description that did not make it to flag rank. Ultimately, a rise to the “royal” ranks is based on how well those people did at their jobs, at leadership, and sometimes at being in the right place at the right time to act on a unique opportunity.

        There is a very real reason why the warriors spend a lot of time in and amongst themselves. It takes that to get good enough to do what we do and hope to have a chance at living to see another day. In a very real sense, we are those that back up the line scratched in the dirt — and there is no prize for second place. As the military continues to shrink, our individual survival demands ever higher quality performance and increasing lethality. Being good at that requires lots of practice…. There is an ethos that goes along with that. There is also a shared understanding of what that existence means to those that may have to pay the ultimate sacrifice. You can talk about it to your non-military friends, they may understand what you are saying, but they usually don’t “get it”. By that I mean “really get it….” They probably never will unless someday they walk that proverbial mile in my boots.

        Don’t get me wrong, diplomats are very important. If they are effective, the M part gets to stay home, do PT, “sharpen their knives”, and provide some credibility for the D part. I really am glad when the D part (or the I, or E) keeps the M part out of the game. Using the M part is expensive in a lot of ways, and you may not like the outcome that you are stuck with. Each of us has a role to play on Team America and it takes all those roles to create a winning solution. Some of us just specialize in different areas.

        So, where is the separation? It is not just when you raise your hand and take the oath of office. Many take that same oath, even many that are non-military. I think that separation begins to sink in when you realize that your rifle, your bayonet, and your wing man are what you depend on most. It really sinks in when you realize that in spite of the best efforts of all the rest of the DIME, you are the at the spot where the pointy end of the M is, and ***you*** are about to impose the national will upon another. (If I can borrow a bit from Clausewitz and take a little license with it.)

        What is the fix for that? One obvious answer is that more need some skin in the game. That is not likely to happen as long as we have a volunteer military. The military will recruit where it can, and it will get those that show up and meet the qualifications. I would suggest that one good outcome would be to recruit those that are best able to fill the role that the military serves. DoS should likewise recruit their best as well. In the meantime, maybe we could even arrange for more than a few rare opportunities for DoS and DoD to get together and work on something, even it if is just a cultural exchange to enhance understanding.



      2. Ben: Agree, really nothing new, but something that seems to come up when we see these sort of issues. And your points are perfect. Working the interagency while on the JS, we heard often that State Dept was more like the police Dept… always out there and on the beat. DoD was like the fire dept that we stayed in the fire house until needed, performed the mission and returned to the fire house… seems like 9/11 might have slightly changed that.. or at least that was my mantra. We are both heavily engaged now. State is a bit envious of the DoD budget, of course this was 2008…believe that will adjust in a big way now.
        Honestly, I really enjoyed working with State and USAID… great Americans doing great things…and while at the Pentagon there was much talk of sharing in planning, education, and assignments… not sure where that has gone since then.
        Thanks for the comments… GREAT stuff… always enjoy reading.

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