Although the American armed forces are still one of the most respected institutions in the nation, they are likely to become a casualty polarization. The Reagan Foundation published its annual National Defense Survey and found that trust in the military has fallen by staggering 22 percent in recent years. Perceived politicization is the main driver of decreased trust in the armed forces.
The survey found that in 2017, 70 percent of Americans believed in the military. In 2022, however, this number drops to 48 percent. More than 60% of respondents responded to questions from the Foundation asking them to identify the reasons for the decline. This percentage was about equal for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Similar declines also occurred in their assessments of leadership’s competence including the commander-in chief and flag officers.
However, Republicans and Democrats differed in their definitions of politicization. They did so in ways that reflect the priorities of their respective parties. Democrats claim that the military is rife with far-right extremists, systemic racism, and other ill-treatments. Republicans claim that the Democratic Party’s “woke” policies have discouraged potential volunteers from enlisting.
The Department of Defense has discovered that an increasing number of eligible Americans are not interested in serving in the military or are outright against it. Recent numbers show that the Army will not reach its target of 30,000 soldiers. The Reagan Foundation survey found that only 13% of respondents were willing to join, and 25% were willing to wait. While this focus is right, the Department of Defense also discovered that substantial numbers of eligible people are not eligible due to their criminal records, educational deficiencies, or physical inability.
The truth that most recruits are from the same region as their family is often overlooked in servicemembers’ and defense observers’ analysis of declining enlistment. The Council on Foreign Relations stated that the top five states in terms of recruitment in 2018 were California, Texas and Florida. Six other states were included in the report. When the ratio of eligible population was recalculated, the top five states for recruitment in 2018 were South Carolina (Florida), Hawaii, Georgia and Alabama. Each of these states, except Hawaii, are located in the Deep South. They are governed by conservative Republican trifectas. Brown University analyzed the per capita distributions of servicemembers deployed overseas during post-9/11 wars. The same five states ranked among the top seven.
Due to the change from a conscription force into an All Volunteer Force, the current situation was partly inevitable. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the self-selected enlistment was not done by members of the left who destroyed their draft cards or took over college campuses and their descendants. Americans who volunteered saw a way to educational and professional success, as well as patriotism or fidelity to their family’s culture and heritage. This has been proven by informal surveys and academic studies: The Republican officer corps and the veterans are generally more conservative than the general population.
A hierarchical structure based on patriotic sacrifice to the nation and a strict code based upon traditional values, that is populated with individuals with similar inclinations, home and community, will invariably be self-reinforcing. The phenomenon has been recognized by civil-military relations scholars who worry that the military is becoming more disconnected from its civilian counterparts. Even more concerning is the possibility that military, which is culturally separated from the people it protects, may decide that the public is not worthy of its protection and act independently.
However, this has not happened. The punitive left concluded that the contrary was true for the sins committed by a small group of servicemen and women who participated in the January 6 riots. Progressives believe the military is not equal to the society it serves, and that it needs to be reengineered. The first year after Trump’s death, the Biden administration created an initiative that sought to protect service personnel from extremist movements. The next steps include revising the definition of extremism as well as updating screening procedures. Opponents decried the initiative, arguing that it would classify mainstream positions as extremism. The Department of Defense then required servicemembers be vaccinated.
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Later, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s comments on critical race theory raised concerns about the nature of diversity initiatives at Pentagon. Many servicemembers treasure the chance to serve alongside fellow Americans of different backgrounds. Diversity is a noble goal. Liberal Democrats see diversity as an obsession and not an aspiration. Although the left may not be explicitly seeking quotas, its insatiable pursuit of diversity has led to absurdities.
Incompetence at the Presidential level caused the military to scramble to leave Afghanistan and retreat in a manner evocative from the humiliating withdrawal of Saigon. What number of volunteers saw all this and chose a different path? It is impossible to provide an informed commentary on why recruitment is failing until those who would have been volunteers are surveyed.
Is it any wonder there is a decline in trust in the armed force? The President of the United States, Joe Biden, has decried much the country as “semifascist” before standing before the American people to declare America First conservators a threat to democracy. If your parent, spouse, child, sibling, or neighbor has served or is serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, would you trust them to lead the military?