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  • Writer's pictureLuis Rueda

The Woke Military?

Woke: aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice) - Merriam-Webster

I am a little late to the discussion of the “woke generals” and the “woke military.” It was a big battle cry a few months ago as we left Afghanistan, but it was overtaken by events, as things usually are. (Though I suspect it will come back to the forefront sometime in the near future as election campaigns ramp up.) Many people, politicians, pundits, talking heads, and even the person on the street blamed our failure in Afghanistan—in part—on our generals being woke. And in turn, the United States military is being rendered combat ineffective by its wokeness. The implication being if you are woke you lose your combat edge, your aggressiveness, thus making you unable to win wars.

Above is the definition of woke, useful so that we are all on the same page. Too often politicians and talking heads don't even understand what they are criticizing, it is enough that they can criticize without it needing to make sense. The first part of the definition of woke is fine, aware of important facts and issues. If you don't agree on the need for this you are an idiot. Paying attention to facts and issues is important for people to understand things and make good decisions. It is the second part of the definition that gets people in a twist. Racial and social justice in the United States, what they mean, and what to do about them, is a major dividing point. They shouldn't be, but they are. In general, that is what people are referring to when criticizing wokeness. It is a reference to political correctness, culture wars, and the changes in society that we face.

The argument about the woke military centers on this idea that the military performed poorly because they have become soft due to the need to be more understanding, more inclusive, more politically correct, etc. Here is where we need to be honest with ourselves. This is very difficult to do nowadays. We have our preconceived views that comfort us and we don't like to be uncomfortable. But I digress. We, and by we I mean the United States, not just the military, have always struggled with these types of wars, insurgencies, and guerilla war, from at least Vietnam on I won't get into the details because this post isn't about why we lost. What I want to touch upon is what has the potential for politicization of our military.

Again, being honest, the attack on the woke military really has nothing to do with whether the military is socially conscious or not, it is a political attack. It is another point that allows one party to attack the other party, arguing that one political party's views or policies infect and rot our military's abilities. This attack also stems from the U.S. military refusing to intervene in the 2020 Black Lives Matter marches and the presidential election. I am trying to avoid the appearance that I am taking sides, but the facts remain that one party made efforts to involve U.S. military forces in domestic actions, and that is the crux of the problem.

The attack on the woke military is in actuality a demand that the military take sides in our domestic and political disputes. When politicians air their political grievances in front of a military audience, that is politicizing the military. It encourages military personnel to take a side. It provides them with a biased set of data. When a commander in chief asks the military to take action against demonstrators who oppose him, or seize voting machines because he does not like the outcome of an election, that is politicizing the military. When former officers publicly welcome the idea of a military coup, that is politicizing the military. We can see the beginnings of that politicization when serving military officers feel free to publicly express dissent and retired officers encourage it.

Yes, military personnel are citizens and have the same rights as other Americans, but they hold a unique position in our society. Because of the power they wield, the military must remain neutral toward the political bullshit that swirls around this country. That is becoming harder to do with each passing day. It is a slippery slope when you ask the military to take sides on political issues.

I have lived in several countries where the military was a political institution. In some countries, once the military is politicized they seldom get out of politics. They quickly realize that the ones with the guns make all the rules. Political instability becomes a thing of the past as one military group overthrows the ruling military group and so on. The military itself becomes divided and stops functioning as a professional organization. Military leaders are chosen for their loyalty, not their abilities, and that goes down to the lowest ranks. If anyone has observed a military government in action they know that one of the first things that goes, besides democracy itself, is the economy. The military leadership is not qualified to manage an economy.

Being woke is not the problem. Politicizing the military is the problem. The more we remain divided over political affiliation, the more tribal we become, the more we try to drag the military into that mess, the more likely that eventually the U.S. military will participate in the madness and that will be the end of the United States experiment with democracy.

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