Our Own Soviet Military; Green Insurgency

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:50

    I'm speaking of the "Duke study," done last year under the auspices of the Triangle Institute For Security Studies in North Carolina, that examined the social and political attitudes of senior military officers and their counterparts in the world of civilian corporations. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that military officers as a whole are more conservative than their civilian compatriots. But the margins the study discovered are jaw-dropping.

    "Over the past quarter century, elite military officers have largely abandoned political neutrality and have become partisan Republicans," the study announced, noting that 64 percent of those surveyed identified themselves that way. Noting that the military is "the most solidly Republican professional group in American Society," the researchers said only eight percent of senior military officers identified themselves as Democrats, producing a ratio of eight to one Republicans over Democrats in the military. "[E]lite civilians and the mass public are split about evenly," between Republican and Democrat, the study noted.

    Anecdotal evidence I have gathered over the past few years while doing research for my last two novels (both of which concerned the Army) indicates that the Duke study missed how lopsided the military really is. According to a retired colonel and former West Point professor of mine who served on two "manpower commissions" at the Pentagon, "military men above the rank of colonel are aware of political consequences, and some Republicans doubtlessly answered 'Independent' to hide their true political identity." The retired colonel put his own figure for Republicans in the military at 90 percent, matching estimates I've heard from many younger officers, both active duty and retired. In fact, I have been told by more than one young soldier of officers being "run out" of the Army by commanders who discovered a subordinate voted for Clinton. "If they know you're a Democrat, it's a career death sentence," one former officer told me. "Once they know, you couldn't buy a promotion."

    The study's other findings fit the mold of a Republican military establishment: 76 percent of senior military officers oppose gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, as opposed to more than 57 percent of civilians supporting gay and lesbian military service. In a breathtaking exposure of partisan arrogance, the study found that "Elite military officers express great pessimism about the moral health of civilian society and strongly believe that the military could help society become more moral and that civilian society would be better off if it adopted more of the military's values and behaviors." My guess would be that these colonels and generals aren't referring to recent discharges of general officers on charges of adultery and sexual harassment, but you never know. Maybe these guys share Newt Gingrich's Republican values: Pork your way merrily through the ranks, boys, just be careful not to get caught.

    Then again, the Duke study also pointed out that "The elite military possess a pervasive hostility towards the media." Couldn't be because the media has had a hand in exposing the sexual peccadilloes of the generals, could it? Nah.

    The ostensible purpose of the Duke study was to discover whether or not there is a "gap" between the politics of the military and the politics of civilian society, and whether such a gap might affect national security. They found a gap, but papered it over with platitudes: "The gap in role, function, and responsibility at the top of government between military and civilian in wartime is traditional and functional. So, too, is the gap in background, experience, perspective, and professional behaviors and mentality, in peacetime as well as war." Not much of a gap when it comes to hypocritical behavior among military and civilian elites, but then, maybe the authors of the study just missed that one.

    The researchers missed other critical fallout from their findings. The biggest problem the military has right now is in recruitment and retention of young enlisted soldiers and officers. Nearly 50 percent of female Army recruits are leaving the service within three years before their enlistment is up, and the military for the first time since 1948 is having trouble recruiting and training black soldiers. Since the military is now 14 percent female and has always had a larger percentage of blacks than civilian society does (about 18 percent), problems in these two areas represent a real threat to maintaining military manpower in the coming years.

    Sure, the blazing economy is blamed for some of the military's problems in recruitment and retention, but I've been told by many young soldiers that the gap in political and social attitudes between those at the bottom and those at the top is even more important. Blacks and women entering the military are far more likely to come from Democratic or liberal backgrounds, and, as one young female West Pointer told me not long ago, "There are a million ways commanders can let you know they don't approve of your politics." Other soldiers have told me of pressure to join fundamentalist Christian prayer groups, to join the NRA, even pressure to donate to conservative political causes. When soldiers don't "go along" with the political and social pressures put upon them by senior commanders, the don't "get along" in their careers.

    I have yet to talk to a soldier who has resigned from the military, either enlisted or officer, who told me money was the reason he or she left. Nearly everyone I talked to has blamed the attitude and behavior of their commanders. And yet Congress has dealt with these profound military problems by throwing money at them: increased pay and benefits, larger inducements in recruiting and reenlistment bonuses. This is the way Congress deals with other troublesome "interest groups." One wonders if any of the generals have asked themselves what could happen to the military if it faced 12-18 years of Democratic rule of both the White House and Congress.

    Since the end of the draft and the beginning of the "all-volunteer" force, our military has goose-stepped its way into a red-blooded American version of the Soviet military. It's not "up or out" anymore. It's "join up" in the Republican Party or you're out?an ironic legacy of the Reagan "revolution" if there ever was one.

    Lucian K. Truscott IV is at work on his new novel, The Boys of St. Julien, which will be published this year by William Morrow.

    Green Insurgency by Doug Ireland At a Long Island stop on one of Hillary Clinton's "listening tours," the parachuted Senate candidate was asked, "Does New York City have a police brutality problem?" Her response, reported on television but virtually ignored by the print media, was to say that "New York City has lots of problems"?and she then launched into a rambling discourse about how she supports law enforcement and the police, adding merely that "every institution needs self-criticism." This non-response epitomized what's wrong with Hillary's Senate candidacy. It was as if she had never heard the names Louima, Diallo, Baez or Gideon Busch, let alone the hundreds and hundreds of victims of nonfatal police pummelings whose names rarely make the papers. In a city in which you can be riddled with bullets by the cops for menacing with a cellphone, it's obvious to all but the willfully blind that there is a police brutality problem. Hillary's failure to acknowledge this simple fact of Big Apple life, one that has received ample attention even from the national media, is emblematic of a character flaw. She has said nothing in this campaign that has not been poll-tested (except by ineptitude) because she essentially believes in little except winning. This is not new?anyone who has read Roger Morris' first-rate investigative biography, Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America, knows that. Yet, with the notable exception of Jimmy Breslin, few on the left here have raised their voices to point out that the transplanted Empress' borrowed clothes don't fit. For instance, can one seriously imagine Eleanor Roosevelt taking a charitable tax deduction for giving her husband's used underwear to the poor?and then conspiring with a predatory turncoat like Dick Morris to throw poor children and their mothers off of public assistance and into the street just to secure another term in the White House?

    Fortunately for those who can abide neither Hillary nor Mad Dog Rudy and his censorious, bash-the-poor, police-state mentality, it is more than likely that the November ballot will offer a thinking person's alternative to these heartless twin corporate coddlers. His name is Ronnie Dugger, and?if some complicated legal and factional squabbling among the New York Greens can be resolved?it is probable that he will allow himself to be persuaded to be the Green Party's Senate candidate in the fall.

    Ronnie Dugger is something of a hero to many journalists. As a young man in the Dark Ages of McCarthyism, he founded The Texas Observer, and for three decades he edited and wrote much of this investigative political biweekly, which kept alive the flame of progressive politics in the Lone Star State at a time when the rest of the Texas press was at the boot of the rich special interests even more than it is today. Dugger's relentless exposés of political corruption were models of aggressive, principled reporting. Lyndon Johnson was his political bete noire, and his 1982 biography of LBJ, The Politician, is a classic of the genre.

    In 1982 Dugger married New York journalist Patricia Blake and moved to the city to the Washington Square brownstone they have shared ever since. (The Texas Observer is alive and well still?he turned it over to a foundation shepherded by Dugger disciples like Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower.) A New Yorker now for nearly 20 years, Dugger has continued to churn out books, including a policy biography of Ronald Reagan and a superb study of Claude Eatherly, the Hiroshima pilot who was tortured the rest of his life by the largest single mass murder of civilians in history. (The book is soon to be made into a movie by Anand Tucker, the director of Hilary and Jackie.) He's currently writing two new books?one on how big corporations threaten democracy and how to control them, and another on the dangers of voting by computer.

    In recent years Dugger has been devoting more and more of his time to activism. In 1995 he founded the Alliance for Democracy, which agitates for a populist movement independent of the Democratic Party and has 57 chapters around the country. At the heart of the Alliance's program is the subordination of corporations to democratic control and the full public funding of political campaigns. Dugger has not shrunk from civil disobedience to make his points: last Oct. 26, in an action cosponsored by the Alliance and the campaign finance reform organization Public Campaign, Dugger and a half-dozen others were arrested in the Capitol rotunda when he tried to read a "Citizen's Address to Congress" denouncing "crimes against democracy" flowing from the corrupting power of campaign cash. ("I pled guilty to committing free speech in the Capitol," Dugger cracks.)

    "We need to transform the way we govern corporations instead of having them govern us," Dugger proclaims. "In a democracy, you can't leave it up to Delaware to control Fortune 500 companies?they should have federal charters. Corporations that have repeatedly violated the public interest should be closed. For example, we're involved with an effort to revoke the charter of the Union Oil Company (UNOCAL)?we have a 171-page complaint detailing their predations, from their massive polluting up and down the California coast, to their $150 million deal with the Taliban, to their corrupt involvement with the Burmese dictatorship."

    Hillary "profoundly failed the American people when she led the charge against universal national health insurance as a matter of right," proposing an impossible scheme that amounted to "a payoff of billions and billions to private health care providers at an enormous premium," Dugger says. By squandering the window of opportunity to pass meaningful universal health care, he believes, Hillary & Co. trapped tens of millions of Americans in the HMO mess in which they find themselves today.

    Liberal power junkies who fawn over Hillary will argue that a radical left candidacy like the one Dugger is contemplating would damage the Democrats by acting as a spoiler. "How can you spoil what's already rotten?" asks Dugger. "There might be short-term damage to Hillary's candidacy," he admits, but quickly adds, "That's nothing compared to the long-range damage of having a Democratic Party that whores for the corporations, or the long-range damage to the poor from having an electoral system that depends on bribes from them. This problem is so deep that democracy is near death." Only full public financing of campaigns can change that, he hammers.

    Dugger's candidacy takes on added significance in the context of a likely Ralph Nader presidential campaign as the candidate of the Green Party. Unlike his disappointing, half-assed non-campaign of four years ago, for which Nader refused to raise money, the consumer advocate is expected, as Micah Sifry reported in a recent cover story in The Nation, to run a full-throated, full-throttle campaign this time around. Evidence that Nader will run more seriously in 2000 came last month, when?in an event unnoticed by the mainstream press?Nader quietly filed papers with New York state election officials to run as the Green presidential candidate here. An all-out Nader campaign could capitalize on disenchantment with major-party candidates Gush and Bore and might snag the 5 percent of the vote necessary to win the Greens Federal Elections Commission matching funds and make them a permanent part of the national political debate.

    "My first interest is in helping Ralph," Dugger says, but if a Senate candidacy in New York could help galvanize grassroots activists and generate publicity for the Green ticket, Dugger is prepared to consider it. In a tight race, Dugger might pull enough votes away from Hillary to elect Giuliani. But since the Democrats' chances of regaining a Senate majority are slim at best, one more Republican senator?especially an uncollegial egomaniac like Rudy?wouldn't make that much legislative difference anyway.

    And besides, as the late labor and socialist leader Eugene Victor Debs used to say, "It is better to vote for what you want, and not get it, than to vote for what you don't want and get it." That's why a lot of left activists may soon be hollering, "Run, Ronnie, Run!"

    Doug Ireland is a former columnist for the Village Voice and The New York Observer and writes frequently on politics for The Nation.