Something to Believe In, Redux

Something to Believe In, Redux

For decades, mainline protestant churches have suffered from rapidly shrinking congregations.  Often, in the face of this decline, these churches have responded by concluding that they are “out of touch” with younger people and, therefore, need to do something radical to win congregants back.  They try to be “cool.”  They focus less on faith and more on fellowship.  They abandon theology in favor of sociology and technology.  Indeed, sometimes they even get political or “go woke” in the hope of capturing the imagination of the social justice warriors in the younger generational cohorts.

It never works.  These churches’ decline is inexorable, and their attempts to be hip and “with it” serve only to accelerate their collapse.  As it turns out, people tend not to respond especially well to awkward, self-serving outreach.  Instead, they just want something to believe in.

Apparently, no one told the U. S. Navy that this never works:

The Navy brought on an active-duty drag queen to participate in a pilot program aimed at reaching a wider audience through popular social media platforms as the military faces severe recruiting woes, a Navy spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley, stage name Harpy Daniels, announced the Navy invited him to become the first “Navy Digital Ambassador” in a November 2022 social media post, highlighting his journey from performing on deck in 2018 to becoming a “leader” and “advocate” of people who “were oppressed for years in the service.” The Digital Ambassador initiative in which Kelley participated ran from October 2022 to March 2023 and was “designed to explore the digital environment to reach a wide range of potential candidates,” the Navy spokesperson said….

The Navy committed to recruit and retain soldiers through fostering an inclusive culture and ensuring personnel feel “included and connected to mission and leaders at all levels,” according to the latest DEI policy updates. A 2020 pamphlet on Inclusion and Diversity goals included the objective to develop “strategies using data to understand and eliminate barriers and ensure outreach to all segments of society.”…

While the service squeaked by its recruiting targets in fiscal year 2022, it did so by delving deep into the delayed-entry pool, a program that allows people to accept contracts but remain on hold before shipping off to boot camp, according to a Navy press release. The Navy is projected to fall 16%, or 6,000, recruits short of its fiscal year 2023 goal for enlisted sailors, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti told the House Armed Services Committee on April 19, while her written testimony puts the number at 8,000 recruits….

The ambassador program is just one of several ways the Navy is seeking to reach different populations to overcome what the spokesperson called “the most challenging recruiting environment since the start of the all-volunteer force.”…

Only 2% of the youth population meets the requirements to join the Navy and are also open to serving, a spokesperson for the ad agency VMLY&R told USNI News.

Now, to be clear, we don’t think this stuff is important because we fear that the Pentagon has “gone woke.”  We don’t worry that the Chinese are laughing at the United States – although they may well be.  We aren’t concerned that this is destroying the military’s cohesion or sense of purpose.  We don’t wonder if the military will be less inclined to fight hard when next it is called on to do so.  In short, we don’t buy the argument that this type of recruiting is indicative of “softness” or weakness from the Pentagon.

Rather, we fear that it is all indicative of cluelessness from the Pentagon, cluelessness that mirrors that of the protestant churches noted above.

Here’s the thing: nobody joins the Navy (or the Army, Air Force, or Marines) because they think its “inclusive” and welcoming and “progressive” in its thinking.  People join the military for any number of reasons – economic, patriotic, personal, inspirational – but inclusivity ain’t one of them.  Not a single person in the history of ever has said to himself, “You know, I’d like to be a Marine and serve my country the way those brave men did at Iwo Jima, but I’m just not sure they’ll be accepting of my pronouns.”  And by creating a recruitment campaign that focuses on this triviality, this non-issue, the Pentagon is displaying a distressing disconnect both from the military zeitgeist and from its own purpose and role in society.

If the armed forces really wanted to improve recruitment and retention, then they would focus on the two variables mentioned in the last sentence quoted above: “Only 2% of the youth population meets the requirements to join the Navy and are also open to serving….”

The first half of this equation is well above our paygrade, we’re afraid.  The second half, however, is much more amenable to real-world solutions, albeit solutions that are difficult and will rankle the political class.  Put briefly, the Pentagon needs to expand the percentage of “the youth population” that is “open to serving.”  And to do that, they must be honest with themselves and their civilian overseers about why that number is so small.

If you asked us, we’d tell you that the politicians who are responsible for utilizing and maintaining the military need to stop treating it and the individual humans who comprise its ranks so recklessly and cavalierly.  But then, we’re hardly experts on the subject.  Fortunately for all of us, Andrew Bacevich is an expert – a retired Army colonel and a respected military historian.  And in 2005 – two years before his own son died serving in Iraq – Bacevich noted how the American Uniparty’s approach to foreign policy had both disregarded the traditional role of the military and created broad societal inequality:

[T]he Bush administration has made no effort to put the nation on a war footing. The war on terror is being fought by approximately 0.5 percent of the population—an active-duty force of less than 1.5 million out of a total population of approximately 290 million. Meanwhile, the other 99.5 percent shop, gripe about the price of gas, and tune into Desperate Housewives. The problem of the moment is that those among the 99.5 percent to whom the Pentagon has looked to replenish the 0.5 percent are increasingly declining the opportunity to do so.

Commentators have sought to describe this in political terms. After all, most minorities and the working poor have no particular affinity for Bush or his party. A conservative Republican proclaiming himself the champion of freedom for all humankind might evoke from African Americans a certain skepticism. The administration’s insistence that oil had nothing to do with a Texas oilman’s decision to invade Iraq might strike those stuck on the lower rungs of the economic ladder as less than credible.

But this insistence on seeing things in partisan terms overlooks a more obvious explanation rooted in concerns about fairness and equity. Maybe when it comes to serving the country, minorities and working-class Americans have simply grown weary of carrying more than their fair share of the load. Could it be that the Iraq War bears at least some of the earmarks of being a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, conceived by well-heeled Washington insiders but fought by those least likely to reap the promised benefits of the American way of life?

President Bush has repeatedly portrayed the present conflict as a sequel to the momentous struggles of the past century. Indeed, in his address to the nation on June 28, the president essentially endorsed Osama bin Laden’s description of the current struggle as tantamount to a third world war. But if the war on terror—or, if you prefer, the campaign to democratize the Islamic world—is indeed of such vital importance, then the burden of fulfilling that mission ought to fall across the full spectrum of American society.

Today that is manifestly not the case. During World War II, for example, movie stars, professional athletes, and the offspring of the famous and the well-to-do—even FDR’s sons—found themselves in uniform. By comparison, today’s boldface names—with professional football player Pat Tillman as the sole and remarkable exception—remain safely in the cosseted cocoon of privilege. Neither of Bush’s military-age daughters, for example, has shown any inclination to participate in her father’s war. More and more parents are concluding that the Bush family has it right.

We were inclined, at first, to suggest that little has changed in the 18 years since Bacevich wrote those words.  But halfway through typing that sentence, it occurred to us that it’s flat wrong and, indeed, that much has changed.  Among other things, President Biden recklessly wasted the sacrifice of 20 years of American service by retreating from Afghanistan haphazardly.  Moreover, he – and all of official Washington – continue to behave as if the U.S. military provides a real and viable solution to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.  There are, in fact, U.S. “boots on the ground” in Ukraine as we type, and they’re not all there to train resistance forces.

We first used the above quote from Bacevich about five years ago in a speech explaining how the billionaire Donald Trump had managed to win the White House as a “man of the people.”  Trump promised no more wars, and the country class believed him.

Today, opponents of perpetual military engagement are called traitors and Putin-sympathizers and get fired from their jobs hosting the most successful prime-time news show on cable television.

The Navy doesn’t need drag queens to recruit the next generation of soldiers.  It needs responsible civilian leadership.  And if it doesn’t get it, it’ll go the way of the dodo – or mainline Methodism.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.