The Magazine


Nov 24, 1997, Vol. 3, No. 11 • By MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS
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In the view, for example, of Sara E. Lister, assistant secretary of the Army and the Army's top personnel official, this is exactly the problem. "The Army is much more connected to society than the Marines," she declared in an astonishing set of remarks made at a seminar in Baltimore on October 26, 1997. "The Marines are extremists. Wherever you have extremists, you've got some risks of total disconnection with society. And that's a little dangerous." (On November 14, after news of her comments received wide reporting and Congress passed a resolution seeking her immediate ouster, Secretary Lister resigned.)

The Los Angeles Times recently published an article entitled "Boot Camp Kicks Its Harsh Image," describing how "the military is stripping away the sharp edges and hard knocks from this fabled test of manhood."

As an example of the "kinder, gentler" approach that now characterizes so much of today's training, the article cited the Navy's Great Lakes center. Here a trainee who needs extra motivation is "offered emotional support, instructed on deep breathing and stress reduction, and given a chance to explore his feelings by pasting cut-out magazine photos on a piece of cardboard." The mind boggles at the thought of such sailors manning a ship on fire (which happens even in peacetime) or actually under attack.

A liberal democracy faces a dilemma when it comes to having a military, for that military cannot govern itself by the liberal principles it ultimately defends. It must be governed by values that many civilians see as brutal, because the military is one of the few jobs where one may have to die or order someone else to die. If we cannot count on preparation for that eventuality, the military will fail -- and if it does, the liberal society it protects may not survive. A soft, feminized military, not a military motivated by a warrior ethos, is the real threat. In Making the Corps, Thomas Ricks intuitively understands this, but has chosen to worry primarily about something else.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College.