Purity Tests and Military Service

I follow a lot of political scientists who study civil-military relations. That isn’t an area that I do a lot of active research in - but it is an area that I teach and one that I have a lot of personal interest in. I listen to the excellent Thank you for your service podcast - and have since it was housed at Chicago Public Policy. The Trump administration has given these scholars plenty to think and talk about.

One area that I have become increasingly interested in, and alarmed at, is the large presence of national guard troops in Washington, DC for the inauguration of President Biden. I am worried (as are a number of others) that the use of troops in a “counterinsurgency” manner in the US is needlessly provocative. This is in keeping with my view that one of the problems identified with policing this summer is its increasing militarization.

The other related issue to this use of large numbers of national guard soldiers in the capital is the steady stream of news stories about the need to “vet” these soldiers for extremist views. What counts as an extremist view? If a soldier voted for Trump is that extreme? What if that soldier has questions about election fraud? Should we go through soldiers’ social media to see if they’ve liked a post by Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz in the past? In other words, what is the standard being used to assess extremism in the troops?

If the answer is being openly Republican, or worse, Trumpist, is enough to disqualify service in the capital, then I fear that we have a much larger problem than simply civil-military relations: we have a problem with civil relations. The incredible (and incredibly depressing) images of soldiers in the capital ahead of the inauguration indicate a great deal more than problems between civilians and the military. It is a reflection of our dysfunctional political discourse .

Since 9/11 our foreign policy has been increasingly martial. We have brought those same tools home. The next few months will answer whether or not we will continue to choose martial solutions at home.