I served on active duty in the United States Air Force.
That shouldn’t matter as to whether my opinion on anything related to the military is valid or not, but since some in the military are slamming Tucker Carlson for having an opinion but not having served, I’m establishing that I served. It was in not-war-torn Tokyo, where the most dangerous duty we faced was the city’s maddening traffic, but I served. So there.
Fox host Tucker Carlson recently opined that the United States military seems to have lost its focus in the past couple of months. He noted that it’s now bragging about changing hair standards and adding maternity flight suits and the like, and that it probably ought to focus on threats such as China, which is very swiftly modernizing and expanding its military. It’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it. Not because he did or didn’t serve in the military, but because he’s a human and an American. The Bill of Rights protects his right to say whatever he wants. The military stands to safeguard that right, not weigh in or clap back at his opinion. They’re warfighters, not pundits.
As someone who served, I agree with Carlson in the broad strokes. China constitutes a rising and soon existential threat to the West, which the United States leads. It presents a near-immediate threat to Taiwan, which is not and never truly was a province of mainland China, and it presents a threat to South Korea, Japan, and India, just to name a few. Left to its own devices, China seems intent on swallowing up a good bit of Asia and the Pacific. It is also spreading its influence far and wide via its Belt and Road Initiative. Numerous small countries around China’s borders are rightly getting nervous about its intentions, which have not seemed in any sense benign for years now.
The United States military should be focused on that. It should be using its signal corps, command information, and signals intelligence to that end. Signal corps, for the uninitiated, is the Army’s communications nervous system. All the branches have something analogous though they go by different names. It moves messaging back and forth from command to combat. The military overall has a softer communications nervous system known as command information. Command information and signal corps aren’t connected on the org chart but they function as means of moving messages and information around the force. The Pentagon might use signal corps to tell a unit to go attack something, and it might use command information to tell families why the thing is being attacked. Public affairs, a component of command information, explains things to the public outside the military.
Signals intelligence, on the other hand, is part of the military’s eyes and ears on media and other forms of communications among our friends and adversaries. SigInt sifts available information, mostly open-source but some less openly sourced, to help figure out what governments, non-governmental organizations, media, and other key players around the world are thinking and how that might shape how they act.
The social media airstrikes on Carlson over the past several days disturbed me quite a bit. It was public affairs that initiated the attack on Tucker Carlson, straight from the Pentagon. That’s the top of command information on the public-facing side.
When you join the military, which presently is an all-volunteer force, you do surrender some of your civil rights. The military can tell you where to go, where to live, and what to and not to say. The military can and does put certain bars off-limits if they’re known to be violent or disreputable. It can and does separate you from your family as part of the duty you accept when you take the oath to serve. Military service is very serious — you can get killed and you can kill others. You can be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for going against legal orders. The UCMJ is a separate, parallel legal framework and system for military members. At the same time, the military cannot use you as a purely political prop, though there’s always the issue of military members in uniform appearing alongside elected presidents and the like. That’s just part of having civilian command of the military.
What we saw over the weekend appears to represent a new species of the military: the volunteer Virtue Signal Corps. It combines SigInt with command information, both trained on U.S. citizens. This is not a positive development in my opinion, having served in the command information component of the United States Air Force.
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The Pentagon’s news website set the tone when it claimed that spokesman John Kirby “smote” Carlson for “dissing” the military. That’s not what happened. Carlson questioned military policy as is his right as an American to do, which comes from Joe Biden and his political appointees, not from the rank and file. Understand, the rank and file do not set policy on anything but they have to carry out policy that originates far above them. They may not like said policy. But they have to carry it out as long as it’s legal. That’s the law, with the UCMJ waiting offstage if they fail to carry it out.
But the Pentagon’s “smite” story set the tone, or kept up a tone Biden (who also never served in the military, by the way) established when his Pentagon ordered a review/purge of “radicals” it claimed were in its midst, and when it ordered the Navy’s stand-down to address racial bias. This signal is coming from the very top, to a rank and file that is very aware it’s among the most meritocratic organizations on earth and in human history, but that’s also aware of its new realities.
Over the weekend, several official military social media channels and at least one enlisted leader in uniform slammed Carlson for his opinion on social media and brought up the fact that he did not serve in the military. None of that should have happened. None of it.
Check this guy out, posting in uniform from Colorado Springs.
— U.S. Space Command, Command Senior Enlisted Leader (@US_SpaceComCSEL) March 11, 2021
He’s not your average scrub, Scott Stalker. He’s a Master Gunnery Sergeant (U.S. Marine Corps — the service’s highest enlisted grade) and the Senior Enlisted Leader in the new U.S. Space Force, which President Trump established. So he’s a lifer, 28 years in service with retirement not too many years away, and with a lot of people he serves and a lot of people serving under him. He’s cock of the walk on base is what he is, but he still has to salute a lowly lieutenant. He’ll bank his retirement and probably land a gig working for one of the beltway bandits that consult to the military once the magic day arrives. I’d bet no one told him he had to do this pushy video slamming Carlson. He thought it up on his own because of the stimuli the new administration has presented to him and other senior military members like him. He volunteered for the new informal Virtue Signal Corps, in uniform, on his official feed. Biden has been going about dismantling literally everything Trump did. Space Force is among the things Trump did. Does this guy have a valid reason to be worried about his future? What do you think he thinks?
He later climbed down, sort of, claiming his opinion was “non-political.” That’s hard to buy. At least he’s not in uniform this time.
My response to your responses. Thank you, be kind and have a nice weekend. pic.twitter.com/zPvSmBWeiX
— U.S. Space Command, Command Senior Enlisted Leader (@US_SpaceComCSEL) March 12, 2021
I don’t believe he and the others who went after Carlson acted on orders from the administration or the Pentagon. There will be no emails or phone calls or texts ordering these social media strikes on Carlson. It didn’t work that way. It wasn’t coordinated, not precisely, it was organic.
What there evidently is, now, is a new attitude among military careerists that they have to toe the political, as distinct from the policy, line or they will find themselves politically purged and everything they worked for thrown away by an administration that is politicizing everything. So those who have passed the 10-year mark and are looking toward retirement at 20 years or more may perceive that they face a choice: Join the new unofficial Virtue Signal Corps or risk your retirement. That’s no small thing. Most of the military does not hail from the one percent. It hails from the middle and lower-income brackets. Losing one’s retirement is very serious business.
The one percent and people like Biden who’ve cashed in on their position and influence many millions of times over, either don’t understand or care about that — or they do understand it and the leverage that comes with it.
The rise of the unofficial Virtue Signal Corps if it’s left unchecked means rank and file military members monitoring U.S. media for opinions, monitoring the Pentagon for the command’s approach to those opinions, and then taking it upon themselves to publicly virtue signal that they’re on Team Pentagon. All of this is more than just the waste of time and energy it obviously is.
This is a deeply unhealthy development. It’s the politicization of the military against freedom of speech if it’s allowed to stand.
America is deeply divided. Woke cancel culture, the toppling of statues, the coordinated assault on our history, the politicization of education, the threat to ban all things conservative and Republican from polite society, are all among the things that are tearing the country apart. We have very little that unites us when even the NFL and Coca-Cola are divisive and Star Wars has taken on a political tinge. The military stood apart from all that. But our capital is now militarized while our streets are suffering more violence, the police are defunded, while the administration moves to wreck our right to work, the value of our votes, and the right to bear arms, along with the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly.
Going into Biden’s term, the military was still the most respected institution in the United States. Videos and slams on pundits like the above threaten all that, and they also reveal that the military may be being conditioned to take actions that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago.