Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV
For the last 60 years or so, the Republican party had the issue of defense all to itself. It began during the Vietnam years, when Democrats slowly became the anti-war party (most of them, anyway), leaving the door wide open for Republicans to declare themselves pro-military, pro-defense, pro-anything that shot bullets or floated or flew or blasted off and blew stuff up.
They lavished money on the defense budget, raising it every year, often voting more than the Pentagon requested, building ships the Navy didn’t want, giving the Air Force more fighters than they asked for, and catering to every Army request for upgrades of their weapons. Republicans even made room for the special needs of the Marines, such as modifying F-35 jets so that they take off and land vertically, even when the modifications made that massively costly weapons system unnecessarily complicated and more expensive.
Now look at the Republican Party. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy failed to pass a procedural vote to bring the defense budget to the floor of the House for the second time this morning, with far-right members—the ones you would think would be even more defense-friendly than everybody else—voting no. The Washington Post reported today that the failed vote “signaled continuing right-wing resistance to funding the government, even after the speaker had capitulated Wednesday night to demands from hard-right Republicans for deeper spending cuts as part of any bill to prevent a shutdown.”
Got that? Not only did House Republicans vote against the defense bill, they are moving at warp speed towards shutting down the entire government at the end of the month because…well, they don’t have programs they want to fund and policies they want to put into effect and they’ve decided that they don’t want to govern, because governing has to do with the government, and as the Post said, they just don’t want to fund the government because chaos good, government bad. Or something.
Don’t look to the Republican Party for any kind of understandable reasons for what they’re doing, because they don’t have any. Given a choice between being for stuff—like repairing bridges and roads and modernizing airports to make them safer, for example—they’re against it. All of it. Spending on infrastructure, national defense, health, education, the environment, you name it, they’re against it.
It was a Republican, President Dwight Eisenhower, who along with Al Gore’s father, came up with the idea of an interstate highway system and passed the budget for it and built it. Today’s Republicans won’t even vote for money to repair the roads and bridges and exit ramps that we’ll drive on when we visit families for Thanksgiving and the holidays.
It’s in the area of defense that the double-reverse upside-down flip of the Republican Party is most noticeable. I mean, Republicans used to put out more flags and hold a parade anytime you even mentioned money for the military and guns and tanks and jets and aircraft carriers. Now they can’t even get a vote to bring the defense budget to the floor of the House! Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.
Over on the Senate side, it is a Republican, Tommy Tuberville, an arch-conservative flag-waver from Alabama, who is holding up a vote to promote more than 300 general officers, including the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Until the Senate used a procedural maneuver to vote today to confirm a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown Jr., to be the top officer in the Pentagon, practically every top military job in the Pentagon was held by an officer in an acting position.
Retired and active-duty generals both have said that the hold-up of promotions is damaging our national defense. Do you think Tuberville cares? No, what he cares about is ending a Department of Defense policy that allows female soldiers to take time off from their jobs and pays them travel costs if they need to travel from a state that doesn’t allow abortions to one that does to avail themselves of that form of health care. The policy exists because members of the military don’t have a choice about where they are assigned. If the military sends you to a post in Alabama, which doesn’t even allow abortions for rape or incest, you must follow orders and go to your posting.
Tuberville says he won’t allow military promotions to go forward until the Pentagon reverses its policy. If that means military departments and commands go leaderless, that’s just fine with Tuberville. Other Republicans in the Senate have not pressured Tuberville to lift his “hold” on promotions because, well, apparently they don’t give a shit if our national defense is damaged, either.
Yesterday, the same conservative anti-affirmative action group that successfully challenged race-conscious admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, filed a lawsuit against West Point, seeking to overturn race-conscious admissions policy there, too. The Supreme Court, in a footnote to the decision in the Harvard/UNC case, specifically exempted the service academies from its decision because they were not a party to the lawsuit and courts had not ruled on “the propriety of race-based admissions systems in that context.” The footnote was widely read to indicate that the Supreme Court would be likely to be open to treating the academies as a special circumstance, as the court has treated the military in other rulings. But they left the door open to a challenge on race-based admissions at the academies.
West Point and other service academies have long taken the position that the leadership of the military services must look like the soldiers, sailors, and Marines who serve. Diversity isn’t just a word in the military. It is a necessity. That the military for decades had a nearly all-white officer corps was reflective of the days before President Truman integrated the military services in 1948. To say that created problems down in the ranks is, not to put too fine a point on it, a rank understatement.
During the Vietnam war, only three percent of officers who served were Black. When I graduated from West Point in 1969, less than one percent of my class was Black, and 100 percent was male. Today, 61 percent of cadets are White, 11 percent are Black, 12 percent are Hispanic, 9 percent are Asian-American, two percent are of mixed race. Twenty-three percent are now female as well.
The military, and the academies, began taking race and ethnicity into account when it went looking for leaders after the debacle of Vietnam, and that policy has served the military well. Today, 27 percent of officers serving in the Army are members of a racial minority. Twelve percent of them are Black, “about one percentage point less than the Black share of the national population,” according to the New York Times. Sixteen percent of those serving in the military are female.
The fact that the military is now an all-volunteer force is an important reason that the military leadership should reflect the population as a whole. How many young people would sign up to serve in the military if they knew that its leadership was virtually all-white and all-male? The question itself suggests the answer.
The group suing West Point, which calls itself “Students for Fair Admissions,” is not formally allied with the Republican Party, but I’ll just bet you can guess which side they’re on politically. They may think they’ve got a handle on who should and shouldn’t get preference in admissions to colleges, but they don’t have a clue about what it’s like to serve in combat, to give orders to soldiers realizing that the order you give may cause one or more of those you are charged with leading to die. Tuberville, too. I’ll bet he figures that because he called plays for the football teams at Old Miss and Auburn for 13 years, he knows all about sending young men into danger, but he doesn’t.
With the likes of Tommy Tuberville and Kevin McCarthy showing the way for the modern Republican Party, I’m sure going to sleep well tonight knowing that our nation is just peachy with no defense budget, and a bunch of Republican goof-balls rooting for Putin in his war on Ukraine, aren’t you?
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better.
You can read Lucian Truscott's daily articles at luciantruscott.substack.com. We encourage our readers to get a subscription.