When the US Army released a recruitment ad showcasing a female soldier who had been raised by two mothers, liberals saw a military leadership comfortable in its own skin and strengthened by the diversity in its ranks.
But conservatives cringed at what they perceive to be a “woke” fighting force weakened by effete generals with a liberal political agenda and a compulsion to virtue signal at the expense of combat preparedness.
“Holy crap,” US Senator Ted Cruz said in a tweet, reposting a video contrasting the 2021 commercial with images of a macho, shaven-headed Russian warrior, sinuous arms bulging as he performed push-ups and fired his weapon.
“Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea,” ventured Cruz, before blasting Democrats and the media for trying to turn US troops “into pansies.”
The 52-year-old Texan, who has also dismissed proposals to allow women to serve in combat roles as “nuts,” is not alone in his ire.
The clarion call over “wokeness” in the military has galvanized right-wingers nostalgic for an era before public life was hijacked, as they see it, by authoritarian progressives seeking to force leftist values on Americans.
Republican lawmakers who took control of the House of Representatives this year have been locked in a war with Pentagon leaders they accuse of being overly fixated on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Racial justice education and an obsession with climate change have made the troops go soft, they complain, driving a recruitment slump that has worsened under President Joe Biden.
This disdain for military leadership has seeped into the Republican grassroots from Donald Trump, who has given multiple speeches since leaving office railing on “weak and ineffective” generals more concerned with political correctness than “fighting their enemies.”
‘China is Laughing’
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s main rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has claimed that “China is laughing” over a supposed fixation with pronouns in US military leadership.
Meanwhile Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin got into a shouting match in the House last year as a far right congressman accused the former four-star general of allowing the Pentagon to “embrace socialism” with mandatory “pronoun training.”
The examples of this kind of criticism are legion and damage US security, according to Milwaukee-based political analyst Risa Brooks, who argues that the attacks are often absurdly vague or rely on facts that turn out to be untrue.
“They undermine the military’s internal cohesion, politicize oversight, and distract Congress and the American people from serious national security problems — all while addressing a problem that is poorly defined and mostly unsubstantiated,” the Marquette University professor wrote in a recent commentary.
“Those who have long seen these attacks for what they are — more performative partisanship than substantive critiques of real problems — should do more to counter them effectively.”
The main event roiling Washington this week has been the Pentagon’s budget, enacted with cross-party support every year since the early 1960s and usually without drama.
Under its new Republican leadership, however, the bitterly-divided House is using its power over the purse strings to focus on “wokeism” in the military and force policy changes.
Lawmakers have been debating dozens of amendments to the $886 billion defense policy bill on so-called “culture war” topics from abortion policy, COVID-19 vaccines, and racial diversity to medical treatment of transgender troops.
‘I Don’t See It’
There are proposals to block or reduce military aid to Ukraine, end the removal of Confederate names from bases, and defy White House climate edicts, and others that have nothing to do with the armed forces.
There is no chance of the bill getting through the Democratic-led Senate with the conservative provisions intact but compromise will be required to get some kind of package to Biden’s desk to keep the military funded.
Meanwhile the normally stoic military brass have begun pushing back, putting up top officers armed with cold hard facts that refute some of the more political attacks targeting them.
Army Sergeant Major Michael Grinston told Republican lawmakers in March that a fraction of the hours the military spends on training are devoted to equality.
“When I looked at it, there is one hour of equal opportunity training in basic training, and 92 hours of rifle marksmanship training,” he said.
Chief Master Sergeant JoAnne Bass was asked about “pronoun training” in the Air Force recently and had to explain that there is no such thing.
And Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger said in a public forum in December “wokeism” was not a big concern among the rank and file.
“I don’t see it. I don’t hear it. They’re not talking about it,” he told the Reagan National Defense Forum.