Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ohio and military votes: towards a warrior caste and unbalanced civil-military relations

The Ohio military voting issue that surfaced within the past week has raised some ugly politics and views. While reticent to wade into what is primarily a domestic political concern, this confrontation is pouring light into the dark corners of civil-military relations that we'll discuss shortly. But first a synopsis of the facts as they occurred.

Election Day in Ohio in 2004 was a disaster in that the state was obviously unprepared for the number of voters who came to vote. Some voting lasted until the early hours of the next morning and provisional ballots were improperly used, causing a significant number of them to be discounted. As a response (in part as well as for other reasons it seems), the State of Ohio opened up an early voting period for any voters in the days prior to Election Day in order to ease the burden on the big day and the potential for screw-ups (i.e., discounting valid votes). This option was used extensively since, particularly in the final three days before Election Day. However, this past year the Ohio House of Representatives passed a law that maintained early in-person voting rights in the final 3 days before Election Day only for Ohioans subject to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) - most of whom are military members and their families. This bill removed the right of all other Ohioans to vote early in person in the final 3 days running up to Election Day, cutting their early voting off on the Friday prior. To sum, every Ohioan had been able to vote early in person in the three days before Election Day until this year when the Ohio legislature changed the law so that only  military personnel and their families could do this. The Obama campaign, and others, have sued the State of Ohio to reinstate early in-person voting for all of Ohio, not just those subject to UOCAVA. Please read this, this, and this for more perspective (thanks to Hayes Brown - @HayesBrown - for providing the Slate link to get this started for me).

The response from Mr. Obama's political opponents can be most kindly described as misrepresenting the Obama campaign's lawsuit. The Romney campaign has billed it as an attempt to suppress military votes - suggesting that the lawsuit was attempting to remove military members' ability to vote early instead of reinstating all Ohioans' ability to vote early. The Romney campaign is supported on this position by a number of influential military-affiliated organizations, including the Association of the U.S. Army. Their argument is petty politics and they're using smoke and mirrors to attack the Obama campaign. Fine. There is a lot of political football in this, but that does negate the fact that the Obama campaign is in no way suing to prevent extra time for military personnel from Ohio to vote. It also has absolutely nothing to do with mail-in absentee ballots from overseas. This is the bottom line and these facts are not (should not be, rather) in contention.

At this point you're probably asking yourself why I'm going on about this on a relatively apolitical security blog. If you move beyond the pandering, obfuscation, and outright lying that passes for political discourse, this issue has given the darkest and most extreme voices of CMR a drum to beat upon. Congressman Allen West issued a statement in which he doesn't propagate the Romney campaign lie of disenfranchising military, but instead avers that what the President is trying to do is offensive:
how dare this President compare the service, sacrifice, and commitment of those who Guard our liberties not as special and seek to compare them to everyone else.
Poor use of the English language aside, a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives is saying the law in Ohio should stand as it is because those that serve our nation in arms are better than everyone else and should be given an edge. You can't even compare those in uniform to the rest of society. It seems that Mr. West believes service members deserve more rights, more democracy than those who do not serve. Don't think this is a prevalent viewpoint among many Americans, especially those who have or are serving? Right-leaning blog This Ain't Hell covered the Ohio voting issue along the same lines. This poem, ubiquitous among military/veteran Facebook pages and crappy PX art expos, explicitly states how much more important veterans are than other members of society. Or the old quote, too often mis-attributed to George Orwell:
People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
Thank God for those rough men or the rest of you weenies would have a rough go of it. All of those policemen, firemen, engineers, architects, sewage maintenance types, water purifiers and others who contribute to our way of life should, in contrast, apparently keep me up all night. Still think I'm reading too much into this? The Stolen Valor Act was an attempt to criminalize a narrow band of lying to prevent people from pretending to be a decorated service member or veteran and that such lies somehow diminish the acts of valor that really occurred. Read commentary on the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Act and tell me it doesn't reek of men and women offended that others deign to pretend they are in this elite and protected element of society (and then read the comments sections of those and similar posts). I ask: why was lying about having advanced degrees or sleeping with members of the opposite sex or about your personal wealth not also outlawed? The only conclusion I can come up with is that they aren't special like the military and therefore not worthy of special protection.

There are a number of reasons why the public treats current and former military members and family as special, including their very real sacrifices over the past 10 years of war and Vietnam guilt. Some of that is warranted. But this pernicious belief that these self-selecting members of society are better, beyond comparison to rest of the country, and thus deserving of greater helpings of democracy than the rest is anti-democratic and antithetical to any reasonable theories of civil-military relations necessary to keep our society safe. There is a reason they are called service members - their volunteering to serve our society does not grant them more rights and privileges. Some remediation is necessary to repair inequities created by their service (such as veterans' healthcare and jobs programs), but their rights as citizens are not impaired.  Embracing acts that go beyond correcting inequalities and that instead promote the creation of a special caste of citizens with more rights is exactly the kind of attitude that could help foment a warrior caste that would in actuality upend the balance of civil-military relations. Huntington weeps and our country hurts for it.

18 comments:

  1. Brilliant post

    Obligatory Starship Troopers reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMTz9nIUkGc

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  2. Nice post. I think there is a widening gap between the military and the American society it represents and defends. I took to the pages of Business Insider yesterday to talk about the McChrystal/Ricks assertion that we should return to a draft. I'm positive that's not the answer.
    Link to the BI article can be found on my blog at http://www.thekabulcable.com/?p=1445
    best
    Ty

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  3. Good post. Thanks for pointing this out.

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  4. Thank you for clarifying an issue that is being misrepresented. However, I must point out that The Stolen Valor Act would have protected society from imposters. It was well supported by current and former military, but they tyipcally know when someone makes false claims about their service. Employers on the other hand, well meaning doners, political constiuents, etc. lose because it was found unconstitutional. Are veterans employment assistance programs unconstitutional because they benefit a select group? misrepresentation is criminal in many forms. Practicing certain professions without a license, or impersonating an authority come immediatly to mind.

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    1. The problem here is that fraud through lying with attempts for financial gain is already against the law, whether it's a lie about being a Navy SEAL or having a PhD. But being an impostor qua impostor without financial gain is not illegal. Why should it be just for those who lie about medals or service?

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  5. That our politics and larger society are forming into self contained interest groups each seeking particular privileges is a much broader phenomenon than just the Military. In the last 10 days for instance LGBT activists tried to silence opposition against non-traditional marriage and a bucket of pols jumped on the bandwagon when they thought they smelt votes and money [and right off when they were wrong]. Or we can look at the Financial Classes immunity to consequences and it's complete keys to Treasury and the free magic money. Or the Political Class..whose immunities, privileges and abuses are Legion and ever growing. The Military would be foolish and irresponsible [towards it's members] not to recognize the World has changed and to protect it's interests and the interests of it's Warriors. Alan West is being a grown up, Sir Spots isn't.


    "We do not need to create a warrior caste in our society." It's happening anyway...we should strive for the most advantage for us and the nation. What's happening in America is not our choice, it's the choice of our elites with the silent dumb nod of the voters. We don't hesitate to get dirty during budget fights...well simply recognize that divide and conquer, the spoils system, protected classes and increasingly Campus politics are the way our society has chosen or ceded. Our Flags our a sorry lot but they do defend their own interests well. Perhaps they can also by being themselves serve their institutions and let us hope the nation.

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    1. There is a fundamental flaw to your somewhat meandering comment. The military, unlike the financial or LGBT classes (I won't address your discussion of the political class), exists solely to serve the country. It certainly has various interests, but those interests are limited to ensuring that injustices created by this special form of service are corrected. The military is not a special constituency that needs to grab its own. Period. If you are in the military and you think this, you should think about doing something else because you're in it for all the wrong reasons - reasons actually antithetical to service itself. Ideas like this don't protect the interests of "Warriors", ideas like this degrade the professionalism, and therefore competency, of the armed services.

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  6. I do want to take a minute to defend members of the military and military retirees. I am not one, but I work with them. They are wonderful people who restore my faith in our country. They have widely varying political beliefs, from a U.S. Army Major who cried tears of joy the day Obama was inaugurated to the Army veteran who didn't want F@#$t in the military. Congressman West by no means represents the military community as a whole. No one can, not really.

    However, there has been separation between the military community and the American community in regards to economics. Many of them have been cushioned from what the rest of America is experiencing (though not everyone is as lucky). This separates our political ideologies. I experienced this after a really bad day I had trying to get my health insurance to cover something they were supposed to (who hasn't had a day like that!) and was dreaming about how the new health care law might at least make my insurance company more accountable. Then I went to a retiree appreciation day, where former members of the military cheered when a Tricare Representative told the audience their healthcare wouldn't be affected by "Obamacare." Of course, retirees have health care provided by the government, the precise thing they were cheering about the rest of us NOT getting. I want the military and military retirees to have the very best services our nation can offer, but they are doing so at great expense to the rest of us. I believe this veil of economics will lift soon with our troop drawdown and cuts to the DoD budget.

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    1. There are many things that separate the military and civilian communities and most of these things aren't bad or harmful. They simply are. Economic stability is generally one of those things, but as you mention, this might change in the coming years. A lot of it will be corrections to previous corrections that addressed inequality with society at large. The amount of money I made not all that long ago as a 2LT in the Army was pitiful. What I'd be making today as a major in the DC area is a significant sum of money and well above average for the area. The budget cuts will not likely be the last correction...

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  7. Terrific post, Jason. I was worried where you were going when I saw the term "military caste" used in the title. That term needs to die quick.

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    1. Thanks Don! I very much appreciate the feedback.

      I'm not keen on "warrior caste" myself as it's quite overused. I thought it appropriate here and not as obnoxious as Praetorianism. Any recommendations for an alternative?

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  8. Hey. Interesting post as always. As an Ohioan, I have some feelings about this. As an ex-DCer, I have some feelings about this.

    Reminds me a lot, albeit probably accidentally, of "Adam Wheeler Went to Harvard." http://www.thebaffler.com/past/adam_wheeler_went_to_harvard It's in the Baffler, so WARNING, NON-MILITARY AND PERHAPS POLITICAL CONTENT INSIDE, but it's an interesting look at how a group decides to put themselves on a pedestal for no other reason than "because they can." You go to Harvard, you can do things others can't, because you went to Harvard. You're in the military, you can do things others can't, because you're in the military. I dunno. Lemme know what you think.

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  9. Actually LT Jason Fritz I used to buy that same party line all the way down as well. Of course it was never completely true but it was a most essential almost true fiction, core to our founding myth.

    With great reluctance as the facts changed, I changed my Opinions. I suspect the facts will continue to change probably quite rapidly and many Americans to include the military will have to make choices they never foresaw. For instance whether to continue in Monastic Professionalism [which strangely doesn't seem to produce Victorious Monks] or to enter the world at large as it actually exists.

    In that world we now have different treatments of Law for different classes. One may decline to address for instance that the political classes are already legally exempt from many laws that apply to citizens and of course the informal privileges that power brings. Not to meander but that's rather like ignoring the icy waters your ship is sinking into...but if that's your choice fine..more seats on the lifeboat.

    In the America we live in some animals are certainly more equal than others, those that recognize this firstest and mostest shall likely fare better than say ...Boxer...who loyally works and fights himself to exhaustion then is sent off to the knackers anyway - which he was promised was the one thing that wouldn't happen.

    However at least his Napoleon never Commanded Boxer *to lose* in Battle. Goodness even that dullard would have finally rebelled at such a Command.

    Do have luck at studying the profession of Arms...

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    1. I'm really not trying to be mean, and I am saying this out of concern for your health, but I think you may have a mental health or learning disability and would really think seeing a specialist may help. Again I am not trying to be cruel and I am saying this because I work with people like this but I think you may have aspergers given your postings.

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  10. Tremendous. Best post on anything I've read in a long while.

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  11. Ohio needs to get its act together. This is the year 2012; these backward country types need a plan or a system to handle the number of voters this year.

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  12. Thanks for a great post. The notion of 'Warriors' as Übermensch is, as you say, a dangerous folly, a bizarre admixture of populist pandering (by those politicos looking to score points on the backs of others) and elitist entitlement (by those wanting to reserve a special place or status for themselves).

    Some of your readers may be interested in reading more along these lines over at Kings of War, especially:

    http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2010/09/killing-them-softly-warriors-sentimentality-and-nostalgia/

    The notion of 'higher calling' has particular resonance in the contemporary American discourse, but it is not wholly absent elsewhere, either:

    http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2011/07/the-army-democracy-and-the-sacrifice-of-a-soldier-the-view-from-france/

    In fact, an Australian commander commented on a similar 'sense of entitlement' within the ranks of those in his army, too, noting its potentially detrimental effect on their performance:

    http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2012/06/the-colour-sergeant-bourne-legacy-soldierly-discipline/

    Again, well done for bringing attention to this important issue in a concrete manner.

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