Dissension Among the Ranks: How Not Talking About Politics, Isolation, and Radicalization Can Impact Military Operations
There is a percentage of the American population that feels President Joe Biden was fraudulently elected. We witnessed the depth of their conviction on January 6 as they stormed Capitol Hill. I witnessed a mob breaking windows, assaulting Capitol police, and overtake the Senate floor. I saw the Confederate flag and remembered some Americans still honor the leaders of a rebellion that led to a civil war. Statues and buildings bear Confederate general’s names, and there are military installations named in their honor. There was an outcry this summer over removing these statues and renaming military installations. Supporters of the Confederate monuments argued that the relocation of the statues to museums and the renaming of bases dishonors American history. In many articles and websites I reviewed, Confederate soldiers were labeled “patriots” despite their treasonous actions. In a country that still celebrates an uprising against the government, I can’t be surprised when “patriots,” some of which were active duty and military veterans, attempted an insurrection.
Ashli Babbitt, a 12-year Air Force veteran, was fatally shot by Capitol police during the siege, and retired Air Force Lt Col Larry Brock Jr was pictured on the Senate floor reportedly wearing his old unit’s patches. Emily Rainey was an active-duty Army officer who led a group during the attack on the Capitol. She has since resigned her commission. Military members are a reflection of society. I wondered how many other active-duty military members also feel the President was fraudulently elected. Michael Flynn is a highly decorated retired military general. Flynn added credibility to conspiracy theories by supporting the claims of QAnon of a “deep state.” He is still respected by many military members and veterans that served with him in combat
The current pandemic has isolated many service members, and an endless cycle of biased news coverage and social media can ignite the smallest spark causing an inferno of radicalization. The connection between isolation, caused by the pandemic, and radicalization is worth exploring further. Humans crave social interactions and a sense of belonging. Studies support there is a higher probability of radicalization in isolated people. Online forums have become our communities, and identity politics has reshaped our friends and affected families. Families have split, and marriages have ended due to political ideology. Conspiracy theories and misinformation are spouted as a matter of fact, and breaches of decorum have become normal behavior. We should all remember, you become the information you consume. We are in the midst of a civil war in the cognitive domain, and military members are not immune to radicalization.
The military has faced a divided force in the past. During the Vietnam war, the military was rendered an ineffective fighting force due to dissidents. African-American service members endured unequal treatment while serving. The sentiment was, why should they fight for a country that does not recognize them as equal citizens. After the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, dissension spread throughout the branches of service. African-American members refused to follow orders. Many of them organized groups or joined liberation movements. African-American military members were jailed for dissension, and riots ensued in the jails. Only 39% of the units overseas were combat-ready; B-52 bomber crews refused to fly, and Naval ships were sabotaged, rendering them unable to deploy. Huge fights between white and African-American service members occurred on military bases to include a fight involving over 600 Airmen that shutdown Travis AFB, CA.
I used the Vietnam War as an example of how issues affecting America also impact servicemembers and, subsequently, military operations. The validity of the grievance is based on perception, but the belief is solidified by social networks and amplified by social media and news outlets. I have read posts by military members stating their belief that the election was rigged. I have seen military members post debunked conspiracy theories. I have seen military members go so far as to question the patriotism of other military members. A senior service member even suggested an uprising by African-American military members last summer. All of this has transpired on social media.
For years we have shied away from difficult conversations about politics and race in the military. We all know the people we avoid discussing race or politics with because of their views and unwillingness to listen. Despite the awkwardness, we must engage those service members, even if it’s a Senior Leader. I encouraged my teammates to check on their people. Ask specific questions like, how are you coping with the isolation of the pandemic or what are your thoughts on what happened at the Capitol. Above all listen to what is being said, watch what is being posted, and engage your people. I understand everyone will not be forthcoming. I was told by some that they couldn’t talk about it because they were emotionally drained from the situation. I gave them space to process but let them know I was available, and there are other resources available that could help, if needed.
Everyone is affected differently. We must get on the offensive to address these matters before we are unable to fulfill our duty. I understand it is hard to do what I am suggesting on these topics. Many of us have seen what our co-workers are posting on social media. What price do we pay if we don’t engage? We support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We cannot fight a war on two fronts, and we must address radicalization now before the next uprising is within the military ranks.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the U.S. Government.