Academic journal article Military Review

Uninformed, Not Uniformed?: The Apolitical Myth

Academic journal article Military Review

Uninformed, Not Uniformed?: The Apolitical Myth

Article excerpt

I, _____,do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God. 1

The Federal Officer's Oath

FOR SERVING U.S. military officers in particular, the distinction between political understanding and political involvement is crucial to fulfillment of their professional obligations embodied in the oath. According to Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 1, The Army:

Through this oath, soldiers affirm subordination to the Nation's elected civilian leadership and abstain from public political involvement. Soldiers voluntarily give up freedoms fellow citizens take for granted and become subject to military discipline and regulations. Soldiers accept unlimited liability in the service of our Nation. This becomes the foundation of our profession.2

While accepting the necessity of U.S. Army soldiers' abstention from "public political involvement," or partisanship, this essay argues for more nuanced understanding of what it means to be political while serving in uniform and suggests that the current aversion to "politics," broadly conceived, creates a paradox that threatens the effectiveness of the Army in the decades to come.

We conflate "political" and "partisan" at our Nation's peril. As ADP 1 notes:

The land domain is the most complex of the domains, because it addresses humanity-its cultures, ethnicities, religions, and politics . . . Soldiers . . . accomplish missions face-to-face with people, in the midst of environmental, societal, religious, and political tumult. Winning battles and engagements is usually insufficient to produce lasting change in the conditions that spawned conflict.3

Rather than seeking to remain aloof from politics in a quixotic quest for ill-defined "professionalism," American soldiers have an obligation to seek greater understanding of the political context in which they operate, whether domestic, multinational, or hostnation. As Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 6-22, Army Leadership, notes, "In today's politically and culturally charged operational environments, even direct leaders may work closely with unified action partners, the media, local civilians, political leaders, police forces, and nongovernmental agencies."4

The Army must remain both professional and nonpartisan, because we are in danger of being politically uninformed professionals, not uniformed professionals. The Army's reticence to acknowledge the political dimension within which strategy, operations, and tactics nest is a significant contributing factor to our shortcomings in Iraq and Afghanistan, a mistake we can ill-afford to repeat should we find ourselves in Syria or other emerging hotspots in the coming decades.

The "Apolitical" Myth

To a large degree, the modern myth of the American military's "apoliticism" is rooted in Samuel Huntington's thesis from The Soldier and the State: the more "professional" an army, the less likely it is to intervene in domestic politics. His thesis includes a corollary: political intervention in the military's professional sphere jeopardizes its apoliticism by treating it as merely another political interest group, while respect for a distinct area of professional competence ensures an "apolitical," noninterventionist military.5 If the politicians only stay out of the military's affairs, the military will not meddle in the domestic politics of deciding who ought to rule.

Huntington's justification for an inviolate military sphere stems from a selective quotation of Clausewitz. Huntington writes, "The political objective is the goal, but in Clausewitz's words, it 'is not on that account a despotic lawgiver; it must adapt itself to the nature of the means at its disposal. …

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