February 27, 2024
The U.S. military is to a certain extent a microcosm of the population it serves. While this ensures that the military includes the best characteristics of society, it also means that the military must contend with societal challenges as well. Political polarization among the citizens of the United States is higher than it has been in decades, and that has implications for a representative military. Michael Robinson is in the studio to discuss his study of the phenomenon and the potential politicization of the military ranks. He joins host Carrie Lee for a conversation about his book, Dangerous Instrument: Political Polarization and U.S. Civil-Military Relations. This is the second episode in our special series supporting the U.S. Army War College’s Civil-Military Relations Center.

The U.S. military is to a certain extent a microcosm of the population it serves. While this ensures that the military includes the best characteristics of society, it also means that the military must contend with societal challenges as well. Political polarization among the citizens of the United States is higher than it has been in decades, and that has implications for a representative military. Michael Robinson is in the studio to discuss his study of the phenomenon and the potential politicization of the military ranks. He joins host Carrie Lee for a conversation about his book, Dangerous Instrument: Political Polarization and U.S. Civil-Military Relations. This is the second episode in our special series supporting the U.S. Army War College’s Civil-Military Relations Center.

It’s probably fair to say that there are a number of ways in which we are observing the military more in a partisan political spotlight than we did in years past. This isn’t to say that this is purely an artifact of the last decade of American politics. Like most things, it has been a slowly evolving trend.

Michael A. Robinson is an active-duty Army strategist and researcher in civil-military relations. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and is a former Assistant Professor of International Affairs at the United States Military Academy. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Stanford University and is the author of the book Dangerous Instrument: Political Polarization and U.S. Civil-Military Relations (Oxford University Press).

Carrie A. Lee is an associate professor at the U.S. Army War College, where she serves as the chair of the Department of National Security and Strategy and director of the USAWC Center on Civil-Military Relations. She received her Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University and a B.S. from MIT.

The views expressed in this presentation are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College, U.S. Army, Department of Defense or Department of State.

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan/Creative Commons

4 thoughts on “SHIFTING GROUND: POLARIZATION AND THE MILITARY

  1. From our podcast above:

    “It’s probably fair to say that there are a number of ways in which we are observing the military more in a partisan political spotlight than we did in years past. This isn’t to say that this is purely an artifact of the last decade of American politics. Like most things, it has been a slowly evolving trend.” (Might the “boiling the frog alive” analogy fit here?)

    But what, exactly, is the — dominant and controlling — “slowly evolving trend,” which has caused the U.S. military — and the U.S. Supreme Court also for that matter — to both be seen in this such more partisan light? A dominant and controlling slowly evolving trend which, for example, might have (a) begun in the 1980s and which (b) “bleed” power, influence and control out of “communities” (and their defining concepts) and into “individuals and markets” (and their defining concepts)?

    1. In order to answer my questions above, let us look to when and why the U.S. military, the U.S. Supreme Court, and, indeed, ALL the agencies of the U.S. Government — and even the vast majority of the U.S. public itself in earlier times — might have been on the same “page.” This such time and reason being the new era of globalization; wherein, extending to the post-Cold War period, (a) the need to “win” in economic competition terms, (b) this became to be seen as the new U.S.’s strategic imperative:

      ” … The chief thesis of this article is that the (U.S.) Supreme Court has embarked on a program of reshaping constitutional doctrine so as to encourage and facilitate the emergence of a fully developed Market State in this polity, with a view to positioning the United States to be successful in meeting the competitive challenges of a new, post-Cold War international order. … Proponents of this vision of a globalized economy characterize the United States as ‘a giant corporation locked in a fierce competitive struggle with other nations for economic survival,’ so that ‘the central task of the federal government’ is ‘to increase the international competitiveness of the American economy.” (Item in parenthesis above is mine. See the only full paragraph on Page 643 of the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law paper “Moral Communities or a Market State …”)

      THIS such process (increasing the international competitiveness of the American economy), thus, being the process which — now and historically — (a) tends to “bleed” power, influence and control out of “communities” — and — (b) into the hands of “individuals and markets” — and, thus, (c) sets the stage for various government agencies and individuals — involved over time in these such processes — to be called “partisan?” (As, ultimately, would happen to those in our government involved in trying to prevent these such “bleeding” of power, influence and control processes from happening?)

      (Thus, the causative/the “dominant and controlling” “slowing evolving trend” that we need to be more aware of and more focused on?)

  2. I was expecting an answer to the question: what other presidents have done what Trump has done (“my generals” eg).

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