Jonah, remember that this is the same Nick Kristof whose keen insight into the military led him to make this statement about the now-discredited Greg Mortensen: “Since 9/11, Westerners have tried two approaches to fight terrorism in Pakistan, President Bush’s and Greg Mortenson’s.”
And: “So a lone Montanan staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.”
So I guess (according to Kristof) soldiers are at their best when providing daycare and can’t actually fight wars all that well.
Such comments — both his comments today and his old column about Mortensen — are a product of our elite opinion-making culture’s fundamental ignorance of military matters and military culture. Yes, the military is more hierarchical, more government-controlled, and more focused on community unity than the civilian sector.
But why? Is it because the military has discovered the socialist key to happiness? Hardly. In my experience officers tend to be more politically libertarian than your average citizen. No, the control and the discipline and the unity exist for more basic reasons: Because there’s a greater chance that we’ll die a violent death if we don’t take care of each other; because it’s harder to face ultimate tests of courage and character if we don’t know whether our spouses and children are cared for; and because war is war and the rest of life is not.
As you note so eloquently in your book, persistent liberal efforts to place civilian life on war footing are doomed to fail. You simply cannot replicate the challenges of combat when addressing poverty or climate change or jobs, nor would you want to try.
The military is (relatively) discipline and unified because it exists in a world that is very elemental: kill or be killed.
Oh, and one other thing: If you want to see the military do what it does best, then ride out on a mission with an armored cavalry squadron. If you want to see the military struggle to do its job well, then I suggest you spend some time with its social services.