Between Special Forces veterans cosplaying as Weimar-era street brawlers, an Army officer resigning because of supposed “Marxism” in the ranks, and a Marine Lt. Col. posting videos on social media making demands of accountability for Afghanistan (a conflict the entire country already knows was disastrous) the public may be seeing the image and legacy that U.S. Military officers have carefully curated for several hundred years around their career field vaporize like a cloud of steam.
What the hell is going on here?
That many veterans were present at January 6th has been well documented and written about by myself and others so I won't belabor that here, but even more recently it seems that we have witnessed a spat of active duty officers attempting to make very public grandstand plays. What their endgame is remains nebulous, and perhaps that is because the simply haven't thought it through themselves.
Take, for instance, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller who made a series of video posts on social media, his first one from his office while in uniform, demanding “accountability” for Afghanistan. Accountability for who precisely he doesn't mention beyond military leaders. What does he think should happen to them? An investigation? A court-martial? He never elaborated.
Many saw the videos as a bold and daring move in which Scheller stood up to his command and did the right thing. Others saw a disturbed man throwing his life and career away to make a rather insignificant political statement, more like a cry for help that required a mental health intervention than a 1776 moment of revolutionary fervor.
Army Lt. Col. Paul Douglas Hague publicly resigned after 18 years of service due to vaccines and a litany of other grievances. His wife posted his letter of resignation of social media in which he said he cannot, “allow a serum to be injected into my flesh against my will and better judgment,” he said in reference to the COVID-19 vaccine.
He goes on to state the Biden administration has “utterly decimated” the military, and melodramatically states that we are watching the “fall of liberty at this moment.”
He also says there has been an ideological takeover of the military by Marxists but does not supply any evidence whatsoever to support his claim. Really, the only specific grievances Hague mentions are COVID restrictions and the failure of the war in Afghanistan.
Because Hague and Scheller's lists of grievances are general and political in nature, they come across as being rehearsed and performative. In some instances, it is honorable for military leaders to make a bold statement and throw themselves on the sword for their men.
This may mean speaking up to superior officers who are making an incompetent tactical decision that will get men killed. This could be standing up for a junior officer and his sergeants when the Pentagon brass wants to throw them under the bus in the aftermath of a battle, purely for political reasons. Or it could be standing up for a sexually assaulted soldier when the chain of command wants to cover it up and let the perpetrator go free so that they don't have to look bad by confronting the issue.
But in the case of Hague and Scheller, their grievances come across as non-statements, as a political fait accompli designed to garner personal attention for themselves. Hague has since been on Sean Hannity's program and Scheller perhaps got more attention than he bargained for and is now confined to the brig for violating a lawful order to shut up.
The protests of these two men are less like the brave minute men standing up to British tyranny and have more in common with the post-modern angst of the characters in the 1976 film "Network," in which a deranged TV news host instructs his viewers to lean out their windows and shout, “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!”
But why is this all happening now?
Firstly, we cannot pretend to be surprised to see partisan politics clearly emerging from within the ranks of the military in a more public manner than we have previously seen. Today, politics is everywhere. It is in our faces all day every day. You can't go to see a movie, read a comic book, or even have normal friendships with people without all manner of op-ed pieces, Twitter threads, and angry youtube videos weighing in to tell you how you are supposed to feel about the most mundane aspects of your own life.
“The media” is not real life, but people feel these social pressures as if it is. Partisan politics have been injected into the military for decades as politicians and pundits project onto it their visions for social engineering, wishing it to be a petri dish for experimentation, or for it to serve as a pedestal that highlights their preferred social norms.
Let us not feign surprise that those actually in the military are now picking up the partisan football and attempting to score a touchdown in America's culture wars. Politics is everywhere, and any given service member is just one good Facebook Livestream in the front seat of their car away from an appearance on Fox News.
Second, the American right has long seen itself as staunchly pro-military while the left was more inclined to anti-war activism, but in recent years there has been a profound cultural shift. In the era of Trumpism, the American left swung center-right as it saw the CIA, the FBI, and high-ranking military officers as a bulwark against President Trump. This was the so-called “deep state” that would resist Trump's policies. Meanwhile, the right-wing began attacking the military in ways unseen in the past, arguably because President Trump attacked his own high-ranking officers and defense secretaries in a way we had never seen before.
The right has now fallen out of love with the military, especially if any service member is not 100% in lockstep with their perception of Trump's platform and aesthetics. You have to squint harder and harder when viewing the attacks on Gen. Mark Milley, seeing social media accounts decrying the last paratrooper (Gen. Chris Donahue) out of Afghanistan as being “woke,” or watching a Newsmax host have an on-air panic attack because a veteran suggested that the Trump administration also did not do a great job processioning Special Immigration Visas for Afghan allies.
The left's political correctness and the right's patriotic correctness both stem from a deep-seated need for the reassurance found in authoritarianism. Everyone wants to be on the right side of history when it only requires a performative low-risk endeavor on social media.
And there are more, so many more of these characters out there. From from Green Beret Ivan Raiklin who has stated that the government should raid the homes of those who will not decertify the 2020 election and West Point graduate Jarrin Jackson live streaming about how politics today is a literal battle against Satan and the 2020 election should be decertified, quoting Infowars, and talking about hitting godless commies with the gospel of Christ.
As I wrote this, I learned that my former Team Sergeant in 5th Special Forces Group has been arrested and charged for his role in the January 6th riots at the Capitol aimed at overturning the 2020 election results.
These men are veterans, not active-duty soldiers, and have the right to free expression in the manner that they choose provided they don't break any laws as many did on Jan. 6. This phenomenon may demonstrate that there is a larger problem amongst military veterans turning to conspiracy theories, but that active-duty ranks are becoming involved in public self-immolation sessions represents a new development. While the military put Scheller in the brig, for the faithful this represents the actions of a corrupt Marxist military trying to crack down on what they see as righteous speech.
The military now has a substantial issue on its hands dealing with officers using their uniform as a platform to promote fringe political beliefs. Perhaps, the military should have listened to their enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers who for the last twenty years of war served under these officers, and fairly often pointed to many of them as not quite living up to the Army values, to not being the sharpest tacks in the draw, and patiently explaining that the prestige that military officers often build around themselves was little more than self-promotion, vanity, and pettiness cloaked as honor and duty.
Many of us were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore ten years ago.
We departed the military halfway through our careers for greener pastures, as one does.