The Economist, a respected British magazine that features heavy coverage of the United States, published a column over the weekend accusing Americans of placing blind trust in the military.
Under a headline in its online version, “America’s love affair with uniformed men is problematic,” the Economist column suggested that the military uses its standing as a public relations tool for leveraging more resources; that soldiers also often are motivated by money; and that President Donald Trump has used retired generals as human shields against criticism.
The columnist referenced thank-you letters sent by schoolchildren to soldiers serving in Iraq, expressing gratitude for keeping them safe. The U.S. service members knew that was not true, the column claims, since the Iraqi insurgents were fighting a defensive war.
"Yet the soldiers accepted the sentiment unblushingly," the column states. "No soldier expects the beloved chumps back home to understand what he gets up to. He just needs to feel appreciated."
The column blames declining numbers of Americans who have served in uniform or even have family members who have served. Lack of familiarity, the column states, has encouraged a "highly romanticised view of military service, which is inaccurate and counterproductive at best."
The Economist column is not wrong in assessing American support of the military. According to a June Gallup poll, 72 percent of respondents had confidence in the military. By way of comparison, 24 percent felt similarly about TV news and 27 percent had confidence in newspapers.
"The military is a lot more trusted than the media," said Rich Noyes, director of research at the Media Research Center.
Noyes said Americans understandably have a great deal of gratitude toward people who voluntarily put their owns lives at risk on behalf of their country.
"It's just silly to say that the American public is too fawning over the military," he said. "I don't know what other institution deserves that level of support. Certainly not the media."
The military has remained well-respected over the past five decades amid a massive erosion of trust by the American people in institution after institution. That Gallup poll showed support over 50 percent for just two other groups — small businesses and the police.
The media have something to do with that slide, Noyes said.
"This is a culture that the media tend to perpetuate," he said. "Things get in the news to be criticized."
The Economist article acknowledges that many members of the Armed Forces are patriotic.
"But many see their service primarily as a way to make a living, as the soaring cost of recruiting and retaining them indicates," the column states.
The column also alleges that "America's uncritical soldier worship" leads to bloated Pentagon budgets.
"Most obviously, it gives the Department of Defence an outsize advantage in the battle for resources with civilian agencies," the column states. "Today's cuts to the State Department, whose officers are not noticeably less patriotic or public-spirited than America's soldiers, are a dismal case in point."
What's more, the Economist column argues, "political opportunists" — like Trump — take advantage of the high standing that the "beloved chumps" have for the military. That explains why retired general John Kelly, James Mattis, and H.R. McMaster are serving, respectively, as White House chief of staff, defense secretary, and national security adviser.
Noyes disagreed with the premise that retired generals serving in the military expect — or receive — immunity from criticism. He said reporters and other critics were not shy about criticizing Kelly for remarks he made about a Florida congresswoman.
Noyes also said the U.S. military posture since the 9/11 attacks have been geared toward confronting global terrorism.
"You have to meet that with military force," he said. "It would be derelict not to."
Last Modified: October 31, 2017, 7:14 am