Mike Pompeo and I agree on very little; in my view, Pompeo flouts bad policy and practices bad politics. He is a prominently pernicious influence on U.S. foreign and domestic affairs. Yet Pompeo is rolling out an initiative that I find myself receptive to. And while Pompeo couches that initiative with hyperbolic language, anchoring the initiative with points that go too far, I find myself agreeing with the general sentiment: the U.S. military should not be “woke.”
Once an obscure worldview, relegated to humanities departments, communicated in esoteric terms, woke ideology has fully entered the mainstream. And while conservative portions of the U.S. population resist the rise of wokeness, it matters little, as wokeness has permeated our power centers: government, corporations, and universities.
In effect, the places where decisions are made, the places where money is transacted, the places where culture is formed and projected, are without question, woke.
Woke is Built on Good Intentions for All, Mostly
Many purveyors of wokeness mean well; they sense injustice and want to solve injustice – a noble instinct.
But in subscribing to a woke worldview – and proposing solutions within the framework of a woke worldview – these prospective do-gooders often misdiagnose the problem before employing misguided fixes. And still, many purveyors of wokeness do not mean well. They recognize an opportunity to preserve their own power – by blaming a variety of social injustices on immutable characteristics that the individual cannot change, hence precluding the need to reform (i.e. divest power) – or, to gain power.
Campaign Against Woke in the Military
Now, Pompeo – a West Point graduate and Army veteran – is launching an initiative to counter wokeness in the U.S. military. The initiative, backed by Pompeo’s non-profit CAVFUND, features a website (www.troopsspeakout.com) and two advertisements.
“American security, and the safety of our families, rests on the shoulders of our men and women in uniform,” said in a statement. “Their training must never be corrupted to advance left-wing political goals. This matters. A woke military is a weak military … we must do everything we can to stop the spread of wokeness throughout our armed forces.”
In one of the ads, Pompeo says: “Our military today is under assault from the radical left” and “if you’re a young kid sitting in a foxhole, you don’t give a darn about political correctness. If we focus on the wrong priorities, then Americans will be a lot less safe. We’ll use the right pronouns but what we won’t have is the capacity to keep our country safe.
“I can assure you that there’s no Russian general, no Iranian leader, no Chinese Community Party admiral, who’s spending one second thinking about gender or woke ideology or climate change,” Pompeo said, “they’re thinking about how to kill Americans and the fight is on. We have to walk away from this radical left ideology. We cannot let it penetrate our military.”
How does the Woke Agenda Affect the Military
There’s a lot to unpack here. First, the initiative is political posturing more than any sincere effort to reform military culture – Pompeo has been rumored to harbor presidential aspirations and attacking woke culture is sure to be a hit with half the country.
Second, woke culture seems unlikely to degrade the efficacy of a military’s tactics, strategies, and weaponry. Our bombs are going to have the same effect whether or not the guy dropping the bombs was subjected to diversity training. What seems more likely to degrade the ability of our military – and ultimately degrade the safety of U.S. citizens – is overextension, hyper-hawkishness, basically Mike Pompeo anywhere near the decision-making process. Although I will grant Pompeo, that time and money that the military spends on a woke agenda would be better spent elsewhere – I doubt very much that woke agenda, or the resources committed to a woke agenda, detracts from the military’s general warfighting ability.
Pompeo makes a few good points, however. Like the kid sitting on the foxhole not caring about political correctness. That hits at a bigger, important theme, which happens to be richly ironic: woke ideology is a luxury. People living in poverty, at home and abroad, people fighting wars, people fighting grave injustice – their lives are grounded in reality. This is where the irony lies: the people that woke ideology is proposedly designed to help do not subscribe to woke ideology. Go figure.
Instead, it’s the tenured professors, HR professionals, corporate executives, and upper middle-class college students – people with money, time, and privilege – who find comfort in the woke worldview. Relatedly, Pompeo points out that Russians, Iranians, and Chinese are not worrying themselves with “gender, woke ideology, or climate change.” Generally, that’s right. Climate change has significant geopolitical and national security implications that nations would do well to consider if for no other reason than power competition.
But no, America’s competitors abroad are not wasting time with wokeness. And while America’s wholesale subscription to wokeness may not degrade the quality of our military as Pompeo suspects, wokeness can degrade the quality of our society – which I believe is what Pompeo ultimately means, in which case he is absolutely correct. Comedian Bill Maher, who resides on the opposite end of the U.S. political spectrum from Pompeo, made a similar point.
“You’re not going to win the battle for the 21st century if you are a silly people. And Americans are a silly people,” Maher said. “Do you know who doesn’t care that there’s a stereotype of a Chinese man in a Dr. Seuss book? China. All 1.4 billion of them couldn’t give a crouching tiger flying f— because they’re not a silly people. If anything, they are as serious as a prison fight … China sees a problem and they fix it. They build a dam. We debate what to rename it.”
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.