The appalling decision of the Obama administration to pay a ransom to the Taliban of five of their own fighters, imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl gives rise to the thought: will this finally be the moment when the military breaks out of its 60-year trance during which it has allowed itself to be persuaded that deference to civilian authority must be cultural as well as political? It would be nice to think so, but there are reasons to doubt it, since the brass themselves have lately got into the habit of forgetting that any armed force, in order to function properly, requires a certain cultural autonomy. They ought to be the first to point out, publicly as well as privately, that rules and especially rights that are entirely accepted and appropriate in civilian life cannot exist in the military culture without destroying it.
Civilian authority, too, fails to recognize this at its peril, though it always does seem to fail in this way under Mr Obama, whose ignorance of military culture is matched only by that of the media. No one that I read even pointed out that there was anything wrong, from the military culture’s point of view, with the argument which finally ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, namely that being gay is "Who I am." There is no room in the soldier’s life for his "who-I-am" to be anything bigger than a soldier of the United States. Likewise, so far as we know, few voices inside the armed forces have been raised against the introduction of women into combat units. In this case the generals and admirals appear to have volunteered to overturn precedents as old as warfare itself, jumping before they were pushed in order to get women into harm’s way.
Is it simply an historical irrelevance that their predecessors in command would have considered such a thing dishonorable and unmanly? Such ostensibly outdated attitudes cannot have disappeared completely from our military culture. At some point, or so it is possible to think, civilian authority will go too far in its ignorance and insouciance towards that military culture, and the Bergdahl ransom may just be the limit. For the moment, everyone is able to hide behind the time- and media-honored wait until all the facts are known, but enough facts are known already that it is hard to see any way in which the affair could not prove to be an egregious blunder by the Administration, committed through sheer ignorance of what constitutes military honor.
The question now is whether or not we shall find that the brass have been silent for so long that, when it comes time for them to protest, they have lost their voices? Presumably that’s what happened to whoever decided to demand that the members of Sgt. Bergdahl’s platoon sign non-disclosure agreements, literally depriving them of their voices. Also voiceless was Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, who first spoke of not leaving anyone behind — or whoever else may have been the source for the President’s contention that, "the United States has always had a pretty sacred rule, and that is: we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind." Can it be that no one mentioned to the President that the rule, let alone the sacredness, does not apply to deserters?
And speaking of unfamiliar honor cultures. . . In last month’s American Spectator, I published an article pointing out that the left routinely uses the Holocaust as the ultimate in slippery slope arguments, so that not only lesser examples of racial discrimination but anything at all that can be represented, however dubiously, as "racism," becomes a potential (or, in the case of American slavery before the Civil War, an actual) Holocaust. It’s what makes the charge of racism even in such trivial cases as that of Donald Stirling a rhetorical nuclear option. Something similar is taking place with the charge of "sexism" or (to use the currently more popular term) misogyny. In The Guardian the other day, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett compared the gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in India with the California shooting spree of an emotionally disturbed young man as twin examples of a worldwide outbreak of misogyny.
In recent days, the news has read like a litany of hatred and intolerance. It once again demonstrates how misogyny is an international problem, transcending borders, socioeconomic circumstances, racial divisions. Of course there are other factors — mental illness, religion, poverty. But this much is clear: there are men on this planet who vehemently hate women. Not all men, I am compelled to add here. Never all men.
It’s a handsome concession. But the problem not only isn’t all men, it isn’t men qua men at all. It is rather a culture and a way of talking about culture which proscribes any recognition of substantive cultural differences, as Ms Cosslett does here by lumping the gang rape and killing of the two girls in India together with the California shootings. The two are not only not the same thing, they are not the same kind of thing. The honor culture of India, like that in many other parts of the world, is still of the primitive kind which is reluctant, at best, to see crimes against women who are not of one’s own honor group as crimes.
In America, there is no question of any official sanction for killings like those in California, which could only have been committed by a madman or an extreme malcontent. The culture is not in need of instruction about the heinousness of such behavior, nor are any sane and ordinarily decent men who are capable of being instructed. Ms Cosslett is wasting her breath on them and doing something worse with those, including two police officers, who raped and murdered the teenagers in India. She is effectively excusing their culture, about which something might be done, by treating them as if they were the same kind of mentally unbalanced social and cultural loners as the California kid, whose acts no amount of lecturing about respect for women could have done anything to prevent.