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We're All in the Army Now

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Robert Wright, who wrote a terrific book that changed the way I look at just about everything, wrote recently in the New York Times that America would be…well…I'll just let him say it:

In fact, the whole, larger stereotype — that the military is a right-wing institution, best viewed with skepticism if not cynicism by the left — is way off. Growing up in, or at least amid, the Army helped make me a liberal — not because I reacted against my environment, but because I absorbed its values. If all of America were more like the Army, it would be a better country.

This is really a chilling passage. The Army is complete and utter totalitarianism. When you enter, you're stripped of all individuality, then built back up into a proper, orders-taking, unquestioning drone. Dissent is punished. At the onset of your career, all facets of your life are dictated to you. Whatever the state orders of you—even if it orders you to your death—you're trained to comply willingly and with vigor, and to never question the validity or morality of the order.

Wright thinks this would be a good model for the rest of society. So long as all that coercion is used to instill good, liberal values in the citizenry. By enforcing conformity, for example, the Army is at least making everyone equal. And equality to a leftist like Wright is the height of a virtuous society, more important apparently than any concept of personal freedom. Oh, and the Army gives everyone health insurance. And you apparently never hear the n-word.

If this is what's become of modern liberalism, we're in heap big trouble.

I'm not an anti-military libertarian. I think it's necessary, and I think there are times when it's necessary that we use it. When used properly—to kill people and destroy infrastructure—it's marvelously good at what it does (it's not so good at building liberal societies from sand, rubble, and ethnic strife, but that's another discussion). But that is what the military is for. It's for destroying things, including large quantities of life. The values Wright so admires—and the procedures the military uses to instill those values—are emphasized because time and experience has shown that those are the values most conducive to the military's mission. Which—at risk of repeating myself—is killing people and destroying their countries.

Wright values egalitarianism, access to health care, and economic mobility. Fair enough. I understand that he likes the Army because those things seem to be plentiful there. But it's telling that he neglected to acknowledge the wholesale surrender of rights the Army requires of everyone who enlists in order to achieve them.