For those in the service, extremism in the military is not a new concept. Like sexism or racism service members know it's there but it only comes into the national spotlight once every few years. Most service members have heard chatter around their units and their barracks, or had that one person you avoided certain topics with due to extreme stances. And it didn't take much searching of vehicles in a barracks parking lot to find III% stickers, Confederate flags, or other similar displays of white supremacy and extremism. With a large number of veterans participating in the attempted coup at the Capitol on January 6th, the issue has once more found its way to the front. The Secretary of Defense enacted a 60 day stand down, while think pieces abound from intellectuals about how to combat these issues. To add to this discourse in a way we hope will be productive we recently asked our veteran members for their thoughts on the following question: How can we combat extremism in the ranks of our military?
Comments have been edited for clarity.
Nick- U.S. Navy; 9 Yrs:
1.The military needs to test cultural competency and compassion upon recruitment and at critical career benchmarks. Perhaps something similar to a CASPR exam (A standardized situational judgment test).
2. The military needs to actively recruit for broader ideological diversity. Our inability to practice humanitarianism and compassion is a critical failure in the post-Vietnam military, and it's a failure of imagination and leadership. This is a critical failure in national security both in tactical failures but also by turning a blind eye to domestic terrorism.
3. The code of conduct needs to be updated to the internet age to reflect "n-th level meta-ironic" hate speech that are in no way jokes but deadly serious.
4. Cross Cultural, History, and Civic education for military members. There's no use in having automatons running the largest and most highly funded branch of government.
Also, the all-volunteer military is incentivizing recruiting commands to engage in weird hero-worship of the military. This is unhealthy, and at some levels is informed not by a dedication to civil service but a willingness to do violence
Ben- U.S. Army; 3 Yrs 10 Months:
Increase education. It's the answer to a lot of our problems for a reason. If we had spent 5% of the time we spent learning about antiquated programs and unused procedures instead learning about history and cultures, the constitution we were swearing to defend, and human rights; the Army would be a different place. The military has turned indoctrination into a science, creating warfighters from civilians in a matter of weeks. Adding education about the dangers of extremism and its natural opposition to American ideals might not be easy, but it is definitely possible and clearly needed.
John- U.S. Army; 4 yrs AD 1 Yr Reserve:
A comprehensive analysis of promotions and the demographics of leaders at all rank levels to identify potential (ha, we know they're present) biases coupled with programs to help service members from marginalized backgrounds become qualified for promotion. And a ban on the use of overtly religious materials in training and professional military education.
Ryan- U.S. Navy; 10 Yrs:
This one is a little more nebulous in its connection to extremism, but Article 15 (A article in the Uniform Code of Military Justice that deals with commanders prescribing guilt) needs serious reform. Most instances of ties to domestic extremist groups get NJP’d (Non-judicial punishment), and best-case scenario there is separation- but that sends an already vulnerable person out into the world with ties to extremism, military training, and probably pretty dire social and professional prospects.
U.S. Navy PO1; 10+ Yrs:
The way the US fetishizes the military and creates a compulsory hero worship for service members ends up perverting it. People join thinking that the world/country/society owes them and that's a mindset that's susceptible to radicalization.
We can't tell people to stop thinking of service members as heroes but we can and should address the way recruitment is handled and, specifically, the passive recruitment done by the military through their ad campaigns.
Sam- U.S. Marine Corps; 9 Yrs AD 11 Yrs Reserve:
We need to change our culture, and that is not easy. Adding another mandatory six hours of annual training isn’t going to change anything. We need to socialize new recruits at Basic Training while they are still impressionable and teach them the value of diversity and the threat of white supremacy. For those already in, we need to teach media literacy. Disinformation and propaganda are being used against us, and our troops don’t have the skills to defend themselves. Teach service people to look at Facebook memes with a critical eye. Teach them a little bit of history and civics so they understand the government they are serving. All of this should ideally be done in high school, but if they are coming to the military without this knowledge, we had better train them in it before we release them into the civilian world. The problem is, culture is very resistant to change, and the military values of obedience and loyalty to a small group are hard to balance with independent thought.
The ideas presented reflect the experiences and views of each individual, and are intended to prompt discussion. Purging extremism from the ranks of our nation's military will not be an easy process, nor quick. But by at least beginning the process, talking about solutions, and raising awareness we believe a military that better represents all of America can exist. A military that all Americans will feel safe in regardless of their race, religion, or sex. We have to do more than banning flags and stickers on base or reaffirming oaths of enlistments. Doing so will only sweep the issue under the rug and will let the wounds fester.
Share your own thoughts, ideas for combating extremism, or personal experiences with extremisms in the ranks of our nation's military in the comments below.