Careerism and politics in the military

Political bias and career competence aren’t entirely incompatible. The big problem is groupthink.

An old friend who is an avid and acute amateur military historian writes, apropos Lucian Truscott’s remarks on the politicization of the career military:

Tuscott may be mixing parallel trends:

1. Officers have always been careerist. That tendency is fostered by the up-or-out system and lack of lateral entrants. Civil War politicians commented unfavorably upon the tendency of career officers to be self-seeking and resume

polishing. Presumably, the highest ranking officers were the most careerist.

2. Group-think. Well documented inside and outside the military. Amplified

by both up-or-out and by no late entrants. Some parts of the Army have a

reputation for permitting deviant thinking: Special Forces, War College.

3. Officers have always favored the conservative party, going back to George

Washington. A leftie wouldn’t join the military. If they’re really all Republicans and only 50% of O-5s will make O-6, then there’s no reason not to pick the most competent ones.

However, pre-WWII peacetime officers were from the ruling class. True American aristocrats, their families owned all the land (plantations) and dominated the Social Register. Since then, the officer corps has increasingly come from the middle class, and wealth can come as shares rather than only as broad acres. I’m undecided what I think of this change. The British system of allowing wealthy incompetents to purchase their commissions did have the advantage of an officer corps that supported the existing system of governance.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: