Tucker Carlson and Ted Cruz are Wrong about the Weakness of "Woke" MilitariesRoundup
tags: gender, military history, Ukraine
Phillips Payson O’Brien is a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is the author of How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals aren’t the only people who think that the more ruthless, hypermasculine, and reflexively brutal an army is, the better it performs on the battlefield. That view also has fans in the United States.
Last year, Senator Ted Cruz recirculated a TikTok video that contrasted a Russian military-recruitment ad, which showed a male soldier getting ready to kill people, with an American recruitment video that told the story of a female soldier—the daughter of two mothers—who enlisted partly to challenge stereotypes. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea,” Cruz tweeted sarcastically. The Texas Republican is not alone in trumpeting a Putinesque ideal. Several months earlier, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson had similarly complained about a supposedly “woke” Pentagon, which he likened to the Wesleyan University anthropology department. By promoting diversity and inclusion, he insisted, military leaders were destroying American armed forces, supposedly the last great bastion of merit in the country. More recently, Carlson has complained that America’s armed forces are becoming “more feminine, whatever feminine means anymore,” just as China’s are “more masculine.”
Arguments like these were much easier to make before Putin unleashed his muscle-bound and decidedly unwoke fighting machine on the ostensibly weak Ukrainians, only to see it perform catastrophically. More than seven months into the war, the Ukrainian army continues to grow in strength, confidence, and operational competence, while the Russian army is flailing. Its recent failures raise many questions about the nature of military power. Before Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine, many analysts described his military as fast and powerful and predicted that it would “shock and awe” the overmatched defenders. The Ukrainian armed forces were widely assumed to be incapable of fighting the mighty Russians out in the open; their only option, the story went, would be to retreat into their cities and wage a form of guerrilla war against the invaders.
The success of the Ukrainian military over the past few months, along with the evolution of the Ukrainian state itself toward a more tolerant, more liberal norm, reveals what makes a better army in the modern world. Brains mean more than brawn, and adaptability means more than mindless aggression. Openness to new ideas and new equipment, along with the ability to learn quickly, is far more important than a simple desire to kill.
From the moment the Russian military crossed the border, the Ukrainians have outfought it, revealing it to be inflexible and intellectually vapid. Indeed when confronted with a Ukrainian military that was everything it was not—smart, adaptable, and willing to learn—the Russian army could only fall back on slow, massed firepower. The Battle of the Donbas, the war’s longest engagement, which started in late April and is still under way, exposed the Russian army at its worst. For months, it directed the bulk of personnel and equipment toward the center of a battle line running approximately from Izyum to Donetsk. Instead of breaking through Ukrainian lines and sending armored forces streaking forward rapidly, as many analysts had predicted, the Russian army opted to make painfully slow, incremental advances, by simply blasting the area directly in front of it. The plan seemed to be to render the area uninhabitable by Ukrainians, which would allow the Russians to advance intermittently into the vacuum. This was heavy-firepower, low-intelligence warfare on a grand scale, which resulted in strategically meaningless advances secured at the cost of unsustainably high Russian casualties. And in recent weeks, the Ukrainians have retaken much of the territory that Russia managed to seize at the start of the battle—and more.
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