Criticizing the Military Is Now Taboo

Roundup: Media's Take

Diane H. Mazu, a professor of law at the University of Florida, writing in (Jan. 11, 2004):

It lost the ability to have a meaningful discussion about anything that involves the military.

The Pentagon recently began a significant call-up for the next major rotation of troops in Iraq, but it has no realistic plan for covering military and domestic security commitments without exhausting reserve forces. Yet no serious attention was given to a bill Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., introduced last January to reactivate the draft.

Further, any suggestion to reconsider the military status quo is met with a charge of not "supporting the troops." The military has become the new third rail of politics, scaring off anyone who dares to have an original thought about the armed forces. Even former general and Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark tiptoed around the military when he proposed a new Civilian Reserve, to be mobilized in times of national need.

How did this happen? The Supreme Court is largely to blame for the decline in civil-military relations. A year after the end of the draft in 1973, the court discarded legal tradition going back to the Civil War in which the military was expected to share the same constitutional values as the rest of the United States.

In a series of cases beginning in 1974, Chief Justice William Rehnquist designed a new legal doctrine requiring courts to "defer" to executive or congressional choice on military matters. Military judgment no longer needed to be justified, or even explained, Rehnquist said, because the military was "a society apart" from America. The military was better than America, so it was exempt from the Constitution.

There's absolutely no basis in the Constitution for the idea that the military is a constitutionally separate society. But the court drove the military in that direction and caused lasting damage. Together with the demise of the draft, which ended the natural exchange of experience between military and civilian worlds, the court's rulings increased the distance between civilians and military people. The military increasingly viewed itself as separate, distant and morally superior.



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