On March 8, President Joe Biden made his first visit to the Pentagon since his inauguration. Biden announced that he was nominating two women to become four-star Generals. He spoke of his priority of the Pentagon recruiting more women, and of “designing body armor that fits women properly, tailoring combat uniforms for women, creating maternity flight suits [and] updating requirements for their hairstyles”. In response, conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson criticized the priorities and asserted “pregnant women don’t win wars” among other comments. The backlash from Department of Defense officials (and some top military leaders) was overwhelming and particularly alarming compared with DOD silence over more egregious recent comments from the political left. The Department of Defense has increasingly sided with the left, and appears to be losing trust and confidence of the American people as a result. Let me explain.
First, the issue of servicewomen and pregnancy is personal to my wife and me. We both served on active duty together during her eight years as an Army doctor (I was a 30-year Infantry Officer). During that time, my wife went through the challenge of pregnancy with our three children. she did her duty as well as any of the male doctors. We, of all people, would never denigrate the service of women. Regardless, the truth matters and falsehoods must be called out.
Despite the DOD hyperbole, Tucker’s monologue on March 9 was relatively benign. He opined that “pregnant women don’t win wars” in criticizing the priority of things like maternity flight suits. Carlson added “China’s military becomes more masculine … our military needs to become, as Joe Biden says, more feminine”. Carlson later explained that he believed the sole purpose of the military was defeating our enemies. Biden’s statements, according to Tucker, ran counter and alleged “(Biden’s) phrase ‘feel valued and included’ stuck out, not because we have some hateful bias against pregnant women flying military jets".
Regardless of what Carlson actually said, or his later explanation, the criticism was palpable, and included patently untrue assertions. Like most media sources, Politico claimed “Military leaders thrash Tucker Carlson after comments about female troops.” Unbelievably, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston tweeted: "Women lead our most lethal units.....they will dominate any future battlefield.” With that comment, and other similar exaggerations, truth took a back seat to progressive ideology and went beyond a defense of servicewomen. Women do not “lead our most lethal units” nor will they “dominate any future battlefield” (impliedly superior to men). These kinds of exaggerated falsehoods damage public trust, and end up hurting servicewomen.
The singularly overwhelming DOD backlash against Carlson stands in stark contrast to DOD silence after recent horrendous defamation from the political Left. Claiming National Guard troops guarding Washington DC could not be trusted, Democratic Rep Steve Cohen (Tenn) said on January 18: “The [National] Guard is 90 some-odd percent male; and only about 20 percent of white males voted for Biden … there are probably not more than 25% of the people there protecting us that voted for Biden”. This followed other similar statements about those troops from media and political figures on the left. Not one of the senior military leaders criticizing Carlson said a word about those defamatory remarks. The political bias of some senior military leaders piling on Carlson while giving Cohen a pass is impossible to ignore and hurting trust.
According to Defense One “A growing number of Americans are increasingly losing trust and confidence in the U.S. military, according to a new Ronald Reagan Institute poll…that trust and confidence has fallen from 70 percent in 2018 to just 56 percent today.” This is a precipitous drop, as the numbers have been steady for decades. The high level of public trust and confidence in the military comes with the military’s apolitical perception, and focus on the mission of defense. The military is trusted with a budget exponentially surpassing any other nation’s defense budget. The politically charged DOD attacks against Carlson (in comparison with the silence about Steve Cohen’s statements about white, male troops) come at a critical time. A growing number of Americans perceive DOD as drifting to the political left as an institution, and this is untenable.
I will end with remarks delivered by General Douglas MacArthur to West Point cadets in 1962, giving the Department of Defense the way back to full trust: “Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution.”
Bill Connor, an Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney, has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. Connor was the senior U.S. military adviser to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star. A Citadel graduate with a JD from USC, he is also a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, earning his master of strategic studies. He is the author of the book Articles from War.