Three pings – three pings only – on the recent unseemliness erupting from the military, following criticism by Fox host Tucker Carlson of President Biden’s messaging about the military at the announcement of command nominations for two female general officers.
It’s easy to forget that that was the context in which America learned that maternity flight suits have been authorized for pregnant women. The president announced the maternity flight suits – along with updated hairstyle regulations and female-tailored combat uniforms – in his presentation of U.S. Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost, the prospective commander of U.S. Transportation Command, and U.S. Army Lieutenant General Laura Richardson, the prospective commander of U.S. Southern Command (who will receive her fourth star shortly).
One thing you notice right away is that both these women ascended through the ranks to become general officers and gain appointment to our highest levels of military command, without recourse to maternity flight suits. We know that because the maternity flight wasn’t in testing until 2019, and was finally adopted in 2020, a point at which both of these accomplished aviators had already become general officers.
There’s no need to go on and on about the flight suits. It’s perfectly valid to question how good an idea it really is to allow servicewomen to continue flight duties (in certain airframes, although not combat jets) during the later months of pregnancy. But the Air Force decided to allow that and look into a maternity fight suit, and it’s outside the scope of this article to litigate that decision.
I actually could not care less about the maternity flight suit. I’m happy for the people who wanted it. We’ll all be dead before we get everyone agreeing on a decision about uniforms.
What I care about is Ping One, which is that whoever set the POTUS up to babble about maternity flight suits in one of his few public speaking appearances needs to be smacked upside the head.
Carlson is right in that sense. It was a silly priority to make a point of. It’s lousy messaging, not because there’s something wrong with women or pregnancy, but because administrative accommodations for servicemembers aren’t commander-in-chief messaging topics. They come off sounding like we’re obsessed with the wrong things.
Flight suits are something the Air Force Chief of Staff might mention to an audience of airmen, or the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy might list as an accomplishment of fleet feedback in addressing sailors. It’s not what the president should be talking about when he’s got four-star generals standing behind him. It’s not what military power, the use of force, mobility, combat excellence, esprit de corps, or national security interests are about.
Talk briefly about the missions of TRANSCOM and SOUTHCOM, for crying out loud. Inform Americans about what national interests are served by the commands these women will have in their capable hands. Why not mention how many troops will be under their command in a given year, and laud the use of taxpayer dollars for their missions? (See the whole Biden presser here; Secretary Austin and Vice President Harris put in some biographical information about the commands the two generals have already had, but none of the remarks by them or Biden was enlightening about where Van Ovost and Richardson are headed.)
The president could take the opportunity to send signals to a critical world about our national priorities; e.g., global reach for combat forces, agile logistics, defeating cartel crime, engaging with our partners in the Americas and ensuring security and stability for all of us.
If the women in uniform behind him are the top-notch officers who can be entrusted with such vital interests on behalf of America, then say that. That’s how to send them forth on their warrior work looking like warriors.
The whole point of integrating women is that doing so does not turn all public conversations about their presence into discussions of wearing apparel and hairstyles. Or, for that matter, of sexual abuse, on which Biden spoke at some length.
It sends the wrong message to focus on administrative points and social criticism, as if they are the main concerns of a military organization. But that brings us to Ping Two, which is the Pentagon’s reaction to Carlson. To hear the reactors tell it, Carlson criticizing the focus on hairstyles and flight suits amounts to disparaging women in the military. Shame! Two-minute hate! Cancel Carlson!
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) March 12, 2021
I recognize that Carlson didn’t frame his proposition exactly as I would. He has made his point without the intention I have, which is to clarify up front that pregnancy in the military is an administrative issue, and one the military by and large handles reasonably well. That’s what messaging is about: getting the audience on your wavelength and asking it to think in your terms.
Carlson’s questions about accommodating pregnant women are more open-ended, suggesting that we might ask, after a century of having women regularly serving in uniform, whether it’s really worth the trouble, since obviously when women get pregnant they are not, in fact, suited to continue doing everything you need a flight suit for.
Carlson framed that in a way guaranteed to push some buttons: as a challenge to present evidence that pregnant women are the best ones to put in a cockpit.
Worth a watch, regardless of your politics. Tucker expresses concern about how openly political our Defense Department is at this moment, in ways it hasn't been before. https://t.co/vSmdHvOINA
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) March 12, 2021
So, fine. You can overreact to that and get your panties in a wad, or you can act in the full confidence of decades of integrating women successfully into military roles and send back a message that’s positive and assertive, but not touchy or combative.
The Pentagon has failed in that regard. The Pentagon got its panties in a wad. Think about that for minute. Big picture. Are we well served by a Pentagon that can be goaded by a TV show host into getting its panties in a wad?
My short answer is no. That’s certainly not what we want China, Russia, Iran, the Taliban, ISIS, or the Sinaloa cartel seeing when it looks at the Pentagon.
I won’t waste much time on a longer answer, except to add this essential point: the Pentagon panties got wadded up exactly in accordance with the memes-n-themes of woke social irritation, which loses its mind over imaginary dog whistles and starts howling on cue. This, right up to and including the DOD website headline about “smiting” Tucker Carlson, was an essay in the crazed, obverted overreactions of cancel culture.
Actual press release headline from the Pentagon: “Press Secretary Smites Fox Host That Dissed Diversity in U.S. Military” https://t.co/9Mq3vMxDWw
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) March 11, 2021
(A reliable measure of that is how rapidly the media seized on indignation from the Pentagon to make it seem as if there has been a sexual assault and abuse problem at Fort Hood, in Texas – and there has – because someone like Carlson questions the messaging priority of maternity flight suits. The two are not linked. It’s not for the Pentagon to entangle itself in proving or refuting that case; the DOD organization simply does far better service to America by not feeding such conflated wokeness themes.)
Next time, if you’re in uniform and can’t get past the woke brigade in expressing your support for women comrades, maybe just acknowledge that Carlson has a right to his opinion and his questions. You think women in the military are doing a great job. Silence on anything else about Carlson will effectively convey that the reality of women’s contributions doesn’t depend on disparaging Carlson, getting into verbal volleys with him, or shutting him down.
I urge this because the American people aren’t stupid. They don’t agree en masse with the sloppy logic of wokeism’s accusatory mode; i.e., that any time you’re not being actively affirmed that means you’re under a vicious attack that constitutes social injustice.
Seeming to live by that premise is a really good way to lose the people’s respect and trust very quickly. I don’t want to see that happen to the military.
And so to Ping Three. This is the briefest of the pings, and the one I hope everyone will remember.
The Pentagon is run by civilians. The Pentagon’s official public reactions are approved by civilians. The top-level civilians are appointed by the president, and their mindsets and decisions reflect his, and vibrate to his agenda. (Or, in Biden’s case, his cabal-team’s agenda – TIME’s word, not mine.)
That’s who you really heard from this week. There may be more people in uniform now than there once were who zealously roam the military prodding at everything with a woke stick. (That doesn’t mean there are no real problems in the military. It does mean that the woke stick interprets them all as problems of systemic social injustice, which is obfuscating and unhelpful.)
But even those in the uniformed woke brigade are not the people you’re really hearing from, because they’re not in charge.
When the Obama administration was in charge, and you thought you were hearing warfighters enthusiastically intone that what defense dollars should really be spent on is algae-fuel experiments in Hawaii, you were hearing from the civilian appointees of the Obama administration.
You’re hearing from civilian appointees again, when you see the Pentagon turn to preaching and prophesying about smiting Tucker Carlson over his comments on maternity flight suits. I recommend never losing sight of that, and assessing all litmus-test agenda messages from the Pentagon accordingly.