In a Q&A session at the American Enterprise Institute this week, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland warned that identity politics was a threat to the future of the American armed forces, ruining the “we are one” mindset that is so important to building a cohesive battle unit. In his words, close listeners can detect a warning not just for the future of the Army but one for the entire United States culture as a whole. Because while identity politics are no doubt a hindrance to the unity of a battalion, the concept is no less destructive to the very idea of American patriotism.
Asked by an audience member how politics were filtering down to the armed forces, MacFarland was less than optimistic.
“Soldiers come from all walks of life and we bring them all together, and it’s remarkable that after basic training or their initial training, how acculturated they become,” he said. “I mean we used to talk about the melting pot in schools in America. I don’t know if we still do anymore. My guess is we don’t.
“And I mean I just heard a statistic recently that about 80 percent of American kids consider themselves as just plain old Americans before they enter high school, and about two-thirds of them about halfway through college become hyphenated-Americans,” he lamented. “We remove those hyphens in the Army, in the military. You know, ‘You’re a soldier, next question.’ You know, we all wear the same patch on our right shoulder — the American flag. And that’s what it’s all about.”
MacFarland said that this hyphenation removal was one of the most important pieces of training the military could provide, as it forced the basis for a new identity – an American identity that had nothing to do with your religion, your ethnicity, your sexual orientation, or any other group identity that you came into the military with.
“Is it getting harder in the U.S. military to assimilate everybody and get everybody playing for the same team?” he continued. “Yeah, it is. Identity politics is a cancer. And an army is a reflection of its society. And we have seen what Balkanization looks like. I’ve been in the Balkans multiple times and in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it’s a dangerous path that we’ve moving along, and eventually it’s going to become too hard for us to fix in the military.”
It is not essential that we make people forget that they are Italian, that they are Catholic, that they are gay, or that they are black. It’s fine. What’s not fine is when all of these different groups wear that as their primary identity and then make it their primary purpose in life to further their little group’s interests. That’s when the doors close and the minds close and we have the Balkanization that MacFarland talks about here. That’s when the concept of being a plain ol’ American becomes something alien – or worse, actively hostile to your group’s interests. That’s what we’re seeing today, and that’s what one current political party is both fostering and taking clear advantage of.
Identity politics is a cancer, the lieutenant general said. He couldn’t be more right.