Central View: Two different cultures: soldiers and diplomats
Recently, while reading “The Kennan Diaries” (2014), the almost-daily diaries of George F. Kennan (the father of the Containment Doctrine with regard to the Soviet Union), another book was brought to mind.
When this soldier entered the Army in 1958, “The Soldier and the State” by Harvard’s Samuel P. Huntington was hot off the press. While the fine ROTC instructors at the University of Oklahoma gave us a good start with regard to Army life, the relationship of the military to civil society begged for Professor Huntington’s explanation. For the next 20 years, a dog-eared copy of “The Soldier and the State” was either in my backpack or my briefcase.
Taken together, these two books remind me why some soldiers don’t care much for diplomats and why some diplomats disdain soldiers. You see, both soldiers and diplomats are, at heart, Pacifists. When the soldier has to go to war, he blames the diplomats for failing to preserve the peace. The carnage of war constantly reminds the diplomat of his or her failure to avoid war.
The diplomat reflects on his or her failures in opulent surroundings over a glass of fine wine. The soldier reflects on the failure of the diplomats, say, while humping an 80-pound backpack, under enemy fire, up a monsoon-rain-soaked, slippery-clay-soil Hill 534 in Vietnam in 95 degree heat and 100 percent humidity while hoping his canteen has enough iodine-treated water left to assuage his adrenaline-caused thirst.
Cultural differences abound as well. George F. Kennan was your quintessential, Ivy-League educated Eastern Establishment snob who looked down on his fellow humans from the lofty perch of his own towering self-esteem. That said, Kennan was also a gifted linguist, writer and geopolitical thinker.
As a general rule, Kennan and his follow Foreign Service Officers constitute a unique class very different from the work-a-day Americans they are supposed to represent. But then, the foreign diplomats with whom our diplomats must interact are not representative of the work-a-day people of their nations, either. So, in effect, you have highly educated elites lavishly entertaining each other at government expense in the hope that alcohol will cause someone to let slip some state secret that can be reported back home in the next day’s cables.
While a surprisingly high percentage of our military personnel have earned advanced degrees, they rarely — and especially, after the advent of the Vietnam War — have come from the elite Eastern Establishment. As a general rule, the racial/ethnic make-up of our military is reflective of our population while, historically, our Foreign Service Officers (and even career CIA officers), have been lily-white and pro-Arab. See: “America’s Great Game” by Hugh Wilford (2013).
That said, our military has a certain regional bias. The American South produces the majority of those who risk their lives in uniform. So, it is not surprising that some diplomats look down on the military as a bunch of southern rednecks and some military look at the diplomats as a bunch of wimps. The current “Swift Boat” Secretary of State is a case in point.
But as the Obama Administration gelds, gentrifies, trans-genders and makes our military more “politically-correct,” these two groups will have much more in common. Just how that will serve our national interest remains to be seen.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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