Mil Fragility

What broke the spirit of the brass?

It’s unlikely in any secular sense that Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was sent from the future to warn us of how America will be destroyed unless we take political action. Yet here he is, informing Congress that he wants “to understand white rage”—a feeling aroused by what can only be his deliberate misunderstanding (“what is it that caused thousands of people [sic] to assault this building…?”) of the events of January 6.  

Milley’s humiliating and repugnant display of self-abasement is almost incomprehensible. But the simplest explanation—one more move in an orchestrated operation to psychologically break in Americans for the imposition of an alien new regime—is in this case, whatever else it has going for it, not the most accurate.  

To complete the picture, someone might try to understand the rage of our military industrial complex, which just happens, on closer inspection, to reflect the dynamic Milley’s would-be “educators” have imputed to the malevolent spirit of “whiteness” and all those fouled by its cosmic impurity.  

Whiteness, we are told, is defined by a toxic feedback loop of power worship and psychic fragility. Why had these claims not first been advanced against the US military in the wake of the Manhattan Project, when the place of American warriors was secretly usurped on executive order by a handful of scientists and engineers? 

One answer might be that the military, after its unprecedented cosmic diminishment in the shadow of an executive capable of destroying all life at any time, found in virtually unlimited budgets a way to distract itself from the nihilistic absurdity of its ultimate redundancy in an era of mutually assured destruction. The fragility of the military identity in the nuclear age was richly papered over by all manner of research and development projects, a fantasy toyland with the possibly not so secret motivation of one day surpassing the thermonuclear bomb as what Machiavelli once called the “best arms.”  

However subconscious, the grim resolution to beat the bomb required tripling down on the instinct that only more technology, more absolute power, could break the circuit of spiritual fragility and destructive mastery (“now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” as chief bomb scientist Robert Oppenheimer quoted from Hindu scripture).

Arguably, thanks to the blank check written for the development of the military computer, at long last this has been achieved. Why nuke when you can EMP? Why EMP when you can shut off the enemy’s internet and electrical grid? Why shut anything off when you can wage, as Marshall McLuhan said of World War III, “a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation”? The use of digital technology to transcend even the bomb as godlike uberwaffen, replaced by a fusion of entity and environment into a saturating swarm of instrumental psychological violence, seems to have at last purchased the military-industrial complex a golden ticket out of its own dark spiral of the soul.  

Then why the public struggle session from Milley and friends?  

The truth, as we all already sense and know, is that the prospect of using even digital arms unglued from all human participation beyond some abstract “high command” to win a global info-psychic conflagration is too farfetched even for the faithful to believe. The implausibility of defeating Russia, China, or even Afghanistan with the weapons of digital singularity is so profound that the only logical step for the complex is to “strategically redeploy” toward a more auspicious “battlefield”—one gruesomely familiar to anyone who remembers the call a number of years ago to abandon “nation building” abroad and undertake it “at home.” 

The “pivot” to terraforming the domestic population instead of that of foreigners seemed to come with the best of intentions. America, after all, had been depleted, deindustrialized, and debt-saddled by the long and disillusioning trudge through the “global war on terror.” But for the military, the lesson learned was hidden beneath the misinformation of the conflict’s own moniker. What the commanding officers of the most powerful armed force ever known in the world discovered over the past twenty years is that secular soldiers were simply unable to defeat holy warriors.  

For ages on end this shattering realization was accepted as a bedrock truth, almost a truism. Machiavelli himself emphasized that the “best arms” could not be understood in merely materialist or scientific terms, because the ultimate weapons were “spiritual arms.” The existential disillusionment experienced by the US brass hitting the wall of spiritual arms without being anywhere near prepared in spirit for the shock of such an “asymmetric” defeat is all but taboo in America today. Only the suicide and depression of “GWOT”-era veterans bears witness, a haunted echo of the deep bitterness and shame behind the officer class’ sense that they now have no choice but to make the machines fight a decisive spiritual war against their own domestic population.  

That, at any rate, is the horrible conclusion someone might draw who dares to peer into the soul behind Gen. Milley’s “bizarre” remarks. In a normal world, the onus would be on the military-industrial complex to dispel such horrors, which transcend even the seemingly primal categories of left and right. But all know well this is no longer a normal world. President Biden’s animatronic mockery of the notion that the right to bear arms safeguards any liberty whatever should leave little doubt that the regime now desires above all to keep all Americans in a condition of slavish dependence on the absolute technological power of the military industrial complex, a power now subject to no guardrails, no “norms”, no limits, and no higher authority—aside from that of the American people, for whom now is as good a time as any to appeal to that authority resident in heaven.  

James Poulos (@jamespoulos) is Executive Editor of The American Mind. He is the author of The Art of Being Free (St. Martin's Press, 2017), contributing editor of American Affairs, and a fellow at the Center for the Study of Digital Life.