Army Political Correctness and the Hasan Report

Dave Schuler passes along Ralph Peters‘ reaction to the Pentagon’s review of the Fort Hood shootings,  which both echoes my own immediate reaction and goes light years too far.

Rarely in the course of human events has a report issued by any government agency been so cowardly and delusional. It’s so inept, it doesn’t even rise to cover-up level. “Protecting the Force: Lessons From Fort Hood” never mentions Islamist terror. Its 86 mind-numbing pages treat “the alleged perpetrator,” Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, as just another workplace shooter (guess they’re still looking for the pickup truck with the gun rack).


pcThe teensy bit of specific criticism is reserved for the “military medical officer supervisors” in Maj. Hasan’s chain of command at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. As if the problem started and ended there. Unquestionably, the officers who let Hasan slide, despite his well-known wackiness and hatred of America, bear plenty of blame. But this disgraceful pretense of a report never asks why they didn’t stop Hasan’s career in its tracks.

The answer is straightforward: Hasan’s superiors feared — correctly — that any attempt to call attention to his radicalism or to prevent his promotion would backfire on them, destroying their careers, not his. Hasan was a protected-species minority. Under the PC tyranny of today’s armed services, no non-minority officer was going to take him on. This is a military that imposes rules of engagement that protect our enemies and kill our own troops and that court-martials heroic SEALs to appease a terrorist. Ain’t many colonels willing to hammer the Army’s sole Palestinian-American psychiatrist.

The rhetoric is a bit overheated for my tastes but Peters has made a post-military (he’s a retired Army intelligence lieutenant colonel) career out of railing against the defense bureaucracy and he’s essentially right. But he takes this to its illogical conclusion:

In the end, the report contents itself with pretending that the accountability problem was isolated within the military medical community at Walter Reed. It wasn’t, and it isn’t. Murderous political correctness is pervasive in our military. The medical staff at Walter Reed is just where the results began to manifest themselves in Hasan’s case.

Once again, the higher-ups blame the worker bees who were victims of the policy the higher-ups inflicted on them. This report’s spinelessness is itself an indictment of our military’s failed moral and ethical leadership.

Look, we’ve got to change a system where someone so blatantly outspoken in his sympathies for his country’s enemies can be weeded out.   But let’s not pretend that there are hundreds of Hasans out there in the ranks, ready to rise up and commit jihad against their erstwhile comrades-in-arms.

The United States military long had difficulties with intolerance of difference, whether of race, gender, ethnicity, or political outlook.

During the first half of  my dad’s career (which spanned from 1962 to 1983) blacks and Hispanics faced hostility from an Army culture that is exceedingly Southern.  That’s largely gone; racial minorities likely face greater acceptance in the military than in most workplaces.

When I first went into the military, starting as a cadet in 1984, most of us — and, yes, I include myself — were hostile to the presence of female soldiers, thinking most of them unfit for service and the impact on esprit and unit discipline not worth whatever benefit derived from the handful of good ones.  Why, the military isn’t a social experiment; it’s a fighting force.  But politicians kept forcing the military to allow women into more and more career fields that the military’s leadership thought they couldn’t do.   Lo and behold, they’ve done pretty well for themselves.  There’s still some resistance to the role of women in the force — especially in the Navy, for understandable reasons — but the culture has changed.

A primary mechanism for making this work was a system that made it very difficult for officers to get promoted if they were perceived as anything less than wholly enthusiastic of then new policies.  Like anything else that bureaucracies do, it naturally went too far.  For example, when women were first allowed to become fighter pilots, too few of them were selected for candidacy and the people in charge of training were afraid to wash out the ones who weren’t hacking it.  People died.  Arguably, the same thing happened in Hasan’s case.

But, as Bernard Finel points out, part of the problem is that the Army is having a hard time attracting psychiatrists, Palestinian or otherwise.  And, since the main weeding mechanism is periodic promotions, incompetents are likely to get a free pass.   The system just isn’t designed to get rid of people unless they’re up from promotion.  So, absent a court martial or some sort of administrative discharge for incompatibility for service, it was going to be extremely difficult to get rid of Hasan.

I’d like to fix that.   Not just for the purposes of getting potential serial killers and terrorists out of uniform — it’s hard to design a system around extremely unlikely contingencies — but to ensure that our soldiers have the leadership they need and deserve.  At the same time, we shouldn’t overreact to the point that it’s open season on Muslims — or people with funny sounding names — in uniform.

The potentially good news is that we happen to have a commander-in-chief named Barack Hussein Obama.   For a variety of reasons, I didn’t vote for him and likely won’t next time.   But there is a certain “only Nixon can go to China” advantage in having the boss inoculated from criticism for bigotry when the policy goes in the other direction.  And, one would think, a certain interest in making sure we don’t overcorrect, too.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    Not only do I think you’re closer to diagnosing the problem than Ralph Peters, but I find the whole PC angle to be patently absurd.

    Perhaps careerist officers could be cowed into doing nothing about a potential terrorist because of political correctness, but isn’t it just as likely that even with all the warning signs, they couldn’t conceive that Hasan would become a murderer?

    I mean, I’d hate to be accused of being politically correct when my biggest crime is not being psychic…

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    The politically correct problem is bigger than the military. I hadn’t thought about the upside of Obama being potentially effective against this. But remember Nixon went to China because he saw an opportunity to do something against a greater threat. Obama hasn’t shown such wisdom in even recognizing a greater threat.

  3. just me says:

    Oh I am pretty sure it was PC that kept the officers quiet-and I do think it was probably because they probably couldn’t perceive him actually shooting up an army base, but they knew something was off and they knew something was wrong, but they kept quiet, because while there was evidence that the guy was a radical, the fear of being called a racist overpowered fear that the guy would shoot somebody.

    I think this happens in a lot of careers now-not always PC, but because making a case to fire somebody is difficult and often it isn’t worth it, so you punt it down the line and just hope none of the crap blows back on you when/if it blows.

    I see it all the time in education.

    I am not sure there is an easy answer for this one, and unless there is some way for officers (or other personnel) to raise concerns without having their careers screwed over, I am pretty sure they will continue to shut up and pray it doesn’t happen on their watch.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    MAJ Hasan was a scammer well before he became a militant Muslim. Look at his life history. He took more than four years to graduate from USUHS because he took time for when his parents died. He hung around DC for a decade on the military’s dime living a life that was very close to being a civilian.

    Look at how the report mentions that he was missing Physical Fitness tests and other mandatory military training. He was a scammer who wanted the military to pay for the medical school and then to let him go. He did not count on a war getting in the way of his plan. Then he became militant once the Army wanted something other than half-days of work and training schools.

    Look into the culture of military medicine before biting hard on the militant Islam. What MAJ Hasan did was closer to a post office shooting and an action of religious terrorism.

  5. Andy says:

    The military is always going to have a problem attracting medical specialists – that is nothing new and is irrelevant here.

    The issue, as is usually the case in the military, comes down to leadership and accountability. This was a leadership failure pure and simple

  6. sam says:

    And, since the main weeding mechanism is periodic promotions, incompetents are likely to get a free pass. The system just isn’t designed to get rid of people unless they’re up from promotion.

    This can have some pretty dire consequences. If you’ve read Generation Kill (or saw the TV series based on it), you’ll recall that the author’s company commander was incompetent, and one of the platoon leaders was beyond incompetent (his men called him “Capt. America”–and you can add the sneer). I asked my brother, 30 years in the Corps, mustang Major, how people like those two could be placed in command of line troops. He told me that, really, the only qualification for those billets is rank. Close review doesn’t really begin until you’re up for Major. (A hot shooting war might weed these guys out. I had a lieutenant who was a roaring asshole. I was bitching about him one day, and an old salt staff seargeant told me not to worry, guys like him don’t get off the beach…)

  7. steve says:

    just me-Was that your experience in the military? As a former military doc, I thought it was a totally different culture, but then, I had been enlisted before.

    The biggest thing was that the guy was a shrink. Everyone in medicine expect them to be different. if he had been advocating invading Belgium, just as an example, everyone would have shrugged that off also because he was a psychiatrist. The other factor is jealousy or not wanting people to benefit from cheating. This guy had medical school and residency paid for by the military. He incurred no debt, unlike most docs. He owed at least 6 years, IIRC, of service at military pay rates, much lower than civilian pay. You can be sure that no one wanted him to get away without paying his dues. These two would have been, IMHO, much more important than being PC. Remember that very few of these guys were going to make a career out of the military. They did not give a damn if they were PC or not. I sure didnt. It is just a way to pay for schooling with service time as pay back.

    This occurred a while since I have been out, so was there some PC element? Maybe, but I know firsthand that we really had little use for the guys who went to military med school. They tended to use their connections to avoid deployments while having benefitted financially from the pay during medical training.


  8. anjin-san says:

    It’s a leadership failure. Period. Saying it it “PC” is just a lame dog whistle attempt to try and blame “liberals” for this tragedy.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    anjin-san ,

    What part of leadership could make changes in the education and training of physicians without making creating another set of problems.

    Look at what happened at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when the infrastructure controversies occurred a couple of years ago. Previous leaders had been asking for more money but were denied but after the media storm broke, DoD and DA provided more funds. Of course, the Walter Reed lowered the care provided to non-activity duty to create more resources for infrastructure.

    Do you want to turn GME programs into ranger school type programs knowing that there is a current short of physicians?