Conspiratorial Thinking and The Omniscient “They”

By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion

There have been more than a few occasions recently on which I have grown despondent over the direction in which our nation is headed. I fear that we are in danger of bequeathing our children and grandchildren a lesser country than to which we were entrusted.

Several days ago, a group of former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretaries of Defense released an open letter expressing their concerns over the deterioration of civil-military relations. It is a remarkable document and an alarming one. The fact that 13 men who have served this nation as its highest military leaders under presidents of both parties felt it necessary to write a letter that among other things says: “… Many of the factors that shape civil-military relations have undergone extreme strain in recent years….Politically, military professionals confront an extremely adverse environment characterized by the divisiveness of affective polarization that culminated in the first election in over a century when the peaceful transfer of political power was disrupted and in doubt. Looking ahead, all of these factors could well get worse before they get better…”  That letter should give every citizen who cares about our republic pause. We are the United States of America, the last, best hope of the world, not some amalgam of a Banana Republic and Weimar Germany. Should we falter and drop the torch of freedom, our posterity will hold up accursed.

I was not, perhaps naively, perhaps hopefully, as worried about how serious the divisiveness gripping our country as I should have been. That complacency was brought to an abrupt halt during a Town Hall meeting concerning the renaming of the Louisiana National Guard’s Camp Beauregard. The camp is named after Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, who among other dubious achievements, fired the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter. I was not expecting the crowd to be in favor of the post’s renaming, and it was most certainly not. I was one of two people attending in favor of renaming the post, which was one more than I expected. There was the usual twaddle about the Civil War not being about slavery, as if slavery’s explicit mentioning in several Confederate states’ declarations of secession didn’t exist. There were the usual claims of “its history” and “we have to take the good with the bad” as well as claims about what a great guy Beauregard was and pleas to keep the post named after him. While I adamantly disagreed with the speakers, vociferous differences are to be expected and treasured in a democracy. Then the tone of the evening descended into conspiratorial thinking.

As other speakers came forth, themes emerged that I found truly disturbing and that greatly concerned me about the state of our nation. Several speakers pointed out that, as the post commander stated, there was no current threat of withdrawing funding. Why then, was the National Guard renaming the post? What followed was a mishmash of blaming wokeness, the “democrat governor”, “politicians”, accusing the guard leadership of caving in, all accompanied by applause and “amens” from the audience. One speaker agreed with the others but went farther into an imaginary conspiracy world. He stated that wokeness, renaming Camp Beauregard and other Army forts were all “lowering standards” and “weakening” the military. “That’s exactly what they want,” he said. One has to wonder who is the “they”: the president, the “democrat governor”, who incidentally is a West Point graduate and former officer in the 82nd Airborne, the military leadership?

I suspect that the Infantry, Airborne, and Ranger schools are as they have ever been and have not turned into hand-holding Kumbaya sessions. General Hal Moore was a tough-as-nails American hero who served our nation with courage and distinction. Renaming Fort Benning after him will not cause the Infantry to turn into cringing pantywaists.

What has brought us to the point at which a military veteran, as were almost all the people in the audience, an ordinary looking American whom you would pass without notice on the street, has the belief that there is an omniscient “they” with the pernicious mission of weakening the military and ruining the country. Does he really believe the governor, democrat that he may be, really stays up all night coming up with new ways to bring ruination to the Bayou State? When did renaming a military post become some evil scheme to lower standards and weaken the Army? When did conspiratorial thinking infect the minds of so many of our fellow citizens?