American ‘Battlespace’: The Military’s Reckoning With Racism and Politicization

American ‘Battlespace’: The Military’s Reckoning With Racism and Politicization
Utah National Guard soldiers face off with demonstrators who had gathered to protest the death of George Floyd, near the White House, Washington, June 3, 2020 (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

The past two weeks may have marked a turning point in American civil-military relations. President Donald Trump threatened to deploy active-duty troops to subdue domestic political protests; the secretary of defense suggested governors should “dominate the battlespace” of major U.S. cities, only to later walk back his remarks; and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, the country’s highest-ranking military officer, appeared alongside Trump at a photo-op near the White House after National Guard troops had helped forcibly clear the area of protesters. Milley later apologized, saying he “should not have been there.”

Although these events may seem sui generis, they are consistent with two ongoing trends. First is the increasing involvement of the military in partisan politics over the past four decades. Second is the legacy of racism in the military itself. These trends openly collided recently, raising questions about whether and how the military will be involved in domestic political contests and debates in the years to come.

By tradition and by law, the U.S. military is a nonpartisan institution. The reason for its nonpartisanship, as the Congressional Research Service explains, is so the military can be counted on to “defend all Americans regardless of their affiliation.” This professional standard is also spelled out in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and further articulated in Department of Defense regulations.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review