USAFA General Jay Silveria Gets Out in Front of President Trump
US Air Force Academy Superintendent LtGen Jay “Tonto” Silveria may have gotten a bit in front of his Commander-in-Chief when he re-entered the public debate over diversity last week (following his much-watched “get out” speech over a racist event that turned out to be a hoax).
Writing in an Op-Ed published at CNN entitled “Why Diversity?“, Gen Silveria said [emphasis added]
our real advantage is the intellect, innovation, creativity and courage of our troops. If any among us thinks these qualities are defined by race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or identity or any other factor of the human condition, then the Air Force Academy and our military is not the place for them…
To put it in the terms of a military leader: Diversity is a force multiplier. We must do this together — all ranks and ages, races and religions, sexual orientations and identities — all of us.
The problem is Gen Silveria’s boss, President Trump, has indicated the opposite — he’s said people whose “identity” doesn’t match reality shouldn’t serve within the active duty services. The courts have currently prevented the CINC from maintaining President Obama’s policy, but the government has still indicated its intent to defend President Trump’s policy in court.
Granting an unspoken inclusion of government civilians, whose rules are slightly different than the uniformed services, the statement is a bit awkward, as it seems to promote the value of “identity” diversity in “our military” — a military run by President Trump.
Another problem with Gen Silveria’s Op-Ed is the normally articulate Superintendent seems to contradict his own argument. Is diversity inherently good — a “force multiplier” — or are diverse “factor[s] of the human condition” actually irrelevant? Those positions are mutually exclusive. If someone’s race or sexuality is the reason for our military’s strength, it cannot simultaneously be irrelevant to our military’s strength.
To that point, Gen Silveria went on to highlight “diverse” US troops over the ages: the Tuskegee Airmen, Native Americans, women (generally), TSgt Leonard Matlovich (a homosexual), and Airman John Levitow (who was Jewish).
But Gen Silveria’s explanation seems to fall short. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen isn’t about the value of “diversity.” Rather, it’s about discrimination over something as benign as skin tone. Likewise, the story about John Levitow isn’t about the value of diversity. Religion has not ever been cited as relevant to Levitow’s heroism. If one stretches to include religion, it would, at best, be about not discriminating against someone for their religious beliefs.
Those stories, important though they are, are not evidence diversity is good. At best, they’re evidence racism and religious discrimination are bad. In actuality, those stories are about tolerance, not diversity. Diversity is an outcome or a byproduct of tolerance.
In other words, tolerance — which generally has inherent value — should be what is lauded, not diversity — which, in and of itself, is worthless.
In short, the data do not seem to support the conclusion.
Gen Silveria’s Op-Ed elicited many (and some critical) comments on the USAFA Facebook page, including one who asked how diversity, in and of itself, furthered the mission.
How, for example, was Matlovich’s homosexuality a “force multiplier” for the US military? How did the “diversity” of Levitow’s Judaism or the Tuskegee Airmen’s skin color act as “force multipliers”?
To quote Gen Silveria, those “factor[s] of the human condition” weren’t force multipliers, because the value of the contributions by those men and women to the mission were not “defined by race, ethnicity, religion, [or] sexual orientation.”
Matlovich’s sexual lifestyle, Levitow’s religion, etc. — they were all irrelevant. So why even bring it up?
There is a time and place for intentional “diversity,” certainly. A team working on the ergonomics of a device may want “physical diversity” in its height, weight, left/right handedness, ableness, etc. In that way, one could easily say the diversity was a “force multiplier” because the intentional diversity provided other experiences and perspectives directly related to the team’s mission.
On the other hand, that same team would not benefit from the “diversity” of some people on their team being homosexual while others were heterosexual, because sexual behavior is irrelevant to their mission. To insist that the team have other-sexuals on it would be to demand diversity for diversity’s sake — potentially to the detriment of the mission, since diversity is elevated above merit.
To wit, the military does not actively recruit 85-year old deaf felons to be “force multipliers” due to their “diversity” in age, ableness, and criminal history. Diversity can also be harmful when unity and conformity are necessary — which is one reason you won’t see “diverse” hairstyles or clothing choices in a military formation. In short, “diversity” alone — diversity for the sake of diversity — is not a laudable goal.
Finally, it is worth noting the potential legitimization of a dangerous premise: The premise that diversity or a positive outcome outweighs any other factor. This idea has already been promoted by homosexual activists who have claimed that meritorious conduct in the military — including personal sacrifice — are sufficient grounds for social normalization and forced acceptance of their sexual lifestyle.
To put it another way, the premise is if a man can distinguish himself by military service, his character flaws are excusable. Or, in today’s society, his character flaws may actually be laudable.
In Gen Silveria’s Op-Ed hall of fame, Leonard Matlovich stands out as the only one whose behavior was at issue, which makes it awkward to imply equivolence with the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Code Talkers, female troops, and Jewish troops — whose benign physical characteristics or religious beliefs were factors, not their lifestyle choice.
Leonard Matlovich’s military medals did not negate the moral status of his behavior.
Much like “discrimination,” the word “diversity” appears to be trending to a new definition, or at least a new connotation. Discrimination is not, by definition, bad (and the US military absolutely discriminates). Similarly, diversity is not, by definition, good.
Perhaps it would be better to articulate the actual desired end state, rather than relying on pithy labels that no longer communicate an adequate understanding of the intended message. Yes, the military strives to an environment that avoids groupthink and values innovation and varied perspectives. That’s not the same thing as “diversity.”
And about that “all identities” in “our military” — President Trump, being the Commander in Chief of all the military, still has a little something to say about that.