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Reading Politico's April 04, 2022 How two dozen retired generals are trying to stop an overhaul of the Marines and re-reading my own comment:

Retired yet notable military figures have recently becoming a quite significant voice in US discourse on both military and occasional political issues, (yes, as well as paid commentators for news outlets) so I think that retired ≠ unimportant.

and for example see CNN's October 21, 2020 He oversaw the bin Laden raid. See what he says about Trump featuring "Retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, the former head of US Special Operations Command..."

CNN/Tapper: Was it a difficult decision to announce that you're voting for Biden? This is the first time you've ever publicly weighed in on a presidential race.

McRaven: Well it was a difficult decision Jake to announce that I was voting. Obviously you know, as a senior retired military officer these are challenging times and there's a little bit of an unwritten rule that senior officers don't come out and endorse a candidate. However, I felt that the direction of the country was heading in such a bad direction that we need a new leadership, and that Joe Biden will be a much, much better leader than Donald Trump. (my transcription, emphasis added)

and which references his October 19 2020 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Biden Will Make America Lead Again; We need a president with decency and a sense of respect

all make me wonder:

Question: Have retired top US military officials become substantially more outspoken and cited on political issues in the last decade?

"Outspoken" can include both individual speech (e.g. position pieces posted in major new outlets) and paid work as commentators and experts by major news outlets. "Cited" includes being quoted as sources on current issues.

Topics should be related to expertise gained in conjunction with their military service. McRaven's interview and WSJ piece are about the US Commander in Chief and from the perspective of leadership, an area that McRaven has considerable knowledge.

As always, answer should be fact-based and cite sources; presumably I'm not the only person who perceives this uptick and it will likely have been written about and checked. (this last paragraph was temporarily removed by an edit but I've restored it. I'm not looking for theories or asking for explanations, I'm asking for evidence that they have or have not.)

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    Do you mean more outspoken than, Colin Powell, or Ike Eisenhower?
    – James K
    Apr 5 at 6:45
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    What I;m saying is that Generals in the USA have always been pretty outspoken on political issues. But the way you phrase your question makes it impossible to answer "no". What kind of source would you accept that says "Generals are just as outspoken as they've always been". It looks like you've already decided on what the answer is and are just looking for confirmation.
    – James K
    Apr 5 at 6:49
  • @JamesK Well one could probably write a thesis about it. Just count interviews with Generals now and then, then normalize by total amount of journalistic pieces now and then, weigh by length of interview (maybe interviews were longer but scarcer back then) and number of readers (if available and normalize by total population), compute some margin of error (bootstraping maybe) and make a statistical test for significance. Voila. Result.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 5 at 9:19
  • @JamesK The question does not ask to compare one individual to another i.e. "Is General X more outspoken than General Y?" If we go decade by decade and count the number of retired top US military officials that have broken the "unwritten rule" that McRaven mentions, would the number be larger in the last 10 years than in previous 10 year intervals?
    – uhoh
    Apr 5 at 15:11
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    Of course you hear more from x group, you hear a lot more from literally everyone in the age of 24 7 news and social media. Number of people and time spent regurgitating the official line on CNN+ isn't interesting, a significant increase in military officials and ex officials going against the sitting admin would be interesting, however.
    – eps
    Apr 5 at 19:37

2 Answers 2

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Over the last two decades (since the W. Bush administration) the US military has been progressively politicized, both because of partisan divisions over the protracted engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and because Trump's overt rejection of the 2020 election results raised fears about the military's involvement in a domestic coup. News media have turned to prominent military figures for insight into the military strategies, practices, and culture — all of which are alien to civilians — in order to get a better analysis of these situations.

So yes, I think we have seen more military figures — or better put, more military figures who are not actively seeking office — in the news, but only because the news has become more concerned with military issues than it previously had been.

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Retired Generals and other public officials can speak on political issues in very different capacities:

  • As private individuals with experience in a certain field (or at least appearing to public to have an experience, since on the technical level their expertise might be quite far from the subject they discuss).
  • As comentators working for media.
  • As representative of think tanks.
  • As representatives of workgroups create d y government for studying certain issues.
  • As government surrogates that allow to test public (and even international) response to various moves without the government taking direct responsibility for making a suggestion.

With the growing number of independent media, 24-hour news cycle, internet, and think tanks, it is safe to say that all these options are in more use than half a century ago.

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    I think the opinion section of major newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post and several other print media (e.g. The National Review, The Atlantic) have been around for well over 50 years and some a lot more than that. If retired top US military officials wanted to opine, there were always avenues to do so even without the internet. You haven't addressed my question with a Yes or No, and backed it up with statistics. Right now your answer says "If it's more, then here's my theory why it could be true."
    – uhoh
    Apr 5 at 15:16
  • For example, if there are say 5 times more brands of beer than there were 50 years ago, does it mean that there will be 5 times as many people who drink or alcoholics? If there are 100 times as many TV channels as there was 50 years ago, do people watch 100 times as much TV?
    – uhoh
    Apr 5 at 15:21
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    @uhoh I can't give you an answer that precise. You could hire a freelancer to do the research - probably a few hours of work. Or you can hope that someone knows a research article with relevant results. Apr 5 at 17:40

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