Let me start by quoting Firey:
"[the military] is financed through taxation, directed by politicians, and operated as a rigid hierarchy. Costs and the individual preferences of its service members are not of high concern."It's impossible to overstate this. A member, officer or enlisted, makes the same amount of money whether (s)he works 40, 80, or 168 hours per week. There's no immediate impediment to a commander compelling his unit to stay as late as possible, even if only a small percentage of the personnel are actively engaged.
Kristof also notes the universal single-payer health care supplied to service members and their dependents. It sounds good. But this view glosses over some of the other aspects of this policy. One, that I saw mentioned in a comment on Facebook, is the inability of soldiers to sue for malpractice. The quality of care can be suspect in some cases. I also recall the process of being excused from work if one is very sick. You don't just get to take a sick day. You have to haul yourself into work and prove that you're not well enough. And if you can't make it in? You could be subject to an earful from your superior. (This didn't happen to me, but one of my shipmates experienced this several years back.)
I'd now like to engage in a little thought experiment: some descriptions of civilian analogues to some aspects of military life.
Initial accession and placement. Upon graduation (or less auspicious departure) from high school, you are subject to a battery of tests. Based on the results of these tests, you are given a few options for what training you'll receive, which will determine your career path. You might be able to change to a different job later, but only if the needs of society permit it, and only if your current bosses sign off on the change.
Housing. The most junior members of organizations have to live at their place of work. Only when you reach the fifth pay level, or the fourth level and you have four years service, can you get a monetary allowance to live elsewhere. But...those rules only apply if you're single. Tie the knot, and you can get out of the barracks even at the lowest pay level.
Freedom of mobility. Let's say you live and work in New York City. You're also a fan of Cornell hockey, and Harvard is coming to Lynah Rink. You want to make your way to Ithaca and get your fish-throwin' on. But...since Ithaca is more than fifty miles away, you have to receive approval to make the trip, in writing, from each of your bosses up to your department head. (This was stated and enforced policy on Memphis during my last two years on the boat. Some forward-deployed commands have been even more restrictive at various times in the past.)
Discipline and justice. I want to tailor this one specifically to Mr. Kristof. Let's say he's, I don't know, rock climbing, and he accidentally fails to wear all the proper safety gear. Something gives way and he face plants into the rock face, and he's out of commission for a month or two. He's brought up on charges of destruction of New York Times property, and he appears before Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. (the publisher of the Times) across a table with a green tablecloth. After some testimony, Sulzberger pronounces Kristof guilty and gives the following punishment: a permanent reduction in salary, loss of half a month's salary for two months, restriction to the confines of the Times building for 45 days, and he has to crank out twice as many columns a week for the next six weeks. There's no appeal. That's non-judicial punishment for you.
I could go on and on (for example, field day comes to mind). Firey concludes his response:
The social changes Kristof favors can be implemented by force in such a world. But that coercion is out of place in a world where costs matter and people have freedom.Succinct and accurate. I like to say that our men and women in uniform should not be thanked just for putting their lives on the line. They are owed a debt of gratitude because they continually sacrifice their freedom so that we all may enjoy ours. Kristof's vision of America would take that reduction of freedom willingly chosen by few and impose it on all - and would thus entirely subvert that very freedom.
Such a world most certainly does not have “an astonishing liberal ethos.”